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Encyclopedia > Barthes

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



Barthes was born in Cherbough, 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.


His long productive career reached from the early days of structuralist linguistics in France up to the peak of post-structuralism, and Barthes's works are considered key texts of both structuralism and post-structuralism. Because Barthes was gay, although never openly so in his lifetime, some take him as an antecedent for queer theory. In addition, the autobiographical and aesthetic qualities of many of Barthes's texts makes 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. (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 - or whatever) 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's 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's 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's 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).


  • A Barthes Reader
  • Camera Lucida
  • Critical Essays
  • The Eiffel Tower and other Mythologies
  • Elements of Semiology
  • The Empire of the Signs
  • The Fashion System
  • The Grain of the Voice
  • Image-Music-Text
  • Incidents
  • A Lover's Discourse. A beautiful and original work that stands somehwere between poetry and criticism. It is considered a novel by some.
  • Michelet
  • Mythologies. A particularly pleasant starting point, especially the famous first (The World of Wrestling) and last (Myth Today) essays.
  • New Critical Essays
  • On Racine
  • The Pleasure of the Text
  • The Responsibility of Forms
  • Roland Barthes (book)
  • The Rustle of Language
  • Sade /Fourier /Loyola
  • The Semiotic Challenge
  • S/Z: An Essay ISBN 0374521670
  • Writing Degree Zero ISBN 0374521395

External links

  • "Between Zero and a Hard Place" (http://jacketmagazine.com/23/purdy-barthes.html) by Gilbert Wesley Purdy. Essay on Barthes' Writing Degree Zero.
  • Barthes page from the Johns Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory (http://www.press.jhu.edu/books/hopkins_guide_to_literary_theory/roland_barthes.html)
  • Das "Anrennen gegen die Grenzen der Sprache" - Methoden des Schreibens und Strategien des Lesens by Ralph Lichtensteiger (http://www.lichtensteiger.de/methoden.html)

  Results from FactBites:
Karl Barth - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (1144 words)
Barth explores the whole of Christian doctrine, where necessary challenging and reinterpreting it so that every part of it points to the radical challenge of Jesus Christ, and the impossibility of tying God to human cultures, achievements or possessions.
Some evangelical and fundamentalist critics have therefore tended to refer to Barth as "neo-orthodox" because, while his theology retains most or all of the tenets of Christianity, he is seen as rejecting the belief which for them is a lynchpin of the theological system: biblical inerrancy.
Barth stands in the heritage of the Reformation in his wariness of the marriage between theology and philosophy.
John Barth - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (547 words)
John Barth was born in Cambridge, Maryland and briefly studied "Elementary Theory and Advanced Orchestration" at Juilliard before attending Johns Hopkins University, receiving a B.A. in 1951 and an M.A. in 1952 (for which he wrote a thesis novel, The Shirt of Nessus).
Barth began his career with The Floating Opera and The End of the Road, two short novels that dealt wittily with controversial topics, suicide and abortion respectively.
Barth has since insisted that he was merely making clear that a particular stage in history was passing, and pointing to possible directions from there.
  More results at FactBites »



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