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Biography

Early life

Roland Barthes was born on 12 November in the town of Cherbourg in Normandy. His father, naval officer Louis Barthes, was killed in a battle during World War I in the North Sea before Barthes's first birthday. His mother, Henriette Barthes, and his aunt and grandmother raised him in the village of Urt and the city of Bayonne. When Barthes was eleven, his family moved to Paris, though his attachment to his provincial roots would remain strong throughout his life.

Student years

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. He was plagued by ill health throughout this period, suffering from tuberculosis, which often had to be treated in the isolation of sanatoria.[6] His repeated physical breakdowns disrupted his academic career, affecting his studies and his ability to take qualifying examinations. They also exempted him from military service during World War II.

His life from 1939 to 1948 was largely spent obtaining a licence in grammar and philology, publishing his first papers, taking part in a medical study, and continuing to struggle with his health. He received a diplôme d'études supérieures (roughly equivalent to an MA by thesis) from the University of Paris in 1941 for his work in Greek tragedy.[7]

Early academic career

In 1948, he returned to purely academic work, gaining numerous short-term positions at institutes in France, Romania, and Egypt. During this time, he contributed to the leftist Parisian paper Combat, out of which grew his first full-length work, Writing Degree Zero (1953).

In 1952, Barthes settled at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, where he studied lexicology and sociology. During his seven-year period there, he began to write a popular series of bi-monthly essays for the magazine Les Lettres Nouvelles, in which he dismantled myths of popular culture (gathered in the Mythologies collection that was published in 1957). Consisting of fifty-four short essays, mostly written between 1954–1956, Mythologies were acute reflections of French popular culture ranging from an analysis on soap detergents to a dissection of popular wrestling.[8] Knowing little English, Barthes taught at Middlebury College in 1957 and befriended the future English translator of much of his work, Richard Howard, that summer in New York City.[9]

Rise to prominence

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. Many of his works challenged traditional academic views of literary criticism and of renowned figures of literature. His unorthodox thinking led to a conflict with a well-known Sorbonne professor of literature, Raymond Picard, who attacked the French New Criticism (a label that he inaccurately applied to Barthes) for its obscurity and lack of respect towards France's literary roots. Barthes's rebuttal in Criticism and Truth (1966) accused the old, bourgeois criticism of a lack of concern with the finer points of language and of selective ignorance towards challenging theories, such as Marxism.

By the late 1960s, Barthes had established a reputation for himself. He traveled to the US and Japan, delivering a presentation at Johns Hopkins University. During this time, he wrote his best-known work[according to whom?], the 1967 essay "The Death of the Author," which, in light of the growing influence of Jacques Derrida's deconstruction, would prove to be a transitional piece in its investigation of the logical ends of structuralist thought.

Mature critical work

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. In 1970, Barthes produced what many consider to be his most prodigious work,[who?] the dense, critical reading of Balzac's Sarrasine entitled S/Z.

During his academic career he was primarily associated with the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS) and the Collège de France.

Roland Barthes was born on 12 November in the town of Cherbourg in Normandy. His father, naval officer Louis Barthes, was killed in a battle during World War I in the North Sea before Barthes's first birthday. His mother, Henriette Barthes, and his aunt and grandmother raised him in the village of Urt and the city of Bayonne. When Barthes was eleven, his family moved to Paris, though his attachment to his provincial roots would remain strong throughout his life.

Student years

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. He was plagued by ill health throughout this period, suffering from tuberculosis, which often had to be treated in the isolation of sanatoria.[6] His repeated physical breakdowns disrupted his academic career, affecting his studies and his ability to take qualifying examinations. They also exempted him from military service during World War II.

His life from 1939 to 1948 was largely spent obtaining a licence in grammar and philology, publishing his first papers, taking part in a medical study, and continuing to struggle with his health. He received a diplôme d'études supérieures (roughly equivalent to an MA by thesis) from the University of Paris in 1941 for his work in Greek tragedy.[7]

Early academic career

In 1948, he returned to purely academic work, gaining numerous short-term positions at institutes in France, Romania, and Egypt. During this time, he contributed to the leftist Parisian paper Combat, out of which grew his first full-length work, Writing Degree Zero (1953).

