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Roland Barthes - Biography and Legacy

French Philosopher, Social Theorist, and Semiotician

Born: November 12, 1915 - Cherbourg, France
Died: March 26, 1980 - Paris, France
Movements and Styles:
Postmodernism

Biography of Roland Barthes

Childhood

Roland in the arms of his beloved mother, Henriette.

Roland Barthes was born into a middle-class family in Cherbourg, Normandy. His father, Louis Barthes, was a sub-lieutenant in the French Navy and died during the First World War after his ship was torpedoed in the English Channel. His death came before his son had reached his first birthday. Both bereaved and financially destitute, Roland's mother, Henriette, relocated with her son to the village of Urt in southwestern France to be closer to her in-laws. Roland was raised there primarily by his mother and paternal aunt and grandmother ("my family was essentially a feminine family" he later recalled).

Barthes's father's family had deep seated cultural connections and interests. His paternal grandfather was, for instance, friends with the poet Paul Valéry while his aunt was a practicing piano teacher. Barthes too learned to play the piano and took a keen interest in poetry and reading. However, after several summer visits to his maternal grandmother's home in Paris, Henriette decided to relocate with her 11-year-old son to the French capital to be nearer her own mother.

Barthes's move to Paris saw him acknowledged by the state as a war orphan (having been denied that status till now). As the mother of a war orphan, Henriette received state benefits which brought limited, but very welcome, financial support; especially so in light of Henriette's complicated family situation. Her parents were movers in France's colonial expansions, but despite her not inconsiderable wealth, Henriette's mother, Noémie Révelin, offered her daughter and grandson next-to-no financial assistance. The mother/daughter relationship only worsened when Henriette had a second son, Michel, with Andre Salzedo; a married painter and ceramicist from Southwestern France. Michel Salzedo later claimed that his grandmother likely refused to support his mother and half-brother because of her irrational envy of Henriette's good looks and Roland's advanced academic attainment. Michel joined his mother and half-brother from 1927, putting further strain on the family purse. Henriette took on extra work with a Parisian bookbinding business, but the family continued to struggle to make ends meet.

In a 1977 interview with the "public intellectual" Bernard-Henri Lévy for the French weekly, Le Nouvel Observateur, Barthes recalled: "[M]y childhood and adolescence were spent in poverty. There was often no food in the house. We had to go buy a bit of pâté or a few potatoes at a little grocery on the rue de Seine, and this would be all we'd have to eat. Life was actually lived to the rhythm of the first of the month, when the rent was due. And I had before me the daily spectacle of my mother working hard at bookbinding, a job for which she was absolutely unsuited. Poverty, at the time, had an existential contour that it perhaps no longer does, in France, not to the same extent".

Barthes attended the Lycée Montaigne in Paris (which could claim Jean-Paul Sartre amongst its alumni). His education was interrupted in 1934, however, when he contracted tuberculosis. Although he spent long periods in a sanitorium (which saw him miss important exams) his academic potential was such that he still gained a scholarship, with the help of a written endorsement from Valéry, for the prestigious Sorbonne university where he studied classical literature. Although his education was interrupted by repeated bouts of ill health, he earned a certificate in classical letters and philology and became involved with Sorbonne's theatre troupe. With fascism on the rise in Europe, the troupe was, following the example being set by Berthold Brecht, exploring ways of using theater as a means of radical political activism.

Early Training and Work

The Saint-Hilaire-du-Touvet sanitorium, situated in the mountain range of the Dauphine Alps, where Barthes convalesced between 1941-44. The three abandoned and derelict buildings were destroyed between 2016-19.

