Réda Bensmaïa

The Barthes Effect


Oorspronkelijke titel: Barthes à l'essai, introduction au texte réfléchissant, 1986
Vertaling: Pat Fedkiev, 1987
Uitgever: University of Minnesota Press
ISBN-10: ISBN-10: 0-8166-1379-6
ISBN-13: ISBN-13: 978-0-8166-1379-3

(oorspr. titel: Barthes a l'essai: introduction au texte reflichissant, 1986)


"I must admit that I have produced only essays.. . ," Roland Barthes observed on his accession to a Chair in the Collège de France. In The Barthes Effect (published in French as Barthes a l'Essai), Réda Bensmaïa acknowledges that the essay is indeed an eccentric phenomenon in literary history, one that has long resisted entry into the taxonomy of genres. Since its elaboration by Montaigne in the sixteenth century, the literary essay has functioned as a kind of anti-genre, refusing confinement to a single or unified subject, defying rhetorical norms of plan and progression. To Bensmaïa, the Barthesian essay, like others from Montaigne to Blanchot, tests the validity of reigning theories of genre; with Barthes, the essay achieves a status of its own, as reflective text.

In The Barthes Effect, itself essayistic, Bensmaïa looks at Barthes's late work in the light of Montaigne's own practice. With S/Z as a jumping-off poin --it sketches out the books to come -- Bensmaïa concentrates on four works: The Pleasure of the Text, A Lover's Discourse, Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes, and Camera Lucida-all of them plural, broken, made up of fragments and exuberantly proliferating details. Aware that traditional criticism has persisted in seeing the text or genre as a closed form, he argues, for Barthes, that "meaning must not set too quickly, that the text must not harden into one genre." In fact, the essay may be the moment of writing before the appearance of genre or, as Barthes himself has suggested, the matrix of all generic possibilities.

Réda Bensmaïa is associate professor in the departments of French and comparative literature at the University of Minnesota, and translator Pat Fedkiew, a graduate student in French at Minnesota. Michèle Richman is associate professor of French at the University of Pennsylvania and author of Reading Georges Bataille: Beyond the Gift.

"A study of Barthes which places his work within the ancient but generally overlooked tradition of essay writing. Barthes's use of the fragment, Bensmala argues, challenges dominant ideas about the genres of writing and links him to unclassifiable writers such as the sixteenthcentury essayist Montaigne." (Graham Allen)





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