Roland Barthes and the Nouvelle Critique Author(s): David Funt Reviewed work(s): Source: The Journal of Aesthetics

and Art Criticism, Vol. 26, No. 3 (Spring, 1968), pp. 329-340 Published by: Blackwell Publishing on behalf of The American Society for Aesthetics Stable URL: . Accessed: 09/03/2012 07:56
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only after the way or another to accomplish an exhaustive most complete analysis of the system of indescription of its basic unities and their ternal transformations. particularly on Rothe work to the world external to it.DAVID FUNT Roland Barthes and critique the Nouvelle FOR SOME TIME discussion and polemic of the images of such substances as air. etc. Such systems of images and metaphors. has rigorously carried out substances. illusion. Lucien Goldmann. studies of the transformation the examination of the relation and transformation of systems of pure forms in the DAVID FUNTtaught philosophy at Hofstra University. no doubt.Merleau-Ponty.e. He is presently living in Paris and translating into The Nouvelle critique forms to some English a collection of essays from the Nouvelle extent a counterpart to the so-called Noucritique. while far from I. above all to the internal structure of the and the products of imagination can be rework in question in attempting in one lated to the further reinforced by the work of herents include Roland Barthes. Imagination. . begins. as if our images and metahave. by Claude Levi-Strauss who. before endeavoring to relate has also been exerted. central point of Bachelard's studies. while ena. the object is described in its multiple per. being likely. fire. been profoundly influ. constitute men's ideas of these substances Jean-Paul Sartre. unlike most orthodox spectives. A con. possible tion of the models provided us by phenombeing. field of anthropology. but where it is deformed. All of the New Critics expense of others.. A come to be known as the Nouvelle critique. Thus these critics.reudians. if at all. logical tendencies. metaphors and by the constant deformathose concerning being. siderable influence has been exerted by basing his methods largely on those of strucGaston Bachelard in his psychoanalyses of tural linguistics. and Georges Poulet (those that we presently maintain) at the among its mentors." as the continual extension of vast systems of Husserl stated.phors somehow represented an ultimate enced by the method of phenomenological reality more veritable than those of other description with its idea of bracketing the ages. Jean. Much of our mental life is formed by world. are united in their view according to Bachelard. and some of the images and metaphors which Jean Starobinski.Bachelard described but not Barthes. and water through history. These systems can quently differing in their dominant ideo.image such as sexuality. probable. and Those usually counted as its leading ad. of "putting out of play. with Gaston Bachelard. is his refusal to validate Pierre Richard. all existential positions (i. not where a that criticism should be addressed first and model is imitated. A decisive influence organization. have centered in France around what has earth. are not reducible to a single root seeing eye to eye on all matters and fre.).

and Alain Robbe-Grillet. The second relation by means of rent unities according to relatively con..communicated through a linguistic system ing and certainly the most controversial of but what traits of the system enable the this group of critics. His criticism. and to a tradition of psychologizing literature then to reconstruct the object. Linguists in several the meaning of a message that is ics. however. While the similarity the least possible difference. it is not concerned with the his criticism. Yet the to signify rather than with what they sigwide range of subjects which he takes up nify.e. for the since it is not concerned with everything preoccupation of the New Novelists with about a system of signs-for example. but rather tions which Barthes has himself developed with the signifying function itself.lation. indeed. clothes styles. representations at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes two relations. Leaving aside the denotative aspect of himself is director of the seminar on the signs. Saus. a healthy antidote. beefsteak and French fries. Dutch become evident. that which is signified. Thus the object of study may which precede and follow it. Thus the semiologist's task is not to and descriptive interests of the New Crit. that is. i. It is Roland Barthes.which unities signify is that between a stant rules.signs which might have been chosen but lated by the linguist Ferdinand de Saus. Michel Butor. But it may also be. and language remains sign may be chosen for use in a discourse its most adequate and general object. Barthes' primary concern painting. semantics cern to avoid conventional psychological -but only with the formal structure of that interpretation fit well with the structural system. The key term in Barthes' critical theory i. whatever it may consist of. It is these tenets of his distinguish between two correlative aspects critical position which we intend to exam. a number of these among Barthes' favorite examples. Jean Semiology is termed a structural science known as a paradigm and the relation sure conceived of semiology as broader between the sign actually employed and than linguistics proper. and the concept.with its denotative aspect.all. It is primarily in is semiology or structuralism.330 DAVID FUNT vel roman and. discontinuity and structure and their con. then. guished by science of signs was first suggested by the The reserve of virtual signs from which a study of language. to define the vocabulary of techniques. is avowedly forfor examination implies no randomness in malist.. It is the science of the reserve is called the paradigmatic reany system which involves the use of recur. i. to choose from neighbors is called the syntagmatic rela- . who was the first to communication of messages to take place at write seriously of the works of Robbe. Barthes' criticism. the system. Natalie Sarraute. The first is the relation of Etudes in Paris. or foods. the critics have written of such authors as rules of the road. for the type of examination things designated by the terms of a sysalways follows from a set of central concep. simulacrum of the object. (Barthes the former that Barthes is interested. as he sees it. The aim of the structuralist critique is Grillet and he has remained a faithful to decompose a system into its constituent supporter of the New Novelists and their unities. A combinabe the language of a particular author or tion of actual signs is known as a syntagma the language of a society or linguistic and the relation between a sign and its group. as is with the process by which objects come well as to Racine and Brecht. symbols. in which the rules is not limited to literature but is applied according to which the vocabulary is used to such varied subjects as wrestling. repeated unities signify by means of of and sociology signs.tem.of the concrete sign: the signifier.e. or rather a and criticism. that which does the signifying. with that which is signified.e. that is. whether these rules are implicit sign employed in a discourse and those or explicit.were not. the most interest. ine. a reserve to which the actual sure in 1916 and of which Charles Peirce sign employed is connected by a relation of and from which it is distinwas one of the great forerunners..) Semiology is the general the sign used to an organized reserve of science of the structure of signs first postu.

