Barthes: A Very Short Introduction
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Roland Barthes was the leading figure of French Structuralism, the theoretical movement of the 1960s which revolutionized the study of literature and culture, as well as history and psychoanalysis. But Barthes was a man who disliked orthodoxies. His shifting positions and theoretical interests make him hard to grasp and assess. This book surveys Barthes' work in clear, accessible prose, highlighting what is most interesting and important in his work today. In particular, the book describes the many projects, which Barthes explored and which helped to change the way we think about a range of cultural phenomena--from literature, fashion, wrestling, and advertising to notions of the self, of history, and of nature.
of clothing and worldly activities. ‘ C’est le sens qui fait vendre’, Barthes writes; it’s meaning that sells (p. 10/xii). To describe this system Barthes takes the captions beneath photographs in a year’s issues of two fashion magazines, on the assumption that the captions will call attention to the aspects of the garment that make it fashionable and thus enable him to identify the distinctions at work in this sign system. Barthes discovers three levels of signification, nicely
the docks at Calais? Barthes notes that: It is the very preciseness of the reference to the world that makes the function unreal; once again we encounter the paradox of the art of the novel: any function so minutely detailed becomes unreal, but at the same time, the more contingent the function, the more ‘natural’ it seems. Fashion writing thus comes back to the postulate of realist style, according to which an accumulation of minute and precise details thes Bar accredits the truth of
supposed to be feeling; the Novelistic Code transforms this ‘feeling’ into literature: it is the code of an innocent author who has no doubt that the novelistic is a just (natural) expression of passion. The Ironic Code takes up the ‘naïveté’ of the first two codes: as the novelist undertakes to speak of the character (code 2), the ironist undertakes to speak of the novelist (code 3) . . . it would suffice to produce . . . a pastiche of Balzac to take one step further this staggering of
histories, Barthes goes on to imagine an aesthetics based on the pleasure of the consumer and ‘a typology of the pleasures of reading – or of the readers of pleasure’, in which each reading neurosis finds a particular textual pleasure: the fetishist is a lover of fragments, quotations, turns of phrase; the obsessional an enthusiastic manipulator of metalanguages, glosses, and explications; the paranoid a deep interpreter, seeker of secrets and complications; and the hysteric an enthusiast
constraints of the logos, of Discourse’; ‘denouncing or relativizing a 120 practice should serve to found or approach the condition of the Neutre, understood as a radically Other regime of meaning.’36 Though we can indeed track this underlying impulse in Barthes’s work, it is one that is easy to satirize as escapism, as Philippe Lejeune, an expert on autobiography, does in a chapter of Moi aussi that parodies Barthes par Barthes. Here is one of a series of alphabetized fragments entitled