Roland Barthes: Beyond Interpretation

Instructor Rebecca Ariel Porte
The Workmen’s Circle
247 West 37th St, 5th Floor
New York, NY 10018

In his late work, Roland Barthes hungered for “[a] dictionary not of definitions but of scintillations.” Derived from the Latin, “scintillation” means, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, the “action of sparkling.” What kind of theory of language or literature tracks the “action of sparkling”? And what should theorists of language and literature make of this shift from the definition to the scintilla as the locus of meaning?

This course—an introduction to the thought of the French philosopher, literary theorist, linguist, and semiotician—asks how Barthes, who began his intellectual life as a committed disenchanter, evolved from architect of structuralist demystification to theorist of the scintillant, a field of investigation that encompassed questions of affect including pleasure, pain, bliss, love, and mourning. The rubric of the scintillating spurred Barthes’s formulation of, among other concepts, jouissance, the punctum, the third meaning, and the neutral. Concentrating on Barthes’ later writing, this class will consider his commitment to what lies beyond interpretation as well as the experimental critical forms he invented to accommodate his changing thought. What are the uses of a dictionary of scintillations? Why and how does one seek to pass beyond interpretation? What are the ethics, implicit and explicit, of Barthes’s critical practice? How should we understand elegiac, hedonistic, and eccentric ways of reading and writing and their possible claims to meaning, feeling, and politics?

Reading assignments will move from the early semiotic analysis of Mythologies to the “novelistic” late writing and may include selections from A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments, Camera Lucida, The Neutral, and Mourning Diary. Supplementary texts will draw on the writing of Barthes’s intellectual inheritors, such as Wayne Koestenbaum, Maggie Nelson, and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick.

Course Schedule

Thursday, 6:30-9:30pm
March 02 — March 23, 2017
4 weeks


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