"Is it worth the trouble":
Roland Barthes and the Pleasure of (Being) the Text

Billy Petersen


[1] Roland Barthes's personal journals, published posthumously as Incidents, reveal an author who wants to restore a generative curiosity for what writing is, what writing does (or can do), and how writing works, prior to any commitment to genre. Genre, of course, prescribes restrictions and rituals of reading. The genre of the journal, for example, presumes an exclusivity of truthful, definite utterance. It is, according to its own mythology, a demonstration of inviolable privacy (yet it exists, available, beyond the authorial self nonetheless). Barthes approaches the genre of the private journal to question what we presume about it. What does keeping a journal do to me, he wonders. How do readers of my journal who are not me arraign my identity? Barthes, the skeptic of personal journaling in his essay "Deliberation," nonetheless keeps a personal journal. This paradoxical gesture foregrounds questions of semiotics, even of aesthetics, with regard to the text of the journal over prurient interest in the autobiographical, or confessional, content therein. Barthes is attracted to the linguistic operations of the journal; yet he retains a distaste, sensing something ugly, something in the journal more akin to gossip than to truth. The suspicion of confessional discourse raised by Roland Barthes in "Deliberation" is fundamentally an anxiety over egotism, or what Barthes calls the "narcissistic attachment ... to my doings" (480, italics original). His deconstruction of the journal form as text is predicated upon the presumed repugnance of the egotistical "I" exposed to a reader's scrutiny. His observations, therefore, borrow from the self-renunciation required by Catholic confessional ideology —one of whose cultural manifestations is the private journal itself. Yet the renunciation, in this case, assumes a priori the invalidity of that confessional, renunciatory vehicle: the text of the journal. One cannot write the self, in other words, except as selfish.

[2] Barthes concludes that he can "rescue" the journal form, but only if he can "labor it to death," so that the "Journal thus kept no longer resembles a Journal at all" (495, italics original). The text of the journal, then, becomes something other than the mere disclosure of the self. Barthes' paradox—that the journalistic revelation of the self is not the reproduction of the actual self, which implies the project's ineluctable fictiveness—becomes especially relevant when one considers the posthumous publication of Barthes's private journals in Incidents, as I will later discuss. The question arises: if "Deliberation" posits a repudiation of journal writing, then why does Barthes compose the fragments published in Incidents? Or rather, if journal writing, as Barthes asserts, embeds falseness (the insincerity borne of egotism) within a text, which negates the obvious motive for keeping a journal, then what benefits does the journal writer receive? As Barthes asks, "Is it worth the trouble" (480, italics original)?

[3] This essay proposes that, for Barthes, the fictionalizing aspect of journal writing is not a defect but is, in fact, the justification for keeping one. The writer for whom "the pleasure of the text" is literature's primary purpose, and for whom fiction subjects "the objects of knowledge and discussion—as in any art—no longer to an instance of truth, but to a consideration of effects" (Roland Barthes 90, italics original), the rewards of the journal are an aestheticizing of the melancholy he records in Incidents, especially in the fragments titled "Soirées de Paris." This melancholy, to adopt Barthes's typical enumerative strategy, is comprised of four elements: grief over his mother Henriette's death in 1977, dissatisfaction with his homosexual relationships, lamentation over his erotic decline with aging, and his curmudgeonly detachment from modern society and culture. Barthes's journal fragments, therefore, are not to be totaled into the realistic portrait of an ageing intellectual. Rather, each fragment is a separate entity (as he explains in Roland Barthes, "so many fragments, so many beginnings, so many pleasures" [94]), each framing a pose, the purpose of which is for Barthes to create a textual Barthes, through whom he can disseminate his frustrations and enjoy the pleasure of (being) the text. In playful defiance of the semioclasmic impulse that produced Mythologies two decades earlier, Barthes in his journals relishes the pleasure of the mythologizing sign. The mythologizing process of self-writing, I think, presents Barthes with a paradox, from which emerge two distinct roles he adopts in his journals. The mediation of writing, the selection of this detail over that detail (which is indeed the simultaneously eliminative and generative process of "deliberation" itself), adduces narrative myth to the text, the false cohesion or continuity made available by exclusion. This process is abhorrent to the mythophobic curmudgeon in Barthes. However, the mythic production of possibilities is alluring to the desperate lover in him, whose anxiety over his own desirability compels him to create text. I will return later to this dichotomy between Barthes' textual poses, which contains the conflict and resolution raised by his inquiry into whether or not such writing is worth the trouble. Ultimately, however, I want to suggest that Barthes's experiment with the journal form is an investigation of received notions of identity, and also of the very privacy whose imaginary boundaries delimit where such trouble begins.


[4] Before elaborating on the journal fragments as self-conscious literary artifice, I first want to parse Barthes's disavowal of sincerity in "Deliberation." He cites insincerity, or more precisely, he cites the impossibility of writing sincerely, as the origin from which the problematics of journal writing arise. Barthes is not stating that the writer of a journal cannot write honestly. Relation of thoughts, moods, and events are not automatically contraverted to "lies" as the result of being written in a journal. His gripe with sincerity is more existential, a kind of mourning for individuality that modern thought proves illusory: "psychoanalysis, the Sartrean critique of bad faith, and the Marxist critique of ideologies have made 'confession' a futility: sincerity is merely a second-degree Image-repertoire" (481). To write what a reader regards as sincerity, in other words, is to recycle a set of collectively acknowledged referents. The "truth" of the self is nowhere relayed. Thus, as a document of the self, the journal, in Barthes's words, is "inauthentic … for every emotion being a copy of the same emotion one has read somewhere, to report a mood in the coded language in the Collection of Moods is to copy a copy" (493). Writing a journal, the logic follows, is a task that manufactures a legible clone according to collective codes of intelligibility. The journal is not an expression of this inchoate mirror-self; expression suggests one's resistance against ideology and definition (or at least, it suggests how one's feelings correspond to one's own perceived individuality). Rather, Barthes implies, the self cannot configure itself independently (authentically) of those collectively acknowledged referents. Barthes, however, as evidenced by his keeping of a journal nonetheless, has use for just such a clone. In Incidents, Barthes deploys the written clone to act self-consciously as such, as a textual artifice presented in fragments, wherein he can allude to his mother's death, his sexual frustrations, and his boredom with certain acquaintances, without allowing the absolute meaning, so to speak, of these concerns to fully close in on him and become suffocating. As Adam Phillips explains of Barthes's use of fragments in his foreword to Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes:

