BARTHES Roland—philosopher, linguist, literary critic, b. November 12, 1915 in Cherbourg, France, d. March 26, 1980 in Paris.
Barthes studied French literature and classical philology at the Sorbonne. He gave lectures on the French language in Debrecen (1937), Bucharest (1948–1989), and Alexandria (1949–1950). There he became interested in the sociology of language, and met A. J. Greimas who encouraged him to learn more about the views of F. de Saussure and R. Jacobson. In 1950 he began to work in the Sorbonne. In 1952 he began to work in the Centre Nationale des Recherches Scientifiques (CNRS). In 1960 he became the director of the Department of the Sociology of Signs, Symbols and Representations at the École Pratique des Hautes Études. In 1976 he became professor of the semiology of literature in the Collège de France.
Barthes’ major works include: Le degré zéro de l’écriture (P 1953); Michelet par lui-même (P 1954); Mythologies (P 1957); Sure Racie (P 1963); Essais critiques (P 1964); Critique et vérité (P 1966); System de la mode (P 1967); S/Z (P 1970); L’empire de signes (G 1970); Sade, Fourier, Loyola (P 1970; Wwa 1996); Le plaisir du texte (P 1973); Roland Barthes (P 1975); Leçon (P 1978); Sollers écrivain (P 1979); La chambre clair (P 1980); Światło obrazu [Light of the image], Wwa 1996). His complete works: Oeuvres complètes (I–II, p 1993–1995).
Barthes formed his philosophical thought on the foundation of existentialism, and then Marxism. to take up in turn semiological and structuralist investigations, which finally let him to conclusions characteristic of postmodernism and decontructionism.
In one of his first works, Le degré zéro de l’écriture, Barthes developed a theory of language as a certain social object and at the same time a field of action whereby the author of a work communicates with the recipient. Barthes came to the conclusion that the “naturalistic” way of seeing language that presupposes that its signs represent or designate something in reality is false. According to Barthes, language is a dynamic activity dependent on practice and culture. Barthes (unlike Saussure) regarded semiology as a part of linguistics that deals with large semantic individuals. Because of this understanding of semiology, he expected to achieve unity in studies in anthropology, sociology, psychoanalysis, and stylistics, which would gain unity by the concept of meaning. He made the text (literary or philosophical) the object of analyses, together with the process by which the text comes into existence and function. He studied the text from the aspect of linguistic structure and from the aspect of the recipient who comes into contact with the text. The investigative method that Barthes employed was most often the semiotic method of interpretation. He tried to understand a text as a statement without a subject, a statement that is functional and basically autonomous in relation to reality—the world, and in relation to the author and recipient or reader. The statement is a chaos that does not lend itself at all to scientific investigation. The text cannot be known at all until it is definitely ordered. This ordering of the text consists in the imposition of a so-called structural net upon the text. The structural net plays the role of a cognitive instrument.
The process of the structuralization of investigated reality was called by Barthes “structural activity”. This activity is also necessary to achieve confirmation of the theses that appear on the ground of a theory.
A statement (a text), according to Barthes, does not express the author, nor does it provide the recipient with the possibility of knowing the author. It is basically a pretext for evoking pleasant experiences and its task may be reduced to this (Le plaisir du texte). A statement-text is also a place of meeting, of the mixing of the imagination of the text’s author and the mental images of the recipient. Therefore a text does not have a single interpretation or a single nature, but is always different and always received differently. Barthes explains the process of creation by looking to the Freudian conception of art, in which creative activity is the result of subconscious forces whereby the act of creativity recompensates for mutilated desires in man.
The results of Barthes’s thought strongly influenced French structuralism and the theory of literature and linguistics. Most of all, they contributed significantly to the development of poststructuralism and postmodernism in general. Barthes, along with T. Todorov, A. J. Greimas, and C. Bremond, is considered one of the leading representatives of French structuralism.
K. Falicka, Roland Barthes i jego metoda krytyczna [Roland Barthes and his critical method], Wwa 1966; J. B. Frages, Comprendre Roland Barthes, Ts 1979; A. Lavers, Roland Barthes: Structuralism and After, C 19892; J. Culler, Roland Barthes, Ox 1983; P. Lombardo, The Three Paradoxes of Roland Barthes, At 1990; K. Kłosiński, Barthes Roland, PLF V 47–64.