Degree Zero
August 27, 2007 10:28 AM   Subscribe

For Roland Barthes, the Death of the Author came on March 23, 1980, in the form of a car speeding down the Rue des Écoles (perhaps that car has become, like wrestling or detergent, another myth); though the Author is gone, his works--texts--remain; they are about history, about fashion, about love, about chopsticks, but fundamentally, they are about signs--as Barthes, once interviewed, said, "Each of us speaks but a single sentence, which only death can bring to a close"--rapidly approaching the end of his sentence, Barthes thought about living together, but the period would be found on his tombstone: écrivain. [more inside]
posted by nasreddin (19 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
Mod note: Manual more-insidery
We know that a text does not consist of a line of words, releasing a single "theological" meaning (the "message" of the Author-God), but is a space of many dimensions, in which are wedded and contested various kinds of writing, no one of which is original: the text is a tissue of citations, resulting from the thousand sources of culture. Like Bouvard and Pecuchet, those eternal copyists, both sublime and comical and whose profound absurdity precisely designates the truth of writing, the writer can only imitate a gesture forever anterior, never original; his only power is to combine the different kinds of writing, to oppose some by others, so as never to sustain himself by just one of them; if he wants to express himself, at least he should know that the internal "thing" he claims to "translate" is itself only a readymade dictionary whose words can be explained (defined) only by other words, and so on ad infinitum ... Succeeding the Author, the writer no longer contains within himself passions, humors, sentiments, impressions, but that enormous dictionary, from which he derives a writing which can know no end or halt: life can only imitate the book, and the book itself is only a tissue of signs, a lost, infinitely remote imitation.

posted by cortex (staff) at 10:33 AM on August 27, 2007

I fear I will live my life and not fully understand postwar French philosophy and criticism, nor will I fully appreciate the extent of the genius of these philosophers.

I do recognize that they were brilliant, and probably a generation ahead of their time.

In Mythologies, Barthes focuses on the meanings and symbolism of the things that make up our mass culture. I wonder to what extent those who shape that mass culture, or who were instrumental in establishing mass culture as the dominant culture through the 40's and 50's, were aware of these hidden meanings and manipulated them for the purpose of promoting it.
posted by Pastabagel at 10:59 AM on August 27, 2007

Also, excellent post, nasreddin.
posted by Pastabagel at 11:01 AM on August 27, 2007

I love s/z.
posted by juv3nal at 11:11 AM on August 27, 2007

Awareness of the meaning of symbols is a tricky thing to define. Essentially, it's literacy. I'm totally fascinated by semiotics, denotational and representational meaning in visual media, and ergo found footage film, though I need more study to speak clearly about it in Bathes' terms. However, I think it's plain enough to say that deep knowledge of the many meanings or potential context-dependent meanings of a sign, word, meme, many things, is the same as language itself, and never fully inadvertent. New use of old signs is wordplay, and control over discourse, as well as history, in a way.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 11:12 AM on August 27, 2007

I think my favourite might be A Lovers Discourse. Woefully underrated, in my opinion, and nice to see it featured up here.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 11:29 AM on August 27, 2007

Ah, but let me also not forget The Pleasure of the Text. Definitely between those two for me though.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 11:32 AM on August 27, 2007

My MA thesis paper in art school was called "The Death of the Blogger," in which I wrote about the Kaycee Nicole hoax and its semiotic implications for the general concept of authorship and identity in the new zero-axis world of anonymous DIY internet publishing, which I considered a virtual crystallization of Barthes' ideas on the burden of meaning transferred from nonexistent author to participatory audience.

I would link it here but I just found that the server it was hosted on was wiped. I think there may be some irony in that.
posted by brownpau at 11:41 AM on August 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

Man, I hope you have that somewhere, brownpau. Send me an email if you find it.
posted by cortex at 11:48 AM on August 27, 2007

I thought that when I was an undergrad I'd heard about a philosopher who loved wrestling. Mystery solved!
posted by malaprohibita at 12:17 PM on August 27, 2007

Barthes has not been on the front page before?

Well hats off for doing it well and thoroughly.

Respectfully, I believe he was killed by a laundry truck.
posted by From Bklyn at 12:28 PM on August 27, 2007

Really a laundry truck? I had most definitely heard it was a milk truck, and I'd rather not have to mourn the loss of mythic, maternal resonance involved with any alternative history.
posted by nobody at 12:56 PM on August 27, 2007

I thought it was a milk truck too. But I wasn't sure.

See, it goes to show that the signifier of the myth really has no stable referent.
posted by nasreddin at 1:02 PM on August 27, 2007 [2 favorites]

Camera Lucida - his last book - has always been my favorite work of his. It provided me with the notion of the 'punctum,' one of the terms I use the most when trying to describe art.
posted by jtajta at 2:00 PM on August 27, 2007

I'm afraid his works always struck me as the works of an insufferable asshole. Oh well.
posted by Vic Morrow's Personal Vietnam at 4:55 PM on August 27, 2007

Vic Morrow's Personal Vietnam - Maybe you mean Baudrillaird.
posted by brownpau at 5:40 PM on August 27, 2007

I can't imagine anyone reading Barthes and then using tthe word asshole to describe him, even if they didn't particularly like what they read...

...unless Writing Degree Zero happened to be the only book of his you had read? It's his first book, has an entirely different tone than all his others, and is mostly engaging with Sartre, whom I wouldn't be surprised to hear called an asshole one bit.

Barthes, however, is a sweetheart.
posted by nobody at 5:55 PM on August 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

He was a dear friend of a dear friend of mine. Vale, Monsieur Barthes.
posted by Wolof at 4:32 AM on August 28, 2007

that textetc blog is worth all the effort.
posted by carmina at 12:11 PM on August 28, 2007

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