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166Philosophy and Literature Roland Barthes, by Michael Moriarty; xi & 255 pp. Stanford : Stanford University Press, 1991, $37.50 cloth, $12.95 paper. Roland Barthes is a graceful writer whose work reveals an intelkgence sharp and fine, deliberate and delicate. And he is original: no subject to which he puts his pen will be seen by his reader as it was before. Roland Barthes is the obverse of Roland Barthes. For it is neither finely and carefuUy wrought nor original enough to comprise a significant contribution to the study of Barthes. But why must a book about a writer who assumes the responsibility of form and discharges it in a superbly controlled prose do likewise? And why should an author whose announced intention is to write an introduction to Barthes that makes his work clear be faulted for not doing something different? A book about a fine writer need not, of course, be finely written. But the book under review is poorly written in places and there the writing blocks the author's message. "Japanese religion, too, is concerned not with divinity but with preventing the cohesion ofthe illusion ofselfhood; which Barthes accounts for in stricdy materialist terms, as constituted by the flow of inner language, like an interminable radio broadcast, in his phrase, in which we talk to ourselves" (p. 113). In other sentences, referents lose their moorings, and in yet others, syntax goes on holiday. The book needs copy editing and deserves the clearer prose that editing would bring, for what Moriarty does has merit. He engages his subject in such a way as to invite the reader to take Barthes on. Moriarty naturalizes Barthes by entering him in the ring, ignoring Barthes's insistent positioning ofhimself on the margins ofcontemporary discourses. He refuses to privilege the confession in Camera Lucida that "by ultimate dissatisfaction with all of [the critical languages], I was bearing witness to the only sure thing that was in me ... a desperate resistance to any reductive system. For each time ... I felt [a language] hardening and thereby tending to reduction and reprimand, I would gendy leave it and seek elsewhere: I began to speak differendy" (p. 8). There is a temptation so to appreciate Barthes's difference as not to evaluate him, for the reason that evaluation requires inscription within the languages that Barthes was trying to leave behind. Although critics ought not to refuse evaluative judgment, they also ought not to judge until they understand what is to bejudged, and the more original the material, the more apt it is to elude the critics' grasp. The fact that there has been time to realize Barthes's difference weighs on the side ofjudging him, perforce, by the standards implicit in the languages we speak. This is what Moriarty does. He makes a reductio ad absurdum of Barthes's claim to speak differendy by emphasizing the first of what he identifies as "two approaches to Barthes: on the one hand, to summarize and expound the Reviews167 conceptual and argumentative content of those parts of his work that deal in concepts and arguments; on the other, to indicate the ways in which reading Barthes can mean more than simply absorbing a set of theories or positions which are to be set up against other theories or positions as if in some kind of theoretical tournament" (p. 11). Moriarty is at his best in thejoust, his summaries and expositions nicely marking changes and repeated figures in Barthes's corpus , even though the joust is less with the details of other "concepts and arguments " than with the positions from which they are constructed. However, because one cannot, finally, give an argument for taking one position rather than another, Moriarty faUs to do more than to identify different positions. His engagement with Barthes does not go beyond "simply absorbing a set of theories " in order to "indicate the ways in which reading Barthes can mean more than" absorbing theories. It is time to engage Barthes and to test him, but Moriarty does not deliver on his invitation to do so because he does not show us how reading Barthes is more than grasping a content and, therefore, does not show us...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 166-167
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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