The Cult of Personality

The life of Roland Barthes will never be serialized on Masterpiece Theater. Born in 1915, he contracted pulmonary tuberculosis as a young man (1934), and spent part of his life in sanatoriums. Barthes's education was conventional enough: he received a license in the classics from the Sorbonne, participated in the foundation of the Groupe de Théatre Antique, and achieved a graduate degree in Greek tragedy. At one point, Barthes was a pre-med student (his main interest was psychiatric medicine), but he did not complete his medical studies. For the most part, Barthes was an educator; he taught in Rumania, Egypt, and, of course, France. In 1980, four years after being appointed to the Chair of Literary Semiology at the Collège de France, Barthes was hit by a van and fatally injured.

Barthes exists for us only as a presence in his books. Today, there are 19 books signed "Roland Barthes" available in English. On Racine was the first available in the States; it appeared in 1964. It didn't cause much of a stir here, but it did in France after it was published in 1963. Barthes was attacked in 1965 by a Sorbonne professor, Raymond Picard, who answered Sur Ra cine with Nouvelle critique ou nouvelle imposture?

Picard's attack on the 50-year-old upstart resulted in a new vibrancy...

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