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Saturday, January 25, 2014

Barthes' view on 'work' and 'text'

Barthes writes in his essay "From Work to Text" that the change in conception of language and literary work can be attributed to the development of other disciplines but mainly the disciplines of linguistics, anthropology, Marxism and psychoanalysis.

From the reading of the essay as translated by Stephen Heath, in the first paragraph Barthes writes about why the shift from 'work' to 'text' has occurred in literature. He feels that interdisciplinary studies are a major cause of this change. He questions the term 'text' and what it stands for and goes on to give us seven propositions about the text concerned with:

1.      Method

2.      Genres

3.      Signs

4.      Plurality

5.      Filiation

6.      Reading

7.      Pleasure

About method he says, that a work can be seen as it is a 'fragment of a substance' while a text is a process of demonstration. A work can be held in the hand while a text can only be held in language. Text is experienced only in the activity of production. When a reader engages with a work, it becomes a text. Genres remind us of how a work is liminal. However, a text cannot be bound by classification. The text can be approached and experienced in reaction to the sign. The signified in a work is evident while in a text it is secret, something to be unearthed. 'A work conceived, perceived and received in its integrally symbolic nature is a text.' The text has achieved an irreducible plural. There are infinite meanings in a text. A work is caught up in filiation; it is not seen in isolation. In a text, filiation is discarded. A work is like a composition (like a written book) but the text is about playing (reading the text). A work can be read without being involved but a text needs involvement and engaging. A work provides pleasure of consumption. A text provides jouissance (pleasure without separation).

Barthes concludes by saying that the theory of the text has to be a text itself and must coincide only with a practice of writing.



Barthes, Roland. "From Work to Text." Trans. Stephen Heath. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. By Vincent B. Leitch. New York, NY: Norton, 2001. N. pag. Print.

"Roland Barthes." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 24 Jan. 2014. Web. 24 Jan. 2014.


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