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The Meaninglessness of Meaning

Michael Wood, 9 October 1986

The Grain of the Voice: Interviews 1962-1980 
by Roland Barthes, translated by Linda Coverdale.
Cape, 368 pp., £25, October 1985, 0 224 02302 0
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Writing Degree Zero and Elements of Semiology 
by Roland Barthes, translated by Annette Lavers and Colin Smith.
Cape, 172 pp., £8.95, September 1984, 0 224 02267 9
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The Fashion System 
by Roland Barthes, translated by Matthew Ward and Richard Howard.
Cape, 303 pp., £15, March 1985, 0 224 02984 3
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The Responsibility of Forms: Critical Essays on Music, Art and Representation 
by Roland Barthes, translated by Richard Howard.
Blackwell, 312 pp., £19.50, January 1986, 0 631 14746 2
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The Rustle of Language 
by Roland Barthes, translated by Richard Howard.
Blackwell, 373 pp., £27.50, May 1986, 0 631 14864 7
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A Barthes Reader 
edited by Susan Sontag.
Cape, 495 pp., £15, September 1982, 0 224 02946 0
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BarthesSelected Writings 
edited by Susan Sontag.
Fontana, 495 pp., £4.95, August 1983, 0 00 636645 7
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Roland BarthesA Conservative Estimate 
by Philip Thody.
University of Chicago Press, 203 pp., £6.75, February 1984, 0 226 79513 6
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Roland BarthesStructuralism and After 
by Annette Lavers.
Methuen, 300 pp., £16.95, September 1982, 0 416 72380 2
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Barthes 
by Jonathan Culler.
Fontana, 128 pp., £1.95, February 1983, 0 00 635974 4
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... A diary, RolandBarthes suggested, provokes in its writer not the tragic question, ‘Who am I?’ but the comic question: ‘Am I?’ This elegant and amused remark goes some way towards explaining why Barthes, who reflected much on his life and published a book called RolandBarthes par RolandBarthes, should not have kept a diary ...

Presence of Mind

Michael Wood: Barthes, 19 November 2009

Carnets du voyage en Chine 
by Roland Barthes.
Christian Bourgois, 252 pp., €23, February 2009, 978 2 267 02019 9
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Journal de deuil 
by Roland Barthes.
Seuil/Imec, 271 pp., €18.90, February 2009, 978 2 02 098951 0
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... Roland Barthes died almost 30 years ago, on 26 March 1980, but his works continue to engage new and old readers with remarkable consistency. Books about him keep appearing: literary and philosophical essays by Jean-Claude Milner (2003), Jean-Pierre Richard (2006) and Eric Marty (2006), a gossipy biography of his last years by Hervé Algalarrondo (2006), a chapter about his piano-playing by François Noudelmann (2008 ...

Bit by Bit

John Sturrock, 22 December 1994

Roland BarthesA Biography 
by Louis-Jean Calvet, translated by Sarah Wykes.
Polity, 291 pp., £25, October 1994, 9780745610177
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... for himself once he becomes a dead author? To leave no trace behind would seem right. But if Roland Barthes was hostile to the neighbourly image of the Author as an extra-textual being, he took pleasure in the thought of himself returning as a biographical subject (i.e. object) once he was dead. In the Preface to Sade, Fourier, Loyola, he laid ...

Like a Manta Ray

Jenny Turner: The Entire History of Sex, 22 October 2015

The Argonauts 
by Maggie Nelson.
Graywolf, 143 pp., £23, May 2015, 978 1 55597 707 8
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... to reach for your heart’s desire. The Argonauts takes its name from a recurring image in Roland Barthes, the sort-of-autobiography Roland Barthes published in 1977, of ‘the ship Argo (luminous and white), each piece of which the Argonauts gradually replaced, so that they ended with an entirely new ...
Structuralism and Since: From Lévi-Strauss to Derrida 
edited by John Sturrock.
Oxford, 190 pp., £5.50, January 1980, 0 19 215839 2
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... work of Lévi-Strauss in the early Sixties, through its development and extensions in the work of Roland Barthes, Michel Foucault, Jacques Lacan and Jacques Derrida, to its present position, which is known either as ‘post-structuralism’ or simply as ‘deconstruction’. It is significant that it should bear the date 1979, though, for it is very much ...

Semiotics Right and Left

Christopher Norris, 4 September 1986

On Signs: A Semiotics Reader 
edited by Marshall Blonsky.
Blackwell, 536 pp., £27.50, September 1985, 0 631 10261 2
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... lack any handy descriptive label. Of course there have been those – Saussure and the early Roland Barthes, among others – who held out the prospect of a unified endeavour that would place semiotics on a genuine scientific footing. Such was the dream of method that found its most ambitious expression in the structuralist ‘revolution’ of the ...

Diary

Alan Sheridan: Regarding Foucault, 19 July 1984

... to the generation of French intellectuals to which he belonged. Hence the shock produced when Barthes, the author of S/Z, that most scientistic piece of literary criticism, produced his Roland Barthes par Roland Barthes, with its family photographs and its Proustian ...