In 1952, Barthes settled at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, where he studied lexicology and sociology. During his seven-year period there, he began to write a popular series of bi-monthly essays for the magazine Les Lettres Nouvelles, in which he dismantled myths of popular culture (gathered in the Mythologies collection that was published in 1957). Consisting of fifty-four short essays, mostly written between 1954–1956, Mythologies were acute reflections of French popular culture ranging from an analysis on soap detergents to a dissection of popular wrestling.[8] Knowing little English, Barthes taught at Middlebury College in 1957 and befriended the future English translator of much of his work, Richard Howard, that summer in New York City.[9]

Rise to prominence

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. Many of his works challenged traditional academic views of literary criticism and of renowned figures of literature. His unorthodox thinking led to a conflict with a well-known Sorbonne professor of literature, Raymond Picard, who attacked the French New Criticism (a label that he inaccurately applied to Barthes) for its obscurity and lack of respect towards France's literary roots. Barthes's rebuttal in Criticism and Truth (1966) accused the old, Sorbonne, where he earned a licence in classical literature. He was plagued by ill health throughout this period, suffering from tuberculosis, which often had to be treated in the isolation of sanatoria.[6] His repeated physical breakdowns disrupted his academic career, affecting his studies and his ability to take qualifying examinations. They also exempted him from military service during World War II.

His life from 1939 to 1948 was largely spent obtaining a licence in grammar and philology, publishing his first papers, taking part in a medical study, and continuing to struggle with his

His life from 1939 to 1948 was largely spent obtaining a licence in grammar and philology, publishing his first papers, taking part in a medical study, and continuing to struggle with his health. He received a diplôme d'études supérieures (roughly equivalent to an MA by thesis) from the University of Paris in 1941 for his work in Greek tragedy.[7]

In 1948, he returned to purely academic work, gaining numerous short-term positions at institutes in France, Romania, and Egypt. During this time, he contributed to the leftist Parisian paper Combat, out of which grew his first full-length work, Writing Degree Zero (1953).

In 1952, Barthes settled at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, where he studied lexicology and In 1952, Barthes settled at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, where he studied lexicology and sociology. During his seven-year period there, he began to write a popular series of bi-monthly essays for the magazine Les Lettres Nouvelles, in which he dismantled myths of popular culture (gathered in the Mythologies collection that was published in 1957). Consisting of fifty-four short essays, mostly written between 1954–1956, Mythologies were acute reflections of French popular culture ranging from an analysis on soap detergents to a dissection of popular wrestling.[8] Knowing little English, Barthes taught at Middlebury College in 1957 and befriended the future English translator of much of his work, Richard Howard, that summer in New York City.[9]

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. Many of his works challenged traditional academic views of literary criticism and of renowned figures of literature. His unorthodox thinking led to a conflict with a well-known Sorbonne professor of literature, Raymond Picard, who attacked the French New Criticism (a label that he inaccurately applied to Barthes) for its obscurity and lack of respect towards France's literary roots. Barthes's rebuttal in Criticism and Truth (1966) accused the old, bourgeois criticism of a lack of concern with the finer points of language and of selective ignorance towards challenging theories, such as Marxism.

By the late 1960s, Barthes had established a reputation for himself. He traveled to the US and Japan, delivering a presentation at Johns Hopkins University. D

By the late 1960s, Barthes had established a reputation for himself. He traveled to the US and Japan, delivering a presentation at Johns Hopkins University. During this time, he wrote his best-known work[according to whom?], the 1967 essay "The Death of the Author," which, in light of the growing influence of Jacques Derrida's deconstruction, would prove to be a transitional piece in its investigation of the logical ends of structuralist thought.

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. In 1970, Barthes produced what many consider to be his most prodigious work,[who?] the dense, critical reading of Balzac's Sarrasine entitled S/Z. Throughout the 1970s, Barthes continued to develop his literary criticism; he developed new ideals of textuality and novelistic neutrality. In 1971, he served as visiting professor at the University of Geneva. In those same years he became primarily associated with the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS).

In 1975 he wrote an autobiography titled Roland Barthes and in 1977 he was elected to the chair of Sémiologie Littéraire at the Collège de France. In the same year, his mother, Henriette Barthes, to whom he had been devoted, died, aged 85. They had lived tog

In 1975 he wrote an autobiography titled Roland Barthes and in 1977 he was elected to the chair of Sémiologie Littéraire at the Collège de France. In the same year, his mother, Henriette Barthes, to whom he had been devoted, died, aged 85. They had lived together for 60 years. The loss of the woman who had raised and cared for him was a serious blow to Barthes. His last major work, Camera Lucida, is partly an essay about the nature of photography and partly a meditation on photographs of his mother. The book contains many reproductions of photographs, though none of them are of Henriette.

