Sunday, December 02, 2012

Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes pp.168-188

Here are a few brief words on the end of Barthes' book, Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes ... by Roland Barthes.

Isn't this interesting?: "I would be nothing if I didn't write. Yet I am elsewhere than where I am when I write. I am worth more than what I write." He adds that these ideas are outdated. This is sad; these seem to be worthwhile. (169)

Oh, to be in Barthes' seminar; it would be like being in a train compartment with him - somewhat horrific (see pg. 171).

He lists more "new books" on p.173 and suggests that this book is informed by "the Linguistics of Value."

The second full paragraph on p.174 is an excellent description of procrastination. We certainly understand Barthes' humanity, but we also see something of his "depression" here).

"Dilatory" is a term he uses elsewhere. From the Apple built-in dictionary:
slow to act: he had been dilatory in appointing a solicitor.
intended to cause delay: they resorted to dilatory procedural tactics, forcing a postponement of peace talks.
This is quite the work, markedly different from his later Camera Lucida. But if the latter book can be thought of as a kind of eulogy for his mother, the present book seems a eulogy for Roland Barthes himself.


Phil Wiebe said...

Barthes' choice is entertaining as he cannot decide the most apt adjective - American/positivist/disputatious. I think he would have been a pretty unpleasant professor to have in any formal sense, maybe not so bad as a mentor or human being. Then again, he might be as Žižek says of himself: "It is not that I have the mask of a theoretician and underneath I am a warm human person." I think Roland said something about liking chocolate cake too.

His commentary on the word 'he' is very different from what would normally be expected in academic discourse, esp. from the types who concern themselves with gender issues in language. A good counterbalance.

"Outdated . . . if they were not contradictory" - how can a proposition's obsolescence be dependent on whether it is contradictory or not?

Barthes is especially insightful about aesthetics: "The art of seeing the forms detach themselves from causes and goals and constitute an adequate system of values, what could be more contrary to politics?" (169). His following ideas are bizarre and luscious. His main dislike of politics is its form which is the "discredit of all repetition: another one! what a bore!" (170).

The section on future books may be the longest in Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes. Clearly, Barthes got a lot of satisfaction just thinking about writing. I feel that most theoreticians think about their work the same as Fourier: "Heralds of the perfect Book, which he will publish later." (174)

Glad to see that Barthes has some familiarity with the work of Kierkegaard and seems to share some common ground with him. This may be my favorite part of the book: "My head is confused (let us imagine a language in which the set of grammatical categories would sometimes force the subject to speak in the aspect of an old woman)" (176).

But the penultimate section is the best, on maxims: "The maxim is a sort of sentence-name, and to name is to pacify. Moreover, this too is a maxim: it attenuates my fear of seeking extravagance by writing maxims" (179).

Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes was a really tough book. I honestly can say I didn't get a lot out of it theory-wise (I don't feel as though I understand the ideas of Roland Barthes much better) but insofar as the book was meant to be autobiography, it was very successful. As with Camera Lucida, I feel like I understand Barthes as a person much better.

Nicholas Greco said...

You're right in terms of theory, I think. Barthes' theory is insanely deep, buried within his autobiography. In a way, he is being purposefully obtuse, while giving us glimpses of who he really is.

I suppose that Barthes is a kind of enigma. He may not have been cultivating his enigma in the same way as a certain celebrity (who has a last name that starts with M), but perhaps his insecurity or quest for privacy made him present himself as such.

And perhaps that's why I like his work so much. He is mine-able. His work is rich with reward once one digs into it; it easily generates ideas.

So, if this work didn't reveal theory easily, that's fine. I agree that this is a tough book (I had a lot of trouble with parts as I went through). And I agree that we get to understand more of Barthes as a human being. That is fascinating, I think.

I hope it was a useful and enjoyable exercise nonetheless, if challenging. I look forward to seeing how you will integrate it into your final paper.

By the way, thanks for your comments throughout. I know you had to do it, but I'm glad you did.