Barthes's repeated physical breakdowns meant he avoided being drafted and spent the duration of World War Two mostly confined to sanatoria. In 1941, on his twenty-sixth birthday, he suffered a serious pulmonary relapse that saw him admitted to the Saint-Hilaire-du-Touvet sanatorium near Grenoble in the French Alps. He would remain a patient there between 1941 and 1944 (only returning to Paris briefly later in 1942 for his teaching exams). Barthes's poor physical condition was compounded by a deep depression when his first lover, Michel Delacroix, died of tuberculosis shortly before Barthes entered Saint-Hilaire-du-Touvet. (Commenting on his sexuality, which he kept secret throughout his life, the historian Jeanne Willette writes, "[Barthes] was unfortunate enough to come of age at a time [when] homosexuality was not a public matter and spent his life in the closet, living with his only parent, his mother, his entire life. As he got older and became less attractive to the young men he desired, he declined to impose himself upon them. Barthes preferred a quiet life in the home he shared with his mother".)

Barthes biographer Mireille Ribière notes that the Saint-Hilaire-du-Touvet sanatorium was "a model of its kind, for it was an establishment founded in 1933 by the National Union of Students to enable young patients to pursue their studies there while undergoing treatment [...] There were invited speakers and the patients themselves were encouraged to give presentations [...] Barthes enjoyed a great deal of prestige and lectured on the poetry of Baudelaire, Whitman, Michaux and Valéry, as well as on music. There was also a students' magazine, Existences to which he contributed several items between 1942 and 1945: film, concert and book reviews; a personal account of his trip to Greece with the Antique Drama Group of the Sorbonne in the summer of 1938; as well as articles drawing on his now extensive literary culture ranging from the Classics to Proust and Gide, as well as the latest publications by Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus".

In February 1945, Barthes, with several other Saint-Hilaire-du-Touvet patients, were transferred to the Clinique Alexandre at Leysin, in Switzerland. It was here that Barthes befriended Georges Fournié. It was friendship, notes Ribière, that "would prove decisive both intellectually and professionally. Barthes was nearly thirty years old at the time and had lived in a protective environment for much of his adult life", whereas Fournié "had joined a Trotskyist group to fight on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War" and had been an active member of the French resistance, for which "he was arrested by the Gestapo in 1943, imprisoned in France and then deported to Germany" (he returned to France after the war, emaciated and suffering from tuberculosis).

Ribière writes: "Barthes was the complete opposite of Fournié, the militant, who would initiate him into the previously unknown world of Marxist theory and the reality of the class struggle [...] Unlike many of his contemporaries [Barthes] did not come to Marxism via the French Communist Party [...] The fact that Barthes was introduced to Marxism by an anti-Stalinist and non-dogmatic Trotskyist is widely considered as the key to Barthes's 'happy' relationship with Marxism [...] and his belief that freedom was possible in a genuinely socialist society". Ribière adds, "The two would talk together for hours. Barthes discussed theater, literature, and of course Michelet. Fournié talked about Marx, Trotsky, and Spain. They had mutual admiration for each other, and each taught the other things which had previously been foreign to them. Barthes was extremely lucky that at a time when initiation into Marxism usually came through the Communist party - and more often than not required unconditional support for the political positions of the Soviet Union - Fournié's Marxism was Trotskyist, anti-Stalinist, and non-dogmatic".

It was Fournié who introduced Barthes to the publisher Maurice Nadeau, for whom Barthes started to write articles for his left-wing Parisian paper, Combat, from 1947. In 1948, and with his health more-or-less restored, Barthes undertook a few temporary teaching posts in educational institutions in Romania, Egypt, and France. In addition to his interests in the classics, and a special interest in the French Enlightenment writer, Voltaire, Barthes was delivering lectures on the French chanson (song) by analysing the likes of popular singers Yves Montand and Edith Piaf. While in Egypt, he also met and made a lasting friendship with the Lithuanian literary scientist, A. J. Greimas (who was then employed at the prestigious Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales).

