On First Looking into Sontag’s Barthes Reader

Photo by the author, Gem Lapin Beaucoup 

Despite my allusive title, I have mixed feelings about the Barthes Reader.  Before actually reading Barthes, I had read that he was maybe the either the most important or “greatest” author of the twentieth century. I have worked my way through half of the Reader now and “my two cents” is: a few really good essays, but not too sure about the overall coherence of his ideas. He draws a lot on linguistics and formalism and later enters a deconstructive mode, and he’s ahead of the curve in terms of literary movements. But his work seems to be more about gestures at ideas than fully articulated ones. Sartre, by contrast, tries to work his ideas out on paper. I think in the long run that I prefer the more fully articulated approach. He is kind of Borgesian in his gestures. Perhaps my lack of awe is just due to the fact that the movements he’s initiating aren’t really new to me and linguistic structuralism and formalism just aren’t really very exciting topics (cf. his tenacious “Structural Analysis of Narratives.”)  That being said, his wrestling-themed essay and his essay on the Eiffel Tower are great reads and probably even classics.  

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