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This article is taken from PN Review 6, Volume 5 Number 2, January - March 1979.

Barthes Britannicus Stephen Bann

Britannicus est la représentation d'un acte, non d'un effet. L'accent est mis sur un faire véritable . . .
Sur Racine

CULTURAL TRANSHUMANCE is a chancy business. It has never been easy, in Anglo-French literary relations, to analyse the terms on which a particular writer has been received into the foreign culture, or to assess the value which he has acquired there. An indifferent French author (Anatole France is the inevitable example) somehow acquires the voice of authority when observed from the other side of the Channel. Equally, a figure whose centrality is evident in his native context may fail to find any corresponding niche abroad: have we yet succeeded in placing, with any degree of conviction, the equivocal figure of Georges Bataille? Roland Barthes, one can safely say, lies between these two extremes. While in no sense a mediocre author who has been loaded with the burden of epitomizing contemporary France to the British, he has at the same time come to bulk large in our view of French Modernism. Where Derrida and Lacan-even Foucault-remain more or less indistinct, Barthes has become part of our common cultural change. He is the metonymy of the far-reaching movement of thought which we recognize as having developed in the France of the 1960s. Yet, at the same time, it would be rash to suggest that he has been satisfactorily 'placed'. Translations are now, at last, available of the majority of his important works (1). But his effect is ...


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