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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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Barthes’s Myths of America

Barthes’s Myths of America

(p.43) 3 Barthes’s Myths of America
Interdisciplinary Barthes

Jonathan Culler

British Academy

Roland Barthes’s writings were very positively received in the United States – in 1979 Wayne Booth called him the strongest influence on American criticism today – but America played a strange, often contradictory role in his work. In his middle years he visited the US four times – in 1958, 1961, 1966, and 1967 – but his initial enthusiasm for New York City was soon qualified by a range of negative comments about the country and its culture, and after 1967 he only returned once, very briefly, though he was much in demand. While opposing the knee-jerk anti-Americanism common among French intellectuals in his day, and especially resistance to America’s modernity, he soon made America a foil for Japan, which represented true exoticism, the opposite of bourgeois Western culture. There are relatively few references to America or American literature in his writings, though American cinema was a significant cultural reference for him, but these do help to reveal the complexity of Barthes’s affective and intellectual engagements, especially since there is often a comparative dimension to them. This chapter explores the varying attitudes and comments about America in Barthes’s letters and his published writings.

Keywords:   Roland Barthes, United States, New York City, Japan, American culture, American cinema, anti-Americanism

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