Barthes by Barthes is fragmentary for strategic reasons, that are reasons of pleasure. "Discontinuity of discourse," Barthes wrote in Brecht and Discourse ..."keeps the final meaning from 'taking'," which is then reiterated in Barthes by Barthes: "A superior rule: that of the breach (heterology): to keep meaning from 'taking'." If a meaning "takes"—if a particular image of ourselves, or anything else, begins to stick—if it becomes settled, definitive, essential, it becomes part of the doxa . . . . And for Barthes there is a terror of getting stuck (x).

Barthes's dismissal of sincerity, as much as it cancels the intuitive justification for journal writing, thus also affords certain opportunities. He can be fragmentary; the coherent narrative expected of a sincere confession gives way for the chance to defy meaning. As he writes in Roland Barthes, "Once I produce, once I write, it is the Text itself which (fortunately) dispossesses me of my narrative continuity" (4). And if Barthes is free to write honestly of his pains without ascribing them too much significance, then he is also free to enjoy these pains as (perhaps therapeutic) literary efforts. His journal's own "discontinuity of discourse" thus assumes the quality of ars gratia artis, the playstuff of a hedonist indulging in his own prose.


[5] Any reading of Barthes's journals, however, must acknowledge the publishing debate that surrounds them, as there is controversy as to whether these journals (or, to be more precise, which of Barthes's journals) should have readers in the first place. François Wahl, in his preface to the first French edition of Incidents in 1987, justifies his decision to publish these journals by citing the excerpts that Barthes himself included in "Deliberation." However, Wahl later criticizes Barthes's half-brother, Michel Salzedo, and publisher, éric Marty, for releasing two more of Barthes's journals. It is fascinating, and vexing, to consider what constitutes a "public" (or publishable) private journal versus a "secret" (unpublishable) private journal. In any case, the dilemma of the journals' publication raises the question: are we, the readers, complicit in betraying not simply the revered author who, in this matter, was not alive to dictate the course of his bibliography, but also the private man whose memory we injure by stripping away his secrecy? (I suspect Barthes would have appreciated the semiotic implications in that last clause, of the imagined "social conscience" performing "outrage" at the violation of the mythically constructed idea of the private citizen). The controversy about whether or not Barthes intended to publish his journals that, nonetheless, were published may indeed signal a crisis in publishing ethics, since there is no indisputable evidence that he wished to share these documents with the public. (Wahl, for his part, insists that Barthes, in a private conversation with him, authorized only the release of Incidents). "Deliberation," published in the winter 1979 edition of Tel Quel, does not conclude with Barthes stating any unambiguous intentions to publish a journal (though the twelve samples included in the essay suggest his willingness to do so). For my purposes in this essay, however, this debate's relevance pertains to the question of whether or not he had an audience in mind when writing these fragments. By this I mean to ask if the writing's literary effect—the ostensible product of writing for an audience—deserves priority over the mundane personal details the journals relate (and I believe it does: the hypothetical audience, I will argue later, permits the ontological disruptions and displacements that attract Barthes to diaristic experimentation).

[6] Given Barthes's negative attitude toward journal writing, and his closing argument that any publishable journal would have to be—in effect—the opposite of a journal, one suspects that he had no desire to publish the bulk of his private writings. However, the journals themselves, while indeed intimate in places, do not quite invite the sort of debasing tabloid voyeurism that would justify any great alarm. Indeed, Barthes's preceding oeuvre should prepare one to regard the journals as applications of his theories, which, in this case, borrow from personal experience as the point of textual departure. One cannot assume that Barthes was disingenuous enough to believe his private writings were exempt from his own diagnostics, that his experiments in form are rendered too sacrosanct by embarrassing narrative detail to allow inspection of their valuable theoretical operations. Nor can one assume that bourgeois myths cordoning off the private from public spheres of existence were so real to Barthes that, were he alive, he would feel irreparably violated by his journals' publication. The text, for Barthes, is what is most real, and his work, of course, demonstrates that whatever seems the most real to us (such as what we record in journals), is in fact sheer text.

[7] However, Barthes himself provides clues, as to whether the publishing of his private journals constitutes a violation of privacy or the fulfillment of an authorial desire. On one hand, Barthes's editorial note in "Soirées de Paris" under the entry dated 27 August 1979 to "change to perfect tense" (57) could indicate that he had a readership in mind. However, Barthes himself considered some of his material too personal for publication. In Camera Lucida, what Barthes calls the "Winter Garden Photograph" of his mother, which forms the basis of much of his discussion in the second half of the book, is not printed. "I cannot reproduce the Winter Garden Photograph," Barthes writes. "It exists only for me. For you, it would be nothing but an indifferent picture" (73). Here, Barthes suggests that there are aspects of himself that are not available for inspection and interpretation. The sense, though, is not that Barthes wants to hide the intimate detail, since, after all, he still discusses the withheld picture. The withholding is commentary on a poignancy that Barthes does not believe he can communicate. Moreover, the intimate details written in the journals, as I will demonstrate, work contrary to the absolute circumscription of Barthes the man that we expect of confessional discourse (and, of course, it is such circumscription that invents the privacy that, once the confession is made public, has been violated). Barthes employs the journal form instead to investigate the liberating and occluding function that the text offers even the supposedly candid, vulnerable writing subject. Of course, one cannot know what, finally, to make of these clues, if they are clues at all, except perhaps to see in them illustrations of Barthes's fondness for paradox, and of what Susan Sontag calls "the dismantling of his own authority" (xxx).


