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Assessing Barthes’s relevance in an applied context, this article explores Comment vivre ensemble (1976–77) in relation to a corpus that is rarely exploited for its discursive and fantasmatic values – a writer’s correspondence. How does Barthes’s model help us gain a fuller understanding of Émile Zola’s representation of his desire to balance the quality of privacy conducive to creativity and the pleasures of sociability? How, in turn, might reading Zola’s correspondence through the figures of Comment vivre ensemble enable us to extend and inflect Barthes’s model? These questions inform my study of the tensions between living individually and living socially through two writers fascinated by micro-history and fantasmatically immersed in the everyday worlds of collectivities and individuals.