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Roland Barthes

Roland Barthes (November 12, 1915 - March 25, 1980) was a French literary critic, literary and social theorist, philosopher 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.")

In his 1971 essay "From Work to Text", Barthes takes this idea further, arguing that while a 'work' (such as a book or a film) contains meanings that are unproblematically traceable back to the author (and therefore closed), a text (the same book or film - or whatever) is actually something that remains open. The resulting concept of intertextuality implies that meaning is brought to a cultural object by its audience and does not intrinsically reside in the object.

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


  • A Barthes Reader
  • Camera Lucida
  • Critical Essays
  • The Eiffel Tower and other Mythologies
  • Elements of Semiology
  • The Empire of the Signs
  • The Fashion System
  • The Grain of the Voice
  • Image-Music-Text
  • A Lover's Discourse . A beautiful and original work that stands somehwere between poetry and criticism. It is considered a novel by some.
  • Michelet
  • Mythologies. A particularly pleasant starting point, especially the famous first (The World of Wrestling) and last (Myth Today) essays.
  • New Critical Essays
  • On Racine
  • The Pleasure of the Text
  • The Responsibility of Forms
  • Roland Barthes (book)
  • The Rustle of Language
  • Sade /Fourier /Loyola
  • The Semiotic Challenge
  • ISBN 0374521670
  • Writing Degree Zero ISBN 0374521395

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Last updated: 10-24-2004 05:10:45