- Birthday, Books, Quotes, Reading, Writing

Roland Barthes on Language, Writing, Love, Style, Literature, and More


Happy birthday, Roland Barthes! Here are some quotes from the author:


“There is only one way left to escape the alienation of present day society: to retreat ahead of it.”


“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.”


“The Text is plural. Which is not simply to say that it has several meanings, but that it accomplishes the very plural of meaning: an irreducible (and not merely an acceptable) plural. The Text is not a co-existence of meanings but a passage, an overcrossing; thus it answers not to an interpretation, even a liberal one, but to an explosion, a dissemination.”


“What the public wants is the image of passion, not passion itself.”


“[A]nd I, the one who speaks, I too am disfigured: soliloquy makes me into a monster: one huge tongue.”


“What is style? Style makes a difficult action into a graceful gesture, introducing a rhythm into fatality. Style is to be courageous without disorder, to give necessity to the appearance of freedom.”


“Love at first sight is a hypnosis.”


“It is not true that the more you love, the better you understand; all that the action of love obtains from me is merely this wisdom: that the other is not to be known; his opacity is not the screen around a secret, but, instead, a kind of evidence in which the game of reality and appearance is done away with. I am then seized with that exaltation of loving someone unknown, someone who will remain so forever: a mystic impulse: I know what I do not know.”


“To try to write love is to confront the muck of language: that region of hysteria where language is both too much and too little, excessive and impoverished.”


“I cannot write myself. What, after all, is this ‘I’ who would write himself? Even as he would enter into the writing, the writing would take the wind out of his sails, would render him null and void—futile; a gradual dilapidation would occur, in which the other’s image, too, would be gradually involved (to write on something is to outmode it), a disgust whose conclusion could only be: what’s the use? What obstructs amorous writing is the illusion of expressivity: as a writer, or assuming myself to be one, I continue to fool myself as to the effects of language: I do not know that the word ‘suffering’ expresses no suffering and that, consequently, to use it is not only to communicate nothing but even, and immediately, to annoy, to irritate (not to mention the absurdity). Someone would have to teach me that one cannot write without burying ‘sincerity’ (always the Orpheus myth: not to turn back). What writing demands, and what any lover cannot grant it without laceration, is to sacrifice a little of his Image-repertoire, and to assure thereby, through his language, the assumption of a little reality.”


“What I claim is to live to the full the contradiction of my time, which may well make sarcasm the condition of truth.”


“Every exploration is an appropriation.”


“What I enjoy in a narrative is not directly its content or even its structure, but rather the abrasions I impose upon the fine surface: I read on, I skip, I look up, I dip in again. Which has nothing to do with the deep laceration the text of bliss inflicts upon language itself, and not upon the simple temporality of its reading.”


“Writing is the destruction of every voice, of every point of origin.”


“What love lays bare in me is energy.”


“I can do everything with my language but not with my body. What I hide by my language, my body utters. I can deliberately mold my message, not my voice. By my voice, whatever it says, the other will recognize ‘that something is wrong with me.’ I am a liar (by preterition), not an actor. My body is a stubborn child, my language is a very civilized adult…”


“We know that the war against intelligence is always waged in the name of common sense.”


“‘But I never looked like that!’—How do you know? What is the ‘you’ you might or might not look like? Where do you find it—by which morphological or expressive calibration? Where is your authentic body? You are the only one who can never see yourself except as an image; you never see your eyes unless they are dulled by the gaze they rest upon the mirror or the lens (I am interested in seeing my eyes only when they look at you): even and especially for your own body, you are condemned to the repertoire of its images.”


“The pleasure of the sentence is to a high degree cultural. The artifact created by rhetors, grammarians, linguists, teachers, writers, parents—this artifact is mimicked in a more or less ludic manner; we are playing with an exceptional object, whose paradox has been articulated by linguistics: immutably structured and yet infinitely renewable: something like chess.”


“Text of bliss: the text that imposes a state of loss, the text that discomforts […], unsettles the reader’s historical, cultural, psychological assumptions, the consistency of his tastes, values, memories, brings to a crisis his relation with language.”


“[O]ne might say there are sexy sentences: disturbing by their very isolation, as if they possessed the promise which is made to us, the readers, by a linguistic practice, as if we were to seek them out by virtue of a pleasure which knows what it wants.”


“I pass lightly through the reactionary darkness.”


“The text you write must prove to me that it desires me. This proof exists: it is writing. Writing is: the science of the various blisses of language, its Kama Sutra (this science has but one treatise: writing itself).”


“To know that one does not write for the other, to know that these things I am going to write will never cause me to be loved by the one I love (the other), to know that writing compensates for nothing, sublimates nothing, that it is precisely there where you are not—this is the beginning of writing.”


“Each of us has his own rhythm of suffering.”


“I am interested in language because it wounds or seduces me.”


