Blogging, Authorship, and Roland Barthes’s Autobiography

(Although I can’t imagine very many of you will be here this weekend  for the Louisville Conference on Literature Since 1900, I thought I’d post my presentation proposal here before I present on it. The paper is now written, and I’ll be posting it in serialized form here soon. Probably beginning Saturday, as tomorrow will be another weekly “Digiddedna.” (digital, addendum) So here’s that proposal…

“Blogging, Authorship, and Roland Barthes’s Autobiography”

This paper argues that Roland Barthes’s post-structuralist theories of authorship and autobiography can be re-read in terms of emerging notions of authorship in the participatory technologies of Web 2.0 spaces. Specifically, I construct a reading of Barthes’s autobiography, Roland Barthes, as the culmination of his efforts to deconstruct social and literary norms of authorship and autobiography. This paper then moves to understand the historical development of blogging through a Barthes-inflected post-modernist lens.

Most striking, throughout Roland Barthes, are Barthes’s strategies for referring to himself. Sometimes as Barthes, other times as R.B., often I, he, the boy, the writer, etc. There is also very little chronological organization. What the reader is left with is an undifferentiated mass of memories, musings, reflections, and aphorisms. The experience of reading Roland Barthes is little short of surreal. It is one thing for Derrida in Speech and Phenomenon to demonstrate the paradox of a self-defining system (4). One would think that Derrida works to demonstrate that such a system cannot possibly function. It is another thing entirely for an Author to construct himself textually in light of the Author’s death he himself had already acknowledged: “to write on oneself may seem a pretentious idea: but it is also a simple idea: simple as the idea of suicide” (Roland Barthes 56). The fact that Barthes authored this line proliferates a multitude of readings. Barthes the critic has demonstrated textually a general death of the Author. By making himself the subject of his text, he immediately erases that subject. By assigning his proper name to the text he bifurcates himself into an author-function and a physical embodiment of the experiences. And it is those very experiences, those personal readings and inquiries, which make up the very content of Roland Barthes. More simply, by writing his autobiography, Barthes’s forces himself to reconcile the paradox of meaningful texts and the absence of the author in meaning-making. His solution is to represent his “subject” as decentered, multiple, and infinitely interpretable.

I argue that these are precisely the fundamental challenges to notions of authorship posed by the advent of blogging technologies. While much post-modern theory regarding authorship (Derrida, Foucault, Lyotard) remained focused largely on abstract, theoretical discussions of authorship and identity, Barthes actually worked to embody the decentered nature of his own theoretical writings by experimenting with various strategies for self-representation in his later and most personal texts such as Camera Lucida and his self-titled autobiography. Through the lens of Barthes’s autobiography, certain blogging practices can be more fully contextualized as a thoroughly post-modern practice waiting only for the appropriate technology to emerge.

(Images and books access made available via Google Books. Some rights reserved. (I would like to cite this with adequate copyright and credits. Does anyone know what Google’s guidelines are? I could find anything about Google Books Permissions on their site.)

“Blogging, Authorship, and Roland Barthes’s Autobiography”

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