French social and literary critic, whose writings on semiotics made structuralism one of the leading intellectual movements of 20th century. In his lifetime Barthes published seventeen books and numerous articles, many of which were gathered to form collections. His ideas have offered alternatives to the methods of traditional literary scholarship.
Roland Barthes was born at Cherbourg in 1915. Barely a year later, his father died in naval combat in the North Sea. Barthes was brought up in Bayonne by the mother and, periodically, by his grandparents. Barthes attended the Lycée Montaigne, Paris (1924-30), and Lycée Louis-le-Grand (1930-34). At the Sorbonne he studied classical letters, Greek tragedy, grammar and philology, receiving degrees in classical letters (1939) and grammar and philology (1943).
In 1934 Barthes contracted tuberculosis and he spent the years 1934-35 and 1942-46 in sanatoriums. Numerous relapses with tuberculosis prevented him from carrying out his doctoral research. He taught in Rumania and in Egypt, where he met A. J. Greimas, then at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales. He was one of the founding figures in the theoretical movement centered on the journal Tel Quel.
As the leading structuralist thinker, Barthes was highly influenced by Ferdinand de Saussure's semiology - the formal study of signs and signification. He was a prolific interpreter, disseminator, and reviser of most of the complex theoretical concepts that circulated within France’s centers of learning from the 1950s on. Barthes was appointed to the Collège de France in 1977 and was acknowledged as the leading critic of his generation in 1978. Aside from being the dominant theorist of the 1970s across Europe and America, Barthes made his influence felt in popular culture as well. He dies Mars 26 1980, due to complications after he'd been hit by a van on his way home from a lunch with François Mitterand in February the same year.
Barthes is particularly interested, not so much in what things mean, but in how things mean. One of the reasons Barthes is a famous and well-known intellectual figure is his skill in finding, manipulating and exploiting theories and concepts of how things come to mean well before anyone else. As an intellectual, Barthes is associated with a number of intellectual trends (e.g. structuralism and post-structuralism) in postwar intellectual life.
Roland Barthes's work embodies a significant diversity. It ranges between semiotic theory, critical literary essays, the presentation of Jules Michelet's historical writing in terms of its obsessions, a psycho-biographical study of Racine, which outraged certain sectors of the French literary establishment, as well as the more 'personalised' works on the pleasure of the text, love, and photography.
Published works by Barthes (not complete):
Le Degré Zéro de L'Écriture, 1953 - Writing Degree Zero
Michelet par lui méme, 1954 - Michele by himself
Sur Racine, 1963 - On Racine
La Tour Eiffel, 1964 - The Eiffel Tower and other mythologies
Essais Critiques, 1964 - Critical Essays
Eléments de Sémiologie, 1964 - Elements of Semiology
Critique et Vérité, 1966 - Criticism and Truth
Système de la Mode, 1967 - The Fashion System
L'empire des Signes, 1970 - Empire of Signs
Sade, Fourier, Loyola, 1971
Nouveaux Essais Critiques, 1972 - New Critical Essays
Le Plaisir du Texte, 1973 - The Pleasure of the Text
Pourquoi la Chine?, 1976
Roland Barthes par Roland Barthes - Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes, 1977
Image-Music-Text, 1977 (Essays Selected and Translated by Stephen Heath)
Fragments d'un Discours Amoureux, 1977 - A Lover's Discourse: Fragments
Leçon Inaugurale au Collège de France, 1978
Sollers, Écrivain, 1979 - Sollers, Writer
La Chambre Claire, 1980 - Camera Lucinda
L'obvie et L'obtus, 1982 - The Responsibility of Forms
Le Bruissement de la Langue, 1984 - The Rustle of Language
L'aventure Sémiologique, 1985 - The Semiotic Challenge
Œuvres Complètes, 1993-95 (3 Vols.)
Suggested reading on Barthes:
Calvet, Louis-Jean, Ronald Barthes: A Biography, Bloomington, 1995.
Culler, Jonathan, Barthes, Glasgow, 1983.
D. A. Miller, Bringing out Roland Barthes, Los Angeles 1992.