The Last Barthes

Critical Inquiry 7 (3):449-454 (1981)

It was his mother's death which allowed [Roland] Barthes to write: "I looked through…" "To write on something is to forfeit it," Barthes used to say, reciprocally, it is licit to write on what is already dead, it was Barthes himself in one of his acceptations. His mother was for Barthes the internal order, who permitted both the external other and the I to exist. Once she was dead, his life was over and could therefore become the object of writing. Barthes no doubt had other books to write; but he no longer had any life to live. I find it emblematic that his last book should have been "on photography" . Eloquent or discreet, a photograph never says anything but: I was there; it leads to a gesture of monstration, to a silent deixis, and symbolizes a pre- or post-discursive world; it makes me an object, that is, a dead man. What Barthes himself calls "my last investigation" also concerned death. Tzvetan Todorov, of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris, has numerous books on literary theory, including Théories du symbole and Symbolisme et interprétation, which has been published in English. His previous contribution to Crtitical Inquiry, "The Verbal Age," appeared in the Winter 1977 issue. Richard Howard, a poet and critic, has translated many works by Roland Barthes, Tzvetan Todorov, Michel Foucault, and Gilles Deleuze
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DOI 10.1086/448109
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