On 25 February 1980, Roland Barthes was knocked down by a laundry van while walking home through the streets of Paris. One month later, on 26 March,[10] he died from the chest injuries he sustained in that collision.[11]

Writings and ideas

In the late 1970s, Barthes was increasingly concerned with the conflict of two types of language: that of popular culture, which he saw as limiting and pigeonholing in its titles and descriptions, and neutral, which he saw as open and noncommittal.[16] He called these two conflicting modes the Doxa (the official and unacknowledged systems of meaning by which we know culture[17]) and the Para-doxa. While Barthes had sympathized with Marxist thought in the past (or at least parallel criticisms), he felt that, despite its anti-ideological stance, Marxist theory was just as guilty of using violent language with assertive meanings, as was bourgeois literature. In this way they were both Doxa and both culturally assimilating. As a reaction to this, he wrote The Pleasure of the Text (1975), a study that focused on a subject matter he felt was equally outside the realm of both conservative society and militant leftist thinking: hedonism. By writing about a subject that was rejected by both social extremes of thought, Barthes felt he could avoid the dangers of the limiting language of the Doxa. The theory he developed out of this focus claimed that, while reading for pleasure is a kind of social act, through which the reader exposes him/herself to the ideas of the writer, the final cathartic climax of this pleasurable reading, which he termed the bliss in reading or jouissance, is a point in which one becomes lost within the text. This loss of self within the text or immersion in the text, signifies a final impact of reading that is experienced outside the social realm and free from the influence of culturally associative language and is thus neutral with regard to social progress.

Despite this newest theory of reading, Barthes remained concerned with the difficulty of achieving truly neutral writing, which required an avoidance of any labels that might carry an implied meaning or identity towards a given object. Even carefully crafted neutral writing could be taken in an assertive context through the incidental use of a word with a loaded social context. Barthes felt his past works, like Mythologies, had suffered from this. He 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. One product of this endeavor was A Lover's Discourse: Fragments in 1977, in which he presents the fictionalized reflections of a lover seeking to identify and be identified by an anonymous amorous other. The unrequited lover's search for signs by which to show and receive love makes evident illusory myths involved in such a pursuit. The lover's attempts to assert himself into a false, ideal reality is involved in a delusion that exposes the contradictory logic inherent in such a search. Yet at the same time the novelistic character is a sympathetic one, and is thus open not just to criticism but also understanding from the reader. The end result is one that challenges the reader's views of social constructs of love, without trying to assert any definitive theory of meaning.

Mind and body

Barthes also attempted to reinterpret the mind-body dualism theory.Mythologies, had suffered from this. He 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. One product of this endeavor was A Lover's Discourse: Fragments in 1977, in which he presents the fictionalized reflections of a lover seeking to identify and be identified by an anonymous amorous other. The unrequited lover's search for signs by which to show and receive love makes evident illusory myths involved in such a pursuit. The lover's attempts to assert himself into a false, ideal reality is involved in a delusion that exposes the contradictory logic inherent in such a search. Yet at the same time the novelistic character is a sympathetic one, and is thus open not just to criticism but also understanding from the reader. The end result is one that challenges the reader's views of social constructs of love, without trying to assert any definitive theory of meaning.

Barthes also attempted to reinterpret the mind-body dualism theory.[18] Like Friedrich Nietzsche and Levinas, he also drew from Eastern philosophical traditions in his critique of European culture as "infected" by Western metaphysics. His body theory emphasized the formation of the self through bodily cultivation.[18] The theory, which is also described as ethico-political entity, considers the idea of the body as one that functions as a "fashion word" that provides the illusion of a grounded discourse.[19] This theory has influenced the work of other thinkers such as Jerome Bel.[20]

Photography and Henriette Barthes

A posthumous collection of

A posthumous collection of essays was published in 1987 by François Wahl, Incidents.[21] It contains fragments from his journals: his Soirées de Paris (a 1979 extract from his erotic diary of life in Paris); an earlier diary he kept which explicitly detailed his paying for sex with men and boys in Morocco; and Light of the Sud Ouest (his childhood memories of rural French life). In November 2007, Yale University Press published a new translation into English (by Richard Howard) of Barthes's little known work What is Sport. This work bears a considerable resemblance to Mythologies and was originally commissioned by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation as the text for a documentary film directed by Hubert Aquin.

In February 2009, Éditions du Seuil published Journal de deuil (Journal of Mourning), based on Barthes's files written from 26 November 1977 (the day following his mother's death) up to 15 September 1979, intimate notes on his terrible loss: