How might one summarize Roland Barthes' essay "Science versus Literature"?

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vangoghfan | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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In his essay “Science Versus Literature,” Roland Barthes makes a number of claims, including the following:

  • Scientists treat language as a tool; their goal is to make it as clear and as value-free as possible
  • To scientists, the subject-matter or content they wish to communicate is most important; the language in which such messages are communicated is unimportant. It should simply be clear and precise and objective
  • In contrast, in literature, language is everything. Its function is not simply to convey a message
  • Literature is a use of language in which language itself becomes the most important element
  • Emphasizing the centrality of language as language to literature can have radical implications for morality and politics
  • The contrast between science and literature is especially important to structuralists
  • Structuralist ideas, which grew out of linguistics, are especially relevant to literature
  • Used as a kind of scientific, analytical method, structuralism can help us understand the elements of literature and how they work
  • Structuralism can also be used to classify different types of literature
  • One of the ancestors of structuralism is rhetoric
  • At every level of literature, structuralist analysis is especially appropriate
  • However, structuralism should not aim simply to be another “scientific” approach to literature.
  • Instead, structuralism should place

the actual subversion of scientific language at the centre of its programme . . .

  • Structuralism should give up the pretense that language can ever be simply a neutral means of communicating ideas
  • Structuralists should be aware of, and should highlight, the paradoxes involved in their own use of language and in any use of language
  • There is no such thing as a neutral use of language, despite the claims of scientists to have achieved such a use; their claims must be challenged
  • There is no use of language that is superior to others; the claim of scientists to have achieved such a language must be challenged
  • Science suppresses the pleasures of language, and these need to be developed and emphasized
  • The role of literature

is actively to represent to the scientific establishment what the latter denies, . . . [which is] the sovereignty of language. And structuralism ought to be in a strong position to cause such a scandal because, being acutely aware of the linguistic nature of human artefacts, it alone can reopen today the question of the linguistic status of science.






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