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Roland Barthes

Roland Barthes

Roland Barthes’s Dispute: The Picard Affair

When Barthes published On Racine in 1963, some critics weren't exactly fans of his style. But one critic, a professor at the Sorbonne, wasn't content with just poohing-poohing Barthes's work at cocktail parties. So Jean-Luc Picard published an attack article, "New Criticism or New Fraud?" (1965) that accused Barthes of being too, well, Barthes-y.

To Picard, Barthes's On Racine seemed too subjective—it wasn't how-to-read-Racine, it was how-to-read-Racine-like-Barthes. Picard wanted the old style of literary criticism, seemingly objective and full of history and biography. But Barthes wanted to get at Racine through close readings of structure and through psychoanalysis—basically, through all sorts of scary, newfangled ideas.

Although Barthes didn't stoop to quite the same style of attack, he did defend himself in Criticism and Truth (1966). From Barthes's angle, it's not that he was being too subjective in his criticism, but that Picard (and others) didn't see how their supposed objectivity wasn't really all that objective in the first place.

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