“Literature is the question minus the answer.”


“The bastard form of mass culture is humiliated repetition: content, ideological schema, the blurring of contradictions—these are repeated, but the superficial forms are varied: always new books, new programs, new films, news items, but always the same meaning.”


“Encratic language (the language produced and spread under the protection of power) is statutorily a language of repetition; all official institutions of language are repeating machines: schools, sports, advertising, popular songs, news, all continually repeat the same structure, the same meaning, often the same words.”


“Someone tells me: this kind of love is not viable. But how can you evaluate viability? Why is the viable a Good Thing? Why is it better to last than to burn?”


“I thought I was suffering from not being loved, and yet it is because I thought I was loved that I was suffering; I lived in the complication of supposing myself simultaneously loved and abandoned.”


“Love at first sight is a hypnosis.”


“Language is never innocent.”


“Structurally, narrative shares the characteristics of the sentence without ever being reducible to the simple sum of its sentences: a narrative is a long sentence, just as every constative sentence is in a way the rough outline of a short narrative. Although there provided with different signifiers (often extremely complex), one does find in narrative, expanded and transformed proportionately, the principal verbal categories: tenses, aspects, moods, persons. Moreover the ‘subjects’ themselves, as opposed to the verbal predicates, readily yield to the sentence model; the actantial typology proposed by A.J. Greimas discovers in the multitude of narrative characters the elementary functions of grammatical analysis.”


“The consequences are grave: by focusing on the author, by making the literary “genius” the very source of observation, we relegate the properly historical objects to the rank of nebulous, remote zones; we touch on them only by accident, in passing. In the best instances, we indicate their existence, leaving to others the responsibility of dealing with them someday; the essentials of literary history thus fall into default, abandoned by both the historian and the critic.”


“The reader is the space on which all the quotations that make up a writing are inscribed without any of them being lost; a text’s unity lies not in its origin but in its destination. Yet this destination cannot any longer be personal: the reader is without history, biography, psychology; he is simply that someone who holds together in a single field all the traces by which the written text is constituted…Classic criticism has never paid any attention to the reader; for it, the writer is the only person in literature…we know that to give writing its future, it is necessary to overthrow the myth: the birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the Author.”


“(Like a bad concert hall, affective space contains dead spots where sound fails to circulate. —The perfect interlocutor, the friend, is he not the one who constructs around you the greatest possible resonance? Cannot friendship be defined as a space with total sonority?)”


“The bourgeoisie is defined as the social class which does not want to be named.”


“Bourgeois norms are experienced as the evident laws of a natural order—the further the bourgeois class propagates its representations, the more naturalized they become.”


“Myth is depoliticized speech.”


“The bourgeoisie hides the fact that it is the bourgeoisie and thereby produces myth; revolution announces itself openly as revolution and thereby abolishes myth.”


“Statistically, myth is on the right. There, it is essential, well-fed, sleek, expensive, garrulous, it invents itself ceaselessly. It takes hold of everything, all aspects of the law, of morality, of aesthetics, of diplomacy, of household equipment, of Literature, of entertainment.”


“Myth deprives the object of which it speaks of all history. In it, history evaporates.”


“By reducing any quality to quantity, myth economizes intelligence: it understands reality more cheaply.”


“The petit-bourgeois is a man unable to imagine the Other. If he comes face to face with him, he blinds himself, ignores and denies him, or else transforms him into himself.”


“The Text is not a definitive object.”


” The Text is not to be thought of as an object that can be computed. It would be futile to try to separate out materially works from texts.”


“A work has two levels of meaning: literal and concealed.”


“A Text, on the other hand is engaged in a movement…a deferral…a dilation of meaning…the play of signification.”


“Metonymy—the association of part to whole—characterized the logic of the Text.
In this sense, the Text is ‘radically symbolic’ and lacks closure.”


“The Text can be approached, experienced, in reaction to the sign. The work closes on a signified. There are two modes of signification which can be attributed to this signified: either it is claimed to be evident and the work is then the object of a literal science, of philology, or else it is considered to be secret, ultimate, something to be sought out, and the work then falls under the scope of a hermeneutics, of an interpretation.”


“The Text is plural. Which is not simply to say that it has several meanings, but that it accomplishes the very plural of meaning: an irreducible (and not merely an acceptable) plural. The Text is not a co-existence of meanings but a passage, an overcrossing; thus it answers not to an interpretation, even a liberal one, but to an explosion, a dissemination.”


“Whereas the work is understood to be traceable to a source (through a process of derivation or ‘filiation’), the Text is without a source—the ‘author’ a mere ‘guest’ at the reading of the Text.”


“The discourse on the Text should itself be nothing other than text, research, textual activity, since the Text is that social space which leaves no language safe, outside, nor any subject of the enunciation in position as judge, master, analyst, confessor, decoder. The theory of the Text can coincide only with a practice of writing.”


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