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Chapter One - ‘The Dialectical Logic of Love’

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 June 2023

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Summary

Backwards Barthes?

It is quite true what philosophy says: that life must be understood backwards. But then one forgets the other principle: that it must be lived forwards.

(Kierkegaard 1996 [1843], IV A 164)

Incoherence seems to me preferable to a distorting order.

(Barthes 1982a, 3)

This book operates with the premise that not only should we avoid creating a hierarchy of different moments in Barthes's career (usually the late over the early, often forgetting the middle), but also, by the same token, no text or Barthesian maxim should be taken as the final word: we should not take, for example, Camera Lucida ‘as Barthes's final or absolute word on the image’ (Oxman 2010, 85). Barthes's writings are then a set of texts to be shuffled around, while we remain all the time mindful of their historical and contextual progression, albeit in the fits and starts of a spiral.

Indeed, there are even a number of good reasons to consider a ‘backwards’ reading of Barthes's work. Even in publishing terms there has been a marked backwards feel to Barthesiana; for example, Hervé Algalarrondo's ‘Final Days’ was followed, more recently, by the ‘First Days’ of Barthes (Gury 2012). The former suggests that the last three years of Barthes's life, after his mother's death in 1977, are deeply unhappy ones; the latter that being separated from his Normandy roots in exchange for his Basque/Gascogne upbringing had particular consequences in his work. But more seriously, one major reason for entertaining the idea of ‘backwards’ biography in relation to Barthes is that there is, in his oeuvre, a double looking-back.

Since 2002 there has been a raft of posthumous publications of Barthes's lecture and seminar notes and diaries, which have been released (surely for good reason) backwards too – the 1976–77 and 1977–78 lectures in 2002 (2013; 2005), the 1979–80 lectures in 2003 (2011b), the 1974–76 seminars in 2007 (2007a), the China diaries and the Mourning diaries (written in 1974 and 1977–79, respectively) in 2009 (2012 and 2010b), and the 1968-69 seminars in 2011 (2011b).

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Chapter
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Roland Barthes Writing the Political
History, Dialectics, Self
, pp. 1 - 20
Publisher: Anthem Press
Print publication year: 2022

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