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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 and Commissioned Writing

Barthes and Commissioned Writing

(p.205) 14 Barthes and Commissioned Writing
Interdisciplinary Barthes

Antoine Compagnon

British Academy

Roland Barthes constantly complained about being overwhelmed with requests and importunities; people were always sending him texts to read, and strangers would write or phone for appointments, articles, and advice. What he called the burden of administration (‘la gestion’) took up as much of his time as creative work. And he entertained the dream of a Vita Nova, liberated from supplications. The decision of ‘15 April 1978’, recorded in La Préparation du roman, was a revelation: henceforth, all of his life would be concentrated around literature – the novel – and he would switch to an ex-directory phone number. Yet Barthes, at the same time, loved the pressure of demands; he was addicted to the flow of requests and could not work without the stimulus of commissions and deadlines. In fact, as he well knew, most of what he produced started out as a commission (whether a ‘demande’ or a ‘commande’), right from the very first articles in Combat and his many contributions to book clubs. All through his life the pressure of writing for journals never ceased: Existences, Esprit, Théâtre populaire, Lettres nouvelles, L’Observateur or France-Observateur; later Critique, Communications, Tel Quel… This is the paradox to be explored in this chapter.

Keywords:   Roland Barthes, ‘la gestion’, commissioned writing, ‘la demande’, vita nova, 15 April 1978, book clubs, journal articles

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