Barthes scholar Andy Stafford writes that, following on from his contributions to Combat, "Barthes agreed to collaborate, again with Nadeau, in the new newspaper L'Observateur (then France-Observateur), created in 1950 by Claude Bourdet and Gilles Martinet, working there on an investigation of leftist literature (where he met [sociologist] Edgar Morin) and on theater and novel reviews. At the same time, he participated in the left-wing Catholic review Esprit, contributing to important essays on Michelet, on wrestling, on the Folies-Bergère and on the novels of Jean Cayrol". In 1952, Barthes studied lexicology and sociology and commenced a seven-year tenure at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique.

In 1953, Barthes's grandmother died, and her estate was split between Henriette and her only sibling (a brother). The Barthes' family situation benefitted considerably from his mother's inheritance with Barthes himself treated to a new car and his own holiday retreat.

<i>Le degré zéro de l'écriture</i> (<i>Writing Degree Zero</i>) was Barthes' first significant contribution to literary criticism, and an early entry into the field of semiotics.

1953 was also the year in which Barthes first book, Le degré zéro de l'écriture (Writing Degree Zero), was published. A fragmented series of literary criticism essays, the collection was inspired by Jean-Paul Sartre's, What is Literature (1947), in which Sartre put "poetry [...] on the side of painting, sculpture and music" in the sense that, unlike prose (whose purpose was functional), words could exist as things in their own right through poetic application. It was a view in keeping with Sartre's existentialist philosophy and its belief in individual self-determinism and the rejection of the grand ideologies (religion, communism, fascism etc.). But Barthes's writing was also in conflict with Sartre in that it carried a pronounced Marxist bent.

Mature Period

Barthes was responsible for the most influential single publication - Mythologies - for the emergence of structuralism in the field of cultural studies. Stafford writes that, for Barthes, the "period 1953-1956 saw an extraordinary journalistic publication activity: more than one hundred and thirty articles and reviews, in fourteen different publications that must be compared with the period 1956 to 1960 during which Barthes only published fifty texts but in twenty-two different publications. This is explained, in part", Stafford adds, by "the fact that the first period is dominated by his contributions to Théâtre Populaire and Lettres nouvelles [and that] these two journals are crucial [to the] the complex intellectual world of the 1950s [in France]". Indeed, while his writing at this time was dominated by theater criticism, both publications provided the source material for the eclectic collection of topics that would make up Mythologies.

The shoots of French structuralism started to show in the immediate post-war years. It flowered into a political and inter-disciplinary philosophy that proposed that mass culture was not "innocent" and could in fact be "decoded" through the application of semiology. It was a rejection of the faith in individualism that was at the core of existentialism and fully came into its own at the turn of the 1950s/1960s. Structuralism drew heavily on the work of the early twentieth century Swiss linguist, Ferdinand de Saussure. At basis, Saussure proposed that parole, that being the difference utterances of speech - be they spoken, written or visual - was underpinned by langue, an essentially fixed structure that was hidden behind parole. Taken up initially by the French anthropologist, Clause Levi-Strauss, semiology provided a means of revealing the deep-seated structures of cultural rituals and mythology. Semiology, and the relationship between the signifier (sign) and the signified (the sign's underlying meaning), had a profound effect on Barthes and was used to devastating effect in Mythologies.

The signifier possessed a literal (denotative) meaning and non-literal (connotative) meaning (for instance, a picture of a red rose "denotes" a common red flowering plant we spell "r-o-s-e", but that same image (or sign) has a connotative meaning in Western culture because it signifies love). Barthes was interested in exploring the connotative meaning of things because, by deconstructing the image or object, he could look beyond the simple appearance of things and, by so doing, could reveal the deceptive structures of bourgeois society.

The short essays (all around two pages long) covered a seemingly random, and incredulous, list of topics - "Romans in Movies", "The Poor and the Proletariat", "Toys", "Wine and Milk", "Einstein's Brain", "The New Citroën", "Striptease", "Garbo's Face" - with the overall aim of using the "science" of semiology to lay bare the myths that were hidden behind the surface appearance of things. As scholar Andrew Leak summed up, "there is no object whose innocence is so resistant, whose virtue is so in¬transigent, that it cannot be transformed by the superimposition of cultural connotations into what Barthes calls a myth", and that, the "common concern of Mythologies is, precisely, with demonstrating how the organs of mass culture suck in the raw materials of everyday life and transform them into modem myths".