Barthes argues. in a vulgarized manner." he states. See his Poesie et profondeur. Barthes' criticism is far from being politically and socially neutral or uncommitted. however. From Flaubert through MallarmC. in itself. The foil of Barthes' criticism is what he terms academic or scholarly criticism as well as that journalistic criticism which. piecemeal. as if. author of a very solid study of Racine (Le Carriere de Jean Racine) and of a highly inflammatory pamphlet attacking Barthes (Nouvelle critique ou nouvelle imposture). Thus the analysis of a work or an author's oeuvre will involve the careful tracing of recurrent unities as they are altered through change of context and juxtaposition to one another. does not make academic criticism either true or false. to reproduce. then. transformation. all literature 331 has been a problematic of language. the choice of the social space in the heart of which the writer decides to situate the Nature of his language" (Le Degre zero de I'ecriture. 18). from that of the French critic Gustave Lanson and is founded on the positivistic psychology of ThCodule Ribot. or exclusion of various possibilities his work represents a significant commitment and carries in itself a critique of literary form. psychological traits) in the author's life which match those personages. The question today. Formalism in art and criticism has traditionally been associated with empty aestheticism and hence has generally been considered the prime enemy of commitment.) While formalist. At the present time Barthes' arch-opponent is the Sorbonne professor and avowedly academic critic Raymond Picard. But Barthes' real opposition is to a much more generalized phenomenon. Barthes maintains. states Barthes. "It is.-P. The manner of writing. p. in fact. in classical literature almost an accepted convention. Camus. actions. But this. the first French wvriter. and sentiments which occur in his works. and down to RobbeGrillet every author has had to choose his manner of writing and by his choice of imitation.Barthes thinks. is produced by the reflection of the writer on the social usage of his form and the choice of form that he assumes. "simply one fashion-highly system- . extending and deepening the metaphorical system which defines the world of the literary work. "It is thus essentially the moral of the form. is insistently formalist. has done this brilliantly in some of his studies of French poets. Barthes believes. it had no method at all. a kind of criticism which is accepted as so natural both within and without academic circles that its method passes. In this view. every writer has been faced with the problem of making such a choice." Structuralism. however. the very soul of literature.Roland Barthes and the Nouvelle critique tion. the Surrealists. quite unnoticed. which implies a close attention to the variation of a small number of recurrent elements. The major labor. is not Why write? but How to write? While his criticism. now that Freudianism has become respectable in the French university. to copy. from a rather Freudian point of view. to write is always to imitate. This criticism derives. Barthes believes. These two relations among signs correspond in speech to the functions of selection (paradigmatic) and combination (syntagmatic) described by Roman Jakobson in his famous essay "Two Aspects of Language and Two Types of Aphasia. and is intended to pass. of the academic critic is that of searching out biographical traits (or. it is also emphatically ideological. (J. The work has models and the only accepted relation between the work and its models is that of analogy. he writes. says Barthes. The writer's technique. it can be so only by its form. that if a literary work can be committed at all. Proust. says Barthes. From Flaubert's day to our own. follows in its footsteps. Richard. Since Flaubert. in relation to something else and represents a premature flight from the work into the world of the author. Thus academic criticism is always an attempt to set the work. can be defined historically as the passage from the consciousness of what is signified (denotation) to the paradigmatic consciousness. to reflect upon and to make a choice of his manner of writing (ecriture) and thus to assume responsibility for it. then. The way in which an author writes will henceforth carry a social and moral responsibility. has become.

