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Performance Degree Zero

Performance Degree Zero: Roland Barthes and Theatre

Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 256
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    Performance Degree Zero
    Book Description:

    Throughout his career, famed critical theorist Roland Barthes (1915-1980) had a complex and often uneasy relationship with theatre and performance. From his early theatre criticism, through his abrupt and enigmatic silence on theatre, to the theoretical 'stagings' of his thought in the 1970s, Barthes committed several stunning reversals with his opinions on theatrical performance.

    InPerformance Degree Zero, Timothy Scheie argues that Barthes's body of work must be considered a lifelong engagement with theatre. Exploring his changing critical methodologies, Scheie provides a new understanding of the rapid shifts in critical modes Barthes traverses, from a Sartrean Marxism in the 1950s, through semiology, to French post-structuralism and the mournful introspection of his later years. The theatrical figure illuminates Barthes's accounts of the sign, the text, the body, homosexuality, love, the voice, photography, and other important and contested terms of his thought.

    Performance Degree Zerooffers the first comprehensive account of Barthes's lifelong engagement with theatre and performance and fills a significant gap in Barthes criticism. It is essential reading for all Barthes scholars, theatre historians, and performance theorists.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7835-4
    Subjects: Performing Arts

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Abbreviations and Note on Translations
    (pp. xi-2)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 3-20)

    Twenty-five years after his death, Roland Barthes’s stature as a preeminent intellectual of our time remains indisputable. Barthes’s critical eye, eloquent pen, and singular knack for stirring controversy have inspired generations of critics of literature, popular culture, music, and the visual arts. His succession of critical ‘hits’ continues to impress readers, his pithy aphorisms are still widely quoted, and recent reconsiderations of his life and work attest to his enduring appeal to a broad public.¹ Many of his writings have attained canonical status in their fields and continue to spark discussion and pointed response.²

    Barthes is also a critic of...

  6. 1 Tragic Utopia: Barthes’s Theatre Criticism, 1953–1960
    (pp. 21-64)

    In the opening pages ofRoland Barthes by Roland Barthes, a photograph shows the author as a university student, masked and playing in a Greek tragedy in the courtyard of the Sorbonne. The caption reads:

    Darios, que je jouais toujours avec le plus grand trac, avait deux longues tirades dans lesquelles je risquais sans cesse de m’embrouiller: j’étais fasciné par la tentation depenser à autre chose. Par les petits trous du masque, je ne pouvais rien voir, sinon très loin, très haut: pendant que je débitais les prophètes du roi mort, mon regard se posait sur des objets inertes...

  7. 2 Performance and Its Double: The ‘Live’ and the Structuralist Abstraction
    (pp. 65-96)

    Roland Barthes and his fellow post-war critics inherit a rich legacy from the preceding generation of theorists of theatre and performance. There is of course Brecht, who articulates the principles of his epic theatre, the alienation effect, and the ‘gestic’ potential of the theatrical apparatus in the ‘Short Organum for the Theater’ and other treatises of the 1930s and 1940s. Barthes’s public and forceful advocacy of Brecht is widely recognized as the most noteworthy thrust of his writings on theatre. However, an exclusive focus on Barthes’s embrace of Brecht risks eclipsing his encounter with the thought of other theorists. Although...

  8. 3 Staging Theory: Theatricality and the Displacement of Desire
    (pp. 97-135)

    Theatre occupies a paradoxical place in the body of theory known as French post-structuralism: it seems to be everywhere and almost nowhere. On one hand, theatricality provides a versatile figure for articulating philosophical, psychoanalytical, and historical conceptions of subject, truth, and language. As Timothy Murray remarks in the introduction toMimesis, Masochism, and Mime: The Politics of Theatricality in Contemporary French Thought, a collection of essays by Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Luce Irigaray, Gilles Deleuze, Julia Kristeva, and others in the post-stucturalist pantheon who deploy prolific theatrical imagery to illustrate their thought, ‘theatricality is what performs and lays bare the...

  9. 4 Mourning Presence: Performance at the Crossroads
    (pp. 136-186)

    Words, Roland Barthes insists, are never innocent. They bear the weight of the meaning history invests in them and circulate in a tightly regulated economy of signification. To enter language, to write or speak, is to subjugate and be subjugated within the regime of the knowable and the sayable. Whether through a discourse of oppression or of liberation, language seizes our subjects, our voices, and our bodies in its totalizing grip. In the words of Barthes’s 1977 inaugural lecture at the Collège de France, ‘la langue [...] n’est ni réactionnaire ni progressiste: elle est tout simplement: fasciste’ (‘language [...] is...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 187-208)
  11. Works Cited
    (pp. 209-216)
  12. Index
    (pp. 217-225)