Although Mythologies has been subject to academic scrutiny - the art historian Steve Baker, for instance, has pointed to Barthes's somewhat cursory interpretation of the "saluting soldier" (of whom Barthes wrote: "there is no better answer to the detractors of an alleged colonialism than the zeal shown by this Negro in serving his so-called oppressors") who is a pre-teen, and perhaps a military cadet, while the tricolor he is assumed to be saluting is absent from the image altogether - Mythologies remains to this day Barthes most popular book and a fixture on undergraduate cultural studies reading lists.

Between 1954-60, Barthes worked closely with the "people's theater", Théâtre National Populaire. By 1960 he had published many articles (around 60) on theater semiotics, and theatrical life in Paris, focusing on such topics as the Comédie Française, costumes, performance, theater critics, and on Brecht's radical Berliner Ensemble tour. The latter prompted his essay "Actor without a Paradox" in which he celebrated the way Brecht had made his actors "step away" from their characters rather than "becoming" those characters. Barthes was also a great admirer of ancient Greek tragedy because it asked the audience to consider important moral and political questions, rather than the trivial personal and marital dramas that dominated French theater in post-war France. (Barthes had started to edit an anthology of his theatrical writings during the late 1970s but he died before the project was completed. A collection, On Theatre, was finally published in France in 2002.)

Although their philosophical interests would take them down different (but overlapping) paths, Barthes formed a close friendship during this period with another icon of post-war French intellectual life, Michel Foucault. According to David Macey, author of The Lives of Michel Foucault, during the 1950s "the two became close friends and occasional lovers. They ate together whenever Foucault was in Paris and spent their nights in the cafes and clubs of Saint-Germain-des-près. Barthes was one of guest lecturers invited to Uppsala [Sweden] by Foucault and they holidayed together in North Africa on a number of occasions. The relationship was to last until 1960".

In the first half of the 1960s, Barthes chaired several faculty positions in Europe. His views led to an aggressive exchange with the French author, and Sorbonne Professor of literature, Raymond Pickard who was the accepted authority on the seventeenth-century French playwright Jean-Baptiste Racine. As historian Christoph Prochasson writes, "In 1963 Barthes published a collection of articles, Sur Racine. The following year, a further selection of articles, Essais critiques, developed this interpretation. It provoked a critical response from [Picard] in a pamphlet entitled Nouvelle critique on nouvelle imposture [New Criticism or New Fraud], published in 1965. Very quickly this controversy developed a dimension that did not limit itself to the confines of the university. Newspapers and weekly magazines entered into the debate which remains famous in the history of literary criticism". Pickard's objection to "new criticism" (as it was dubbed) was that it was merely the product of "instinct" making its claims indeterminate and thus lacking in any empirical scholarly value. In his 1966 two-part essay, Criticism and Truth, Barthes countered with the claim that Pickard's writing represented "old criticism"; especially the idea that we can only come to a proper reading of the literary text once we understand (having first digested their biography) what the given author's intentions were.

Yaoya Oshichi, female <i>Bunraku</i> puppet from early twentieth century Japan. Barthes was a great admirer of the <i>Bunraku</i> theater tradition.

In 1966 Barthes was invited by the Director of the Franco-Japanese Institute in Tokyo, Maurice Pinguet, to present a seminar on the structural analysis of narrative. It was followed by two more visits to the country in 1966 and 1967. The visits provided him with the source material for a short monograph entitled L'Empire des signes (published in 1970) (and translated into English in 1983 by Richard Howard as Empire of the Signs). Given his interest in theater, Barthes was drawn to (amongst other things, including Japanese calligraphy and cuisine) to the Bunraku, a form of traditional Japanese puppet theater that features near life-sized puppets accompanied by narrative chanting and shamisen music (a traditional Japanese string instrument). While Bunraku is popular as an entertainment for children, the Japanese consider it a serious art form that keeps alive tales and folklore from down the centuries with narratives that address the conflict between social obligations and human emotions.

