Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Becoming a Writer: Roland Barthes

Roland BarthesImage via Wikipedia

How to Become a Writer like Barthes:

The best way to become a writer is knowing that there is no single way, but many ways. Here's one way (from the top of my list): Write every day.

Brief autobiography of Roland Barthes

Roland Barthes (1951 – 1980) was born in Cherbough, Manche, moving with his mother to Bayonne after his father’s death in 1916. In 1924 they again moved, but this time to Paris, where Barthes attended the Lycée Montaigne and Lycée Louis-le-Grand. At the Sorbonne Barthes studied classical literature, Greek tragedy, grammar and philology, majoring in in classical literature in 1939.
After teaching French in Romania and Egypt he was hired by the Centre National de Recherche Scientifique. Later he became a professor at the College de France until his death.

Major works

In his collection of essays, Mythologies, he turned his quirky persona to an assortment of topics ranging from wrestling to car ads and on to the face of Garbo, seeking to decode the subtle messages with which common people are bombarded on a daily basis. In other words, he put his magnifying glass to the nascent pop culture. Though not a Marxist, his articles were fraught with a critique of bourgeois consciousness as implanted by the dominant classes of business people and industrialists.  

In A Lover's Discourse (1978) his narrative meanders aimlessly —apparently— observing and decoding the ambiguous signs of love. Although we pay lip service —he sustained— to the language of love, there’s no institution that takes this language seriously. So he stitched together a series of brief articles that though disparate on first impression, they may be read with pleasure.

S/Z (1970) is a surgical analysis of Balzac’s novella Sarrasin. From the novel as a whole, he dismembered into more than 500 observable organs, and to which he applied his analytical  invention, the five codes for interpretation: actional, hermeneutic, semic, symbolic and referential.

As one of the leaders of the Structuralist movement, he obliterated the author as it was commonly understood. In The Pleasure of the Text (1973) Barthes performs a newer acrobatics with language by disconcerting and traumatizing readers hitherto accustomed to their old ways of reading. By attacking conformism and the status quo, he wanted to channel literature, reading, and writing into a pleasurable activity that was free from old preconceptions.

Style and influence of Roland Barthes

Because of his unorthodox and seductive style, Barthes’ books were well received. Of all the
French structuralists and deconstructionists that sprouted in decades of the sixties and seventies, he was the most respected and influential. Perhaps most of his charisma derived from his own humble admission that he was only a plain writer—not a philosopher or a serious scholar.

To become a writer I write essays every day. Since English is my second language, in writing essays I consult Mary Duffy's Sentence Openers. When I write fiction --or fiction writing of novels and short stories-- I consult Toolbox for Writers.

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