Archive for the ‘roland barthes’ Category


September 13, 2007

pour tous qui veulent ecouter barthes (oui, en français) vous trouverez

“Comment vivre ensemble”, Lectures at the Collège de France, 1977


“Le Neutre”, Lectures at the Collège de France, 1978 

chez ici le lien direct.

empire of signs

September 13, 2007


roland barthes is certainly worth reading. well, i hope that became obvious already in the last post. he often crosses the line between theory and literature, which makes for an interesting read on many levels. i especially would like to recommend empire of signs. it is a travel book of some sorts. but barthes would not be barthes if he would not make very clear that he is not writing about his travel to japan, but about his japan, his personal idea of japan…

so you get actually not only some excellent litterature, but also a first idea of the workings of the mind of barthes.

get it and enjoy it!


the everyday utopia

September 13, 2007

we are not done with mister ffrench yet – one part in his essay treats the strategies to deal differently with the everyday life developed in the work of roland barthes. to present this part here poses some difficulties: first i am less familiar with the work of barthes then with the work of foucault, second a lot of barthes’ work deals with semiotics – the science of signs and how meaning in language is constructed. and this topic needs a longer introduction that i am willing to do in this post.

so i tried to just pick out some arguments to sketch you the everyday utopia according to barthes. as already mentioned in my post a homsexual life, i will paraphrase some ideas from the essay a different life? of patrick ffrench – but don’t blame mister ffrench for any inaccuracies…

roland barthes best known work is certainly mythologies, where he analyses everyday myths – myths meaning here certain cultural phenomena that have a solid meaning “that goes without saying”, without saying because it is “natural” or “common knowledge” (ah, now we would have to get into semiotics). interestingly, his examples are not taken from the world of work, but of leisure and culture, reflecting the cultural / social shift of france in the 1950s and 1960s:

“If Barthes’ subject matter is taken primarly from culture, from the world of leisure (wrestling, adverts, exhibitions, magazines) as opposed to the world of work, this reflects what Ross (1995) has called “the colonization of everyday life” in France in the 1950s and 1960s, the huge influx of objects and capital devoted to the deployment of the leisure and and cultural industries. “Style” was no longer the province of the individual artisan or dictated by tradition; everyday life is “stylized” in a way that permitted the identification, ordering and control of those to whom it no doubt appeared in the guise of new and exciting opportunities for pleasure. (ffrench, pp. 293)”

so if everyday life is colonized by (now “customized”) mass-culture with prefabricated meanings, how can we imagine an utopia, not one far away on an island, but an everyday utopia? in a first step by analyzing the as granted given meanings and by dissolving these meanings through formal analysis, showing that they are not godgiven, natural. and it is to note thet the moment meaning cristallizes, is agreed upon and becomes a stereotype, it also becomes a product, it becomes impersonal, ready for marketing.

so instead of finishing, of coming to a “final” sense or meaning, barthes postulates the process, the never arriving at a solid meaning; the use of singular, individualized values, particular to the body. the body means in this context not something opposed to the mind, it means a radical individuality, not as exception or as a differrence to something, but avoiding any reference point then himself. the body means singularity.

to give an example: barthes desire was to write. so the desire is fullfilled while writing (process). the moment the written work is finished, it holds no interest anymore, it is finished, takes on a meaning, becomes a product. this certainly explains the fragmentary character of a lot of barthes’ work. the “highest” form of writing for barthes was the haiku, a highly formalized, short form of originally japanese poetry. additionally, the haiku also demands that it expresses the now, what i see, feel, taste, hear, think now. any connection to history or future or something bigger is either avoided or condensed in the now. so, according to barthes, we have a highly formalized form of writing with a sense that never can be clearly determined. (as with a lot of other forms of poetry as well. and i think that is why poetry can sometimes evoke such strong personal feelings.) so the sense of a haiku can only be personal, it has to work for “my body”, it can not take on an impersonal, dis-embodied sense – it’s just not clear enough, and the references are missing…

so there lies one aspect of the utopian in everyday live: making it personal, avoiding a seemingly clear meaning given through a social context by trying to make every moment singular (and therefore opening every moment to many different meanings). actually avoiding that our live becomes a story with beginning, middlepart, and end.

to be able to let this happen one needs her/his own speed, own rhythm – something barthes calls “idiorrythmie”.

the everyday utopia is then the space giving us, away from prefabricated social meanings, a certain distance from the social, that allows us to maintain our own rhythm. and therefore allows the multiplication of meanings, all equal, all more a process than a product.

ffrench Patrick: A Different Life? Barthes, Foucault and everyday life, Cultural Studies Vol. 18, No. 2/3 March/May 2004, pp. 290-305

for the link to prof. patrick ffrench’s homepage please see my links-list.