This is the first biography of Roland Barthes - one of the most important European intellectuals of the postwar years. In a lively and engaging account of Barthes's life and work, Calvet follows the brilliant semiotician from his provincial origins to his sudden death in 1980. He describes Barthes's move to Paris as a child, where he lived with his mother in modest surroundings and constant hardship. He argues that the experience of having his academic prospects ruined by his illness at an early age remained a thorn in Barthes's flesh: until the end of his life his relationship with the academic world was never free of bitterness, even resentment. Calvet retraces his years in Paris, Bucharest and Alexandria after the war. During this period Barthes gained access to intellectual circles and experienced his decisive encounter with modern linguistics, particularly with 'semiotics', which he helped to establish as a discipline through his work on everyday myths, fashion and literature. Calvet discusses the whole range of Barthes's work as a critic and literary theorist, and demonstrates his tremendous importance and influence in the second half of the twentieth century.
Thoughtful and sensitive, this book provides a detailed portrait of Barthes's life, and a vivid reconstruction of the intellectual culture of postwar France.