Here’s a fascinating review of an even more fascinating book. All of you are familiar with Barthe’s essay “The Death of the Author.” I like here the potential contrast between the haiku and the novel, which contrast never actually eventuates apparently.
Part II returns both author and work centre-stage. Barthes investigates the emergence of writing as an intransitive activity, determined not by its object but by a “maniacal” urge in the author’s body. It focuses on the “operations” by which he (the writers considered are all male: Flaubert, Kafka, Mallarmé, Chateaubriand, Proust, etc) passes from the desire to write to creating the work. We learn about the minutiae of authors’ habits: where they write, when, at what rhythm or speed (“at a gallop”, in Proust’s case). For the writers Barthes discusses, the space of writing offers a retreat from worldly preoccupations: Flaubert asks for no more than a quiet room with “a good fire in winter and a pair of candles to light me at night”, whereas Proust favours the bed: “you can work, eat, and sleep in it”. Similarly, the time at which they choose to write often suggests a withdrawal from the world. While Barthes cites Paul Valéry as an example of an early morning writer, he devotes most space to those who wrote at night: Flaubert (sometimes), Rimbaud (once), Kafka (joyous at having written “The Judgment” in one night-time sitting) and, of course, Proust (always). The latter’s “complete inversion of day and night” leads on to a broader discussion of inversion in general as the source of a “perverse pleasure”: perhaps the reason why night work enjoys such privilege in Barthes’s imagination.