Reading a Book About Roland Barthes

Barthes refers to what he calls the 'Flaubertization' of writing, by which he means a move to a notion of writing as 'hard work', a laborious craft. Writers such as Flaubert, in other words, attempted to cure their increasing sense of alienation from bourgeois Literature by figuring themselves as workers, craftsmen and craftswomen. It is obvious, however, how easily such a strategy can be absorbed by dominant culture and transformed into bourgeois cultural values which have always in themselves emphasized hard work and perseverance.

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...An even more important and far-reaching example follows the discussion of Flaubert's strategy of hard work, that being the emergence in the nineteenth century of the realist novel. Realism and Naturalism (nowadays a less commonly used term) set out to cure the alienation of literary writing by producing an accurate and artless form. One definition of realism in the novel which is still employed in university courses today is as follows: 'Realism, a form of writing which does not bring attention to its own artifice, its own constructedness'. Barthes's thesis is, however, confirmed in that very definition, since the realist novel, so dominant from the mid-nineteenth century to the present, is by definition an alienated form of writing, hiding its literariness at the same time as establishing this more as the standard of 'good writing', of 'literary' writing. Barthes refers to the fact that the realist novel is at one and the same time the kind of novel still privileged in bourgeois schools and the kind of novel officially sanctioned by Soviet Communism and its interenational off-shoots, such as the PCF (Writing Degree Zero: pg 58-61). The realist novel, far from creating an unalienated mode of writing, has become the 'sign of Literature' for both bourgeois and anti-bourgeois culture. ... Thus, a mode of writing that was created initially in an attempt to move beyond literary conventions towards an accurate representation of the social world, ends by establishing tenacious codes and conventions for the creation of the illusion of reality.

Roland Barthes, Graham Allen