The (Post)Structuralist of all times- Roland Gérard Barthes


Roland Gérard Barthes was born on 12th November, in 1915, and celebrated a productive and inspiring life until he died in March 1980, followed by a car accident. When Barthes was an infant, his father was killed in a naval battle. Shortly thereafter, his mother, Henriette Barthes, moved the family to Bayonne, where Roland spent most of his early childhood. Although Barthes’ grandparents were well off, they reused to help his mother after she bore an illegitimate child. Hence, she had to work as a bookbinder to run the household. Born in France, he studied at the University of Paris, where he took consecutive degrees in classical letters and in grammar and philology. During this time, he fell ill to tuberculosis, spending time in sanatoriums during the occupation. His realization of being a homosexual also affected his self-esteem to a large extent. However, he managed to remain close to a few friends, like the renowned psychologist Julia Kristeva. Barthes taught in many schools in and outside France. After working at the ‘Centre National de la Recherché Scientifique’, he was appointed to the École Pratique des Hautes Études. He became the first person to hold the chair of literary semiology at the college of France. He also wrote several highly accredited books, including Writing Degree Zero (1953), S/Z (1970), etc. Devastated by his mother’s death, Barthes wrote his last book, Camera Lucida (1980), discussing photography as a mean of communication.


In the domain of literature, Barthes cannot be categorized within one concrete group, like his concept of ‘text’. He was a Marxist, a structuralist and also a post-structuralist. The difference in Barthes’ works can also be examined by comparing ‘The Structural Analysis of narrative’ and ‘The Pleasure of the Text’. The former is detailed, methodological, and extremely technical, whereas the latter is a series of random comments on narrative, arranged alphabetically. One of his most crucial works is the ‘Death of the Author’ (1968), where Barthes turned from structuralism to post structuralism. In that essay, Barthes claimed that a literary text is independent, and it cannot be confined to the author’s notions or intentions completely. Barthes in another important work ‘Mythologies’ has discussed the contradictory surface and latent meanings in cultural incidences. Through his works he has criticized the ideologies that underlie popular culture, such as colonialism, sexism etc. his other popular works include ‘Criticism and Truth’ (1966), ‘Image Music Text’ (1978) and so on.


Roland Barthes, in yet another commendable essay ‘From Work to Text’, depicted what according to him was a clear distinction between a literary ‘work’, and the ‘text’, a new object, created by twisting and turning existing principles and propositions. Barthes pointed out seven propositions, like method, genre, signs, reading, pleasure, filiation, etc. and described the differences between the work and the text with regard to these categories. Barthes’ idea of independence in seen in this essay too. He claimed that a work could be regarded as an intellectual property of the author and therefore solely considered in terms of his notions and intentions. However, a text is independent of such ideas. This work also says that the work is the signified and the text is the signifier. The essay ends with an idea that the text is solely designed to give its readers pleasure, or jouissance.

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