As Colin Marshall of the Los Angeles Review of Books neatly summarized: "The performances Barthes watches there suggest to him nearly everything important about the divide between East and West, and especially between Japan and Europe. 'In our theatrical art, the actor pretends to act, but his actions are never anything but gestures: on stage, nothing but theater, yet a theater ashamed of itself,' whereas bunraku, its hardworking puppeteers neither hidden nor highlighted, 'separates action from gesture: it shows the gesture, lets the action be seen, exhibits simultaneously the art and the labor'".

In 1967 Barthes published The Fashion System in which he examined the language of women's fashion magazines and used structural analysis to dismantle the "calculating" luscious prose found in magazines such as Elle and Le Jardin des Modes. He argued that the fashion industry must combine text and image to create and preserve the "natural law" of being à la mode. He wrote, "it is not the object but the name that creates desire; it is not the dream but the meaning that sells [what] is decided on, imposed, finally appears as necessary ... for this to take place, it is enough to keep the Fashion decision secret; who will make it obligatory that this summer's dresses be made of raw silk?".

Late Period

The social setting of the mid-to-late 1960s was made for Barthes's revolution in criticism. 1968 saw the infamous "Mai '68" period of social unrest in France. In the March of that year, about 150 students barricaded themselves into a building at Nanterre University (Paris). They were protesting the arrest of a group of anti-Vietnam War protesters. Despite the war protesters being released, the student barricade set the stage for national unrest and the infamous Paris riots that erupted on May 2nd. Students, teachers, and partisans organized "anti-imperialist" protests at the Nanterre and Sorbonne universities leading to widespread violence, vandalism, and many hundreds of arrests. On May 7, an estimated 30,000 students marched on the Champs-Elysées, and the civil unrest spread across France. Striking factory workers joined the anti-Gaullist fight and several concessions were finally agreed bringing an end to the protests.

Barthes reunited with Michel Foucault around the time of the “<i>Mai '68</i>” riots. The pair were close friends (even holidaying together) during the 1950s.

However, and despite having only narrowly evaded a coup, in the June elections Charles de Gaulle's party claimed the largest majority in French parliamentary history. The election was confirmation for the intellectual left that revolution was futile and bourgeois structures were, in effect, unmoveable. In terms of literary criticism, however, Barthes was able to affect a revolution of his own with the publication of "The Death of the Author". Barthes ideas were complemented indeed by an essay by his old friend Michel Foucault called "What is an Author" (1969) in which Barthes's famous compatriot took exception to the idea that a consideration of the author's biography was essential to properly understanding the meaning in the text.

The literary critic Terry Eagleton wrote, "the period was one of euphoria and disillusionment; unable to break the structures of state power, post-structuralism found it possible instead to subvert the structures of language", which it achieved by announcing the author's death. Despite its many gray areas and flaws (the author clearly did not "die" metaphorically or physically), the idea that there was no wrong way of reading a text and that meaning resides with the reader of the text rather than with the author/maker of the text (a sort of semantic role-reversal) proved hugely influential within the field of cultural studies and was perfectly in step with the dawning of the age of postmodernism.

