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Roland Barthes: A Biography

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Table of Contents

Preliminary Note.

Preface: The Genealogical Silence.

1. A Ward of the Nation.

2. A Little Gentleman.

3. In Limbo.

4. Paris - Bucharest.

5. From Alexandria to Writing Degree Zero. .

6. The Theatre Years.

7. The Ecole, At Last.

8. Structures Do Not Take to the Streets.

9. Tel Quel.

10. The College de France.

11. An Unqualifiable Life, A Life without Quality.

12. The 'After Death'.


Bibliography of Roland Barthes.


About the Author

Louis-Jean Calvet is Professor of Linguistics at the University of Provence, Aix-en-Provence.


Succinct, accessible and witty, this is the first biography of one of the postwar era's most prominent literary theorists (1915-1980). His academic promise initially thwarted by self-doubt and sustained bouts with tuberculosis, Barthes, as much as his contemporaries Foucault and Lacan, has had a formidable influence on the academy. In Writing Degree Zero and S/Z, he drew upon semiotics to revolutionize literary criticism of the novel; his Mythologies, a formative influence on cultural studies, brought scholarly scrutiny to bear on fashion, wrestling and other areas of popular culture. Though Barthes was self-effacing, discreet (a friend of 33 years learned only after Barthes's death that the theorist was gay) and skeptical of biography's ability to lay its subject bare, Sorbonne linguistics professor Calvet deftly sketches a unified portrait of the man and his work. (Feb.)

"Succinct, accesible and witty ... Calvet deftly sketches a unified portrait of the man and his work." Publishers Weekly

"Calvet admirably traverses the texts surrounding the life of the writer with sympathy and detached scholarship." Times Higher Education Supplement

"Well researched. Besides Barthes's depression after his mother's death ... and his cryptic allusions to his desire to write a literary work, several other "biographemes" evoked by Calvet are touching and telling; his love for Schumann's piano music, his "doodling", his cigars, his overeating, his frequent "boredom", the fragile yet firm "grain" of his voice. Calvet also approaches, with sensitivity, the importance of homosexuality to Barthes's life and work." Times Literary Supplement

"Calvet's biography is a wide stop-gap which ... succeeds in demonstrating that Roland Barthes was an utterly captivating individual." The Independent on Sunday

"Barthes has been fortunate in another way, for Calvet is an unfashionably courteous biographer." The Guardian

"Enjoyable ... it provides a good overview of an unexpectedly uncertain career." Radical Philosophy

"From Writing Degree Zero to the haunting late essays, Roland Barthes's astonishing critical intelligence lived its own life, and the story that a mrere Barthes biographer can hope to tell is likely to be banal and bathetic in comparison. Calvet in his compelling new book avoids this danger by giving the public face of Barthes's ideas a central role in his narrative." Malcolm Bowie, University of Oxford

As presented by Calvet, a teacher of sociolinguistics in Paris, Barthes's life is as engrossing as a novel and contains as many undeveloped byways as his critical corpus. Of course, it will be valuable for students of Structuralism, since it will verify the origins of Barthes's semiotics, which included his own reading of his life for signs. However, Calvet's narrative of the undecodable, i.e., unexplained and undocumentable, mysteries, will make the work enjoyable to readers generally: the anomalies of Barthes's impoverished childhood; the distress of his seven-year bout with tuberculosis; the expatriate isolation of posts in Egypt, Morocco, and Romania; his friendship with Greimas, who taught him Saussurian linguistics; and, above all, his carefully concealed, ardent homosexuality. This biography should send U.S. readers back to Barthes's work. For both general and advanced readers.-Marilyn Gaddis Rose, Binghamton Univ., N.Y.

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