Roland Barthes (Critical Lives)

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9781780234953: Roland Barthes (Critical Lives)

In this cogent, accessible biography, Andy Stafford offers a new picture of the man and his work, one that helps us to understand him even as it acknowledges the complexity presented by his restless interests and unorthodox career.
Stafford argues that Barthes is best classified as a journalist, essayist, and critic, and he emphasizes the social preoccupations in his work—how Barthes continually worked to analyze the self and society, as well as the self in society. In doing so, Stafford paints a fascinating picture not just of Barthes, but of the entire intellectual scene of postwar France. As Barthes continues to find new readers today, this book will make the perfect introduction, even as it offers new avenues of thought for specialists.

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About the Author:

Andy Stafford is senior lecturer in French studies at the University of Leeds. His previous books include Roland Barthes, Phenomenon and Myth: An Intellectual Biography and Photo-texts: Contemporary French Writing of the Photographic Image.


“Stafford’s biography of Roland Barthes is a sublime dot-connector that nevertheless exhibits remarkable restraint. It’s a solid close reading of the life, work and historical context of an important, widely misunderstood intellectual delivered in a voice that does not give in to the temptation to deviate from crisply academic rigor. After all, Barthes frequently and famously inserted himself into his analyses, so it would only be fitting if Stafford tried to perform a few of the same magic tricks as his subject. Instead, Stafford offers readers this overwhelmingly funny and retrospectively, delightfully obvious argument: Barthes was not a Barthesian.”

“Stafford’s book is an invaluable corrective to the other biographers’ tendency to underplay the social and political dimensions of Barthes’s work. . . . Stafford has provided a rich portrait of the political, social Barthes, undertaken in full awareness that he will escape, Houdini-like, from any classification we might try to impose on him.”
  (Times Literary Supplement)

“Stafford’s new biography on Barthes is an elegant and compact volume of less than two hundred pages. It offers, however, one of the most lucid and subtle understandings of Barthes’ life and work.” 
(Barthes Studies)

“Stafford’s biography of Barthes as a ‘social psychologist’ is more than the narrative of the life of one of the most important intellectual figures of post-war France, shedding new light on the social, collective, and, by extension, ethical aspects of Barthes’s oeuvre . . . Stafford’s clear and succinct account will undoubtedly serve as an excellent starting point for readers who have yet to discover the continually rich and fascinating life and work of Roland Barthes.” (L’Esprit créateur)

“Stafford’s engaging biography sheds new light on the complex interrelation of Barthes’ life and work, proposing striking and subtle interpretations of a multifarious intellectual and personal trajectory . . . A major contribution to the understanding of Barthes as a theorist and as a writer.” (Patrick Ffrench, Professor of French Language and Literature, King’s College London)

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