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This article is taken from PN Review 17, Volume 7 Number 3, January - February 1981.

The Mystique of Hell Michael Grant

Bread for myself is a material question: bread for my neighbour is a spiritual question.
Berdyaev

Having set out from unlimited freedom, I have ended up with unlimited despotism.
Shigalev, in The Possessed

In Image-Music-Text1 Roland Barthes sets out what is by now a famous distinction, that between the work and the Text. To place the distinction in history, Barthes proposes as an analogy the break between Newtonian and Einsteinian science, which, he believes, can be paralleled in literature by the break between what preceded Marx and Freud and what came after them. The work is Newtonian, the Text Einsteinian. The work exists in its wholeness, out there, in books, while the Text 'is experienced only in an activity of production' (Barthes's italics). The Text cannot be contained in the hierarchies that we know as literature. In escaping these hierarchies it also escapes the doxa, the ideology of democratic societies, excluding itself from what is in effect the censorship of ideology by its energy, the energy of the paradoxical. Unlike the work, which represents the institutionalization of the Sign, the signified, by way of meaning and interpretation, the Text infinitely defers the signified, not, however, in the interests of the ineffable but of play, the play of the signifiers. Like language, the Text is off-centred, asymmetrical, without closure. One does not say or attempt to say what the Text means. In this the Text is plural, an explosion of meaning, a dissemination. One ...


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