[8] The idea that Barthes "dismantles" his own authority echoes what he himself writes in "The Death of the Author": "Writing is the destruction of every voice, of every point of origin... . Writing ceaselessly posits meaning ceaselessly to evaporate it" (142, 147). If we read these sentences alongside Sontag's claim that "In Barthes's view, literature is already a posthumous affair" (viii) and Barthes's own interrogative "why should I not speak of 'myself' since this 'my' is longer 'the self'" (Roland Barthes 168), then the posthumous appearance of Barthes's journals seems less a matter of privacy and more an instance of intentionally skirted meaning. One gets the feeling that Barthes could not write without writing for effect, if not consciously for an audience. This practice alone, writing for effect, justifies the inclusion of Incidents in a discussion of Barthes's notions of textuality, or of his life-as-textuality. The journals are a kind of self-erasure-through-text, in which a ghost or cipher of the author lives on and acquires an existence separate from that of Barthes the author, because the ghost's or cipher's meaning generates from the reader's subjectivity. In his journals, Barthes thus invites participation in a "writerly" text, which he defines as an active collaboration between the author and the reader in "writing" the text's meaning during the act of reading (this is, of course, opposed to the "readerly" text, from which the reader, according to Barthes, passively receives a code, such as from a "classic" novel). When we read the journals, in other words, we join Barthes in actively "dispersing it," as he writes in S/Z, "within the field of infinite difference" (5). We assist Barthes in achieving what he calls "the image of a triumphant plural" (5). The fragmentary structure of the journals, and of Barthes's other writings, is symptomatic of his writerly "dismantling of his own authority." As Barthes himself writes in "On Gide and His Journal" (one of Barthes's earliest texts foreshadowing the concerns of some of his last work), "Incoherence seems to me preferable to a distorting order" (3). To eschew the artificiality of "order," to divert interpretive potential from author to pure text, is to frustrate interpretation altogether, with a fragmented syntagm produced when meaning itself is less the purpose of the text than is the prohibition of meaning from achieving closure or completion.

[9] Michelle Kelly argues in "reading caveats: Roland Barthes, Georges Poulet, D.A. Miller, and me," that the abrupt discontinuity of the fragment, or "blockages" as she calls them, "galvanize the issue of readerly retention, thus foregrounding reader infidelity to the hermetic condition of individual written works. In this manner, blockages figure a textual consciousness which is a palimpsest not of texts, but of the broader experience of text itself" (Kelly, italics original). The stops in reading, Kelly explains, are just as important as reading, because the stops arrest the processing of meaning at the level of text; the reader never loses awareness of the textuality of the text. The Barthes of the journals is a Barthes of the reader; he is a writerly Barthes distanced from any singular figment of Barthes the author. Or, as Jane Hiddleston says in "Displacing Barthes: Self, Other, and the Anxiety of Theory," "Barthes repeatedly uses his writing to access the unknown and through that process displace or reinvent his writing self; he wants to make his own persona other" (169). If Barthes cannot become "a body which signifies nothing!" (Camera Lucida 12) and escape the definitive and the essential entirely, he can produce an "other" Barthes, one who meanders through possibilities of interpretation without conforming to any singular designation.

[10] Hiddleston argues that in the Moroccan journal entries (the eponymous "Incidents" among the fragments) "the 'je,' closer to the autobiographical than that of previous texts, also projects itself beyond the everyday into an invented space of transformation and encounter" (176). She is referring, of course, to Barthes's sexual curiosity about the Orientalized Moroccan boys, to the queer tourist who happens to be, in Ross Chambers' phrase, an "off-duty intellectual." It is in "Incidents" where Barthes engages narratively the ideas he introduces abstractly in "The goddess H" fragment of Roland Barthes. "The pleasure potential of a perversion," Barthes declares, "(in this case, that of the two H's: homosexuality and hashish) is always underestimated" (63). D.A. Miller, in Bringing Out Roland Barthes, sees a disturbance in the transition of such statements from the abstract in the published books to the personal in the journals:

At least until the "Soirées de Paris," what one might call the (poignant, exasperating) hysteria of Barthes's most invidiously written texts lies in the activity of this contradiction—that while they phobically sacrifice homosexuality-as-signified, leaving the appeased deity of general theory as fixed as ever in its white-male-heterosexual orientation, they happily cultivate homosexuality-as-signifier, wreaking havoc on the discursive sobriety that works better than anything to give such coordinates an ecumenical air. (28, italics original)

Already troubling to the theory establishment (at least as of the date of Miller's writing), the mention of homosexuality, once its discourse moves from passive suggestion to active description, threatens a breakdown of orthodoxy. The journals, on one level, thus function as a testing of the "pleasure potential of a perversion."

