Tag Archives: Roland Barthes

4: Mourning Diary

Mourning DiaryMourning Diary by Roland Barthes

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Consists of the notes Roland Barthes took after the death of his mother, Henriette. She was widowed (via WWI, that recurring theme) when he was a baby and they lived together most of his life. The notes are transcribed as they were written, one note to a page. There’s a center insert with family photographs and scans of a few of the diary notecards.

(Sidenote: I didn’t realize Barthes had a brother. Specifically, a younger half-brother (Michel) born out-of-wedlock to his mother when Barthes was 12ish. This info seems to be elided from his standard bio; it isn’t on his Wikipedia page. Kinda weird, because reading MD, it seems like they were pretty close. Makes Mme. Barthes seem more human, less martyr, too!)

It’s likely the notes would have become the basis for a book but Barthes died (he was hit by a truck and succumbed to his injuries) only months after the diary stops. So what’s here are basically personal/private notes not written for a public audience. Except it’s Barthes, so…

At the same time, I think calling the diary whiny/self-indulgent (as I saw in some reader reviews) is silly because it’s a diary. If you can’t whine in your diary, please. 🙄

Some quotes:

In taking these notes, I’m trusting myself to the banality that is in me. (17)

Solitude = having no one at home to whom you can say: I’ll be back at a specific time or who you can call to say (or to whom you can just say): voilà, I’m home now. (44)

Depression comes when, in the depths of despair, I cannot manage to save myself by my attachment to writing. (62)

I have not a desire but a need for solitude. (91)

if these ‘changes’ … make for silence, inwardness, the wound of mourning shifts toward a higher realm of thought. Triviality (of hysteria) ≠ Nobility (of Solitude). (95)

M. and I feel that paradoxically (since people usually say: work, amuse yourself, see friends) it’s when we’re busy, distracted, sought out, exteriorized, that we suffer most. Inwardness, calm, solitude make us less miserable. (100)

Only I know what my road has been for the last year and a half: the economy of this motionless and anything but spectacular mourning that has kept me unceasingly separate by its demands; a separation that I have ultimately always projected to bring to a close by a book — Stubbornness, secrecy. (231)

Reading this got me thinking again about the difference between loss by death vs. loss by leaving again. When someone dies, those left behind still have their (good) memories. This, I think, makes it hard(er) to move on, because it’s possible to dwell in the past, in happy memories of the person who is gone. Whereas, when someone leaves, those left behind can’t dwell in the past—at least how they’d always remembered it—that’s gone. If it’s to be remembered, it needs to be reconstituted/reconstructed in a completely different way. So while death-loss drags you backward, leaving-loss pushes you forward. It almost forces you to move on, because there are no happy memories to return to.

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A Tissue of Cita(Quota)tions

We know that a text does not consist of a line of words, releasing a single “theological” meaning (the “message” of the Author-God), but is a space of many dimensions, in which are wedded and contested various kinds of writing, no one of which is original: the text is a tissue of citations, resulting from the thousand sources of culture.

—Roland Barthes
Death of the Author
in Aspen 5+6 (1967)

We know now that a text is not a line of words releasing a single “theological” meaning (the “message” of the Author-God) but a multi-dimensional space in which a variety of writings, none of them original, blend and clash. The text is a tissue of quotations drawn from innumerable centres of culture.

—Roland Barthes
“Death of the Author”
in Image, Music, Text (1988, p. 146)