Events Calendar
Nov 8
17:00 - 18:15
Barthes's Return to Michelet
Centre for Modern European Literature research seminar
Dr Jennifer Rushworth (University College London)

In this paper I investigate the role of Michelet in the late Barthes. While it is well known that one of Barthes's first books was devoted to Michelet (1954), the presence of Michelet in the late works of Barthes has yet to receive due attention. This neglect is especially surprising, since Michelet is explicitly evoked repeatedly as a key model for Barthes's elusive novelistic project: his so-called Vita Nova. Firstly, I undertake a reading of Barthes's various claims about Michelet in his late lectures and seminars (published posthumously in different forms), and interrogate the consistency of these statements. Secondly, I look at Michelet's own use of the term Vita n(u)ova, and propose that there is often a gap between Barthes's Michelet and Michelet par lui-même. I argue that this gap reveals the self-fashioning at work in the late Barthes, and relies on manipulation of the Micheletian evidence. Thirdly, I reflect more broadly on the implications of these inconsistencies and discrepancies for the question of conversion which is at the heart of the concept of 'new life'.

Overall, my paper has two sets of aims. On the one hand, in exploring further Barthes's reading of Michelet I aim: to elucidate Barthes's vision of Michelet in his later texts; to show how this vision contrasts with aspects of Barthes's much earlier reading; to demonstrate the light that Michelet can shed on Barthes's Vita Nova project. On the other hand, and concomitantly, the specific example of Michelet also serves as a broader example of a certain mouvance (or textual mobility) in Barthes's late work, which results from the different sources in which his texts have been made posthumously available: as published lectures notes; as oral recordings; as transcriptions of those recordings. Consequently, this paper not only brings into focus the different uses made by Barthes of his reading of Michelet, but also encourages us to confront the different forms in which we in turn receive Barthes's writings.


SECL Staff Room,
Cornwallis North West,
University of Kent,
United Kingdom


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Free of charge.

Contact: Sara-Louise Cooper


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Last Updated: 10/01/2012