Writing the Present

Sign Systems Studies 36 (1):11-29 (2008)
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Abstract

In his lectures at the Collège de France in 1978–1979, Barthes focuses at length on the activity of ‘la notation’ (in English, notation): grabbing a fleeting event or impression as it happens, and registering it in your notebook. This article explores the ramifications of notation, as outlined in the lectures (where it is associated with haiku, Joycean epiphany and Proustian impressionism), linking it to Barthes’s longstanding interest in the ontology of modes of signification. Allied to his concept of the ‘third meaning’, and to later terms such as the incident and the romanesque, notation is seen to be central to the preoccupation with affect, subjectivity and individuality we associate with Barthes’s later work. Linked with the fantasy of writing a novel, notation also chimes with the “fantasmatic pedagogy” of Barthes’s lectures where ideas are explored in a highly personal way through the accumulation of discontinuous traits. Through notation the affect-driven, decentred Barthesian subject finds its voice.

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