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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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Time and Space: Barthes and the Discourse of History

Time and Space: Barthes and the Discourse of History

(p.72) 5 Time and Space: Barthes and the Discourse of History
Interdisciplinary Barthes

Maria O’sullivan

British Academy

In Roland Barthes’s ‘Michelet, l’histoire et la mort’ (1951), Michelet’s linear journey through centuries of French history is contrasted with the panoramic ‘tableau’ that holds together, in a moment of euphoric understanding, otherwise unconnected points in time. This chapter moves from this play of reversible and irreversible time to that of centred and decentred spaces in an unpublished section of Barthes’s 1966–7 seminar, ‘Le discours de l’histoire’. It suggests that Barthes’s discussion of time and space, which draws on the work of Vernant, Levêque, and Vidal-Naquet, and is applied to Michelet, Machiavelli, and Bossuet, can be mapped onto a shift from a structuralist focus on intra-relations between elements of a structure (as in Lévi-Strauss’s account of totemism) to the nascent post-structuralist emphasis on excentric structures associated with Derrida’s notion of ‘play’. The excentric centre is shown to underpin Barthes’s analysis of Michelet’s Tableau de la France, whereby Jakobson’s account of the poetic function of language is applied to Michelet’s rhetorical construction of the geography of France: the sequential ordering of the outlying regions according to their antithetical characteristics is ‘poetic’ in its form; by contrast, the ‘prosaic’ centre (the Île de France) absorbs and neutralises these differences.

Keywords:   Roland Barthes, Michelet, ‘Le discours de l’histoire’, Vernant, Levêque and Vidal-Naquet, Levi-Strauss’s totemism, Derrida’s ‘play’, excentric structures, Jakobson, Tableau de la France

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