Episteme, My Arse

Christopher Tayler: Laurent Binet, 15 June 2017

The Seventh Function of Language 
by Laurent Binet, translated by Sam Taylor.
Harvill Secker, 390 pp., £16.99, May 2017, 978 1 910701 58 4
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... RolandBarthes met Valéry Giscard d’Estaing on 9 December 1976 at a lunch hosted by Edgar Faure, the president of the National Assembly, at the Hôtel de Lassay. Michel Foucault had turned down Faure’s invitation as a protest against Giscard’s failure to put an end to the death penalty, and the left-wing figures who went anyway were later subjected, Barthes’s biographer Louis-Jean Calvet reports, to sarcastic inquiries such as ‘So, how was the soup?’ Barthes didn’t like being sneered at for consorting with a patrician representative of the centre-right, and his friends made it known that he had, over coffee, made pointedly Marxisant small talk: he’s said to have asked Giscard if he favoured the withering away of the state, and Giscard is said to have replied: ‘Why not?’ The sneers continued all the same, and when, a little over three years later, Jack Lang invited Barthes to lunch with François Mitterrand, Barthes worried that accepting would be viewed as a craven attempt to make amends ...

On His Trapeze

Michael Wood: Roland Barthes, 17 November 2016

BarthesA Biography 
by Tiphaine Samoyault, translated by Andrew Brown.
Polity, 586 pp., £25, December 2016, 978 1 5095 0565 4
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... On​ 2 December 1978 RolandBarthes reported to an audience at the Collège de France on his desire to change as a writer, and told them about a specific moment when the thought of a ‘conversion’ hit him: 15 April that year. Casablanca. The sluggishness of the afternoon ...

Hayden White and History

Stephen Bann, 17 September 1987

The Content of the Form: Narrative Discourse and Historical Representation 
by Hayden White.
Johns Hopkins, 248 pp., £20.80, May 1987, 0 8018 2937 2
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Post-Structuralism and the Question of History 
edited by Derek Attridge, Geoff Bennington and Robert Young.
Cambridge, 292 pp., £27.50, February 1987, 0 521 32759 8
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... not, and his argument is based on the contemporary theories of discourse and ideology for which Roland Barthes served as an eloquent spokesman. His first two essays consider, from different points of view, the question of the adequacy of particular narrative forms for historical explanation. There is a conventional distinction among historians between ...
Body Work 
by Peter Brooks.
Harvard, 325 pp., £39.95, May 1993, 0 674 07724 5
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... the local bookshop from the soft porn shelves, sort out the latest Jackie Collins from the later Roland Barthes. Many an eager masturbator must have borne away some sexy-looking tome only to find himself reading up on the floating signifier. Sexuality began in the late Sixties, as an extension of radical politics into regions it had lamentably ...

Beauty + Terror

Kevin Kopelson: Robert Mapplethorpe, 30 June 2016

Robert Mapplethorpe: The Archive 
by Frances Terpak and Michelle Brunnick.
Getty Research Institute, 240 pp., £32.50, March 2016, 978 1 60606 470 2
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Robert Mapplethorpe: The Photographs 
by Paul Martineau and Britt Salvesen.
Getty Museum, 340 pp., £40, March 2016, 978 1 60606 469 6
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... a gay kid, but closeted you would have reacted with pleasure, certainly, maybe even bliss – what Roland Barthes called jouissance. But there would also have been an inexplicable, almost sickening lust, and the fear of being seen looking. If you could bring yourself to buy one or two of these magazines, sealed in cellophane, or were allowed to buy ...

I am a Cretan

Patrick Parrinder, 21 April 1988

On Modern Authority: The Theory and Condition of Writing, 1500 to the Present Day 
by Thomas Docherty.
Harvester, 310 pp., £25, May 1987, 0 7108 1017 2
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The Order of Mimesis: Balzac, Stendhal, Nerval, Flaubert 
by Christopher Prendergast.
Cambridge, 288 pp., £27.50, March 1986, 0 521 23789 0
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... the world as if it were natural and inevitable. This charge was most enthusiastically pressed by Roland Barthes. Prendergast, a lecturer in French, was and remains fascinated by Barthes, so that he is well placed to deplore the hardening of brilliant aperçus into deconstructionist dogma and to disparage the ‘ritual ...

‘Tiens! Une madeleine?’

Michael Wood: The Comic-Strip Proust, 26 November 1998

À la recherche du temps perdu: Combray 
by Marcel Proust, edited by Stéphane Heuet.
Delcourt, 72 pp., €10.95, October 1998, 2 84055 218 3
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Proust among the Stars 
by Malcolm Bowie.
HarperCollins, 348 pp., £19.99, August 1998, 0 00 255622 7
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... we have read can be dreamed. At one point in his inaugural lecture at the Collège de France, Roland Barthes casually said: ‘The other day, I reread ‘The Magic Mountain.’ I’m sure Barthes had read The Magic Mountain, probably many times, but I’m equally sure he didn’t reread it ‘the other day’. That ...

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 ...

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