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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 structuralism comes from

John Sturrock, 2 February 1984

Course in General Linguistics 
by Ferdinand de Saussure, translated by Roy Harris.
Duckworth, 236 pp., £24, March 1983, 0 7156 1738 9
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Semiotic Perspectives 
by Sandor Hervey.
Allen and Unwin, 273 pp., £15, September 1982, 9780044000266
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... without being able to claim any centrality or superiority for their own discipline in the process. Roland Barthes, who died as professor of Literary Semiology at the Collège de France, likened the semiologist’s role in his inaugural lecture to that of a wild card in the university pack. Semiology is everywhere and nowhere: there can be a semiology of ...

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 ...

Garbo’s Secret

Brenda Maddox, 6 November 1980

Garbo 
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 ...

Melton Constable

W.R. Mead, 22 May 1986

The past is a foreign country 
by David Lowenthal.
Cambridge, 489 pp., £27.50, November 1985, 0 521 22415 2
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... The inheritance from the past can be so oppressive that it can generate revolt. Long before Roland Barthes opposed ‘the bourgeois sacrifice of men to monuments’ (and possibly muniments as well), Thoreau favoured ‘purifying destruction’. Well might sceptics say that if rot, rust and moth did not exist they would have to be created. The ...

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 ...

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 ...
... 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): ‘...

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 ...

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 ...

Carry on writing

Stephen Bann, 15 March 1984

The Two of Us 
by John Braine.
Methuen, 183 pp., £7.95, March 1984, 0 413 51280 0
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An Open Prison 
by J.I.M. Stewart.
Gollancz, 192 pp., £7.95, February 1984, 0 575 03380 0
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Havannah 
by Hugh Thomas.
Hamish Hamilton, 263 pp., £9.95, February 1984, 0 241 11175 7
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Sunrising 
by David Cook.
Secker, 248 pp., £8.50, February 1984, 0 436 10674 4
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Memoirs of an Anti-Semite 
by Gregor von Rezzori, translated by Joachim Neugroschel.
Picador, 282 pp., £7.95, January 1984, 0 330 28325 1
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It’s me, Eddie 
by Edward Limonov, translated by S.L. Campbell.
Picador, 264 pp., £7.95, March 1984, 0 330 28329 4
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The Anatomy Lesson 
by Philip Roth.
Cape, 291 pp., £8.95, February 1984, 0 224 02960 6
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... to be found in that italicised ‘I’m cold,’ spoken by ‘the unfortunate younger boy’. As Roland Barthes wittily declared, the objet d’amour has no discourse. It is a precondition of the ending without remainder which attests J. I. M. Stewart’s craftsmanship, that the equivocal motive for the escapade, the fictional lure that has been dangled ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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