Samuel Earle at the TLS:
A culture critic turned into a cultural institution, an academic with little time for academia, a revealer of mythologies who became himself a myth – Roland Barthes was a rock star of the writing world when he died suddenly in 1980 and, as with all rock stars, his death only led to a new lease of life. “Lately”, one commentator observed in 2012, “the posthumous corpus of Roland Barthes has been growing at a rate that rivals Tupac Shakur’s. (Can a hologram Barthes be far behind?)” We await the hologram, but the centenary of his birth in 2015 brought a swarm of new commentary with it. For Barthes, 1915 was an “anodyne year: lost in wartime, undistinguished by any event; nobody was born or died that year”; in 2015, its centennial celebration was marked by the kind of adulation reserved for Hollywood celebrities.
Neil Badmington recalls these commemorative events at the beginning of his new book, The Afterlives of Roland Barthes. The mere memory is enough to leave him “weary, overwhelmed; my body tenses and prickles”. Badmington is “privileged”, he writes, “to have lived through those twelve months”, and even expresses sorrow for not being able to witness the celebrations that will mark the bicentenary in 2115.
Afterlives is a brief inspection of Barthes’s posthumously published texts, a look at “what they reveal and what they rewrite”. Badmington’s affection for Barthes – his “professional love” – is plain to see and although, academically speaking, such emotion could be harmful, it is precisely the kind of writing Barthes believed in.