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My word, Miss Perkins

Jenny Diski: In the Typing Pool, 4 August 2005

Literary Secretaries/Secretarial Culture 
edited by Leah Price and Pamela Thurschwell.
Ashgate, 168 pp., £40, January 2005, 0 7546 3804 9
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... I imagine some similar jest might be devised for the laptop computer, but I can’t be bothered. Roland Barthes anguished over the problem of the literary division of labour before word processors arrived and solved it for the rest of us with equally uneasy social consciences. In an interview for Le Monde, he was asked the everlastingly interesting ...

Dreadful Sentiments

Tom Paulin, 3 April 1986

The Collected Letters of W.B. Yeats. Vol. I: 1865-1895 
edited by John Kelly and Eric Domville.
Oxford, 548 pp., £22.50, January 1986, 0 19 812679 4
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... Towards the end of his inaugural lecture at the Collège de France, Roland Barthes observed that ‘the myth of the great French writer, the sacred depository of all higher values, has crumbled since the Liberation.’ In Ireland lately there has developed a liberating impulse to desacralise a national institution called YEATS and in a seminal pamphlet, ‘Heroic Styles: The Tradition of an Idea’, the country’s most significant and influential critic, Seamus Deane, has criticised the way in which an acceptance of ‘the mystique of Irish-ness’ can involve readers in the ‘spiritual heroics’ of a Yeats or a Pearse ...

Grub Street Snob

Terry Eagleton: ‘Fanny Hill’, 13 September 2012

Fanny Hill in Bombay: The Making and Unmaking of John Cleland 
by Hal Gladfelder.
Johns Hopkins, 311 pp., £28.50, July 2012, 978 1 4214 0490 5
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... is fluid and unstable, he is also a doughty apologist for cultural authority. It is as though Roland Barthes and Samuel Johnson were to inhabit the same body. There are times when the book makes rather too much of the former persona. Cleland is seen as multiple, protean, parodic, dissident, marginal and un-English, all qualities likely to win a warm ...

At the Musée des arts et métiers

Richard Taws: Madame de Genlis’s Models, 18 March 2021

... of each plate comprises a vignette depicting the workshop in action. This ‘epic of substance’, Barthes writes in his essay on the plates, offers us for the first time an ‘autonomous iconography of the object’, the transition from raw materials to finished commodity accomplished with no greater force than turning the page. For ...

Where the hell?

Michael Wood, 6 October 1994

The Crossing 
by Cormac McCarthy.
Picador, 426 pp., £14.99, August 1994, 9780330334624
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... westernness of the West, the way the fringes in Mankiewicz’s film Julius Caesar, according to Roland Barthes, were the quick and surefire sign of Romanness. Everything is mythic in McCarthy, and at times he seems to smile at this himself. Not often.    What if they’re laid up somewhere fixin to drygulch us?    Drygulch ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘To Be or Not to Be’, 5 December 2013

To Be or Not to Be 
directed by Ernst Lubitsch.
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... this fact it’s hard to keep it out of our minds as we watch her. The film literally says what Roland Barthes says all still photographs say: this person is going to die. But even without this fact, as Lubitsch must have known, Lombard refutes his Nazi world whereas Benny only suspends it. Benny knows how to be ridiculous with style, but no one could ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘Eastern Promises’, 15 November 2007

Eastern Promises 
directed by David Cronenberg.
October 2007
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... The bits of the Russian language and the glum, liquid accents are signs of foreignness, as Roland Barthes once said the fringes in Mankiewicz’s Julius Caesar were signs of Romanness. Well, they are signs of more than foreignness. They are signs of impenetrable darkness, of minds beyond our reach: Mueller-Stahl because we don’t know what he ...
... even likely, that such contributions may come. Many opponents of deconstruction would admit that Roland Barthes, whose death occurred the other day, was highly talented, and they could well have been moved by the praise accorded him in a Times obituary tribute (corrective of the main obituary, which was held to be insufficiently enthusiastic): ‘...

Seeing double

Patrick Hughes, 7 May 1987

The Arcimboldo Effect 
by Pontus Hulten.
Thames and Hudson, 402 pp., £32, May 1987, 0 500 27471 1
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... Looking at The Human Condition, we alternate between believing and doubting the absent artist. Roland Barthes, in an essay called ‘Arcimboldo, or Magician and Rhetorician’,* decides that Arcimboldo uses Metaphor, Metonymy, Allegory, Allusion, Antanaclasis and Agnomination. I think he used, in the small, visual puns; and, in the ...

Thinking about Death

Michael Wood: Why does the world exist?, 21 March 2013

Why Does the World Exist? An Existential Detective Story 
by Jim Holt.
Profile, 307 pp., £12.99, June 2012, 978 1 84668 244 5
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... is it so hard to conceive of a world without me, a world in which I never put in an appearance?’ Roland Barthes was pursuing a similar thought when he said we all know we are going to die but that to feel mortal is ‘not a natural feeling: the natural one is to believe yourself immortal; whence so many accidents due to carelessness’ – including, we ...

Garbo’s Secret

Brenda Maddox, 6 November 1980

by Alexander Walker.
Weidenfeld, 191 pp., £10, September 1980, 0 297 77799 8
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... of a silent movie. The photographs are superb. They show that Garbo was more than what the critic Roland Barthes called ‘a face-object’, belonging to that moment in cinema ‘when capturing the human face still plunged audiences into deepest ecstasy’. Yet the swift movements of her angular body were an equal part of her fascination, and ...

At the Hayward

Hal Foster: ‘The Painting of Modern Life’, 1 November 2007

... other. Take the vaunted reality effect of photography, affirmed by theorists from André Bazin to Roland Barthes. Some of the artists in the show are not so sure. Richter remarks that photography is ‘a crutch to help me get to reality’, yet that he can approximate this goal only through painting; this leaves him with the paradoxical formulation, ‘I ...

How terribly kind

Edmund White: Gilbert and George, 1 July 1999

Gilbert & George: A Portrait 
by Daniel Farson.
HarperCollins, 240 pp., £19.99, March 1999, 0 00 255857 2
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... and inventive than Warhol, who would have disdained G–G’s hard work and obvious ambition. Roland Barthes said that it is the human detail in a photograph that always catches our interest or sympathy, but these pictures have no such puncta. Even though we are shown G–G’s buttocks and penises and turds, not to mention their naked middle-aged ...

Without Looking

Anne Hollander, 3 August 1995

The Empire of Fashion: Dressing Modern Democracy 
by Gilles Lipovetsky, translated by Catherine Porter.
Princeton, 276 pp., £19.95, December 1994, 0 691 03373 0
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... even diagrams and graphs. This may be the first book about fashion without pictures – even Roland Barthes used diagrams. Of course, Balzac’s ‘Physiologie de la toilette’ didn’t have any, but that originally appeared in a magazine, and journal publication can preclude pictures even now. Books on clothes are conventionally believed to ...

Against Theory

Gerald Graff, 21 January 1982

Structuralism or Criticism? 
by Geoffrey Strickland.
Cambridge, 209 pp., £17.50, April 1981, 0 521 23184 1
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... of ‘where structuralism doesn’t work’, and followed by chapters contrasting the criticism of Roland Barthes and F.R. Leavis. In the former section, Strickland draws on Emile Benveniste’s critique of Saussure’s principle of the arbitrariness of the linguistic sign, which is the thing in structuralism that Strickland thinks doesn’t ...

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