chapter  8
9 Pages

Roland Barthes

Roland Barthes (1915-80) was a French semiologist, literary critic, and cultural theorist. Born in 1915 in Cherbourg, France, he was raised in a bourgeois Protestant family. His early life is marked by long bouts with tuberculosis, which resulted in his being placed in a sanitarium for several months during his late adolescence. This experience of isolation turned Barthes inward and during the long hours spent alone he read a prodigious amount, including all of Michelet’s volumes on French history. He went on to study French and Classics at the Sorbonne in Paris. There he was active in protests against fascism and wrote for leftist journals and magazines. During World War II he taught in Paris, having been exempted from military service because of his tuberculosis. After the war he taught in Romania, before continuing his studies at the University of Alexandria in Egypt, where he studied structural linguistics with A. J. Greimas in 1949-50. Barthes returned to Paris in the 1950s and worked at the Centre national de la recherche scientifique as a lexicographer and later as a sociologist. In addition to teaching at the École practique des hautes études from 1960 until his death, he was elected to a chair in literary semiology at the Collège de France in 1976. Along with several others, including Jacques Derrida, he was a member of the 1960s group organized around the literary journal Tel Quel. The traumatic death of his mother triggered the writing of one of Barthes’ most famous texts, Camera Lucida: Reflections on

Photography (1980). This work was published shortly before Barthes’ own death resulting from injuries suffered after being accidentally struck by a laundry truck as he was leaving the Collège de France in 1980.