Jacques Maritain Center: Ethics Without God?

«Lire les mystiques sans Dieu»: Interpersonal Communication, Mystical Language, and God, in the Late Roland Barthes

Monday, July 14
Afternoon session
Marco Maggi

The recent publication (November 2002) of the first two cycles of lectures that Roland Barthes (1915-1980) gave at the Collège de France (Comment vivre ensemble, 1976-7; Le Neutre, 1977-8) sheds new light on the project in social ethics that he was developing at the end of his life. In the first part of this paper, focusing mainly on these lectures, I want to show that Barthes's attempt to escape the denial of human freedom implied by the analysis of language of the radical version of saussurian codicocentrism, which Barthes himself gradually adopted, lead him to an account of non-alienated forms of interpersonal communication in terms of mystical language. According to Barthes, this mystique, which is meant to save human communication from its alienated forms, can only be a mystique without God, but it is powerless before the silence of death. In the second part of the paper, I will focus on Barthes's account of authentic interpersonal communication by analyzing some passages from his last book, La Chambre claire: Note sur la photographie (1980).