Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Simply a Particular Contemporary" by Roland Barthes (Translated by Chris Turner)

ISBN: 978-0857422408  Seagull Books


It seems like throughout my life I have been reading Roland Barthes.  As a writer and a reader, I think of him often.  Mostly due to his thoughts on the nature of one's writing and how it "reads" out to a reader, but also his intensity in writing about things that he is clearly not an expert on - but what you get is Barthes point-of-view, and how he reads a certain object or place.   For instance, besides the various books by Donald Richie on Japan, which was essential readings for me, because one, I'm something of a Japan-olic and I have been going back and forth to that country for the last 25 years.  The one book that prepared me for Japan, before I touched the concrete of Tokyo was Barthes book on Japan: "Empire of Signs."  Along with Richie, probably the most essential book on Japan by a white European.

"Simply a Particular Contemporary" is a collection of interviews with Barthes, from 1970 to 1979, focusing on his writing, books and his interest in writers such as Bertolt Brecht and Marcel Proust.   With respect to writing, the one thing that impressed me, is his acknowledgment of the pleasure of writing.   This is a man who likes to put pen onto the paper and see what happens.  His brilliance is that he doesn't look at things in a factual manner, but more always as an open question.  What I get out of him is the adventure of knowing or writing, but not the conclusion of such a journey.    For instance, when I write, it is all for the glory of the moment, as I look back on something.  I think I got that from Barthes.  The four interviews within this volume are enjoyable, and it doesn't tell all (which I think is impossible with someone like Barthes), but for sure, a good time is spent with this man - and this book nicely reflects of a time well -spent.

- Tosh Berman
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