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Roland Barthes: Structuralism and After, by Annette Lavers; 300 pp. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1982, $25.00. Discussed by Mary Bittner Wiseman Roland barthes has likened the production of a text to the creation of Vedenciennes lace, and he has said of the distinctively modern text, the writerly text, that it is ourselves writing. Lacemakers make lace. We write. I know what lacemedcers are and what they do. I wetnt to know now what we erre emd what writing is. I want to know, also, if whatever we write is meemingful and, if not, what the criterion of the meaningful is. Beuthes sometimes speaks as though the act of writing were the act oflove and the creation of meaning were the climax of love, bliss. Since one loses oneself in the moment of bliss, it looks as though one possible answer to die question "What is the criterion of the meemingful?" namely, that bliss is its mark, has the consequence that the answer to "What are we?" is that we are what loses itselfin die achievement of meaning. We exchange ourselves for a writerly text. Barthes says, "TEXT means TISSUE; but whereas hitherto we have always tedien this tissue as a product, a ready-made veil, behind which lies . . . meeuiing (truth), we are now emphasizing, in the tissue, the generative idea that the text is made, is worked out in a perpetual interweaving; lost in this tissue — diis texture — the subject unmakes himself, like a spider dissolving in the constructive secretions of its web" (The Pleasure of the Text, p. 64). ' Another figure. Not lovers now but spiders. Not spending the moments of love but dissolving in the secretions from which the web is spun. Who spins? The spider. Another exchange: a spider for a spinning. The questions reassert themselves. What are we, who make lace, make love, produce meanings, spin webs? What, in the figures of weaving and spinning, are the threads? What are the efficient and the material causes of the activity of making meanings? Is it essential to meaning that it last but a moment, as ecstasy does, and that it be purchased at the price of the self, as ecstasy is? What follows 106 Mary Bittner Wiseman107 is a sketch of the answers to questions about the makers, the materials, emd the marks of meaning that Barthes entertained from the Critical Essays (1964) to The Pleasure ofthe Text (1973). It must be read always remembering what Barthes has called the only sure thing that is in him: "... a desperate resistance to any reductive system. For each time, having resorted to any such language [expressive or critical, and at the heart ofthe critical, the several discourses ofsociology, of semiology, and of psychoanalysis] to whatever degree, each time I felt it hardening and diereby tending to reduction and reprimand, I would gently leave and seek elsewhere: I began to speak differently" (Camera Lucida, p. 8, italics added). Barthes's view is that no text has meaning prior to being read and diat reading is the activity of imposing meaning on the vide, the vacuum or emptiness. Again, three questions. First, what is the emptiness mat can be filled with meaning , that is, what has been written emd how does what has been written limit how it can be read? Second, what is the source of the meaning of a text? Third, what is meaning's criterion? Among the things that have been written are works of literature. Bardies makes a distinction among literature's works based on their cheiracteristic effects on the reader. The first is the traditional text, the text of pleasure that "contents, fills, grants euphoria; the text that comes from culture and does not break widi it, is linked to a comfortable practice of reading." The second is die modern text, the text of bliss that "imposes a state of loss, the text that discomforts . . . , unsetdes the reader's historical, cultural, psychological assumptions, the consistency ofhis tastes, values, memories, brings to a crisis his relation with language" (Pleasure, p. 14). The text of pleasure reinforces the reader's comfortable beliefs about the world, himself, and language, in particular, the beliefs undermined by Saussure early in...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 106-115
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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