Monday, December 21, 2015

"Roland Barthes" by Andy Stafford (part of the Critical Lives series & published by Reaction Books)

ISBN: 978-1-78023-495-3 Reaction Books
"Roland Barthes" by Andy Stafford (Critical Lives series, published by Reaktion Books)

 Of all the French thinkers from the May 68 era (roughly) my favorite is Roland Barthes.  I identify with him because he's a writer/thinker who jumps from one subject matter to another.  Despite that, whatever he writes about, one can see a reflection of his personality on that subject matter he is covering.   When I first went to Japan, I brought with me a book about Japanese customs (very handy at the time) and Barthes' "Empires of Signs," which I think may be the best book on Japan from a foreigner, besides the great Donald Richie of course.  What interested me about that book is how he analyses what he saw in Japan, specifically food and sumo match, and how that 'read' to him.   It was no longer a book of facts, but almost an emotional as well as an observation on his part, and how he understood it.   That journey alone, is sometimes more interesting than the results.  So, I'm fascinated by Barthes technique and an excursion into another world of sorts.  His study on fashion and its publications is equally fascinating, because it is something I normally see, but often don't think about. 

Andy Stafford's book length study on the works of Barthes serves both as an introduction to his critical works, as well as a biography.   He pretty much goes through all his major or well-known books and essays to convey what was unique about Barthes and his writing.  Again, there seems to be always a memoir or autobiography at work, even through his various studies, and his mother for sure plays a huge role in his life.   Barthes was not exactly conservative, but he was a gay man who chose to live in the shadows, than say someone like Michel Foucault who was not only 'out, ' but also a forceful personality.   He was also a man who was critical of the 'Left' as well as pretty much agreeing with a lot of their agenda.  In truth, Barthes was a man on his own.  

On a personal level, I often think of Barthes when I'm writing.  I too have a deep interest in the world around me, but I seem to have a need to put my individual stamp on what I have seen or observed.  The act of writing is an activity where one explores their inner world, as they look outward. The results are sometimes not on the page, but the journey itself.  I like Roland Barthes for that reason.  Stafford committed a good introduction to this unique thinker.   

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