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200 × 130 × 14 mm
192 pages
15 illustrations
01 Aug 2015
Critical Lives

Roland Barthes Andy Stafford

Roland Barthes (1915–1980) is one of France’s most important writers and theorists of the second half of the twentieth century. His volumes of essays have been translated into many languages. His work is hugely influential in the fields of semiotics, structuralism and numerous areas of the humanities. Yet Barthes’ career, hampered by illness in early adulthood, was beset by a large number of false starts. After the Second World War, he started a career in the French Diplomatic Corps, tried to become a sociologist and lexicologist and worked briefly as a popular theatre activist; he was also a keen amateur musician, painter, reluctant Marxist, dilettante philosopher and editor. Yet none of these activities defines Barthes; even his academic career was highly unorthodox and he has not always been taken seriously. So how do we classify him?

Andy Stafford offers a clear-sighted, readable account of Barthes’ work and life. While he argues that Barthes may best be categorised as a journalist, essayist and critic, he emphasizes the social preoccupations in Barthes’ writing: how Barthes continually analysed the self and society. In doing so, Stafford also provides a fascinating account of the intellectual scene of post-war France. This cogent introduction to a vital figure will interest students and specialists alike.

‘Staffords book is an invaluable corrective to the other biographers tendency to underplay the social and political dimensions of Barthess work . . . Stafford has provided a rich portrait of the political, social Barthes, undertaken in full awareness that he will escape, Houdini-like, from any classification we might try to impose on him.’ — TLS

‘weaves together with great skill Barthess life, his writings, and the social side of his work . . . Roland Barthes is an illuminating, readable work of concision and precision by one of the most knowledgeable figures in the field.’ — Modern Language Review

‘Staffords biography of Roland Barthes is a sublime dot-connector that nevertheless exhibits remarkable restraint. Its a solid close reading of the life, work and historical context of an important, widely misunderstood intellectual delivered in a voice that does not give in to the temptation to deviate from crisply academic rigor. After all, Barthes frequently and famously inserted himself into his analyses, so it would only be fitting if Stafford tried to perform a few of the same magic tricks as his subject. Instead, Stafford offers readers this overwhelmingly funny and retrospectively, delightfully obvious argument: Barthes was not a Barthesian.’ — PopMatters

‘Andy Staffords new biography on Barthes is an elegant and compact volume of less than two hundred pages. It offers, however, one of the most lucid and subtle understandings of Barthes life and work.’ — Barthes Studies

‘Staffords biography of Barthes as a social psychologist is more than the narrative of the life of one of the most important intellectual figures of post-war France, shedding new light on the social, collective, and, by extension, ethical aspects of Barthess oeuvre . . . Staffords clear and succinct account will undoubtedly serve as an excellent starting point for readers who have yet to discover the continually rich and fascinating life and work of Roland Barthes.’ — LEsprit créateur

‘Andy Staffords engaging biography sheds new light on the complex interrelation of Barthes life and work, proposing striking and subtle interpretations of a multifarious intellectual and personal trajectory . . . A major contribution to the understanding of Barthes as a theorist and as a writer.’ — Patrick Ffrench, Professor of French Language and Literature, Kings College London

‘Stafford finds similarities between Barthess early respect for the history of writing theory and the need for a writer to be read with love. He, also like Barthes, never dwells for too long in the one place.’ — TEXT Journal of Writing and Writing Courses

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Andy Stafford is Senior Lecturer in French Studies at the University of Leeds. His books include Roland Barthes, Phenomenon and Myth: An Intellectual Biography (1998) and Photo-texts: Contemporary French Writing of the Photographic Image (2010).

Notes on the Text


1. War Orphan

2. Tubard

3. Marxism, Popular Theatre and the New Novel

4. From Semiology to Structuralism

5. May’ 68

6. From the École to the Collège

7. Fame, Death and the ‘Aristocratic’ Self

Conclusion: ‘Barthes is Not a Barthesian’


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