Monday, July 16, 2012

Roland Barthes' Mourning Diary

I picked up recently a remaindered copy of Roland Barthes, Mourning Diary (New York: Hill and Wang, 2009). It is a translation of Journal de deuil, a publication of the paper slips on which Barthes noted thoughts he had in connection with his mother's death between October 25, 1977 and October 1978 (as well as some other notes about his mother). The translator notes that what is published "is in fact a diary only in a rather desperate sense: the writer kept a stack of quartered typing paper on his desk, and from the day of his mother's death until nearly his own, while he was producing his last best books, he would scribble one or another or sometimes several aphoristic losses as a sort of diagnostic test, a questioning of torment, a preparation for the days task: a companion to the ultimate writings of Roland Barthes" (259).

Barthes was in the habit of writing such slips. The quartered typing pages correspond to the format of DIN A 4 (the DIN format was introduced in France in 1967). It's interesting that he used quartered typing pages, as he could have bought card stock.

It appears that the title "Mourning Diary" is not from Barthes. Whether these notes to himself deserved publication is a different question.

What does one make of an entry like this: "—The courage of discretion —It is courageous not to be courageous"? The claim that something is identical with the very lack of itself is just false. (No interesting dialectical move here!) Many of the notes are just sad or wallowing in self-pity. I very much doubt Barthes would have agreed to the publication of these raw notes!

Still, the way he took these is interesting for someone interested in note-taking.

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