The Renaissance of Roland Barthes (Due: 03/01/2013)

The Renaissance of Roland Barthes

Speakers: Jonathan Culler, Diana Knight, Rosalind Krauss, D.A. Miller, and Lucy O’Meara


The students of the Comparative Literature and English departments at the City University of New York Graduate Center present the second annual interdisciplinary conference on Critical Theory, to be held April 25-26, 2013. The conference will be devoted to the writings of French literary theorist and critic Roland Barthes.

In response to Roland Barthes’ tragic death in 1980, Michel Foucault observed that Barthes, in his lecture courses only a week before the accident, seemed “completely developed;” Foucault recalled thinking at the time: ‘He’ll live to be ninety years old; he is one of those men whose most important work will be written between the ages of sixty and ninety.’ Barthes’ final lecture course, Preparation of the Novel, staged the search for a vita nuova and a “third form” between or beyond the Essay and the Novel that would, in the manner of “the Neutral,” baffle or outplay the paradigms of theory and literature. Even if we can only hypothesize what hybrid work of critique and narrative Barthes would have gone on to create, the brilliance, theoretical significance, and formal innovation of his late work, especially his lectures, has yet to receive the international attention it deserves. In light of the publication of the final installment of his lecture courses, How to Live Together, we invite presentations from all fields to explore any aspect of Roland Barthes’ oeuvre: the tightrope his writing walks between the forms of the novel and the essay, the evolution of his writing and thinking throughout his life, the engagement of his work with literary or cultural texts, and the relationship of his work to critical theory, as well as to any and all other disciplines. Some of the questions this conference seeks to explore include, but are not limited to:

  • How can we re-think or complicate the narrative that takes The Pleasure of the Text (1973) as the beginning of a shift not only in Barthes’ thinking, but in French theory, more generally, from structuralism to post-structuralism? How does Barthes’ “late work” reflect upon, and even dramatize, such a historical transition?
  • Do the epiphanies of Barthes’ later work, such as The Neutral, bear out the questions raised in his earliest writings, such as Writing Degree Zero? Or does a later work like The Empire of Signs engage in a mode of cultural criticism distinctly different from earlier works such Mythologies?
  • How do the often genre-bending structures of Barthes’ writings elucidate, demonstrate, or call into question their theoretical content?
  • How does Barthes’ writing increasingly incorporate, as both method and subject matter, multiple types of media, from Camera Lucida’s engagement with photography and essays on film, music, and visual art to the late lectures that are themselves a strange hybrid form?
  • How did Barthes’ work change or inaugurate fields of discourse as wide-ranging as utopian studies, affect theory, cultural studies, queer theory, and reception aesthetics?
  • What are the political implications of Barthes’ work, such as How to Live Together, especially in light of contemporary revolutionary movements?
  • Taking Foucault’s cue, what would Barthes, if he had lived until 90, have gone on to write? What legacy did Barthes create, and what was left undone? What was, is, or will be the “third form?”

Please submit a 300 word abstract for a 15-20 minute paper by March 1, 2013 to Proposals should include the title of the paper, presenter’s name, institutional and departmental affiliation, and any technology requests. We also welcome panel proposals of three to four papers.

This conference is co-sponsored by the Writers’ Institute at the City University of New York Graduate Center, the Center for Humanities, the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies, Columbia University Press, and the Doctoral Students’ Council.