Roland Barthes at 100

Conference+header+REVISEDBeth Harland presented a paper at the Roland Barthes at 100 conference in Cardiff.

Paper: Painting as Drift; Roland Barthes’ Paintings and the Pleasure of the Margin

When Roland Barthes described the value of his own works, he privileged the margins, the parentheses, as the site of greatest contribution. It is here, ‘aslant’ and ‘offstage’ that the making, and the pleasure, of the numerous paintings and drawings that he produced in the 1970s alongside his writing practice reside. This paper responds to these visual works in relation to Barthes’ writings and explores what they suggest about the roles of writer/reader. His position of challenge to the view that the writer is active behind the text while the reader remains passive before it is also engaged here in terms of the painter/spectator relationship.

The pleasure of the text, for Barthes, takes the form of drift: “…like a cork on the waves, I remain motionless, pivoting on the intractable bliss that binds me to the text (to the world).” (Barthes, 1975: 18) The importance of drift surfaces in a number of his writings, as a means of remaining mobile, detached, capable of ‘contemplative duration’. The paper considers Barthes’ paintings and drawings in these terms, and explores their qualities of graphism, colour and spatial construction with reference to works by other thinkers on these subjects, in particular Hubert Damisch’s Theory of /Cloud/.


R.Barthes, The Pleasure of the Text, Hill and Wang, New York, 1975

H.Damisch, Theory of /Cloud/, Stanford University Press, 2002