The Black and White Collection: WP Set Eight
“The photograph is literally an emanation of the referent. From a real body, which was there, proceed radiations which ultimately touch me, who am here; the duration of the transmission is insignificant; the photograph of the missing being, as Sontag says, will touch me like the delayed rays of a star.”
Born in 1915, Roland Gérard Barthes was a French social critic, literary critic and essayist whose writings on semiotics, the formal study of symbols and signs pioneered by Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure, helped establish structuralism and the New Criticism as leading intellectual movements. He studied at the University of Paris, receiving a degree in classical letters in 1939 and grammar and philology, the historical study of literary texts and language, in 1943.
After working from 1952 to 1959 at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Barthes was appointed to the École Pratique des Hautes Études. In 1976 he became the first chairman of literary semiology at the College de France. His first book “Le Degré zéro de l’écriture (Writing Degree Zero)” was a literary manifesto that examined the arbitrariness of the constructs of language. His following four books applied the same critical reasoning to the mythologies, or hidden assumptions, behind cultural phenomena from advertising and fashion to the Eiffel Tower and wrestling.
By the late 1970s, Barthes’s intellectual stature was virtually unchallenged, and his theories had become extremely influential not only in France but throughout Europe and in the United States. Other leading radical French thinkers who influenced or were influenced by him included the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, socio-historian Michel Foucault, and philosopher Jacques Derrida.
In 1980 Roland Barthes died at the age of 64 from injuries suffered after being struck by an automobile in Paris. Several posthumous collections of his writings have been published, including the 1982 “A Barthes Reader”, edited by his friend and admirer Susan Sontag, and the 1987 “Incidents”. The latter volume revealed Barthes’s homosexuality, which he had not publicly acknowledged. A three volume set entitled “Oeuvres Complétes (Complete Works)” was published in 1993 to 1995.