An Essay on Roland Barthes' "From Work to Text"

From Work to Text

In this essay, Barthes argues that the relation of writer, reader and observer is changed by movement from work to text. In this light, we can observe Barthes's propositions of the differences between work and text in terms of method, genres, signs, plurality, filiation, reading, and pleasure.

First of all, Barthes thought that the Text is a "methodological field" rather then a portion of the space of books", that is the work (170). Like Lacan's distinction between "reality" and "real": the work is displayed (the reality which is out there, concrete), the text is a process of demonstration which is held in language. "The text is experienced only in an activity of production": the text is writable through tracing the flickering of presence and absence of the chain of signifiers. So the text "cannot stop" because the process of language does not come to an end; the meaning is always suspended, something deferred or still to come. Then, the subversive power of the text is that it cannot be contained in a hierarchy or a simple division of genres. The text tries to place itself very exactly behind the limit of genres -- all literary texts are woven out of other literary texts. There is no literary 'originality': all literature is 'intertextual' and paradoxical. Thirdly, the Text can be approached, experienced in reaction to the sign. That is, the work closes on a signified which falls under the scope of an interpretation. The text, on the contrary, practices the infinite deferment of the signified. The infinity of the signifier refers a playing -- to play with the disconnections, overlappings, and variations between signifier and signified. In this respect, the text is filled with symbolic energy -- like language, it is structured but decentered, without closure.

The fourth idea is the plurality of the Text: an irreducible plurality which answers not to an interpretation. The weave of signifiers in the Text reveals a complex network of sign (citations, references, cultural languages) -- in this extent, no sign is ever 'pure' or 'fully meaningful'. So the Text can be itself only in its differences, not monistic determination. Here we can connect this idea to the filiation of the text -- it can be read without the inscription of the author (Father). The biography of the author is merely another text which does not indicate any privilege -- it is the language which speaks in the Text, not the author himself. Also, it is the reader who focuses the multiplicity of the text, not the author. In this light, the text itself plays and the reader plays twice over through reading -- the text asks of the reader a practical collaboration, then it becomes writable. The final approach to the Text is pleasure. That is, the Text is a space of social utopia which transcends social relations (author, reader, critic) and language relations (no language has a hold over any other).


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