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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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‘A Country Free by Default’: Barthes and the Atmospheric Experience of Literature

‘A Country Free by Default’: Barthes and the Atmospheric Experience of Literature

(p.165) 11 ‘A Country Free by Default’: Barthes and the Atmospheric Experience of Literature
Interdisciplinary Barthes

Kris Pint

British Academy

In the last decade of his life, Barthes increasingly turned to classical literature for the expression of what he called ‘minimal existence’. He found an ideal way to access this experience in literary descriptions of the nuances of the weather, le temps qu’il fait. In these passages, the virtual space of literature opens up the existential space of the experiencing body, by providing a discourse to explore atmospheric conditions. As the experience of the atmosphere is cultural, a form of education is needed in order fully to appreciate it. It was this education Barthes found in the abandoned, untimely field of classical literature: ‘a country free by default’. Barthes’s literary explorations of the weather can be understood as a crucial part of the ethical project he developed at the Collège de France. Barthes’s ‘active semiology’ urges us to consider literature as a personal, intimate ‘guide de vie’, and to understand literary semiology not only as a contribution to a field of knowledge, but also to a field of experience. The sensation and expression of atmospheric conditions becomes an unexpected way to defend the existential and critical value of literature in our contemporary, increasingly virtualised information society.

Keywords:   Roland Barthes, atmosphere, ethics, existential space, literature, weather

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