46 Facts About Barthes


Roland Gerard Barthes was a French literary theorist, essayist, philosopher, critic, and semiotician.

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Barthes's work engaged in the analysis of a variety of sign systems, mainly derived from Western popular culture.

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Barthes's ideas explored a diverse range of fields and influenced the development of many schools of theory, including structuralism, anthropology, literary theory, and post-structuralism.

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Barthes is perhaps best known for his 1957 essay collection Mythologies, which contained reflections on popular culture, and 1967 essay "The Death of the Author, " which critiqued traditional approaches in literary criticism.

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When Barthes was eleven, his family moved to Paris, though his attachment to his provincial roots would remain strong throughout his life.

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Barthes showed great promise as a student and spent the period from 1935 to 1939 at the Sorbonne, where he earned a licence in classical literature.

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Barthes was plagued by ill health throughout this period, suffering from tuberculosis, which often had to be treated in the isolation of sanatoria.

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Barthes's repeated physical breakdowns disrupted his academic career, affecting his studies and his ability to take qualifying examinations.

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Barthes received a diplome d'etudes superieures from the University of Paris in 1941 for his work in Greek tragedy.

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In 1952, Barthes settled at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, where he studied lexicology and sociology.

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Barthes spent the early 1960s exploring the fields of semiology and structuralism, chairing various faculty positions around France, and continuing to produce more full-length studies.

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Barthes's unorthodox thinking led to a conflict with a well-known Sorbonne professor of literature, Raymond Picard, who attacked the French New Criticism for its obscurity and lack of respect towards France's literary roots.

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Barthes traveled to the US and Japan, delivering a presentation at Johns Hopkins University.

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Barthes continued to contribute with Philippe Sollers to the avant-garde literary magazine Tel Quel, which was developing similar kinds of theoretical inquiry to that pursued in Barthes's writings.

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On 25 February 1980, Roland Barthes was knocked down by a laundry van while walking home through the streets of Paris.

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In Writing Degree Zero, Barthes argues that conventions inform both language and style, rendering neither purely creative.

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In Michelet, a critical analysis of the French historian Jules Michelet, Barthes developed these notions, applying them to a broader range of fields.

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Barthes argued that Michelet's views of history and society are obviously flawed.

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Similarly, Barthes felt that avant-garde writing should be praised for its maintenance of just such a distance between its audience and itself.

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In presenting an obvious artificiality rather than making claims to great subjective truths, Barthes argued, avant-garde writers ensure that their audiences maintain an objective perspective.

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Barthes found semiotics, the study of signs, useful in these interrogations.

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Barthes developed a theory of signs to demonstrate this perceived deception.

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Barthes suggested that the construction of myths results in two levels of signification: the "language-object", a first order linguistic system; and the "metalanguage", the second-order system transmitting the myth.

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Barthes was able to use these distinctions to evaluate how certain key 'functions' work in forming characters.

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Such thought led Barthes to consider the limitations not just of signs and symbols, but of Western culture's dependency on beliefs of constancy and ultimate standards.

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Barthes travelled to Japan in 1966 where he wrote Empire of Signs, a meditation on Japanese culture's contentment in the absence of a search for a transcendental signifier.

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Barthes saw the notion of the author, or authorial authority, in the criticism of literary text as the forced projection of an ultimate meaning of the text.

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Since Barthes contends that there can be no originating anchor of meaning in the possible intentions of the author, he considers what other sources of meaning or significance can be found in literature.

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Barthes concludes that since meaning can't come from the author, it must be actively created by the reader through a process of textual analysis.

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From this project Barthes concludes that an ideal text is one that is reversible, or open to the greatest variety of independent interpretations and not restrictive in meaning.

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Barthes describes this as the difference between the writerly text, in which the reader is active in a creative process, and a readerly text in which they are restricted to just reading.

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The project helped Barthes identify what it was he sought in literature: an openness for interpretation.

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Barthes called these two conflicting modes the Doxa and the Para-doxa.

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Barthes felt his past works, like Mythologies, had suffered from this.

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Barthes became interested in finding the best method for creating neutral writing, and he decided to try to create a novelistic form of rhetoric that would not seek to impose its meaning on the reader.

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When his mother, Henriette Barthes, died in 1977 he began writing Camera Lucida as an attempt to explain the unique significance a picture of her as a child carried for him.

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Barthes found the solution to this fine line of personal meaning in the form of his mother's picture.

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In February 2009, Editions du Seuil published Journal de deuil, based on Barthes's files written from 26 November 1977 up to 15 September 1979, intimate notes on his terrible loss:.

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Roland Barthes's criticism contributed to the development of theoretical schools such as structuralism, semiotics, and post-structuralism.

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Readerly and writerly are terms Barthes employs both to delineate one type of literature from another and to implicitly interrogate ways of reading, like positive or negative habits the modern reader brings into one's experience with the text itself.

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Author and scriptor are terms Barthes uses to describe different ways of thinking about the creators of texts.

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In place of the author, the modern world presents us with a figure Barthes calls the "scriptor, " whose only power is to combine pre-existing texts in new ways.

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Barthes believes that all writing draws on previous texts, norms, and conventions, and that these are the things to which we must turn to understand a text.

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Barthes argues that, in the absence of the idea of an "author-God" to control the meaning of a work, interpretive horizons are opened up considerably for the active reader.

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In 1964, Barthes wrote "The Last Happy Writer", the title of which refers to Voltaire.

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Laurent Binet's novel The 7th Function of Language is based on the premise that Barthes was not merely accidentally hit by a van but that he was instead murdered, as part of a conspiracy to acquire a document known as the "Seventh Function of Language".

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