Roland Barthes, Japan and l’utopie de l’écriture
In the meaningful combination of words and photographs which constitutes Barthes’s most fascinating essay, L’Empire des signes (1970), the act of writing plays a central role. Associated – through Zen philosophy – with a cancellation of subjectivity that leads to a déprise du sens («abandonment of meaning»), it revives the dream of the écriture blanche: an empty language fractioned and stripped of any predetermined significance, conceived as a non-functional game of free, although strong signifiers, opposed to Western mythologies.
Through the original reading of Barthes’s Japanese experience, this work aims at reconstructing this very tension to l’utopie de l’écriture. The author argues that Japan is discussed by Barthes like an ideal Text, the indefinable contours of which comply with the theoretical characteristics of writing – understood in its discontinuous materiality and its dimension of enjoyment – qualifying the foreign country as an object of love and desire. Japan itself appears, in this perspective, as a magic book of dreams and fears, able to respond to a painful intellectual inquiry urged by the increasingly suffocating relationship between Language and Power.
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