Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Roland Barthes

Roland Barthes (November 12, 1915 - March 25, 1980) was a French literary critic, literary and social theorist, and semiotician. 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 openly gay, some take him as an antecedent for queer theory as well.) In addition, the autobiographical and aesthetic qualities of many of Barthes's texts makes them literature in their own right.

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.")

Barthes's book S/Z is often called the masterpiece of structuralist literary criticism. In S/Z, Barthes dissects the story "Sarrasine" by Honore 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.")


External links