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Interdisciplinary Barthes$
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Diana Knight

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9780197266670

Published to British Academy Scholarship Online: September 2020

DOI: 10.5871/bacad/9780197266670.001.0001

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Introduction: Roland Barthes, an Interdisciplinary Subject

Introduction: Roland Barthes, an Interdisciplinary Subject

(p.1) 1 Introduction: Roland Barthes, an Interdisciplinary Subject
(p.iii) Interdisciplinary Barthes
Diana Knight
British Academy

The disciplinary range of Barthes’s work is unusually diverse, as is that of its reception. An energetic contributor to the human sciences in postwar France, Barthes is credited with a pivotal role in the emergence of interdisciplinarity. But Barthes was alert to its recuperation by the technocratic higher-education reforms of 1968, referring to ‘the myth of interdisciplinarity’. He was equally wary of a federation of disciplines that would leave each one comfortably unchanged, rather than overturning the intellectual landscape. A more fertile interdisciplinarity originates in Barthes’s intensive reading of Michelet in the sanatorium. It is tracked through his euphoric discovery of structuralism to his teaching at the École pratique des hautes études, and his idiosyncratic aspirations for a ‘peripatetic’ chair of literary semiology at the Collège de France. Barthes was interested in the historically shifting hierarchies of disciplines, noting the equal status of the trivium and quadrivium within the medieval septenium, and bemoaning the downgrading of language to mere instrumentality within the contemporary human sciences. Literature, which already contains within it all forms of knowledge, is proposed as a transformative discipline despite its current exclusion, a corrective for the refusal of the human sciences to pay attention to their discourse.

Keywords:   Roland Barthes, interdisciplinarity, human sciences, technocracy, Michelet, École pratique des hautes études, Collège de France, septenium, literary semiology

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