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S/Z: An Essay

9 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0374521677
ISBN-10: 0374521670
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Editorial Reviews


Language was both a luxury and a discipline for Barthes. He pursued a subject through language until he cornered it, until its disguise fell away and it was revealed in a kind of epiphany. In his own way, he cleaned the face of Paris more thoroughly than Andre Malraux did when he ordered its buildings washed down to their original colors and arranged for lights to be played upon them. Musing on the kind of painting done by someone like Ingres, Barthes says that 'painters have left movement the amplified sign of the unstable . . . the solemn shudder of a pose impossible to fix in time . . . the motionless overvaluation of the ineffable.' This might also serve as his definition of classical French prose, and in order to escape its encroachment, Barthes prodded, squeezed and sniffed at language, like a great chef buying fruits and vegetables. He munched distinctions. His sentence rhythms were those of a man who talks with his hands. (Anatole Broyard)

Language Notes

Text: English (translation)
Original Language: French --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 271 pages
  • Publisher: Hill and Wang (January 1, 1975)
  • Language: English, French
  • ISBN-10: 0374521670
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374521677
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #97,489 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

25 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Martin Asiner on May 3, 2011
Format: Paperback
Roland Barthes began as a structuralist and in S/Z, he began to branch off into post-structuralism. S/Z is a three hundred page dissection of a short story by Balzac called Sarrasine. The plot of Sarrasine is relatively uncomplicated. A sculptor falls in love with a woman who is actually a castrato, a man who has had his penis surgically removed. In an earlier published article, "The Death of the Author," Barthes uses Sarrasine as a starting point that leads toward involving the reader in a multi-faceted exploration of the story's plurality of voices even as he diminishes the role of the writer. Barthes greatly expanded this premise into a full-length book, S/Z. Critics have often wondered how to perceive it. Most agree that Barthes takes the basic concepts of structuralism and expands them so hugely that the result is less a scholarly treatise on structuralism than some weirdly lumped parody of it. Whatever traditional elements of structuralism are examined, by the time that Barthes finishes, structuralism as a working and generally accepted theory of literary criticism has been so thoroughly sliced and diced that its remaining strands seem wispy, fragmented, and totally unable to account for the plurality of discourses that Barthes insists are right there to be discerned. Reading S/Z requires one to reach a mindset that judges it as either an exhilarating voyage that embraces a new way to read established texts or as an upsetting deconstructing of long held assumptions that used to divide the universe into emotionally satisfying and complete entities.Read more ›
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48 of 55 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 22, 2000
Format: Paperback
I decided to write a paper on Barthes' S/Z after it was highly recommended to me by my professor of literary criticism. Criticism usually puts me to sleep when I read it, and this professor claimed that S/Z kept him up all night, it was so fascinating. This was not the case for my first reading of S/Z, but the more I opened the book, the more interesting it became. Barthes' criticism is of the most unusual kind; what he writes about Balzac's Sarrasine is "neither wholly image nor analysis" - it is his reading of Balzac's text, a very close and detailed reading. I began to appreciate S/Z even more when I began my own project of dissecting a text using Barthes' theories. It was a difficult endeavor, but it helped me to understand what an incredible piece of work S/Z is. Barthes uses Sarrasine to look at liturature - what it is, who reads it, what happens when we read, and to show that reading for the consumption of stories is only to deny ourselves of the real pleasure of the text.
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64 of 78 people found the following review helpful By Robert Jordan on January 9, 2000
Format: Paperback
Understand what this little book is and its significance. Barthes begins with a short story by Balzac and then plays with its interpretation. He "rereads" the story using different treatments. His goal: to show that there is no Author who gives an Absolute Meaning to the text -- that it's the reader who provides his/her own meaning to it. The Author is dead, long live the Reader. You may or may not get this concept, but trust me, it's a significant shift in literary theory. I've taken the time to write all this in hopes you don't read it the way I did the first time, wondering "What in heck is this?"
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Dougsofunny on December 19, 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
S/Z is a crucial text for anyone interested in the history of literary criticism, as S/Z marks a major turning point in the discipline. Prior to S/Z the dominant mode of criticism was structuralism, which as its name implies was the study of structures. Analogically basing itself on the success of the study of structures in fields ranging from anatomy to chemistry, social structuralism sought to likewise identify a core structure to a text, in which the 'essence' of the text could be said to lie, independent of the outward details. However, at its basic level, a text is nothing more than a collection of words; the idea of a structure behind these words can not inhere in the words themselves, and therefore must be a product of the human mind attempting to make of these words. This is the realization that Barthes is more or less forced to reach in this study.

Prima facie, this work is a work of hyper-structuralism. Barthes undertakes to comprehensively break down the text of 'Sarrisine,' a classic novella written by the early nineteenth-century French writer Honoré de Balzac. Going line by line, sometimes even phrase by phrase, Barthes divides the text up into constituent units, which he than analyzes in closer detail to see the ways in which the meaning of each unit is produced.

By analyzing the text at such a close, fundamental level, Barthes ultimately undoes the project of structuralism at the same moment that he realizes the fullness of structuralism's effort. (Insert line about Hegel and how history always 'overcomes itself'). This is because Barthes is forced to realize that structure, at least when applied to texts, is not a given.
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