Roland Barthes (1915-1980)
French academic and literary critic whose writings on semiotics, pioneered by
Ferdinand de Saussure and Roman Jakobson, helped establish structuralism and was
a central figure in the development of the leaders of recent French philosophy,
such as Foucault and Derrida.
After graduating from the University of Paris in classics, grammar and philology
in 1943, Barthes later worked at the Centre National de la Recherche
Scientifique, and in 1976 became the first person to hold the chair of literary
semiology at the Collège de France.
Further developing Saussure's conception of the arbitrariness of speech-sounds
in relation to their meaning, Barthes examined the arbitrariness of the
linguistic forms more generally and in his 1964 The Eiffel Tower and Other
Mythologies he applied the same approach to the hidden assumptions behind
In Elements of Semiology, Barthes proposed the inversion of Saussure's
thesis that the study of language would be a part of a larger science of
semiology, asserting instead that “it is semiology which is a part of
linguistics”. At the same time he analysed literature as a sequence of signs,
the meaning of which bears no relation to the intention of the author, but
rather is a free construction of the reader.
By the 1970s, Barthes' theories had become extremely influential not only in
France but throughout Europe and the U.S. Other leading French thinkers
associated with Barthes include the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, social theorist
Michel Foucault, and philosopher Jacques Derrida. Barthes' later works added to
his fame as a literary critic, a reputation as a novelist with an "anti-autobiography,"
Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes (1975), and his 1977 A Lover's
Discourse. Barthes died in a car accident in 1980.