Criticism and Truth by Roland Barthes

By Roland Barthes

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In a word all of the characteristics of literary language as a whole; the second area will deal with signs which are longer than the sentence, those parts of discourse from which one can infer a structure of the narrative, of the poetic message, of the discursive text,18 etc. Large and small units of discourse obviously exist in a relationship of integration (like phonemes in relation to words and words in relation to the sentence), but they are made up of levels which exist independently of description.

12 However, the ambiguities of practical language are nothing compared with those of literary language. The former are in fact reducible by virtue of the situation in which they appear: something outside the most ambiguous sentence—a context, a gesture, a memory—tells us how to understand it if we want to make practical use of the information it has the task of conveying: circumstances create a clear meaning. Nothing of the sort applies in the case of the work of literature: for us the work has no set of contingent circumstances, and therein lies, perhaps, the best definition of it: the work is not surrounded, designated, protected or directed by any situation, no practical life is there to tell us the meaning which should be given to it; there is always something quotation-like about it: its ambiguity is absolutely pure: no matter how prolix it is, it always has something of Pythian concision, utterances which are in accordance with a primary code (the Pythoness did not divagate) and yet open to several meanings, tor the utterances were made independently of any situation—unless it were the very situation of ambiguity itself: the work is always in a prophetic situation.

56 M. Proust, A la recherche du temps perdu, Pleiade, I, p. 912. 57 Picard, p. 30. I have quite obviously never made out Andromaque to be a patriotic drama; such distinctions of genre were not my aim—which is exactly what I was criticized for. I spoke about the figure of the Father in Andromaque and that is all. 58 H. Hecaen and R. Angelergues, Pathologie du langage, Larousse, 1965, p. 32. 59 Cf. " Seuil 1963, pp. 147 ff. 21 CRITICISM AND TRUTH 60 Rimbaud to his mother, who did not understand Une Saison en Enfer: "I meant to say what it says, literally and in every sense" (Oeuvres completes, Pleiade, p.

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