A Very Fine Gift and Other Writings on Theory

Essays and Interviews, Volume 1, Theory

Roland Barthes

Translated by Chris Turner


5 x 8.5 inches, 168pp September 2015

ISBN : 9780857422262

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Roland Barthes, whose centenary falls in 2015, was a restless, protean thinker. A constant innovator, often as a daring smuggler of ideas from one discipline to another, he first gained an audience with his pithy, semiological essays on mass culture, then unsettled the literary critical establishment with heretical writings on the French classics, before going on to produce some of the most suggestive and stimulating cultural criticism of the late twentieth century (Empire of Signs, S/Z, The Pleasure of the Text, Camera Lucida, Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes). In 1976, the one-time structuralist ‘outsider’ was elected to a chair at France’s pre-eminent academic institution, the Collège de France, choosing to style himself its Professor of Literary Semiology, though this last somewhat hedonistic and more ‘subjectivist’ phase of his intellectual adventure was cut short by his untimely death in 1980.

The greater part of Barthes’s published writings have been available to a French audience since the publication in 2002 of the expanded version of his Oeuvres complètes [Complete Works], edited by Éric Marty. The present collection of essays, interviews, prefaces, book reviews and other occasional journalistic pieces, all drawn from that comprehensive source, attempts to give English-speaking readers access to the most significant previously untranslated material from the various stages of Barthes’s career. It is divided (not entirely scientifically) into five themed volumes entitled: Theory, Politics, Literary Criticism, Signs and Images (Art, Cinema, Photography), and Interviews.

Barthes was always concerned to frame his interventions in theoretical form. Even when turning away from the scientism of earlier years, his inclination was to theorize the challenge that emotions like pleasure and bliss represented for his former approach. From his early musings on grammar and his pioneering thoughts on the sociology of literature, through the high period of structuralism to the beginnings of a post-structuralist turn in his reflections on Derrida and the creative contribution of the reader, the essays and interviews in this first volume, loosely grouped around the theme of ‘theory’, suggest a progression that is both straight line and spiral.   

Roland Barthes was born in 1915 and studied French literature and classics at the University of Paris. After teaching French at universities in Romania and Egypt, he joined the Centre National de Recherche Scientifique, where he devoted himself to research in semiotics and lexicology. He was a professor at the Collège de France until his death in 1980.

One of the most influential critics and philosophers of the twentieth century. His works include Mythologies, S/Z, A Lover’s Discourse, and Camera Lucida


Chris Turner is a writer and translator who lives in Birmingham, England.

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