Biography (Dictionary of World Biography: Twentieth Century)
Article abstract: Barthes was one of the most important literary critics of the twentieth century, and he made significant contributions to semiology.
Roland Barthes was born into the heart of the French bourgeoisie of Cherbourg on November 12, 1915. His father died in a World War I battle in 1916, leaving the family in reduced circumstances, although the mother learned the trade of bookbinding and kept the household together for the family. Roland’s early brilliance at the lycée pointed to a career in the high academic circles reserved for graduates of the École Normale Supérieure; however, he contracted tuberculosis in 1941 and was forced to attend a lesser institution, the Sorbonne. In 1937, he was declared unfit for military service because of his illness, and he taught from 1939 to 1941 in lycées in Biarritz and Paris. He was, however, forced to abandon teaching when the tuberculosis flared up again, and he spent the war years in a Swiss sanatorium. After the war, he taught in Romania and Egypt before returning to France. During this period, he became further acquainted with literary criticism and linguistics and produced his first important book, Le Degré zéro de l’écriture (1953; Writing Degree Zero, 1967).
The distinguishing mark of Barthes’s career was his refusal to be confined to one field of study, one...
(The entire section is 2094 words.)
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Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Roland Barthes (bahrt) was one of the leading proponents of the new French criticism and one of the founders of structuralism. He was born in Cherbourg, France, in 1915 to the solid bourgeois family of Louis and Henriette Barthes. Louis Barthes, a naval officer, was killed in 1916, and in 1924 young Roland moved to Paris with his mother. It was in Paris that he lived most of his life and received his education. In 1939, he received a license in classical letters from the Sorbonne, and between recurring bouts of tuberculosis he taught in and around Paris while continuing his education. During the convalescence from his second attack of tuberculosis, Barthes was first published, and he began a distinguished career as a teacher, researcher, critic, and writer.
One result of Barthes’s years of convalescence was that he had the time to read widely and to decide that he was more aligned to Marxist ideology than to the bourgeois ideology in which he had been reared. With this willingness to embrace leftist ideas came a willingness to question and explore many of the commonplaces of his world. It was in this frame of mind that he was introduced to modern linguistics while teaching in Alexandria, Egypt, and this introduction gave Barthes a tool with which to explore his world.
Barthes was able to acquire several scholarships after his return to France in the early 1950’s. The first provided funds for him to study lexicology and the second supported...
(The entire section is 716 words.)
Biography (Magill's Literary Annual 1978)
Roland Barthes, like its Barthesian predecessors, is controversial. The author does not allow his reader any reassuring tranquility. In this volume, he immediately formulates two implicit enigmas to be solved by a persevering, active, and playful reader: first, “What is autobiography?”; second, “Who is Roland Barthes?” Throughout the work, his efforts to forestall the reader’s answers paradoxically offer clues to those answers.
By inscribing his work in a traditional series in which each volume is entitled “so and-so by himself” (for example, Bachelard by himself) but is always authored by someone else, Barthes mocks the very concept of autobiography. His review in the Quinzaine littéraire, entitled “’Barthes by Barthes by Barthes,’” leaves no doubt that his primary concern continues to be challenging both existing modes of writing and means of writing about the writing process. It is entirely appropriate that the series to which he contributed be subsumed under the general heading écrivains de toujours (which is perhaps best rendered as “writers whose works have become classics”). Barthes would undoubtedly scorn the stasis implied by such a description and, indeed, he may not be “de toujours”; he is certainly, however, an exemplary writer.
Barthes revamps the autobiographical genre by imposing upon it a form which seems radically inconsistent with its usual goals. The book...
(The entire section is 1909 words.)