A BARTHES READER

Sontag has made what seem to be rather conservative—and perhaps revisionist—choices in this sampler of Barthes' work, stressing complete short essays (presumably in the interest of wholeness) over sections of Barthes' longer and more radical works (Writing Degree Zero, S/Z, The Pleasure of the Text, Camera Lucida). Not that she glosses over basic Barthes, for her introductory essay presents the ideas clearly. "Barthes is always after another meaning, a more eccentric—often utopian—discourse." She notes, too, his "aphorist's ability to conjure up a vivacious duality: anything could be split either into itself and its opposite, or into two versions of itself; and one term then fielded itself against the other to yield an unexpected relation." In this connection, Sontag updates her early interest in "camp" to encompass Barthes' more complex aesthete's penchant for liking more than he actually does, for seeming to be emptier and less personal than he really is. This is shrewd analysis, but the Barthes that Sontag thus gives us somehow comes off as slightly flitty; he is hardly the man who—with his insistence on writing as a "closed" or "hardened" system of language, not as communication—has perhaps done more than anyone else to elevate the critic to prima donna status (while suctioning out the flesh of literature). As if Sontag herself suspects this, she stresses Barthes' late stirrings of misgivings (what she calls his "taking pleasure, expressing love" for the world, as opposed to only system). And she makes much of one of the two heretofore unpublished pieces collected here: Barthes' address to the College de France upon his election to its faculty—in which he definitely does seem to be backtracking, putting emphasis on "literature" rather than on text. . .and nearly apologizing for semiology ("a kind of wheelchair, the wild card of contemporary knowledge"). The signals, then, are decidedly mixed here—Sontag's even more than Barthes'—but all the brilliance and outlandishness (and maybe even the self-destructiveness) of the Barthesian theory is well represented in this compendium.

Pub Date: Aug. 6, 1982

ISBN: 0099224917

Page Count: 495

Publisher: Hill and Wang/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Oct. 10, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1982

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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...

THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE

50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION

Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

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DEAR MR. HENSHAW

Possibly inspired by the letters Cleary has received as a children's author, this begins with second-grader Leigh Botts' misspelled fan letter to Mr. Henshaw, whose fictitious book itself derives from the old take-off title Forty Ways W. Amuse a Dog. Soon Leigh is in sixth grade and bombarding his still-favorite author with a list of questions to be answered and returned by "next Friday," the day his author report is due. Leigh is disgruntled when Mr. Henshaw's answer comes late, and accompanied by a set of questions for Leigh to answer. He threatens not to, but as "Mom keeps nagging me about your dumb old questions" he finally gets the job done—and through his answers Mr. Henshaw and readers learn that Leigh considers himself "the mediumest boy in school," that his parents have split up, and that he dreams of his truck-driver dad driving him to school "hauling a forty-foot reefer, which would make his outfit add up to eighteen wheels altogether. . . . I guess I wouldn't seem so medium then." Soon Mr. Henshaw recommends keeping a diary (at least partly to get Leigh off his own back) and so the real letters to Mr. Henshaw taper off, with "pretend," unmailed letters (the diary) taking over. . . until Leigh can write "I don't have to pretend to write to Mr. Henshaw anymore. I have learned to say what I think on a piece of paper." Meanwhile Mr. Henshaw offers writing tips, and Leigh, struggling with a story for a school contest, concludes "I think you're right. Maybe I am not ready to write a story." Instead he writes a "true story" about a truck haul with his father in Leigh's real past, and this wins praise from "a real live author" Leigh meets through the school program. Mr. Henshaw has also advised that "a character in a story should solve a problem or change in some way," a standard juvenile-fiction dictum which Cleary herself applies modestly by having Leigh solve his disappearing lunch problem with a burglar-alarmed lunch box—and, more seriously, come to recognize and accept that his father can't be counted on. All of this, in Leigh's simple words, is capably and unobtrusively structured as well as valid and realistic. From the writing tips to the divorced-kid blues, however, it tends to substitute prevailing wisdom for the little jolts of recognition that made the Ramona books so rewarding.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 1983

ISBN: 143511096X

Page Count: 133

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1983

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