A Supplementary Work

Roland Barthes, Preface, Critical Essays (1964)

What marks the critic is therefore a secret practice of the indirect: in order to remain secret, the indirect must here take shelter under the very figures of the direct, of transitivity, of discourse about others. Whence a language which cannot be received as ambiguous, reticent, allusive, or disclaiming. The critic is like a logician who “fills” his functions with true argu­ments and yet secretly asks us to appreciate only the validity of his equations, not their truth — even while hoping, by a final silent ruse, that this pure validity will function as the very sign of his existence.

There is, then, a certain misapprehension attached by its very structure to the critical work, but this misapprehension cannot be exposed in the critical language itself, for such ex­posure would constitute a new direct form, in other words an additional mask; in order for the circle to be broken, for the critic to speak of himself with exactitude, he would have to transform himself into a novelist, that is, to substitute for the direct falseness under which he takes shelter, a declared in­directness — declared as the indirectness of all fictions is declared.

This is doubtless why the novel is always the critic’s horizon: the critic is the man who is going to write and who, like the Proustian narrator, satisfies this expectation with a supple­mentary work, who creates himself by seeking himself and whose function is to accomplish his project of writing even while eluding it. The critic is a writer, but a writer postponed; like the writer, he wants to be believed less because of what he writes than because of his decision to write it; but unlike the writer, he cannot sign that desire; he remains condemned to error — to truth.

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