In 1970, Barthes published one of his most important titles, S/z. It was an analysis of Honoré de Balzac's novella, Sarrasine, in which Barthes set out to deconstruct the narrative codes that made up the classical realist text. His conclusion was that classical realist texts, governed as it is by the laws of verisimilitude, were contrived and only masqueraded as reality. In 1971 he served as a visiting faculty for the University of Geneva and continued to contribute essays to the Marxist literary magazine, Tel Quel. In 1973 he published The Pleasure of the Text. In it, Barthes drew his famous distinction between "readerly" (classical realist) and "writerly" (modern/poetic) texts. For him, the "readerly" text provides the reader with mere pleasure, whereas the "writerly" text offers a higher state of pleasure; what he called "jouissance" (or bliss). In the case of the latter, the reader becomes the writer in that she or he is faced with a text onto which they are compelled to "write" their own meanings.

Although he wasn't writing about art specifically, his ideas were widely assimilated by the art world. For example, while one may dismiss, say, Pictorialism as readerly art, something like Abstract Expressionism would more likely qualify as writerly art. The problem with Barthes proposition arises, however, with his rejection of the author. The argument would follow that if you came to the artwork in the knowledge it was painted by "the artists Jackson Pollock", and perhaps with some knowledge of his and/or Clement Greenberg's worldview, then that would diminish rather than enhance the viewing experience. It was a controversial proposition, but it led, nevertheless, to a radical rethinking of the tautology of the history of art as a linear progression of the great deeds of the great male artists.

Indeed, Barthes's theories were picked up on by a loose-knit group of New York based artists, including Cindy Sherman, Richard Prince and Louise Lawler, called The Pictures Generation. The group, who earned their name following a 1977 exhibition, Pictures Generation, held at the Artist's Space in New York, were influenced by Conceptual and Pop Art. They deconstructed (amongst other things) the mythology surrounding the notion of "artistic genius"; in Sherman's case through photographs of her dressed as B-movie stars, and in Prince's case, his pictures of cowboys as drawn from cigarette advertisements.

Tel Quel had disassociated itself from the French Communist Party and declared its support for Maoism in 1971. In 1974, Barthes joined editorial members (including Julia Kristeva with whom Barthes was so enamoured he said he wished he had been heterosexual) on a trip to China. As the critic Dora Zhang writes, "For the Sinophiles [those with a strong interest in Chinese culture] among the French Left, China held the promise of revolution only insofar as it was essentially different from the West and from models of existing communism". Zhang adds, however, that Barthes's own "disappointment at the country's lack of foreignness [was] echoed by some of his companions, who [felt] they might as well be in East Berlin, or some Soviet country". In many ways, she concludes, "the trip to China marked the beginning of the end of Tel Quel's political engagements [and] the journal's editorials after 1974 no longer spoke of Mao or China with the same enthusiasm".

In 1975 Barthes experimented with a fragmented form of autobiography (written by him in the third person) in a book called Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes. Revealing his fascination with the medium, the book featured analysis of family photographs (pre-empting his book Camera Lucida, published in 1980). In 1977 Barthes chaired the "Semiologie Litteraire" at the Collége de France, but he would be delivered a crushing blow to his personal and professional life when, also in 1977, his mother, with whom he had lived for 60 years, passed away. He would grieve her passing for the rest of his like.

In 1978 Barthes published the short essay, "Colouring, Year Zero", in which he reflected upon - or, to be more accurate, "downplayed" - his "hobby" of drawing/painting. Professor of art theory at Winchester School of Art, Sunil Manghani comments, "Whether it is drawing, painting or graphics, as Barthes wonders, or more simply colouring, it is nonetheless a sustained endeavour spanning a decade. Working mainly in the holiday periods, he would sit to paint using paper always of a scale convenient to working on the flat or slightly inclined surface of a small table or desk. It was an activity not far removed from writing. The works are like drawings in that they are formed mainly of lines, yet painterly too, with an eclectic use of inks, acrylics, felt pens and pastels. Some of the pieces are produced on college letter-headed paper, which Barthes describes as a form of 'squandering'".

