S/Z by Roland Barthes
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In this essential application of structural linguistics to the problems of literary criticism, Roland Barthes--a disciple of Saussure and one of the cardinal spokesmen of semiology--opposes both the goals and methods of classic rhetoric. He takes issue with what be sees as an excessive categorical structuring that divorces form from meaning as it approaches an overrefined univocal explication. Using Balzac's novella Sarrassine as the paradigmatic discourse, he proposes instead to "sketch the stereographic space of writing," other times described as "an iridescent exchange" or a "glistening texture of ephemeral voices." A step-by-step commentary on arbitrarily chosen lexias or short texts--a phrase, a few sentences, or as much as a paragraph rather than the traditional large masses of text--develops the metaphorical construct of the discourse itself as "the only positive hero of the story." AH textual signifiers are grouped under five major codes--Seme, Symbol, Hermeneutic enigma, proairetic Action, and cultural Reference--which interweave and intersect to produce a connotative universe. Barthes' theory of the "readerly" or self-creating, polyphonic text develops in mediations between the analyses of lexical fragments. Both the coded reading and the commentaries are as heavy as the Balzacian source itself. Barthes has brought new life to a foundering literary aesthetics with this synthesis of science and imaginative humanism, for those familiar with the terminology.
Pub Date: Sept. 9th, 1974
ISBN: 0374521670
Page count: 292pp
Publisher: Hill & Wang
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1974


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