It Ain’t ‘alf ‘ot, man: Richard Miller buzzkills Barthes’ (Bliss-Pleasure)

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Product Details“[R]eading as eros.” “[W]riting as seduction.” (Sure, why not.)  (Is that a record for the most apostrophes in one phrase?)

I’m really struggling with Richard Miller’s translation of Roland Barthes’ The Pleasure of The Text. (Pleasure not as in “pleasure”, but as in “bliss”.) Really. Struggling. The slim-tome shows promise. (Promise not as in “promise”, but as in “potential”) It has a table of contents of some nifty French words, but in the book itself, there are no titles – just divider lines. So, big effing help there.

The text itself sounds like translated notes: choppy, random, curt. There are too many interstitial comments that refer to the lack of an English equivalent or NO English equivalent. This gets exceedingly tedious early on. Have I run into something over my head? Miller’s introduction does mention that our farmyard English is not good enough to translate French subtleties regarding pleasures (“bliss”) of the flesh. With that, I totally agree.

The blissful parts of the book – to use Miller’s code for Barthes’s jouissance – are intermittent little flashes of lucidity and exhibitions of theme-and-variation:

“In Phillip Soller’s Lois, everything is attacked, dismantled…; often it is a powerful gush of words, a ribbon of infra-language. The dismantling of language is intersected by political assertion…”

In Severo Sarduy’s Cobra, the alternation is that of two pleasures in a state of competition; … Language reconstructs itself elsewhere under the teeming flux of every kind of linguistic pleasure.”

“Flaubert: a way of cutting, of perforating discourse without rendering it meaningless.”

This is criticism from reading for oneself, I think. Then there are readings for the sake of high criticism. For example:

“Here, moreover, drawn from psychoanalysis, is an indirect way of establishing the opposition between the text of pleasure and the text of bliss: pleasure can be expressed in words; bliss cannot.”

“…[C]riticism always deals with the texts of pleasure, never the texts of bliss: Flaubert, Proust, Stendahl are discussed inexhaustibly; thus criticism speaks the futile bliss of the tutor text,… criticism is always historical or prospective:…”

Here’s some other stuff that I understood (despite my lack of French vocabulary – or subtlety):

Two Systems of reading: (1) Fast reading. It’s not about the play of language, the nuances of syntax. It’s about information, therefore there’s no verbal “loss” if you read quickly. (2) Slow reading. You can tell when something needs to be read slowly. Patterns require attention. The play of words needs to be enjoyed at leisure. There is “layering of significance” that is only possible during slow reading. Those layers remain opaque if you speed-read.

I read that and I was all like, “Holy F*ck, I understood that!” Maybe I shouldn’t give up so soon. This book is a perfect example of something that should be read slowly. As I get further into it, connotations of “bliss” and “pleasure” are slowly revealing themselves to me.

Barthes mentions Jacques Lacan and Julia Kristeva, which make me “blissful” because I just finished a graduate course in literary theory and criticism and those were two of the critics we studied. (No one wants to be called a literary critic anymore, btw. They want to be called by their “trades”: psychologists, linguists, political dissidents, etc. If you don’t want to be called a critic, don’t critique. Seriously.)

To reiterate, as I read further into the book, the meanings of “bliss”, “pleasure” are slowly revealing themselves. An “Oedipal pleasure” – “To denude, to know, to learn the origin and the end.”

Narrative: an “unveiling of the truth.”

The “excitation” of reading lies in the “hope” or “in knowing the end” of the story.

The eroticism of reading lies in the gaps – like when a woman’s blouse gaps open to show a glimpse of breast. It’s such a pimply, adolescent attitude. But it explains the appeal of a story (at least to me) of Thomas Pynchon’s “Entropy”, a short story designed from paralepses. Where the story gaps is where the best tension is. Sudden, unexpected shifts reveal another room, another person and another life, with no explanation why the narrative shifts back and forth. So I’m guessing that the eroticism of the novel reveals itself in its flawed architecture.

The novel is a body. What makes a body sexy is the imagination of the viewer, as well as the body itself. One views the beauty, but then the imagination kicks in and starts to desire to do things with that beauty, that body. The novel is (as I understand it) the pretty lady or handsome man that we fantasize about on the commute to work. We want to see their naughty bits and think about them and linger over them. (We are conscious of when the book gets good – the language more engrossing and demanding our undivided attention.)

…you know where this will lead. We will submit to the demands of the flesh (of the text), or we will discover that we are not compatible (we prefer not to submit to the demands of the text).

…the French…le sigh…


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2 responses to this post.

  1. […] Semi-pro writer; full-pro teacher « George Orwell Shoots from The Hip It Ain’t ‘alf ‘ot, man: Richard Miller buzzkills Barthes’ (Bliss-Pleasu… […]


  2. […] school has really expanded my reading repertoire.  If you read my post on Barthes “The Pleasure of the Text”, then you will know my feelings on swampy translations of French philosophical prose.  […]


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