With a plan to trace the relationship between a purely formal history of writing and the deeper levels of history, Barthes's project in Le degré zéro de l'écriture seems to have failed because it remains unclear what degré zéro historically represents. Drawing on Le degré zéro de l'écriture, as well as Barthes's later texts on film and photography, this essay examines the historical and the political aspects of the theory of "exhausted art" that Barthes developed as an expansion of his notion of degré zéro. As I demonstrate, Barthes's theory suggests that exhausted art is politically committed. By remaining semantically and historically ambiguous, this art not only proposes a new aesthetic paradigm, but, as Barthes believed, also represents a socially reflective type of art—it poses an alternative to the novel and its depiction of the subject as separated from others.


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pp. 389-403
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