Critics on Criticism: Roland Barthes

roland.barthesFrom “Blind and Dumb Criticism” in Mythologies, translated by Annette Lavers:

Why do critics thus periodically claim their helplessness or their lack of understanding? It is certainly not out of modesty; no one is more at ease than one critic confessing that he understands nothing about existentialism; no one more ironic and therefore more self-assured than another admitting shamefacedly that he does not have the luck to have been initiated into the philosophy of the Extraordinary; and no one more soldier-like than a third pleading for poetic ineffability….

The reality behind this seasonally professed lack of culture is the old obscurantist myth according  to which ideas are obnoxious if they are not controlled by ‘common sense’ and ‘feeling’: Knowledge is Evil, they both grew on the same tree….

In fact, any reservation about culture means a terrorist position.

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November 14th, 2009 / 5:09 pm

Power Quote: Roland Barthes

True, there are revolts against bourgeois ideology.  This is what one generally calls the avant-garde.  But these revolts are socially limited, they remain open to salvage.  First, because they come from a small section of the bourgeoisie itself, from a minority group of artists and intellectuals, without public other than the class which they contest, and who remain dependent on its money in order to express themselves.  Then, these revolts always get their inspiration from a very strongly made distinction between the ethically and the politically bourgeois: what the avant-garde contests is the bourgeois in art or morals–the shop-keeper, the Philistine, as in the heyday of Romanticism; but as for political contestation, there is none.*  What the avant-garde does not tolerate about the bourgeoisie is its language, not its status.  This does not necessarily mean that it approves of this status; simply, it leaves it aside.  Whatever the violence of the provocation, the nature it finally endorses is that of ‘derelict’ man, not alienated man; and derelict man is still Eternal Man.

*It is remarkable that the adversaries of the bourgeoisie on matters of ethics or aesthetics remain for the most part indifferent, or even attached, to its political determinations.  Conversely, its political adversaries neglect to issue a basic condemnation of its representations: they often go so far as to share them.  This diversity of attacks benefits the bourgeoisie, it allows it to camouflage its name.  For the bourgeoisie should be understood only as synthesis of its determinations and its representations.

Mythologies, page 139-140

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October 11th, 2009 / 4:32 pm