University of Oregon, Philosophy
Undoing the Doctrine of the Course in General Linguistics
Within the 20th C. philosophy and the human sciences, the Course in General Linguistics attributed to Ferdinand de Saussure functions primarily as a site of the official doctrine closely associated with structuralism, that is, as a statement of the familiar oppositional pairings between the signifier and the signified, la langue and la parole, synchrony and diachrony. Considering the hold that structuralism had on Saussure’s linguistics within the 20th C. European philosophy and related fields, it is usual to consider these oppositional pairings as a distinctive feature and a shared trait of Saussureanism and structuralism. I will argue that this shared Saussurean/structuralist commitment to the familiar oppositional pairings was made possible by the production, replication, and reception of the Course as a site of the official doctrine. The emergence and impact of these intellectual ideas is therefore undecipherable without understanding the material and institutional history that led to their production and reception. I propose to critically examine this material and institutional history in some detail considering that it would be especially difficult for an Anglophone reader to access and/or assimilate the relevant materials otherwise. I will show that the editors of the posthumous Course: Charles Bally and Albert Sechehaye performed a double duty in this process: they projected their own methodological and conceptual commitments onto the source materials in order to establish general linguistics as a recognizable scientific discipline, and subsequently received and replicated the basic principles of this science in a series of dedicated book-reviews they wrote of the same Course. Recent discovery and scholarship on Saussure’s own writings in general linguistics further challenges the official doctrine, and opens up the possibility of a more philosophically complex, phenomenological, interpretation of his work.