[11] About these textual experiments in "Incidents," Hiddleston writes:

In one fragment, for example, Barthes admires precisely Amidou's sexual vocabulary, his use of "éclater" for "jouir," which, rather than connoting narcissism and closure, is "vegetal, éclaboussant, dispersant, disséminant." The double meaning of "disséminant" is surely significant here, as Barthes plays on the dispersal of semen as well as the dissemination of meaning implied by the Derridean intertext. This sexuality is open-ended, ungrounded, dispersed. (177)

The journal textualizes his queerness, as it textualizes the Moroccan man's otherness that boldly features in Barthes's enjoyment of him. The eroticism of this encounter, emanating partially from defamiliarized terminology (Barthes is charmed that Amidou uses "burst" for "orgasm," "dream for "erection"), derives from strangers attempting to approach each other within the space of a common language; full expression of the encounter's pleasure, even of the "jouir," thus awaits its recreation within the journal, in which it can fulfill the potential of its linguistic genesis. For Barthes, who in "Deliberation" gushes, "I idolize the sentence" (482), and who writes in Roland Barthes, "intellectual things resemble erotic ones" (52), the occasion to write justifies experience. (Paul de Man's reading of Rousseau's Confessions, that Rousseau unconvincingly confesses in order to excuse himself, here can be reversed and reapplied to Barthes: Barthes convincingly relishes the excuse to confess, or at least to adopt confessional form for his own pleasure.) It follows, then, that Hiddleston observes that the sexuality in the scene is "open-ended, ungrounded, dispersed": the sexuality in the journal is fused to the signs exchanged by the interlocutors; these signs are pleasurable to Barthes for their own sake, detached from the corporeal to join Barthes's "idolized" sentences, a strand of words "only explainable through other words, and so on indefinitely" ("The Death of the Author" 146).

[12] Hiddleston, however, emphasizes the frivolity of this project, perhaps missing the pleasure of the writing as its own point: "The transformation of the subject through sexual encounter ... is here replaced with silence and with the alarming dissolution and evanescence of a linguistically recreated subject" (180). Hiddleston reads Barthes's abject emptiness, an emptiness that, I will suggest, results from a pose ("emptiness" is exactly the effect Barthes hopes for).

[13] To continue the reading of Barthes's sexuality that the writing "I/je" textualizes, Ross Chambers in "Pointless Stories, Storyless Points" offers a postcolonial reading of Barthes's sexual frustrations. Like Hiddleston, Chambers reads the emptiness beneath Barthes's homosexual tourism. He describes the unacknowledged ideology at work in the text of "Incidents":

[T]here's a colonialist illusion (or alibi) and a postcolonial illusion (or alibi). The colonialist illusion naturalizes the commoditized relations that colonialism puts in place: in this, I'll argue, it's like the illusion sought by every tourist, including the sexual tourist. ... The postcolonial illusion, though, naturalizes colonial power itself, and in this respect it's like the illusion of the (homo)sexual cruiser who forgets the identities that make him, say, white, middle-class, and wealthy ... (italics original).

For the Moroccan men to remain erotically appealing, Barthes must forget the colonial ideology that commoditizes their bodies. Their attractiveness bears the traces of a power structure, of an economics of exploitation, that once acknowledged dispel the illusions that govern their appeal. Barthes, according to Chambers, must "misread blatantly commoditized relations."

[14] Barthes's failure to gratify his sexual desires in Morocco, to condense Chambers' argument, guarantees futility as the conclusion of his cruising in "Soirées de Paris." For Barthes, the "unaligned professor of desire," as Chambers dubs him, "Forgetfulness that there's a [colonial] 'context' ... is the most ordinary lapse of all—but it's just such a decontextualization, in turn, that makes things seem pointless ... " The impossibility of a truly reciprocal sexual desire, removed from the economics of postcolonial tourism, interferes with Barthes's (still mystified) sense of relation to the Moroccan locals, thus spoiling the away-ness that both generates his initial intrigue and underlies the imagined dreariness of everyday home life in Paris. The unaligned professor of desire, by neglecting to read more carefully this foreign context, has thus, again, dismantled his own authority—he is unable "to author" the sort of exoticized encounter he seeks.


[15] In the "emptiness" and "pointlessness" cited by Hiddleston and Chambers, there is, I think, a muted triumph for Barthes, one that underscores his desire to keep a journal, and this triumph is that Barthes has, though at his own expense, evaded the confinement of a definite meaning. Barthes successfully resists what he calls being "pigeonholed" (Roland Barthes 49), and by this I mean that Barthes "escapes" these two critical readings: Hiddleston's "emptiness" is Barthes's text for its own sake, while Chambers' "pointlessness" is Barthes's absence from the role to which Chambers has "sentenced" him (Barthes, the text-obsessed intellectual, does not likely "forget" the postcolonial Moroccan "context"; he deliberately writes, to repeat my earlier point, for an effect). This evasion of meaning, or of categorization, results from each of his journal fragments being scripted according to a pose. The fiction of the pose and the fragmentary nature of the journals create ambiguities that delegitimize (or at least destabilize) any singular interpretation. Writing about himself in the third person, an acknowledgement of his tendency to make a text "literary," Barthes writes, "Speaking of the text, he credits its author with not manipulating the reader. But he found this compliment by discovering that he himself does all he can to manipulate the reader, and that in fact he will never renounce an art of effects" (Roland Barthes 102, italics original). Moreover, we can apply this comment from Camera Lucida to his journals: Barthes writes, "once I feel myself observed by the lens, everything changes: I constitute myself in the process of 'posing,' I instantaneously make another body for myself, I transform myself in advance into an image" (10). The art of Roland Barthes, according to Roland Barthes, is an art of self-consciousness.

[16] Consider Diana Knight's observation in "Roland Barthes, or The Woman without a Shadow" that two of Barthes's journal entries, 25 April 1979 from "Deliberation" and 14 September 1979 from "Soirées de Paris" both begin with "Futile Evening." Knight writes, "The similarity in the detail and the structure of the two entries suggests that neither is a factual recording of an evening in Barthes's life. Rather, both strike me as literary exercises within Barthes's general project of linking his life and his writing in some new way" (133). This is not to say that these two accounts are wholly fabricated; they have been manipulated. The minutiae of quotidian routine do not matter in themselves; the point of life, Barthes's logic suggests, is to re-stage life as writing, to offer a platform on which the writing self can be observed and posed. Indeed, Barthes "outs" the writing self in "Deliberation" when he updates Rimbaud's equation: "I is a poseur" (480, italics original). The misery of enduring a "Futile Evening" is thus also the pleasure of writing about the "Futile Evening."

