Wednesday, November 11, 2015

'The "Scandal" of Marxism' by Roland Barthes (edited and translated by Chris Turner) Seagull Books

ISBN: 978-0857422392  Seagull Books
'The "Scandal" of Marxism' by Roland Barthes (Translated by Chris Turner) Seagull Books

I look at the work of Roland Barthes as if he was a driver, and I'm sitting in the back seat.  I tell him "take me somewhere interesting."   That is what it is like reading Barthes essays.  On one level I guess he's a philosopher, but I think he's more of a social critic commenting on History and the world around him.   'The "Scandal" of Marxism' is a collection of articles, interviews and essays regarding the role of politics in contemporary life, as it was written from the 1950s to the 1970s.   Here you get his reflections on Marxism, The Algerian War, and the issues of the left and its role in literature as well as in politics.  There is even a brief description of a trip to China he did with other intellectuals in 1975.   China, a huge subject of course, but it seems he was a tad indifferent to it as a visitor or tourist. 

The one thing that stands out for me as an American reader of this collection, is how the French divide and monopolize political movements and its publications.  In America, we have liberal and conservative press, but it seems France has always had  a right-wing press as well as a left-wing press, including publications from the Communists, the socialists, and so forth.  So one can get a publication that for instance has a "Marxist" angle to the arts and culture.  There is really no such publication produced for the masses here in the United States that conveys that aura of democracy and free thought.   Barthes and others were public intellectuals (The U.S. don't even have intellectuals anymore) who express their experiences and well-thought out (not saying they were right or wrong) views on what is happening in their world. 

Throughout this slim (and very beautiful) volume, Barthes attempts to define the role of Marxists as well as being part of the Left-wing.   Not an easy thing to do, when the world was rapidly changing.  Also there are so many issues that were taking place in the Left.  Not all had the same opinion or thought!  Nevertheless the translator and editor Chris Turner did a remarkable job in writing brief introductions to each essay/piece.   He places the works in its timely culture, and what the issues were at the time.   

Roland Barthes was one-of-a-kind thinker, who was more of a verb than a noun.  Reading him is like watching a man or woman think.  That I know sounds like watching wet paint drying on a wall, but in reality it's more interesting.   The best thing in the world had to be in Barthes company, and just chatting with him - reading his works is that private conversation between reader and Roland Barthes. 

- Tosh Berman

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