Rock Star Philosopher
September 28, 2017 5:24 PM   Subscribe

In the TLS this week, Samuel Earle reviews two books on literary theorist Roland Barthes. Neil Badmington's book is discussed further in Rhys Tranter's interview with the author, who is editor of the open access Barthes Studies. Philippe Sollers's book includes material available online in French. At architecture / theory blog The Charnel-House, "The Marxism of Roland Barthes" covers an element of Barthes's background and links to primary sources suitable as introductions, e.g. Mythologies, Camera Lucida, "The Death of the Author," and S/Z— a dissection of Balzac's Sarrasine (included as an appendix).
posted by Wobbuffet (18 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
Takes me back to my undergrad when I was taking a course on Literary Criticism. Barthes was always someone who fascinated me. Good share.
posted by Fizz at 5:57 PM on September 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

Also, Mourning Diary is an intellectually engaging and mind-blowing read. Well worth seeking out. Highly recommended. From a New York Times Book Review:
“His mother’s death forces him to confront his own mortality. At home one evening he writes, “Around 6 p.m.: the apartment is warm, clean, well-lit, pleasant. I make it that way, energetically, devotedly (enjoying it bitterly): henceforth and forever I am my own mother.” “Mourning Diary” is a slender volume that one wants to linger over, to devour slowly. Barthes’s mother’s death brought out something in him, a clarity he describes as “a strange new acuity, seeing (in the street) people’s ugliness or their beauty.” Near the end of this book Barthes arrives at his private definition of “what literature is: that I cannot read without pain, without choking on truth.” By that exacting standard “Mourning Diary” is literature indeed.”
posted by Fizz at 6:05 PM on September 28, 2017 [4 favorites]

Huh, never heard of him before last week when we had to read a passage of his for photography class and now he's on the blue.
posted by octothorpe at 7:30 PM on September 28, 2017

My favorites remain The Pleasure of the Text and A Lovers Discourse.
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:34 PM on September 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

I kind of assumed The Seventh Function of Language would be one of the books mentioned, since it just appeared recently. I found it quite entertaining.
posted by uosuaq at 9:04 PM on September 28, 2017 [3 favorites]

I came here for the wrestling.
posted by vorpal bunny at 10:26 PM on September 28, 2017 [3 favorites]

Mythologies is a fun collection to read. I reread bits whenever I want some semiology/cultural analysis with an entertainment value. An example from an essay called "Romans in Films":
In Mankiewicz's Julius Caesar, all the characters are wearing fringes. Some have them curly, some straggly, some tufted, some oily, all have them well combed, and the bald are not admitted, although there are plenty to be found in Roman history. Those who have little hair have not been let off for all that, and the hairdresser - the king-pin of the film - has still managed to produce one last lock which duly reaches the top of the forehead, one of those Roman foreheads, whose smallness has at all times indicated a specific mixture of self-righteousness, virtue and conquest.

What then is associated with these insistent fringes? Quite simply the label of Roman-ness. We therefore see here the mainspring of the Spectacle - the sign - operating in the open. The frontal lock overwhelms one with evidence, no one can doubt that he is in Ancient Rome. And this certainty is permanent: the actors speak, act, torment themselves, debate 'questions of universal import', without losing, thanks to this little flag displayed on their foreheads, any of their historical plausibility.
posted by sapagan at 1:29 AM on September 29, 2017 [8 favorites]

Literary Criticism is basically what I have my degree in, and I still fight it. I want to talk about whether or not a book is any good, and they want to talk about whether or not the author's intent has any value, and whether we can consider any outside factors that aren't represented on the page. Drove me nuts. Barthes and all the signal and signifier stuff practically kicked me out of college. I did grow to understand literary criticism, but I still don't appreciate it.

I suppose without a background in litcrit I'd have had no job when reading John Fowles, so I guess there is that.

Now I am going to spend the rest of the day trying to remember the other guy who drove me nuts.
posted by cjorgensen at 6:38 AM on September 29, 2017 [3 favorites]

posted by snuffleupagus at 7:02 AM on September 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

Now I am going to spend the rest of the day trying to remember the other guy who drove me nuts.


posted by Fizz at 7:43 AM on September 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

Now I am going to spend the rest of the day trying to remember the other guy who drove me nuts.

In any case, it's a great torch song lyric.
posted by Grangousier at 7:59 AM on September 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

my wife is in grad school. She's reading a lot of Foucault and Barthes and I'm being very gracious in conversations with her despite feeling like my brain is in a vice trying to follow what on earth's hell these men are going on about.
posted by Annika Cicada at 9:10 AM on September 29, 2017 [4 favorites]

the thing I don't care for about litcrit people is how dogmatic they are
posted by thelonius at 9:59 AM on September 29, 2017

How do you pronounce his name? Is it bar-th, or bart? Or something else?
posted by gucci mane at 3:50 PM on September 29, 2017

'Bart' with a slightly rough breathing on the -ar-, and a bit of a stop at the end, according to how I've always heard it pronounced. Which is probably a toned down version of its correct French pronunciation.
posted by snuffleupagus at 3:55 PM on September 29, 2017

Roland Barthes Simpson: He didn't break the culture, it was like that when he got here.
posted by Grangousier at 5:11 PM on September 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

Years ago, when I read this, I identified with it (on both sides, so to speak), and learned a lot about the level of abstraction required to understand him.
I devour every amorous system with my gaze and in it discern the place which would be mine if I were a part of that system. I perceive not analogies but homologies: I note, for instance, that I am to X what Y is to Z; everything I am told about Y affects me powerfully, though Y's person is a matter of indifference to me, or even unknown; I am caught in a mirror which changes position and which reflects me wherever there is a dual structure. Worse still : it can happen that on the other hand I am loved by someone I do not love; now, far from helping me (by the gratification it implies or the diversion it might constitute ), this situation is painful to me: I see myself in the other who loves without being loved, I recognize in him the very gestures of my own unhappiness, but this time it is I myself who am the active agent of this unhappiness: I experience myself both as victim and as executioner.
( It is because of this homology that the love story "works"-- sells. )

--A Lover's Discourse ("Identifications")
posted by lathrop at 2:42 PM on September 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

Now I am going to spend the rest of the day trying to remember the other guy who drove me nuts.



My money's on Lacan.
posted by juv3nal at 5:36 PM on September 30, 2017

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