[17] A similar evening, though not named "Futile," occurs in "Soirées de Paris" on 28 August, and here Barthes elaborates on the satisfaction afforded by words:

I asked myself if I was really so mistaken (the received wisdom about giving money to a hustler in advance!), and concluded that since I really didn't want him all that much (nor even to make love), the result was the same: sex or no sex, at eight o'clock I would find myself back at the same point in my life; and since mere eye contact and an exchange of words eroticizes me, it was that pleasure I paid for (59, italics original).

Of course, the "pleasure" here is not convincing; the effect of this pose, (and Barthes has given his readers every reason to believe it is a pose), is one of a sad old man resorting to apathy in order to assuage his humiliation. When he writes, "it was that pleasure I paid for," one suspects he does not quite believe himself—but one also suspects that the jaded old man does not care too much to begin with. "Sex or no sex," he is stuck. His advance on the hustler, however much he anticipated pleasure, is a meaningless gesture. The rhythm of his life in the journal continues along, its melancholy diction unperturbed: Le Monde, Café de Flore, disappointing encounters, reading in bed. Writing in his journal (which appears to describe the action of the date prior to the one on which they are written, as the reference to Mountbatten's assassination on 28 August confirms) comes to seem as if this one activity rescues him from the banal clockwork of his routine. That his entries miss only ten days of the twenty-five between 24 August and 17 September suggests the ritual importance, perhaps even the healthfulness and necessity, of his practice of putting his experiences into words.

[18] However necessary, the journal nonetheless reads like a schedule of disappointments, written by someone devoted to his own melancholy. Barthes poses himself as an elder, at times a ridiculous elder, receding into solitude. The conclusion of "Soirées de Paris" completes the pose, the resignation: "Then I sent him away, saying I had work to do, knowing it was over, and that more than Olivier was over: the love of one boy" (73, italics original). The journal ends with an elegiac tone, as if Barthes has capitulated to aging. Yet the signs of his aging, and his capitulation to it, are scattered throughout the fragments. The portion written two years earlier in 1977 and published in "Deliberation" contains the sentence: "All of a sudden, it has become a matter of indifference to me whether or not I am modern" (489). Later, in "Soirées de Paris," he wonders, "[S]uppose the Moderns were wrong? What if they had no talent?" (55) before going on to complain, "I don't like that very contemporary sort of message in which you have to sympathize with down-and-outers (limited horizon of the young, etc.)" (72). In one sense, the journals portray Barthes the curmudgeon nudging Barthes the lover out of the text. Both identities, curmudgeon and lover, are after all instances of verbal performativity whose existences cannot exceed the text. The curmudgeon is only so because of his lack of affiliation with the word "modern" (and the discourses it denotes), while the lover stagnates beside the curmudgeon only because the curmudgeon in Barthes says the words that from now on, there will not be one boy, the sequence has perhaps concluded, to reciprocate the lover's desires. Barthes, who always poses when the camera is near, also presents himself carefully (self-consciously) within the prose that it is his delight to toy with. It is in words where he can be himself, while not being himself at all. In words, he can "extirpate anxiety by writing," ("Deliberation" 482), and manipulate his self-presentation for a desired effect. D.A. Miller writes that the journals' portrayal of Barthes "oscillates accordingly between two modes of diminution: cliché and crankiness; if the former internalizes the absoluteness of death in the stereotype (the Sad Old Queen), the latter protests this reduction with nothing better than the mere prickliness of individuality" (54). The curmudgeon, in other words, is the alter ego that attempts, even if lackadaisically, to free Barthes from what to him was a horrifying identity-trap: stereotype (though the curmudgeon is, of course, another stereotype; again, Barthes yields to paradox). This is the portrait of a man in his declining years, a flâneur who ambles from café to café and street corner to street corner, and who is in fact closer to death than even he senses. The pitiable image is as much an artifice to be savored aesthetically as it is a reflection of a "real" man with whom to sympathize.

[19] It is telling, then, that in "Deliberation," when Barthes is introducing the samples of his own journal to his discussion, he says, "In recent years, I have made three attempts; the first and most serious one—because it occurred during my mother's last illness—is the longest ... each of the other two concerned only one day: they are more experimental" (482). The "experimental" entry—25 April 1979—is the obvious forerunner stylistically (as Diana Knight observes) and chronologically to "Soirées de Paris." Thus when Barthes writes, "My heart filled with sadness, almost with despair; I thought of Mam, of the cemetery where she was, quite close by, of 'Life'" (Incidents 60), the words are not simply wistful ruminations of a mind bereaved. They constitute instead an "experiment," an effort toward something more than an account of the days. It is interesting to note the past tense, "the cemetery where she was," as if so much has changed between the time of the action and the time of the writing, as if the writing novelistically hearkens back to the present moment that it can only address as temporal difference. Now is not now. Here is not here. I am not myself. The journal, in other words, performs the experiment that the self always is, but delivers that self to readers as the stasis or closure that the self is assumed to be.


[20] Writing such as Barthes's in his journals, a recounting of details that is an exercise in its own right rather than an earnest attempt to record and preserve autobiography, contains elements of the hupomnēmata described by Foucault in "Self Writing." Foucault, tracing the Western lineage of writing about oneself from the ancient Greeks' concept of technē tou biou (an art or technique of living) through the early Christian concepts such as exomologesis and exagoreusis (varieties of self-examination), begins by describing the hupomnēmata, which can be understood as notebooks, as journals, but not, Foucault says, "as intimate journals ... that will be found in later Christian literature" (210). Rather, the hupomnēmata are not intended "to pursue the unspeakable, nor to reveal the hidden, nor to say the unsaid, but on the contrary to capture the already-said, to collect what one has managed to hear or read, and for a purpose that is nothing less than the shaping of the self" (211).