Two years later, he published Fragments d'un discours amoureux (A Lover's Discourse, Fragments); a further series of "fragmented" first-person narratives, this time on the mysteries of love that blurred boundaries between personal experience, fiction, poetry, and philosophy (with casual references to the likes of Goethe, Plato, Nietzsche, Sade, and Sartre). In 1979 he wrote "Non multa sed multum" (Latin: "Many, but not much") which, in his analysis of the work of Cy Twombly, offered a rare excursion for the Frenchman into the field of fine art. It was followed in 1980 by Camera Lucida in which Barthes treated the photograph as a living relic of a dead thing.

In the latter, Barthes made the distinction between what he called the "studium" (sic) - that is the element of photography that likens it to cultural habit of viewing (or studying) art - and the "punctum" - an element that was unique to photography in the way that it allowed for a sensory, and deeply subjective experience - that was utterly unique to the viewer. In Barthes words, "The punctum of a photograph is that accident which pricks me (but also bruises me, is poignant to me)". Andy Grundberg of The New York Times points out that: '''Camera Lucida' is, in a sad and almost tragic way, a record of his attempts to come to terms with grief. His fascination with the portrait of his mother [as a child], leading to the discovery that the ultimate punctum is death, is the fascination of a man who is seeking, like Proust, to recover a life that has vanished".

Barthes passed away shortly before Camera Lucida was published. He died from injuries sustained after being run over by a laundry truck on a Parisian boulevard. He was buried next to his beloved mother in the village of Urt where he spent his formative years. Zhang observed, finally, that in France, and very possibly against their author's wishes, "the publication of Barthes's private notebooks [which carried details of his clandestine encounters with male prostitutes in Parisian and Moroccan hotels] and journals Carnets du voyage en Chine and Journal de deuil [both from his unhappy trip to China] appeared in 2009 [and] spurred a round of contentious debate about the ethics of looting a dead writer's archives".

The Legacy of Roland Barthes

Rue Roland Barthes in the 12<sup>th</sup> Arrondissement of Paris.

Such was Barthes standing as France's leading critic, he achieved the status of national celebrity during his own lifetime. His influence in Western academic circles, meanwhile, was secured in the 1970s and 1980s by important new essay collections including, Image-Music-Text (1977) compiled and translated by the esteemed Cambridge scholar, Stephen Heath, and through two collections edited by Susan Sontag: Incidents (1982), and A Barthes Reader (1987). His complete works were published again in 1993. Indeed, his name remains a fixture on university curriculums, even if some of his key ideas - not least "The Death of the Author" - have proved highly problematical for historical and empirical studies (a situation Barthes would have no doubt celebrated).

As author Roland B. Dixon has observed, "one consequence of the nature of Barthes' approach is that he did not create a particular school of thought. He does not have a dedicated following of thinkers who attempt to model themselves after his theories [...] By giving rise to the notion of individualist thought and adaptability rather than conformity, any thinker or theorist who takes an oppositional stance to inferred meanings within culture can be thought to be following in Barthes' footsteps". In the field of contemporary art, this attitude can be seen in The Pictures Generation, who used appropriation and montage as a way of deconstructing the myth behind popular imagery. Their work, by extension, challenged the idea of authenticity in art which invoked the principle of the "Death of the Author". Appropriation was also a technique embraced by the celebrated "anti-modernist" Jeff Koons who used it to controversial effect in works such as Gazing Ball (Manet Luncheon on the Grass) (2014-15). The Pictures Generation, meanwhile, have themselves inspired the likes of Glenn Brown and Tracey Emin who both cite the group as important influences on their own work. More recently, the French filmmaker Claire Denis co-wrote the screenplay, and directed, Un beau soleil intérieur (Let the Sun Shine In) (2017), and the Chinese-born British novelist, Xiaolu Guo's published her book, A Lover's Discourse (2020). Both film and novel were modelled on Barthes's fragmented lament on the nature of love and loss (also titled A Lover's Discourse).

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Content compiled and written by Esme Blair

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"Roland Barthes Influencer Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Esme Blair
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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First published on 19 Dec 2021. Updated and modified regularly
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