barthes in china


LATELY THE POSTHUMOUS CORPUS of Roland Barthes has been growing at a rate that rivals Tupac Shakur’s. (Can a hologram Barthes be far behind?) Recent years have witnessed the publication of lecture notes from his last seminars at the Collège de France (Preparation of the Novel) as well as the journals he kept following the death of his mother (Mourning Diary). The latest addition to his English catalogue is Travels in China, a translation of his notebooks from a three-week trip there in 1974 with a delegation from the French literary review Tel Quel. In France, the publication of Barthes’s private notebooks and journals (Carnets du voyage en Chine and Journal de deuil both appeared in 2009) spurred a round of contentious debate about the ethics of looting a dead writer’s archives. (Somewhere, no doubt, Max Brod is sighing with sympathy.) It’s not hard to attribute the spate of posthumous publications to the mercenary incentive to squeeze every last drop out of an author with any degree of fame. If we’re feeling a little more charitable, we might also see them as testaments to the desire for more of a distinctive voice and a singular intelligence. Each death of a major intellectual figure seems to prompt a flurry of new publications of old material, much of it scraps, all of it suggesting an inability to accept that no more words will issue from that pen, a kind of disbelief that the author is, at last, really and truly dead.

more from Dora Zhang at the LA Review of Books here.