The supreme recourse of academic criticism. With this Barthes fully agrees but. represented by J. almost ritualistic power that they hold for them. the so-called objective criticism is founded on three very particular beliefs about how a literary work ought to be understood. For literature commences only where the idiom employed by a writer gives rise to a second language. it is necessary to understand what the terms of the discourse meant to the author and his public. must be founded upon the certitudes of language. that is. this principle hardly provides a sound basis for a criticism which claims to be universal. These beliefs. The three principles. It claims to be objective criticism. if ever. Literature. that criticism which does not make a choice of method. too. Marxism. pronounced. and which thereby gives a satisfying feeling of security. non-orthodox sense. As to the second tenet. Richard." That this is so is amply shown by the . Any number of modes of criticism may be admitted as valid so long as each is capable of coping with the literary object and is applied consistently. for they do not purport to be part of a method but rather to be premethodological. however. At present. exists in a particular historical situation. The fact that this common-sense psychology is largely drawn from the classics themselves makes criticism based upon it constantly tautological. for to attack these standards is not only to attack literature as it is traditionally thought of but to pose a mortal threat to "good society" and "proper morals. The Being of literature resides not in the relation of its language to the world but in its relation to a prior language. or interest and hence the only valid criticism. it is held. to be those principles which go without saying. Finally. there exist in France four major and equally admissible strands of descriptive-ideological criticism: Existentialism. however. whether vague and undefined or explicit. The danger of academic criticism is precisely that it does not. ideals.332 DAVID FUNT atic and perfectly dated-of representing things" (Sur Racine. and refuses to admit that both literature and criticism are contingent historical facts perpetually subject to change. being a notoriously variable field. 162). are rarely. in turn. that is. In a period in which the obvious boundaries between the novel and poetry and even between literature and criticism are being progressively abolished it becomes an unduly inhibiting factor. Sartre. Psychology. participates.-P. such philological investigation forms no part of literary criticism which begins only when we understand the literal sense of the terms employed by the author. Barthes contends. the structure of the genre is a strictly historical notion drawn from the classical theoreticians and is useful largely for the purpose of decrying the "extravagances" of any work which is not clearly identifiable with one of the traditional genres. has a certain set of beliefs. Barthes sees a certain bad faith in the academic critic's affirmation of disinterestednes. In fact. and the imperatives of the structure of the genre. he argues. what is psychologically coherent depends upon the psychology adopted. by J. by Lucien Goldmann. is to "current psychology. exists only as meta-language and this meta-language can be the only object of criticism. Barthes points out. a language of multiple senses whose meaning cannot be discovered from any dictionary. he attempts to maintain the pretense that there is an essential and eternal nature of literature as well as of criticism in which he. ideology." to that which common sense easily recognizes and accepts. of course.-P. The ire raised in such critics as Raymond Picard by any attempt to abrogate these rules either in literature or criticism attests to the sacred. as much as the ideological critic. for while he. admit this plurality of criticisms. the implications of psychological coherence. by which the literary work can be understood according to academic criticism are the certitudes of language. Barthes finds. which implies that he. which are always and everywhere the same and not open to question. labelling all other modes which adopt a particular stance subjective and thereby invalid. p. and concerns. All criticism. in a broad. and Barthes' own Structuralism. Here the problem leaves the realm of literature and criticism. Freudianism.

The critic. Barthes finds. through the language he chooses transforms the work or. however. to account for the difference between the simple recounting of real events. languages of total ideological neutrality." "decapitated. for example. Barthes believes that his own critical stance. There being no innocent languages. of a particular view of what not only literature but society. Thus two tasks are imposed upon the critic. 333 i. which has depth. A language is. none other than the profane name for his muse). It is not. The secret of the persuasive power of the academic method in criticism is the creation of a loaded set of alternatives. There is. Barthes believes. The second and strictly literary task of the critic is the rigorous application of the language he has chosen. Ironically. Lanson saw only two possible modes of criticism. genius. it is the criticism which makes the greatest claim to science which is the jealous guardian of the unknowable. but for its claim to absolute objectivity and universality. a mysterious synthesis of rational elements. politically leftist and progressist. this choice becomes inevitable. those which allow the critic to make a larger range of literary language meaningful are evidently preferable to those which can encompass only a narrower range. neither objective nor subjective. only the way in which it is applied may be. and politically responsible.Roland Barthes and the Nouvelle critique terminology characteristic of the polemics against the Nouvelle critique. viz. or is." "assassinated. Michel Butor's Mobile which by its intentionally emphatic discontinuity and non-conventional manner of relating elements destroys the continuity.." "led to the pillory" and to the "gallows. The first is the choice of a language of criticism which the writer feels is adequate to the work or works in question as well as morally. though it is a stance which he himself vehemently rejects. and literature. This inadequacy of the chosen mode of analysis to exhaust the work causes academic criticism to see the literary work as a combination of science and magic. an ideology. etc. persons. for its ideological stance that Barthes