Happy Birthday Roland!

I did not expect to see Roland Barthes trending today. But it makes me think that there might just be hope for us yet. Yesterday would have been his 100th birthday. To celebrate, I thought we could look at something a little brighter than the death of the author. In “Caritas Incarnate: A Tale of Love and Loss,” Philippe Roger tells us about love in Barthes’ writings and takes a look at the Barthesian view of the novel:

[L]ess than of death, less than of mourning, the novel in Barthes’s conception is thus the depositary of love. It is destined to “say whom we love.”


What is the point of the novel? The Barthesian response is simple and strong. It makes “pathos speakable.” It “permits me to say whom I love.” It “testif[ies] that they have not lived (and frequently suffered) ‘for nothing.'” It allows “these lives, these sufferings, [to be] gathered up, pondered, justified.” The most valuable aspect of such narratives is their obliqueness: the novel can speak of love directly and indirectly at the same time; it is discreet, in the strongest sense of the word. It can point to emotions and suffering without pointing at them. The new novelist praised by Barthes is therefore the perfect antagonist to the voyeur. He is the one who indicates what should not be looked at–out of respect and consideration, rather than shyness or disgust.


It is not the least astounding aspect of Barthes’s career, in my view, that whereas so many other critics consumed their days in finding, behind every tale of death, the dreadfully dull allegory of the death of Literature, he preferred, as a carrier of his own pain, to consecrate his final literary reflections, not to the loss of the novel, but to the novel that could speak the loss, the real loss, of loved ones.

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