[21] Barthes's journals, though indeed intimate, are not intimate for the purpose of revelation, for saying "the unsaid." Barthes, as I have demonstrated, experiments with his identity at the level of text. In bypassing the confessional mode of journal writing, Barthes has perhaps returned to philosophies and arts of selfhood made extinct by the early Church. As bound to notions of revealing the "true" self, "coming clean," and "unburdening the conscience" as the idea of the contemporary journal is (all of which are notions that descend, of course, from Catholic confession and its ideology of self-renunciation), Barthes's journal is reminiscent of the older technē tou biou. This ancient model of knowing the self, Foucault explains, was a positive becoming—the development of one's moral potential and social productivity. The earlier ideology is opposed to later Christianity's insistence that the self hides secrets, particularly of sin (or, to be specific, sinfully particular instances of sexuality—about which Foucault, of course, has much more to say). One must shove the imaginary stowaway of one's heart into the box (of the confessional or the diary) in order to deliver one's "true" self that, the thinking goes, exists in the dark, in the déshabillé of the spirit, from which it matures through acts of exposure. Barthes, while borrowing the sexualized interest of the confessional, reverses this younger assumption that the written self is an exposition of being rather than a procedure of becoming. Granted, Barthes's journals can be read as amoral, as the exercises of a man who glorifies his lack of productivity by detailing so painfully his failures. Yet it is the absence of renunciation that characterizes the journals as the effort toward one's perpetual self-development, and not as a conscription within a denigrating and impoverishing (confessional) ideology. For Barthes, the journals are a "way" of being; a "technique" of being; they exemplify the trend Foucault identifies: "the techniques of verbalization ... reinserted in a different context by the so-called human sciences in order to use them without renunciation of the self but to constitute, positively, a new self. To use these techniques without renouncing oneself constitutes a decisive break" ("Technologies of the Self" 249).

[22] For Barthes, textual becoming permits, among other things, the recovery of diminishing eroticism. Richard Howard, in his introduction to The Pleasure of the Text, is explicit about what he calls "an erotics of reading" (viii) in Barthes's text, which Barthes demonstrates with his closing image of the text acting on the reader as if it were an eroticized, corporeal partner. ("Does the text have a human form, is it a figure, an anagram of the body," Barthes asks; "Yes, but of our erotic body" [17]). Barthes's conflation of intellectual and artistic activity with sensualized behaviors, perhaps both autoerotic and alloerotic, thus repositions the humbug voice of the journals within a stealthy discourse of seductive conquest. Whether or not Barthes intended an audience for his journals, it is enough to surmise that his imagining of an audience invented his writing's necessary partner. The embarrassed lover stood up by the hustler, the lonely curmudgeon ostracized from progressive culture, are not, finally, resigned to any sobby lament arising from doleful circumstances for mere expression of the blues; dejection is an alibi, skillfully relayed by a sly seducer who, as you read the text, has found his partner. One notices Barthes's playfulness and wonders if, when he wrote that the death of the author is the birth of the reader, the word death had something of the blushing Elizabethan satedness to it. The death of the author is only (only, though for Barthes nothing could matter more) le petite mort. That smirk in Barthes's author photo, could it be due to the wily author's foreknowledge that his contextual, journaled failures permit his textual, erotic successes? That as an unacknowledged master of (verbal) titillation, he has slid in the backdoor of the your writerly receptiveness where you, the reader, have performed the desired services, guaranteeing as satisfactory his unembarrassed textual becoming? Surely the French lover (and indeed perhaps the French curmudgeon as well), would scoff, reading dismissively how this essay, in its prudish English language, simply had to include the prefix to the previous sentence's final word. The relationship between reading and writing, for Barthes, is one of an imaginary cathexis. Reader and writer encounter each other in language, in a queered temporality initiated by the writerly instance of reading the journals, which, in theory, permits the transgression of usually confined subjective boundaries. Of course, who this "writer" is varies from reader to reader. Roland Barthes the lover remerges as a variegated population, comprised of the totality of his readership, a multiplicity of variations on the theme "Roland Barthes + You."


[23] To return to Barthes's question, "Is it worth the trouble?" the answer lies in both such "erotics of reading" and in the possibilities offered by the journal's fragmentation of structure/meaning. The fabrication and fracturing of the speaking "I" relieves the thinker, such as Barthes, so phobic of the definitive, of the enclosing of possibilities. "Is it worth the trouble?": the question rises from a subjective schism, voiced by the curmudgeon whose grumbled "Est-ce que ça vaut la peine" appears in opposition to the lover whose laments flower in the text of the journals in spite of la peine. This dichotomy works against the singularity of identity encircled within a fictitious privacy that observes such trouble. Accordingly, for Barthes to write a journal is for him to practice his "discontinuity of discourse," the ramification of which is his resistance to the management of his identity by any political ideology that tries to arrest his "dissemination" of personal meaning. The journals, both ostensibly and figuratively marking a "return of the author," privilege the act of being the author of the author. The instant fiction generated by authorship of apparent fact grants a kind of autonomy, an ancillary mode of living in which fulfillment and gratification are taken not from the world but from the text, and ultimately from the meta-partnership between author and reader (who may, in the case of the unpublished journal, be the author himself). Barthes's textual erotics are the stimulation produced by the imagined intimacy of writing and reading subjects. And why shouldn't it be so, given that reading and writing both require intimate faculties of the body and mind? The masturbatory schema constructed when one is one's own audience in an eroticized author/reader exchange need not be counterproductive. However, it nonetheless finds remedy in the aforementioned fracturing of the speaking "I": Barthes and Barthes are not the same subject. Barthes the lover and Barthes the curmudgeon are examples, descending from that more primal example between Barthes the writer and Barthes the written. "Trouble," then, in one sense, is ironic. Beyond the irony of naming that which one desires "trouble," the contrivance and the invention—connotations within proximity of trouble's denotation of effort—luminesce as the guideposts along the impulse to write.