objects to this criticism. Out of the multiple possible senses that the work possesses in itself-and not by infirmity of those who read it-the critic chooses to develop one. socially. The magical character of the synthesis assures that that structure which gives a discourse its particular quality must remain unapproachable and we are ultimately reduced to the tautology that Racine creates by his creative power (which is. for whatever does not yield to analysis in terms of analogical relations is regularly attributed to genius. says Barthes. To make works of literature meaningful is ultimately the critic's task and. It is the open character of . while the choice of critical languages is free." These fears clearly label academic criticism as the proponent of an ideology. sentiments. we may say projects the work. the other specifically literary. everything which is not based on the principles of verisimilitude is mere personal impression. enables him to make meaningful a much larger realm of literature while at the same time debunking traditionalist myths of man and society. In reality. Barthes believes. for its denial that it has. The decision to view literature as made by the direct imitation of events in the author's experience or world gives rise to the necessity of invoking some occult quality.. in itself. objectivity in criticism but it is not dependent upon the adoption of a specific critical language but rather upon the rigor with which the chosen language is applied. at the cost of rejecting from his classificatory scheme non-conforming works such as. onto a plane. speaking metaphorically. that unanalyzable quality by which the commonplace is turned into literature. scientific and impressionistic.. Thus it is frequently referred to as an "outrage" and it has been repeatedly demanded that Barthes and the Nouvelle critique be "beaten down. then. the objectivity of academic criticism is always leavened with a heavy dose of the irrational." so sacred to traditional critics. the "life of the work. The academic critic chooses by his language to uphold traditional views of man and opts politically for the status quo. one moral.e. politics and morality ought to be like. that is.

by his technique. in some cases. for example. the author chooses and commits himself to a transposition in one sense or another. there are a number of geometries which express the world differently but which are equally valid (though some may be more useful for certain purposes than others). Thus it is the validity of a critical language which is important rather than the truth of critical statements (which could be measured. "If the Nouvelle critique has any reality. demands the multiplicity of critical languages. affirmed henceforth. there is no reality which is not already classified by men. the critic's task is not to determine whether the author speaks truth or falsehood but to develop the sense. does not extract a verb from silence but detaches a second word from an existing language. 46). The criteria of critical languages. include even the typography) without arbitrarily excluding anything as irrelevant or insignificant. always carries more sense than that specifically and consciously chosen. p. when it is used as a material rather than merely as a tool. Again." Barthes asserts. but in the solitude of the critical act. One of Barthes' constant concerns has been the linguistic process by which myth is created and the attempt to distinguish literature from myth. if at all. To write is always to enter into relations with a language which is anterior and the prime matter of literature will not be the unnamable but.334 the work. that is. then. means that everything in the work must be considered significant. in turn. The two requirements are DAVID FUNT roughly analogous to the completeness and consistency of a logical language. Barthes argues. only by historical data concerning the author's life or by the norms of an accepted psychology). are internal to the systems themselves and hence they do not claim a privileged relation (truth) to external objects. in fact. as a complete act of writing" (Critique et verite. as of logical languages. its admission of an indefinite number of senses over and above the preliterary. "A system of sense is incomplete if all the terms cannot be ranged in an intelligible place in it" (Critique et verite. Barthes explains. he gives to the work a sense. Thus the work. it is conveniently said. 65). As the author transforms the world by his writing so does the critic transform that of the author by his own. Far from the traditional view of the critic as the humble servant of the author. Barthes contends. becomes the world of the critic and before it. still less in the snobbism which. literal sense of the words employed. that permits and. But the writer does not face a world of bare phenomena either. Barthes specifies the major constraining factors by which the transformation should be ruled as exhaustiveness and coherence. The writer. or rather a sense of his vision of the world. the toomuch named. The logical model allows for a multiplicity of equally valid criticisms just as. the world is already full of language. in such a way that the work becomes penetrated by an ever increasing unity. Barthes defines myth as a meta-language the function . The requirement of coherence means that the language adopted by the critic ought to permit the reading of the work as a consistent system of images and metaphors in a process of transformation. It is in the rigor of the transformation that the possible objectivity of literary criticism lies. his chosen critical meta-language in hand. "it is not in the unity of its methods. Out of the indefinite number of manners in which the world may be written. The world admits the possibility of sense: the author gives it sense by the manner in which he orders and relates unities. The critical language ought to be capable of saturating the work. he is seen as the secondary instrument of the creation of the work. In a brilliant essay on contemporary myth ("Le Mythe aujourd'hui" in Mythologies). for Barthes rejects the scientific model for criticism in favor of a logical model. of coping with everything in it (which may. on the contrary. Thus it should allow the establishment of distant but supportable liaisons between different elements of the work. The critic before the work. sustains it. is in the position of the writer before the world. far from the alibis of science or of institutions. The rule of exhaustiveness in criticism. But language. p.

