Roland Barthes’s Files
Dig into the personal files of your favorite critic.
We've managed to lift some blog entries from Roland Barthes's Live Journal. Caution: sometimes he quotes his own books in italics.
Roland Barthes's Blog, by Roland Barthes
THESE ARE A FEW OF MY FAVORITE LINES
When I'm reading, I'm all about the pleasure of the text. Sure I love a good story, but I also love a good sentence. For example, this sentence gives me the most pleasure:
"Cloths, sheets, napkins were hanging vertically, attached by wooden clothespins to taut lines."—Flaubert
It's just a description of a laundry line, but it's so balanced—detail-heavy, and still super concise. Here I enjoy an excess of precision, a kind of maniacal exactitude of language, a descriptive madness ("The Pleasure of the Text"). Sentence structure and word choice at their best!
Okay, so the last one was totally artful. The next is artful and funny. It's a perfect example of why Fourier can be so entertaining, because it's one sentence that tells us a lot about Fourier's style:
"And what can Hell in its fury invent worse than the rattlesnake, the bug, the legion of insects and reptiles, the sea monsters, poisons, plague, rabies, leprosy, venereal disease, gout, and all the morbiferous virulences?" —Fourier
The bug and the sea monster? Rattlesnakes and venereal disease? This string of nonsense derives a final savor from the "morbiferous." It's not an everyday word, but it works because it's plump and brilliant—strangely both sensual and ridiculous. And this is a trademark of Fourier's style: the last item in a list is as abrupt as the movement of the head of an animal, a bird, a child who has heard "something else" ("Fourier"). When you take a microscope to a sentence like this, you can dissect why it works—and whether it's a pattern in the writer's style. (Kind of like finding a writer's tics.)
And to end this post, how about a little passage that gets at something huge:
"I saw him, blushed, turned pale when our eyes met.
Confusion seized my bewildered soul." —Racine
It's the old story: girl sees boy, and it's love at first sight. But love at first sight is always spoken in the past tense. Because let's get real: in the present moment, who's ever really that sure that it's love? We only know what "the moment" was after we've gotten some 20/20 hindsight on it.
Okay, now let's get back to that bit about the blushing and the confusion. This isn't about a moment in real-time. Instead, it seems like everything is happening at once—she sees him and blushes, and turns pale. And what's more abrupt than the verb "seized"? Everything is distinct, abrupt, framed, it is already (again, always) a memory (the nature of the photograph is not to represent but to memorialize). So to sum up: Racine crafts these lines in a way that actually draws attention to how "love at first sight" really means "love in hindsight."
Sometimes I stumble across a sentence like this one that seems to jump out at me: it's about something bigger than that one sentence. So this Racine line isn't just about Phaedra, but about all cases of love at first sight. Or, more exactly, about how we talk about love at first sight.
ME OR A ROMANCE NOVEL?
Today I was reading Twilight, and then I got bored and started reading some of my own greatest hits. And I came up with a little game: is this something I wrote, or is this lifted from a romance novel?
Try it! Sometimes I surprise even myself.
Me or a romance novel?
Language is a skin: I rub my language against the other. It is as if I had words instead of fingers, or fingers at the tip of my words. My language trembles with desire.
Is it a conversation out of a Nora Roberts romance? Or is it me talking about the experience of reading?
Yep, that's me!
I put on dark glasses to mask my swollen eyes (a fine example of denial: to darken the sight in order not to be seen). The intention of this gesture is a calculated one: I want to keep the moral advantage of stoicism, of "dignity"… and at the same time, contradictorily, I want to provoke the tender question ("But what's the matter with you?").
Eyes swollen from crying over a break up? Throw on some sunglasses—that'll let you hide the evidence and show that you're hurt. So is this a strategy straight out of Twilight? Nope, it's me again!
Okay let's try one more:
Is not the most erotic portion of a body where the garment gapes?
Maybe that's not fair. Let's quote what comes after:
In perversion (which is the realm of textual pleasure) there are no "erogenous zones" (a foolish expression, besides); it is intermittence, as psychoanalysis has so rightly stated, which is erotic…
You guessed it—me again! This reminds me why reading is so pleasurable: it's the gap between words and interpretation. When I read, I fill in the gaps.
Now I'm going to get back to reading Twilight.
Live blogging the finale of The Bachelorette (while re-reading A Lover's Discourse: Fragments)
8:00PM The bachelorette has to choose between two men. This concocted love triangle is the point of the entire season—in fact, it might just be the point of all narratives about love. (After all, my go-to example for talking about love, The Sorrows of Young Werther, is all about a love triangle between a woman and two men.) Emily initially has dozens of men, dozens of dates: Emily is a cake, and this cake is divided up: each has his slice: I am not the only one… I am to share, I must yield to the law of division.
8:15PM But now the game draws to a close: Emily is forced to decide between two.
8:45PM Emily's family likes both the options. So do I.
8:50PM No one has a strong opinion about what Emily should do. No surprise there. The lovers are super interchangeable—I mean, how many reasonably tall, reasonably attractive, brown-haired men can they get on this show at once? I keep mixing up who is who. Sometimes I even mistake Chris Harrison for Arie.
Anyway, the point isn't the two dudes, the point is that Emily needs to make a decision.
9:15PM Now that Emily has seen Jef with Little Ricki, she has made up her mind. She decides not to spend more time with Arie. (Love is familiarity and habit: Emily must stop while one lover is more familiar than the other.)
And now comes the obligatory break-up scene.
9:25PM Arie arrives first: he thinks he's there for a date. We can read his thoughts:
"Am I in love?—yes, since I am waiting. The other one never waits. Sometimes I want to play the part of the one who doesn't wait; I try to busy myself (sure, in the meantime I'll pick flowers and make a love potion)… but I always lose at this game. Whatever I do, I find myself there, with nothing to do, punctual, even ahead of time. The lover's fatal identity is precisely this: I am the one who waits."
9:30PM Emily bumbles through the break-up. For Arie, soon (or simultaneously) the question is no longer "Why don't you love me?" but "Why do you only love me a little?" And really: What does that mean, loving "a little"?
9:35 Bachelors and bachelorettes are always having crying fits. This finale is no different.
When he starts crying, Arie wants to impress someone, to bring pressure to bear upon someone ("Look what you have done to me"). They take turns crying. I make myself cry, in order to prove to myself that my grief is not an illusion: tears are signs, not expressions. By my tears, I tell a story, I produce a myth of grief.
The break-up scene is our tragic spectacle. Only on reality TV, no one smothers anyone in a fit of jealous rage. Yet.
9:45PM Now that Arie is gone, we can get back to Jef. Emily is stuck with Jef, so he seems even more perfect than before—he is, in the immortal words of Peter Cetera, "the hero you're dreaming of." The producers give us a montage set to "The Glory of Love": this is the happy interval immediately following the first ravishment, before the difficulties of the amorous relationship begin.