Roland Barthes

Roland Barthes (November 12, 1915March 25, 1980) was a French literary critic, literary and social theorist, philosopher and semiotician.



Barthes (pronounced BART) was born in Cherbourg, Manche. His father died while Barthes was young, and he and his mother moved to Paris in 1924, his mother working as a bookbinder. Barthes studied at the Sorbonne. In 1934 he became infected with tuberculosis. He was in sanitoriums but, during intermissions in the illness, between 1939 and 1949 he taught in schools at Biarritz, Bayonne, Paris, and Bucharest. From 1949 he moved into teaching in higher education. In 1980, he met his death on a Parisian street, run over by a laundry van.

Academic Career

His long, productive career reached from the early days of structuralist linguistics in France up to the peak of post-structuralism, and Barthes' works are considered key texts of both structuralism and post-structuralism. Because Barthes was gay, although not openly so until late in his life, some take him as an antecedent for queer theory. In addition, the autobiographical and aesthetic qualities of many of Barthes' texts make them literature in their own right, and have been claimed by those interested in fashioning a new performative writing.

In his 1968 essay "The Death of the Author," Barthes made a strong, polemical argument against the centrality of the figure of the author in literary study, ending with the much-quoted phrase "The death of the author is the birth of the reader." By giving the reader a greater role in the creation of meaning, Barthes saw 'works' of literature as analogous to 'works' of music- structures to be played and created as they were interpreted. (Michel Foucault's later article What is an Author? responded to Barthes's polemic with an analysis of the social and literary "author-function.")

In his 1971 essay "From Work to Text", Barthes takes this idea further, arguing that while a 'work' (such as a book or a film) contains meanings that are unproblematically traceable back to the author (and therefore closed), a text (the same book or film) is actually something that remains open. The resulting concept of intertextuality implies that meaning is brought to a cultural object by its audience and does not intrinsically reside in the object.

Barthes' book S/Z is often called the masterpiece of structuralist literary criticism. In S/Z, Barthes dissects the story "Sarrasine" by Honoré de Balzac at length, proceeding sentence by sentence, assigning each word and sentence to one or several "codes" and levels of meaning within the story.

Barthes' cultural criticism, published in volumes including Mythologies, is one of the key antecedents for later cultural studies, the application of techniques of literary and social criticism to mass culture. Mythologies is a collection of extremely brief, clever analyses of cultural objects from zoos to museums to fashion (a topic Barthes later took up in detail with The Fashion System).

Some of Barthes' later work, while it remains critical, is also personal and emotional. Most famously, his book Roland Barthes (often known as Barthes by Barthes) is a theoretical autobiography, organized in alphabetical sections rather than chronological ones. His last book, Camera Lucida, is a personal memoir, an epitaph for his mother (and himself), and a study of photography. (Jacques Derrida wrote, in his essay "The Deaths of Roland Barthes", about Camera Lucida that its "time and tempo accompanied his death as no other book, I believe, has ever kept vigil over its author.")

A posthumous book came out in 1987 in English, Incidents, which contained fragments from his journals: his Soires de Paris (a 1979 extract from his erotic diary of life in Paris); an earlier diary he kept (his erotic encounters with boys in Morocco); and Light of the Sud Ouest (his childhood memories of rural French life).


External links

es:Roland Barthes fr:Roland Barthes it:Roland Barthes he:רולאן בארת ja:ロラン・バルト pt:Roland Barthes sk:Roland Barthes sv:Roland Barthes


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