and hence several manners of writing gent causality) disappear too. contingency and hence of the possibility of "That which is clearly conceived will be change. the pretends to be a fact. of facts and the consequent negation of which is thought of as prior to it (Boileau's.clearly expressed. but facts devoid of was in the process of constituting itself any troublesome contingency. lasts up confirmation. With the disappearance of the his. Thus myth consists in the replace. the "real" becoming a system of es. it is immediately self.remaining literature or whether literature firmation or disconfirmation.. when it is authentic. of necessity or essentiality and negating its The mythologizing mentality is associcharacter as contingent. essential and eterof various areas of social life. that is.meta-language is transitive language. with the bourgeoisie. It is a conand eternal fact.) pre. The lanof the factual realm into the mythic. by Barthes. nothing is chosen. while the relation of facts is literature can ever be transitive while yet contingent and subject to empirical con. revolutionwhiteness. none ary-who speaks in order to transform. for no different from the comforting static debeing a tautology. the language of refutable for they pertain not to facts but the man for whom society is an object to to values and consist really of tautologies: be worked upon and changed-that of the the purity of the soap flakes is seen in their left. bourgeois.lusion which is myth. When language is above the contingent causes and effects of intimately related to the transformation of science. a kind of to things and which one speaks or writes in causal value which is projected over and order to change things. Classical French verifying. In fact. language which exists in an active relation It is a peculiar mythical entity. thereby giving it a kind ing is troubling. in turn. both free. sences. textures. ated. white-collar workers. Barthes states. analysis will show that in things. The guage of the classical writer is the property relation of images is "naturalized" in the of a certain social class-the bourgeoisiemyth so that the tautology presents itself which in mid-seventeenth-century France as a relation of facts. that sented in the form of a chemical property.produced.e. but now a necessary mainstay of the status quo. i. are communicated. in fact. purity.and changed. the relation is necessarily meta-language and thereby of images has an eternal character. it does not become mythified: the various areas of popular thought whole wood-cutter does not mythologize the tree mythical chemistries exist. That tory of things. for it is an object to be worked upon mythic structures are untestable and ir. is other than the whiteness itself. except that of the demystifi. etc.tive of the universal.literature which. A relation not mythic. hence nothing it into a value. as the dominant social class. etc. for example. The opposite of the mythic hospitals. And.there are several different French languages dom (choice) and determinism (contin.preformed in the spirit. Nevertheless on which the myth nourishes itself (it the author sees himself as the representacould not exist without primary level asso. But such nal." for example). The tree cannot Barthes has examined the mythic structure become image for him. for he exists in a colors. The whiteness (sign of tinual flight from reality which protects purity). tal. Similarly. of images is substituted for a relation of The troublesome problem is whether facts.until about 1850 is by its very conception cation of the myth. Barthes believes. Language in the clasciations). everything is as it must be.Roland Barthes and the Nouvelle critique 335 of which is to deform the factual by mak. The factual.with a certain amount of decoration. this value. the purity is. Nothing is never occurs to the classical writer since . In his Mythologies.ent medium by which essential truths. The ment of a system of essences for a system language ought never to obscure the idea. transitive relation to it. the re-intrusion of language a form of myth. for the sake of which the status quo for the real bourgeois while we are told to buy brand X of soap it gives comfort and security to the petitflakes is really a value (cleanliness. such as those of as does the city-dweller. is degraded in the process of sical period is conceived of as a transparmythologizing to the level of the acciden. It is subject to no possible dis.

