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A Very Short Introduction - Barthes
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When Roland Barthes died in 1980, he was a formidable figure on the
cultural and critical scene: a powerful presence, a commentator on
everything under the sun, and a distinguished eminence of an avantgarde
that had radically transformed the humanities in general and
literary studies in particular. Twenty years later, his status has become
more enigmatic. What is Roland Barthes for us today? What sort of
author or intellectual force? Perhaps the question should be, rather,
what Barthes should we read and why? Barthes’s longtime publisher,
Seuil, has issued his complete works in a hefty three-volume edition of
several thousand pages, which makes his hundreds of short, occasional
pieces as available as his most famous books. His last book, La Chambre
claire, a provocative, idiosyncratic, personal essay on photography, is
much cited, praised, and debated. His early Mythologies is a formative
work in cultural studies and a reference point in debates about the
nature of this field. Many of the books and essays in between –
particularly S/Z and Le Plaisir du texte – are read in college and
university courses on literary criticism or literary theory. Is Barthes a
literary theorist? As a homosexual who never openly declared himself
and who left only a couple of brief posthumous texts about his sexual
life, Barthes has also provoked interest in the field of gay and lesbian
studies. And his autobiographical Roland Barthes par Roland Barthes
remains an extraordinarily seductive and stimulating book, one of the
most engaging we have about the adventures of thought and writing. If
only because of the question of what to read, the need for an
assessment of Barthes and his contribution is greater than ever.
This book was originally written for the Modern Masters series
published by Fontana and appeared shortly after Barthes’s death. It
analyses Barthes’s achievements and makes available various Barthes
for those who can find him useful, appealing, stimulating. The range of
his work – of his moods and modes – is so broad that there is something
for everyone here, but the key question is where can Barthes lead us,
what does his appeal generate? For this new edition I have made only
minor changes to the main text, both because I still stand by most of
what I say here about Barthes and because too many interventions
would risk creating an uneven text, where voices of youth and middle
age struggled with each other. In addition to minor clarifications, I have
inserted new bibliographical information, but above all I have added a
final chapter on the fortunes of Barthes since his death and an argument
about his particular value today.

Contents
Preface to this edition viii
List of illustrations x
1 Man of parts 1
2 Literary historian 15
3 Mythologist 23
4 Critic 31
5 Polemicist 49
6 Semiologist 57
7 Structuralist 65
8 Hedonist 76
9 Writer 87
10 Man of letters 98
11 Barthes after Barthes 110
Notes and references 131
Further reading 136
Index 141
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