The Sideways Gaze: Roland Barthes’s Travels in China
June 29, 2012 8:29 AM   Subscribe

Aside from his essay The Death of the Author, the only other thing I recall about Barthes is his having died from being run down by a laundry truck.
posted by Fizz at 9:03 AM on June 29, 2012

Thanks for the review. I can't say I'm surprised at Barthes' disappointment with the sanitized Maoist China experience. For as supposedly apolitical as he was, he was moved by the style of subversion more than the clean lines that political governance presented (not necessarily the subversion of revolutionary posters either, but of the accidental life that cities tend to manifest).

It would be interesting enough to give this a read-through, despite the reviewers misgivings.
posted by donquixote at 9:09 AM on June 29, 2012

the only other thing I recall about Barthes is his having died from being run down hyperproblematized by a laundry truck.

posted by Fritz Langwedge at 9:13 AM on June 29, 2012 [5 favorites]

I really enjoy the A Very Short Introduction books, although I've found some of them much more "introductory" than others. Barthes: A Very Short Introduction is lovely. Besides being a compelling overview of a complex and fascinating character and his ideas, it made me think a lot about being a creative person and what that means. It's a really enjoyable read.
posted by oulipian at 9:26 AM on June 29, 2012

"Supposedly apolitical"? Alas, the sport of cultural criticism requires each generation to denounce its predecessors as insufficiently radical, but I beg you to apply the grain of salt. Read Barthes's Mythologies. A wonderful tour of consumer culture, viewed from a sharp and sometimes scoldy leftist perspective, with lots of digs at '50s America. What made China such a sad trip for him was the discovery that the Maoists, left to their own devices, had installed the same blandness, puritanism and obedience that he hated at home.
posted by homerica at 9:36 AM on June 29, 2012

This is why authors burn all of their notes on their deathbed.
posted by mek at 10:28 AM on June 29, 2012

(And then, preferably, hurling themselves onto the pyre...)
posted by mek at 10:36 AM on June 29, 2012

I'm curious what it was that Barthes thought he would find in China relative to his experience in Japan. It does seem like Barthes was able to generate or grasp a narrative in the latter country that eluded him in the former.

Very fascinating though. Thank you.
posted by koucha at 11:19 AM on June 29, 2012

I find Barthes to be a breath of fresh air, rather than insufficient. I think I was unclear in that last comment. We definitely agree, homerica. Let's try it again: "Though Barthes is often charged with being apolitical or completely consumed by aesthetics in certain schools of thought, the texts I have read indicate that he is moved or inspired by the subversion of the accident or by the curious mechanisms of consumer symbols, which lead him to further critique."

Probably still not quite what I want to say, but it's as close as I'm going to come at the moment.

posted by donquixote at 2:11 PM on June 29, 2012

Oh no. "Empire of Signs" is an object of ridicule in Japanese Studies. From the review, this book looks even worse.
posted by charlie don't surf at 3:30 PM on June 29, 2012

"Marx and Engels (hairy): Bouvard and Pécuchet?"
posted by Wolof at 9:46 PM on June 29, 2012

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