Barthes clearly sees that literature cannot be distinguished from myth as transitive language from meta-language. and furthermore. as we have noted. Hence all literature is meta-language and can by its nature never found an action. always offers a proposition or a question about the world. In Le Degre zero de l'ecriture (1953) Barthes seems to envision the possibility of transitive literature. only the ideas communicated by its means differ. What is it which distinguishes literature which is "committed" from myth? The answer can only lie in the difference between the form of the proposal and that of the assertion. literature then is an immobile object. which is factually the exclusive property of a specific social class. that is. It is not the literal. that constitutes it as literature. not denote it. separated from the world which is in the process of realizing itself. The opposite of mythic language is transitive language. is to limit signification. 264). the signification which it gives rise to. The writer. when his poetic liberty would be placed within a verbal situation whose limits were those of society and not those of a convention or a public: otherwise the commitment will always remain nominal. It is the second DAVID FUNT language which is created by a discourse. It is this pretended neutrality. poetry being merely a more decorative and slightly more formalized sort of prose. is not an opaque object which can itself speak and reveal its infinite potentialities of signification. The word itself is not seen and used as an object charged with signification of its own but is instead taken as being perfectly neutral. with its choice of its language. which constitutes this language and literature. for the classical writer. on the other hand. and hence ideal universality. literature does not permit the world to walk. In sum. deprived of all transitivity. powerless to consummate the language. has for its sole limit a contrary language. parasitical sense. which can only be transitive language-how can literature be "committed" by its form? For Barthes. second language. active.. The function of myth. over and above the literal. One of Barthes' continual efforts has been to show how modern literature. The myth is concerned. provocative character of language which is the Being of literature. it will be able to provide the salvation of a conscience but not the foundation of an action" (p. but it permits it to breathe" (p. not of kind. however. 72). if its function is not to transform reality but to double realityliterary language. such that it can only connote the real. which would be thus distinguished from myth which is meta-language. The function of the writer is to multiply significations without filling them or closing them. as well as the criticism which sustains its values. The signification of language is always the same. It is only then that the writer could be said to be entirely committed. of classical literary language. to fill it immediately and .. that in which the word is an action. is not concerned with that which is signified-whether the novel is about heroic workers or middleclass merchants is not an object of his criticism-but the process by which signification is developed. that is. The difference between prose and poetry. to create a world with language which signifies but in which that which is signified is never finally determined. "To the general suspicion which accompanies language throughout modern literature would be substituted a reconciliation of the verb of the writer with the verb of man. says Barthes. but is simply the means of communicating with clarity-the essential virtue for the classical writer-the universal consciousness. to surpass it toward a transformation of the real. a form of myth.336 language. is merely one of degree. having once emptied the language of its factual content. condemned ceaselessly to signify itself at the moment when it wants only to signify the world. even when he seems his most dogmatic.. In his Essais critiques (1964) and Critique et verite (1966). for him. The logos appears then irremediably cut off from praxis. But if all literary language is meta-language. the response to which is never definitively known. In the Essais critiques Barthes states: "Each time that one validates or sacralises the 'real' it is perceived that literature is only language. is differentiated from myth.

often brutally and in isolation. and is left to speak or resonate by itself. it displays its essentialist ambitions in its rejection of its desire to be an antilanguage-or language-and its claim to grasp the thing itself. or feeling pressed to express the fullness of his being. is chosen that is primary but that of whether this language is used to multiply or to inhibit signification. the meta-language which purports to be fact. poetry. these languages do not oppose or exclude one another. Modern poetry seems to come dangerously close to myth and. what language. In frankly choosing his language the author admits his own contingency and assumes responsibility for the choice he has made. A myth." While the myth strives for an ultra-signification by the amplification of a primary system (language). each forms an opening onto the world. But it is thereby the very inverse of myth. however. It is no longer the weightless and transparent form through which its object is seen. of classical literature and of all prose. The attempt of modern poetry has been to reduce to nothing the distance between the word and the thing. that is. and Camus a language as close as possible to absolute neutrality (ecriture blanche). transitive language. It is here that the word comes to be taken as an opaque object full of possibilities. 337 system of relations along which the reader is led (objects are defined rather than named). as Barthes points out. for Barthes. for example. however. on the contrary. as a gas in a closed container. in this view. The word. is given frontally. or presemiological state of language. It is that which claims to be the one language. In literature as in criticism it is not. here. and may well find itself destroyed or neutralized by another myth which attempts to give to the same set a divergent exclusive signification. the word. Thus the metaphor of the writer warming to his work. the question of what ideological stance. the existential question of choice or the pretense that choice does not exist dominates the question of what is chosen. While in classical literature the word itself is suppressed in favor of a . tries to recover the infrasignification. Literary language can be limited only by its contrary. While Flaubert consciously adopts a language of the bourgeoisie. experiences a sort of creative gas pain. but one mythical language may well be limited by another mythical language. in modern poetry. At bottom. rather than closing off other possibilities. Mythical language is precisely that language which claims to have no ideological stance. Hence the myth is always assertive. It seeks not the sense of words but the sense of things. always attempts to attach to a certain set of linguistic forms or images an exclusive signification. Thus. Sartre one of the left. that which involves no choice and which thus makes choice impossible. it presents itself as an object which stands quivering. for while myth is a semiological system of essences which pretends to be a system of facts. ready to burst asunder with its manifold significations. indeed. absorbing its relations within it. all modern poets have taken words as real properties of things. is modern poetry. the imposition of the myth of Khrushchev required the destruction-but not the demystification-of the myth of Stalin. For the writer and for the critic both. It is for this reason that modern poetry (unlike classical poetry) troubles the language and is perhaps the greatest enemy of myth. Barthes argues.Roland Barthes and the Nouvelle critique completely and to close it to other possibilities of signification which might conflict with the motivation of the myth in question. to make the word speak the object or to make the object deliver its own sense. for Barthes. is not a functional element in a discourse but. nor even a symbol of something else. The writer. And it is the latter option that constitutes a language of literature or of criticism mythic. The greater the transparency of his language The real contrary. Mallarme was the first to see that a whole world could be contained in a word. poetry is a semiological system of things which pretends to be a system of essences. The traditional view of literature sees the subject (mind) as a plenum which expresses itself in the medium of words. Thus Barthes defines modern poetic language as a "regressive semiological system.

