Friday, November 13, 2009

Barthes and Philosophy

"In a late interview (1978) he said that if he had to define himself it would be as a ‘philosopher’, adding ‘which does not refer to a degree of competence, because I have had no philosophical training. What I do is philosophise, reflect on my experience. This reflection is a joy and a benefit to me, and when I’m unable to pursue this activity, I become unhappy.’ This sounds a little feeble, and perhaps only a writer with a strong anti-bourgeois career behind him could afford to be so bourgeois. But the claim is interesting if we take it seriously rather than feebly, and of course by ‘reflection’ he doesn’t just mean musing on the meaning of life. A stronger version of the same proposition appears in Camera Lucida, where Barthes says he has always wanted to argue for or argue with his moods (‘J’ai toujours eu envie d’argumenter mes humeurs’), not in order to justify them, and still less to fill the text with his own individuality but to use this individuality as part of a formal study of the subject (‘une science du sujet’). Barthes is saying, I take it, that he has always wanted to convert his moods into arguments, or find the arguments underlying them or stemming from them. It’s a classic theoretical, intellectual enterprise; but it starts in the subjectivity that most theories just don’t know what to do with. It’s the place where the two Roland Barthes meet: the objective social scientist who was always a bit subjective turns out to be the same person as the subjective writer who likes to think theoretically about things."

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