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Viscounts Swapping Stories

Michael Wood: Jacques Derrida, 1 November 2001

The Work of Mourning 
by Jacques Derrida, translated by Pascale-Anne Brault.
Chicago, 272 pp., £16, July 2001, 0 226 14316 3
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A Taste for the Secret 
by Jacques Derrida and Maurizio Ferraris, translated by Giacomo Donis.
Polity, 161 pp., £13.99, May 2001, 0 7456 2334 4
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... epitaph for a generation of writers and thinkers in France. The group Derrida has in mind includes Barthes (born 1915), Althusser (born 1918), Deleuze (born 1925) and Foucault (born 1926). Three years later Lyotard (born 1924) is also dead, and Derrida (born 1930) identifies himself now as ‘the last born, and, no doubt, the most melancholic of the ...

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 ...


Stephen Bann, 2 October 1980

Narrative Discourse 
by Gérard Genette, translated by Jane Lewin.
Blackwell, 285 pp., £9.95, June 1980, 0 631 10981 1
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... de la Prose from the previous year. With his customarily fine sense of strategy and timing, Roland Barthes had published S/Z in 1970, thus announcing both the culmination of the logic of structural analysis but also, in a sense, its impending crisis. From 1970 onwards, the gulf between what Hayden White has called the ‘Absurdist’ and the ...


John Sutherland, 2 October 1980

Copyright: Intellectual Property in the Information Age 
by Edward Ploman and L. Clark Hamilton.
Routledge, 248 pp., £12.50, September 1980, 0 7100 0539 3
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... than to deconstruct him and concentrate on the plural system of the happily emancipated text. Roland Barthes takes emancipation a step further: progressive authors must deconstruct themselves: ‘the problem facing modern writing: how breach the wall of writing, the wall of origin, the wall of ownership’. How indeed? Although ...

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 ...

I want to be her clothes

Kevin Kopelson: Kate Moss, 20 December 2012

Kate: The Kate Moss Book 
by Kate Moss, edited by Fabien Baron, Jess Hallett and Jefferson Hack.
Rizzoli, 368 pp., £50, November 2012, 978 0 8478 3790 8
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... him that Oscar Wilde – in person – was both superficial and profound. Or we believe that Roland Barthes in person – after publishing The Fashion System – was both structuralist and poststructuralist. And yet while Barthes himself, correctly, found that fictional characters seem realistic only if described ...

Everyone, Then No One

David Nasaw: Where have all the bowler hats gone?, 23 February 2006

Hatless Jack: The President, the Fedora and the Death of the Hat 
by Neil Steinberg.
Granta, 342 pp., £12, August 2005, 1 86207 782 7
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... To paraphrase​ Roland Barthes, hats are worn to be seen and to be read. They are signs of who we are or want to be. Because hats, unlike shoes or coats, are worn near eye-level, they are the first item of apparel offered for view. The stranger approaching from a distance reads the hat before he sees the face or figure and, at a glance, learns a lot about the person beneath it ...

Jacques Derrida

Judith Butler: Commemorating ‘one of the greatest philosophers of the 20th century’, 4 November 2004

... but gave the act of reading a new significance and a new promise. In that book, he openly mourns Roland Barthes, who died in 1980, Paul de Man, who died in 1983, Michel Foucault, who died in 1984, and a host of others, including Edmund Jabès (1991), Louis Marin (1992), Sarah Kofman (1994), Emmanuel Levinas (1995) and Jean-François Lyotard (1998). In ...

No-Shit Dinosaur

Jon Day: Karen Russell, 2 June 2011

by Karen Russell.
Chatto, 316 pp., £12.99, March 2011, 978 0 7011 8602 9
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... it is next to impossible for the creature to open them again.’ ‘Wrestling is not a sport,’ Roland Barthes wrote in Mythologies, ‘it is a spectacle,’ and it’s a maxim the Chief heartily endorses. ‘You got to remind the mainlanders that your alligator is a no-shit dinosaur,’ he tells Ava, ‘prove to them that you can lose, so you can ...

On wanting to be a diner not a dish

P.N. Furbank, 3 December 1992

The Rituals of Dinner 
by Margaret Visser.
Viking, 432 pp., £17.99, September 1992, 0 670 84701 1
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... thing or another; and sora-bashi, or, with chopsticks, putting back food you had intended to eat. Roland Barthes was eulogistic about chopsticks and the way the Japanese use them, finding in it some of the measured care that a mother uses in moving a child. ‘The instrument never pierces, cuts, or slits, never wounds but only selects, turns, shifts. For ...

Mallarmé gets a life

Barbara Johnson, 18 August 1994

Mallarmé: A Throw of the Dice 
by Gordon Millan.
Secker, 389 pp., £16.99, March 1994, 9780436270963
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... discovery of his own death? It was largely by learning the lesson of Mallarmé that critics like Roland Barthes came to speak of ‘the death of the author’ in the making of literature. Rather than seeing the text as the emanation of an individual author’s intentions (always a probabilistic and speculative enterprise), structuralists and ...

Bitten by a Snake

Michael Wood: Waiting for Valéry, 21 May 2020

The Idea of Perfection: The Poetry and Prose of Paul Valéry 
translated by Nathaniel Rudavsky-Brody.
Farrar, Straus, 352 pp., £32, April, 978 0 374 29848 7
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... to the 1890s, but of wondering how posterity could have lost sight of such amazing modernist work. Roland Barthes thought Valéry’s poetry had become an anachronism, and Peeters suggests that this ‘judgment … seems to correspond to that of the majority of contemporaries’. ‘This poetry,’ Barthes said in an ...

Call Her Daisy-Ray

John Sturrock: Accents and Attitudes, 11 September 2003

Talking Proper: The Rise of Accent as Social Symbol 
by Lynda Mugglestone.
Oxford, 354 pp., £35, February 2003, 0 19 925061 8
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... In his 1957 classic of demystification, Mythologies, Roland Barthes found a new argument with which to reopen the troublesome case of Gaston Dominici. Dominici was a septuagenarian Provençal farmer who in 1954 was tried for the murder of three members of an English family who had been camping close to his land ...

Banality and Anxiety

Michael Mason, 19 March 1981

Thirty Seconds 
by Michael Arlen.
Farrar, Straus/Faber, 211 pp., £5.50, February 1981, 0 374 27576 9
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The Crystal Bucket 
by Clive James.
Cape, 238 pp., £6.95, February 1981, 0 224 01890 6
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The Message of Television 
by Roger Silverstone.
Heinemann, 248 pp., £14.50, March 1981, 0 435 82825 8
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... ancestral to the books under review (Roger Silverstone, for example, frequently acknowledges Roland Barthes on fashion). It is striking nonetheless that only one of them, Michael Arlen’s Thirty Seconds, shows an inclination to regret the fact that intellectual and artistic adventurousness is habitually thwarted in television. More precisely, his ...


Peter Burke, 16 September 1982

Le Roi-Machine: Spectacle et Politique au Temps de Louis XIV 
by Jean-Marie Apostolidès.
Les Editions de Minuit, 164 pp., £4.50
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Le Portrait du Roi 
by Louis Marin.
Les Editions de Minuit, 300 pp., £5.60
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... successors have gone to advertising agencies. The differences are apparent. However, as Roland Barthes has reminded us, epideictic rhetoric still flourishes in advertising, and Aristotle’s rules still apply. Hyperbole does not go out of date. Come to that, Versailles seems to be as appropriate a setting for the theatre of power in 1982 as it ...

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