The Ruins of Books

Kate Briggs, “Four Questions for Kate Briggs on Roland Barthes’ Preparation of the Novel by Scott Esposito, Conversational Reading ? May 2013

Barthes suggests that the destiny of all books is to end up as ruins, fragmented, remembered in bits and pieces but never in their entirety. I think the image he uses is a piece of lace: in our recollections of them, we turn the books we read into pieces of lace.

The Desire-to-Write

Kate Briggs, “Four Questions for Kate Briggs on Roland Barthes’ Preparation of the Novel” by Scott Esposito, Conversational Reading ? May 2013

Barthes refers to the protagonist of the story he’s telling (the story of someone who has experienced the desire to write and wants to set about writing a novel) as a “hero,” a “hero” who will have to undergo three “tests” or “trials.” So there’s already something mythical about the way this story is presented: writers as heroes who somehow manage to achieve their goals despite the setbacks, the difficulties, the interruptions, the breakdowns. Barthes is interested in the force, the desire-to-write that somehow sustains the writer throughout that process. In terms of the relationship between writing and desire, his point is that it’s a question that has been insufficiently studied in the field of literary theory — and this leads him to ask what for me are some very important, but very difficult questions: How is it that works of literature get written? What are the necessary conditions for writing to happen? Why is it that some readers, in love with certain books, feel compelled to write while others don’t?

The Impossible Novel

Roland Barthes, The Preparation of the Novel, 2003

Will I really write a Novel? I’ll answer this and only this. I’ll proceed as if I were going to write one. …It’s therefore possible that the Novel will remain at the level of — or be exhausted by — its Preparation. Another title for this course … could be “The Impossible Novel.”