S/Z, 1970
book by Roland Barthes

In S/Z Barthes analyses Balzac's short story Sarrasine. The main character of Balzac's story, La Zambinella, is a fragmented being, "divided, anatomized." The reader, while trying to understand whether it is a man or a woman, reassembles its body. By analyzing phase-by-phase Balzac's short story he deals with the experience of reading. The reader is the space, in which all the multiple aspects of the text meet. A text's unity lies not in its origin but in its destination, "(...) the birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the Author".

Barthes made his most intensive application of structural linguistics in S/Z. Sarrasine, Barthes argues, is woven of codes of naturalization, a process similar to that seen in the rhetoric of the fashion sign. The five codes Barthes works with here are; the hermeneutic code (presentation of an enigma); the semic code (connotative meaning); the symbolic code; the proairetic code (the logic of actions), and the gnomic, or cultural code which evokes a particular body of knowledge.

In reading Sarrasine, Barthes attributes a complexity of meanings to the text, which might not be what Balzac had originally in mind. As literature is an indirect form of speech, the reader is the one who, all things considered, has the last word. Barthes' process of redefinition starts from the two basic agents of communication, the addresser (the author) and the addressee (the reader), then it turns to the message (the text). His final considerations are about the general conception of literature and criticism.

"The Author himself (...) can or could become one day a text like another; he has only to avoid making his person the subject, the impulse, the origin, the authority, the Father, whence his work would proceed, by channel of expression; he has only to see himself as a being on paper and his life as a bio-graphy"
(Barthes on the author-as-text in S/Z)