Lessons in Secular Criticism

Lessons in Secular Criticism

Lessons in Secular Criticism

Lessons in Secular Criticism

Excerpt

In 1977, three years before his fatal accident, Roland Barthes was elected to the Chair of Literary Semiology at the Collège de France and gave the celebrated inaugural lecture that was published under the simple title Leçon (1978). It was a lesson in perfect Barthes fashion, on the power of a certain kind of language to resist the totalizing power that exists in the midst of all language as a social institution. He specified this as the language of literature, but he configured it broadly enough for literature to coincide with the act of writing as such or the creation of a certain textuality, as was the idiom of the day. But, remarkably, there is nothing dated in this train of thought, even if the permutations of power in today’s world have significantly changed, in part by having absorbed the knowledge and language of counterpower developed by that preeminent generation of thinkers.

Barthes delivers here an inaugural lesson and, at the same time, a discourse on lesson, on the act of seeking new ideas by thinking out loud in front of a seminar audience, as have been the time-honored practices of the seminars at the Sorbonne.

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