DAVID FUNT A science of literature. or may be. At bottom the literary work is an absence. his criticism does not claim to be explicative but rather to be comprehensive. from truth to validity. It is. All attempts to complete forcibly the sense of the objective eventuate in the reduction of the being of the object to one of its aspects which claims to be the object itself. a silence. of the relation of the literature of the past to the present creative effort and its concerns. While the science of literature treats of senses. Literary criticism. What the critic can attempt is to place all of the author's language in the service of one of the multiple senses evocable from the work (without claiming that it is the only sense). is not a science. Barthes is attempting to evolve a form of criticism adequate to contemporary literature-in which the traditional concept of verisimilitude has become irrelevant-and revealing. engendered by a written discourse. in fact. again. If the language is sufficiently transparent and if the reader's literary vision is adequate. to the people and events within a discourse. In shifting his critical model from science to logic. Thus criticism is related to the science of literature as. is possible and. must be given up. that constitutes the work always a proposal rather than an affirmation or dogma. It will no longer be possible to state. a science of the forms by which written discourse signifies for man. necessary.) What is necessary is a mythology of the written discourse as we have developed one of the oral. then. as Lanson did of Larroumet's thesis on Marivaux: "All of Marivaux was there. The subject. criticism produces them. in linguistics. Another way (the critic's) of deciphering the author's secret is to circumvent the work itself and to study the author's life and environment. he ought to perceive the secret of the work which lies in the subject hidden behind the language. such as Claude Levi-Strauss and. of the irreducibility of the author's metaphors. by virtue of the logic of signs. Michel Foucault. but validity concerns forms and the relationships of the formal elements of the system which constitutes the discourse. have attempted to assimilate the study of contemporary and historical society to the methods of anthrophological study of primitive or non-histor- ical societies. even though it is signed. (Similarly. The critic. that is. most recently. is for Barthes not a problem to be explained but a structure whose intelligibility must be completed. to the study of ancient and primitive myths. is not a plenum but a void. like any language. some French thinkers. and the true Marivaux. as in Sartrean existential philosophy.338 the more clearly the reader will be able to see through it (like a window) to the subject (which is really a species of object) which has given rise to it. Thus the science of literature. says Barthes. but it will not have for object such or such a sense of the literary work but rather the plurality of senses of the work. cannot claim to exhaust the total being of a literary work. which are unsigned. It is this absence. and accordingly. not of why such or such a sense ought to be accepted but of why it is acceptable." The work of art. which allows literature to have multiple significance. Barthes sees. dear to Lanson and his followers. Barthes maintains. Truth applies to things. But the pretentions to universality and truth in criticism. an expression. and which thus validates the concept of a multiplicity of criticisms. It will be the study of how a variety of senses are. would assimilate the study of literature. which is the Being of literature. disregarding the author of the discourse. he believes. any more than a single discourse can claim to be the complete definition of all the words and phrases contained therein. retrospectively. Barthes' interest is in the significance of the act of writing itself rather than in that which occurs within the written discourse and hence one rarely finds a clear . parole (actual verbal expression which signifies by virtue of its sanction by a code of linguistic rules or habits) is related to langue (the virtual structure of the language within which actual expression may be inscribed). simply the derivative absence which we discover by our inability to complete the sense of the objective.

