Friday, February 28, 2020

Pedagogical Experiment

"I'd sometimes come to prefer reading about the lives of certain writers to reading their works; for example, I'm more familiar with Kafka's Diaries than with his oeuvre, with Tolstoy's Notebooks than with the rest of Tolstoy (apparently this is a very 'camp' attitude)."*

The Preparation of the Novel includes Barthes's last writings before his death in 1980. Below is a description of the book from its publisher (of particular interest to me is Barthes's "pedagogical experiment"):

Completed just weeks before his death, the lectures in this volume mark a critical juncture in the career of Roland Barthes, in which he declared the intention, deeply felt, to write a novel. Unfolding over the course of two years, Barthes engaged in a unique pedagogical experiment: he combined teaching and writing to "simulate" the trial of novel-writing, exploring every step of the creative process along the way.

Barthes's lectures move from the desire to write to the actual decision making, planning, and material act of producing a novel. He meets the difficulty of transitioning from short, concise notations (exemplified by his favorite literary form, haiku) to longer, uninterrupted flows of narrative, and he encounters a number of setbacks. Barthes takes solace in a diverse group of writers, including Dante, whose La Vita Nuova was similarly inspired by the death of a loved one, and he turns to classical philosophy, Taoism, and the works of François-René Chateaubriand, Gustave Flaubert, Franz Kafka, and Marcel Proust. 

This book uniquely includes eight elliptical plans for Barthes's unwritten novel, which he titled Vita Nova, and lecture notes that sketch the critic's views on photography. Following on The Neutral: Lecture Course at the Collège de France (1977-1978) and a third forthcoming collection of Barthes lectures, this volume provides an intensely personal account of the labor and love of writing.

*Barthes, Roland. “The Work as Will: Notes for a Lecture Course at the Collège de France.” The Preparation of the Novel: Lecture Course and Seminars at the Collège de France (1978-1979 and 1979-1980). New York: Columbia U Press, 2010. P. 208 

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