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In his preface to Renaud Camus’s 1979 novel of gay cruising, Tricks, Roland Barthes asserts the literary nature of the work in its “certain way of saying ‘I.’” He then exemplifies the performative consequences of saying “I” one way rather than another when he addresses the “feats of discourse” that homosexuality continues to provoke: “Speaking of homosexuality permits those who ‘aren’t’ to show how open, liberal, and modern they are, and those who ‘are’ to bear witness, to assure responsibility, to militate.”1 Barthes consistently rejected this responsibility to militate in the name of what he calls the politico-sexual,2 and characterizes the pitfalls of identity politics thus: 63 two Matte Figures Roland Barthes’s Ethics of Meaning He is troubled by any image of himself, suffers when he is named. He finds the perfection of a human relationship in this vacancy of the image: to abolish—in oneself, between oneself and others—adjectives; a relationship which adjectivizes is on the side of the image, on the side of domination , of death. —Roland Barthes, “The Adjective,” in Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes I no longer need or desire to decipher him. . . . So I accede, fitfully, to a language without adjectives. I love the other, not according to his (accountable) qualities, but according to his existence. . . . The language in which the amorous subject then protests (against all the nimble languages of the world) is an obtuse language: every judgment is suspended, the terror of meaning is abolished. —Roland Barthes, “Thus,” in A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments To proclaim yourself something is always to speak at the behest of a vengeful Other, to enter into his discourse, to argue with him, to seek from him a scrap of identity: “You are . . .” “Yes, I am . . .” Ultimately, the attribute is of no importance ; what society will not tolerate is that I should be . . . nothing, or, rather, more precisely, that the something I am should be openly expressed as provisional , revocable, insignificant, inessential, in a word irrelevant. Just say “I am,” and you will be socially saved. To reject the social injunction can be accomplished by means of that form of silence which consists of saying things simply. . . . Renaud Camus’s Tricks are simple. This means that they speak homosexuality, but never speak about it: at no moment do they invoke it (that is simplicity: never to invoke, not to let the Names into language—Names, the source of dispute, of arrogance, and of moralizing).3 Barthes’s preface should be taken as an example of what he has called “affectionate criticism,”4 and his treatment of Camus’s narratives as “neutral . . . surfaces without shadows, without ulterior motives” proposes an approach to literature and sexuality that does not participate in “the game of interpretation” but figures a certain type of first-person opacity.5 This opacity often constitutes a stumbling block for a mode of reading that sees “silence” about sexual identity as fully complicit with homophobia and the closet. Thus, D. A. Miller characterizes Barthes’s relation to the act of gay self-nomination as “phobic” and argues that “silence, far from guarding a subject against these effects [prejudice, an unwanted identity, and so forth], would leave him all the more destitute of resources for resisting them. If Barthes’s reticence has shielded anyone, it is his homophobic critics, who are spared having to show how deeply their attacks are motivated by a name he never claims.”6 Miller’s gloss on the above passage fills in the responses of an unsympathetic Other: “Society continues to prefer the sotto voce stammering of homosexuality from which nothing in fact is more tolerated, more desired, than that it be provisional (‘it’s just a stage’), revocable (‘keep your options open’), insignificant (‘it doesn’t really mean’), inessential (‘are you sure?’), and, under the cumulative weight of all these attributes, expulsively irrelevant.”7 To the contrary, however, it is Miller’s response, not Barthes’s, that is on the side of homophobia . Barthes’s “silence” is not a disavowal or a disowning; rather, it is a tactic by which he underscores precisely the vengeful Other in which he refuses to locate the meaning of his identity. (Barthes’s reference to the 64 MATTE FIGURES Other combines Althusser’s theory of interpellation with Lacan’s theory of alienation.)8 Miller sees silence in much too limited a fashion as only complicit with homophobic intolerance, whereas Barthes seems to see “recognition of an...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780816680290
Print ISBN
9780816675715
MARC Record
OCLC
792688056
Pages
224
Launched on MUSE
2014-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
N
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