a kind of economic foundation. for example. his most important essays fall in the category of theory of criticism and when. they more often attack the common understanding and criticism of such works than the works directly. though without denigration. There is. The sense of critique for Barthes is unAll literature. And it is perhaps in this respect that his thought is least developed. whose work. however. has a metaphysical or logic (as. The first novelist to introduce a systematic viewpoint into this disorder was Proust. While his books on Racine and Michelet reveal a penetrating literary understanding. "The 339 tigation of the nature of literature. not on the world but on language. in his term to each work.Roland Barthes and the Nouvelle critique distinction in his work between theory of criticism and criticism itself. they treat of a work of Brecht or Butor or Robbe-Grillet.American. to break be read. ing in a society in which all books cannot In attempting. in Kant's signification which must be sought by the critiques) rather than evaluation. he continues. often innocently mixed what he saw. no doubt. a conclusion from which the of events and characters but with the na. For the ecrivain. "It is. the "informative writer"-what Barthes calls the Scrivant as distinct from the ecrivain-who does not tamper with the language as it exists but accepts it and employs it as a tool for the communication of preformulated information. for example.disengage the Being of literature rather . than with providing the radically absorbs the why of the world into public with a guide to what is worth reada how to write" (Essais critiques. is always to Being concerned always with the inves. The traditional novelist. on the other hand. of course. "is the man who of the criticism. His action is immanent in its object. to transform language and hence to transform understanding. "an impression of rigor. as they frequently do. p. To write. His work may be accepted or rejected on the basis of the information it conveys but the separation of his act of writing (or what might better be called." says Barthes. frequently represents a melange of varying points of view. and what his character saw and knew. 148). The excessive importance given to overall evaluation in contemporary popular criticism has. This criticism (better called reviewing) is less concerned with making manifest the signification of the work in question. Yet we may easily question whether the rigor of the technique of Robbe-Grillet automatically places him above Stendahl. p. is to operate. in the fact that he would never tolerate a psychoanalytic examination of his work. or equally. is exercised upon its own instrument.premises may be conveniently separated. even that which doubtedly that one. the feeling that the author has persistently submitted himself to a single and unique value" (Essais critiques. The adequacy of the one criterion of value that he has advanced seems doubtful. in the view that the value judgment literature is created." he states. ture of man and his relation to the world. language itself is the great problem. we may say. more European than claims to be the most determinedly real. often results choice to uphold or re-evaluate tradition. Therefore it is the act of writing and the specific way in which this act is carried forward that must be examined if literature is to be found. through language. explicit value judgments rarely appear in Barthes' critical writings. Barthes points out. then. in which it implies examination istic or naturalistic. 162). The closest examination of its techniques. But the lack of development of value criteria in Barthes' writings is accountable to his view that evaluation is not the primary or dominant concern of criticism rather than to unintentional neglect. which presupposes a prior knowledge of the work by the reader ecrivain. for example. aim of this endeavor. in itself. and it goes without saying that it is Alain Robbe-Grillet who has carried this rigor to the furthest point. transcribing) from its product is evident. which would be irrelevant in any case. what he knew. It is shown. Thus literature has reached represents the culmination of the always to do not merely with a specific set critique. A criticism in which the major traditional categories and to work perhaps emphasis is placed upon assigning a value unheard-of relations.

There is no question that. The attitudes in which we may discover man are limited by the norms of language and. we find in it only that which we already know. ESSAIS CRITIQUES (editions du Seuil. moreover)." Some recent developments in American thought and criticism have emphasized the major role of the medium in communication. . where it becomes hidden and everyday. 1954). As medieval culture created the window not to be looked through but rather to be looked at. invisible pane. that which we expect to find. for example. a task for which Barthes and the other creators of the Nouvelle critique have provided a valuable initiative. 1963). MICHELETPAR LUI-MEME (editions du Seuil. the form of the novel has been submitted to more constant experimentation in France than elsewhere. A film. events and characters as if they were real: a place they might remember (located in Africa. with a few notable exceptions. the fact that everything is in its place and ready to yield to conventional psychological interpretation. so Renaissance and modern scientism have given us the clear. on the other hand.. people they might have known. MYTHOLOGIES (editions du Seuil. But it is time now to look back to the window and to examine what man makes of himself and his world in the manipulation of his media. 1953). even if regularly neglected. in fact.. On the other hand. at least since Proust. In art this role is all-important. through which the light of the world was received transformed into a cultural symbolism. or whose DAVID FUNT adventures someone might have told them. Critic and reader alike in America are thus found today in a state very much like those readers described by Robbe-Grillet in Jealousy: "Speaking instead of the scenes.trans. it goes without saying and provides nothing to prevent one from passing directly to the "content" with that feeling of security which is fostered by the normalcy of the form. just like the one in which we live. 1964). ON RACINE.340 than to pass judgment upon individual works. The verbal medium serves as the unclouded window opening onto a vicarious world which is. CRITIQUEET VERITE(editions du Seuil. where language is frozen in conventional forms. nor is a novel merely a life in words. 1957). WORKS BY ROLAND BARTHES LE DECRE ZERO DE L'ECRITURE(editions du Seuil. Richard Howard (Hill and Wang. SUR RACINE (editions du Seuil. for all that the characters may perform acts which we might not perform or approve.. The form remains invisible for it is "normal". has remained almost totally traditional in form and technique. they frequently blame the heroes for certain acts or characteristics. in English. 1966). verbal and otherwise. as they would in the case of mutual friends. 1964). is not merely a novel in pictures. The American novel.