If one believes Barthes himself, he is not a great reader. He explained this, in an interview published in 1974, by saying that one of two things always happened: either the book interested him so much that he stopped reading in order to think, or he found it so boring that he put it down. Understandable though this may be, it is nevertheless a curious revelation to come from a man who is generally classed as a literary critic, especially when he remarks elsewhere that he rarely has much time for reading.1But whatever his reputation, Barthes does not actually look upon himself as a literary critic. He stated in Critiqueet Vérité, in 1966, that ‘so long as criticism kept its traditional role of judging, it could only be conformist, that is to say acting in conformity with the interests of the judges’, and it is clear that he sees all previous forms of literary criticism as merely so many tools in the hands of the ruling class.2 He is in fact best seen rather as a new type of literary intellectual: a man who applies sociological, philosophical, psychological or linguistic categories to works of art, and does so with the intention of finding out what makes them tick rather than of judging them. Judgements do of course come through, and they often merge political and literary preferences inextricably together. But Barthes presents himself not as a traditional critic—someone who can offer an informed and balanced judgement because he has read a lot of other books—but as a man who, as he says of himself in Roland Barthes par Roland Barthes, suffers from his own particular illness: he sees language.3
KeywordsLiterary Critic Lower Middle Class Balance Judgement Romantic Concept Existential Thematic
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- 23.Henri Mondor, Vie de Mallarmé, Gallimard 1941, p. 55. Mallarmé's letter was written on 1 Aug 1862.Google Scholar