[24] The stuff of autobiography becomes, then, besides the invention of the alias scripted by the fictionalizing statement, a counterfactual resistance within the space of language: the text widens a distance between Barthes the writer and the textual Barthes who bemoans, for example, having paid a hustler in advance. If we take each written gesture to be a pose, then we can also notice the phatic purpose of the journals: the encoded plea is not one of communication, since the facts, whatever we take the facts to be, do not matter. Rather the journals are a plea for attention, an announcement of pure existence. Barthes thus deploys the written statement to plot a point of connection with the reader. The result is a dual benefit: the pleasure of hypothetical intimacy and the liberation of existing not within the singularity of the writing self, but within the multiplicity of readers' responses. The author, then, is a palimpsest. Whatever truths the author can speak have been deferred (or postponed) to his reader's encounter with the text. The "goal" of this writerly text, to return to Barthes's explanation in S/Z, "is to make the reader no longer a consumer, but a producer of the text" (4). His sincerity, that attribute necessary for journal writing which Barthes disputes in "Deliberation," is reinscribed as reader response. The trouble, therefore, is one of forgetting the myths or expected performances of sincerity for long enough to write sincerely; it is the trouble of denuding one's subjectivity to the point of becoming blank. The journaled statement does not shuttle forth the self on jets of truth. It bypasses any subjective anatomy and instead posits subjective nodes from which invention and reinvention become possible, as products of the mutual attraction between possible readers and the author one desires to be. The journaled statement has the semblance of an utterance of truth because it invites interpreted truths. However, it issues from a subject that, by issuing it, has evaded the filler, the closure, truth imposes. For example, the statement is issued: "saying I had work to do, knowing it was over, and that more than Olivier was over," and the issuance restores the subject to undefined, nascent potential. The author (both journalist and journaled) remobilizes, spatially and temporally, in life and in text, to the next possible subject, the next possible journal entry. (Of course, this is the last entry in "Soirées." It is as if Barthes, having reached an inconclusion, sees that his work is done.) The reader perhaps enjoys reading the Olivier narrative, just as Barthes the narrator enjoys life in the reader's enjoyment, which, in turn, is an idea that Barthes the author enjoys. However, the narrative is a mere artificiality beside which Barthes the author positions his distanced subjectivity; the author is already recovering from wounds whose verbalization (falsely) eternalizes them on the page. This apparent paradox, that journaling truthfully makes the journalist a fugitive from truth, appeals to Barthes; the liberated, amorphous subject expands through textual spaces in which modes of identity, queer and otherwise, become pleasurable because they cannot crystallize. And thus, because they generate desire (the author's desire to write, the reader's desire to read), these scripted modes that only outline truth have also generated, by means of the veracity of desire itself, the sincerity Barthes requires to validate the journal. Barthes (the writer) therefore succeeds in evading any political or cultural management of his identity by becoming invisible to ideology.


[25] It is a mistake, though, to consider Barthes's journal-keeping as a personal tactic against only mythologizing apparatuses of the state or bourgeois habits of categorization. Boredom, as much as politics, is the culprit behind his need to resist. In the caption underneath one of his childhood photos in Roland Barthes, Barthes asks, "Might boredom be my form of hysteria?" In "Deliberation," his boredom enters politics: he bemoans the "mixture of boredom, fear, and indignation which the Politician (or rather Politics) constitutes for me" (487). To defy the political exigencies of strictly denominated identity is thus his rebellion against boredom. "I am pigeonholed," he writes in Roland Barthes; "Against which there is only one internal doctrine: that of atopia (of a drifting habitation)" (49). Barthes's journals, as hupomnēmata wherein occurs the scripting of himself, contain reactions against type. They allow Barthes to pose, as a technique of being, while ultimately arriving at atopia, or "no place." As Barthes the curmudgeon and Barthes the lover within the journals demonstrate, one pose serves to negate the other. Neither, however, is ultimately satisfactory to Barthes.

[26] Thus we can approach the question, is it worth the trouble, from another direction. The attractions and shortcomings of journal writing emerge from the practice's permissive yet trivializing demonstration that subjectivity is pure discourse. What is real about the narrative voice and the tales it relates, what is persuasive or recognizable as the authenticity of the narrator's character, are the effects of a performance of prose. The journalist's act of journaling is the pleasant futility of showing off. There is perhaps power or freedom in the cathartic gesture of such scribbling onanism—the writing subject may wander from discourse to discourse to find or to adopt the desired identification. Writing about oneself amounts to crafting one's attractiveness to others, even if the writer, as Barthes seems to do in his journals, self-deprecatingly appeals to the reader's sympathy or pity. Or, even if the only intended reader, as I've already discussed, is Barthes himself: the journal, perhaps, is the author's attempt to fight off boredom by writing new ways to enjoy himself. Finally, the writer becomes likable, with a likability that generates not from the absent author himself, but from the pleasure of the signs whose context around the written "I" produces the semblance of truth without being—beyond the presence of the alphabetic symbols themselves—"real": words provide a surrogate body, a body of the writer's own choosing. The attractiveness of the writer's personality, for the reader, equals the reader's pleasure in the writer's creative language.

[27] However, the writer's manufactured attractiveness is immediately threatened by its exposure to ridicule. This diaristic show, now accessible to strange eyes, now an object in the world: is it only a ridiculous bid for undue attention? The effort thus deploys its own counter-effort (which Barthes acknowledges in "Deliberation"). Whatever productivity the practice affords therefore requires confrontation with the embarrassing banality of life. The journalist's mundane agonies, silly mistakes, or petty frustrations do not, of course, deserve attention above anyone else's, and perhaps the verbalization exacerbates what should, really, be forgotten as nothing. Indeed, privacy perhaps exists only as forgetfulness and oversight—writing, or the work against forgetfulness, borrows from the mass transaction of language, establishing in its very act a kind of publicity (an offering of unwarranted legibility). Thus the "private" journal may be an oxymoron. If one truly desires privacy, then language is the enemy. Barthes's journal presents the possibility that contemplating the humiliation of situating one's so-called private life within the always potentially public domain of words is preferable to the boredom of having written nothing at all. A publicly embarrassed Barthes, who at least enjoyed writing about the Barthes who embarrassed him, is in some way more content than a silent Barthes.

[28] What matters most, then, is the text itself. The text is the starting point in whose stillness both writer and reader (who, again, may be the same—the bifurcation perhaps resembles Barthes's "drifting habitation") acquire the possibility of cohabitating a realization of the aesthetic. The subject of the author is a sharable and adaptable artifice transmitted by the text. The experience of the text (reading it and writing it) takes precedence over whatever knowledge it preserves—the journal does not provide the occasion to gawk at its confessing author, it invites a kind of participation in an instance of textual creation. Moreover, any resulting knowledge is necessarily knowledge of limitation, of bodily finitude. Barthes writes of his failures and his yearnings, and these familiar common themes are what make the journal form favorable for writerly experiments in subjectivity (the reader may find Barthes more "accessible" or recognizable), and are also what anticipate the project's limitations: the yearning between readers and writers to connect with each other across space and time reaches its boundaries; after a point, the effort must fail. (Revising this essay is itself a lesson in my own boundaries: I try to write something about Roland Barthes, I try to write about Roland Barthes writing about writing, and the knowledge I acquire is in fact an encounter with the gaps in my reading, with my insufficient experience with the French language. Thus, perhaps like Barthes's journal, this essay—such trouble—is finally a display of my own limits and my own ignorance; it is sheer text, the shape of one author's idiosyncrasy, as this one author, the one I am tying here to be, finally achieves little more than announcing his presence while writing about the Roland Barthes that Roland Barthes writes about.)

[29] Is it worth the trouble? Perhaps not. Especially since worthiness is nowhere in "Deliberation" defined by Barthes. But what choice is there, if even the small pleasure of knowledge generated from this bodily finitude, unexposed to linguistic innovation, renovation, exhumation, or whatever the appropriate metaphor may be, otherwise goes to waste? I want to be clear that the "knowledge" here mentioned is not the clichéd, potentially reductive "knowing thyself." The knowledge is not a kind of ontological cartography, where Barthes, at point A is the curmudgeon, at point B is the lover, both leading to some perhaps synthetic point C. Rather, the knowledge finally resembles an un-mapping, an anti-knowing, which acknowledges signified material without subscribing to the material's illusory naturalness, permanence, or weight. Truth and knowledge, whatever they are, are closer to the erasure of these things, which vanish during the pleasure of the very performance that calls them into being. Barthes' journals approach a knowledge of tight subjective limitations, which he does not allow to close completely.


[30] The result of any effort to locate "who Barthes is," therefore, is nullified by the interrogation's immersion within the flux of that never finalized process of negation between curmudgeon and lover. The resulting absence, I think, empowers Barthes: it both motivates him to write the journal in the first place and, because of his absence, excuses any unauthorized eyes to peruse his journals and engage in the play of identity that Barthes relishes. Each entry thus acts as a conscious iteration of the performativity, the debunkable fiction that coheres, with volatility, with deviation, as the first person pronoun. The journals, of course, act as suggestions, after self-examination, for possible Bartheses. Or rather, this least readerly of texts permits the writerly pursuit of Barthes, who is always somewhere else in the endless dissemination (or "drifting habitation") of his own difference. There is emancipation of a kind in the evasive and illusory narration (that paring conformity to the impersonal linguistic sign) that constitutes any attempt to write "I." Sincerity itself, the unguarded intimacy expected of a journal, is therefore a gesture crafted from a repertoire of deception. So the truth of Roland Barthes, as Roland Barthes wants it, is nowhere.


  1. See also Barthes's personal notebooks Mourning Diary, which records him grieving his recently deceased mother, and Travels in China, about a visit to China with other writers in 1974, both posthumously published in France in 2009.
  2. Note that Barthes's Protestant upbringing among France's Catholic majority already alienated him from this confessional ideology.
  3. Marty and Wahl's dispute, published in France in Le nouvel observateur, follows the publication of Mourning Diary and Travels in China.
  4. In Roland Barthes, Barthes adds a third term to the readerly/writerly opposition: the "receivable text." Barthes describes this text as "unpublishable"—an interesting word when one considers the debate between Marty and Wahl (might Wahl have read, or in effect have wanted to read, Mourning Diary as a receivable text?)—and as a text that he "can neither read nor write ... but I receive it ... an enigmatic disorganization" (118).
  5. See also Diana Knight's "Barthes and Orientalism." New Literary History 24.3 (1993): 617-633; and Pierre Saint-Amand's "The Secretive Body: Roland Barthes' Gay Erotics." Yale French Studies 90 (1996): 153-71.

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—. "Deliberation" and "On Gide and His Journal." A Barthes Reader. Ed. Susan Sontag. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1996. Print.

—. Incidents. Berkeley: U of California P, 1992. Web. 13 Nov. 2011.

—.The Pleasure of the Text. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1975. Print.

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—.S/Z. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1974. Print.

Chambers, Ross. "Pointless Stories, Storyless Points." Loiterature. Lincoln, NE: U of Nebraska P, 1999. n. pag. Web. 14 Nov. 2011.

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Miller, D.A. Bringing out Roland Barthes. Berkley: U of California P, 1992. Print.

Sontag, Susan. "Writing Itself: On Roland Barthes." A Barthes Reader. Ed. Susan Sontag. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1996. Print.