There’s an alternate timeline where I figured out in high school how fascinating brains are, didn’t fuck around with an English major but studied biology as an undergraduate, didn’t fuck around like a drunk mess figuring my shit out for ten years after college but went right on to become a neurologist.
There’s another alternate timeline where I was an English major, but when we read Mythologies, I took it as a cue to look deeper into Barthes, went to grad school to study Barthes after finishing my undergraduate degree, and grew up to be an authority on the life and work of ol’ Roland.
I’m not mad at my life though, and anyway, I had to spend my time as an undergraduate and then through most of my twenties being a drunk mess, falling over and flailing while I figured out not only that I was trans but how to be trans in the world. ‘Cause that is the world we live in.
That said, I’m traveling for a week, so I went and blew the last thirty dollars of the gift certificate Alex’s mom gave me for Christmas at the Smith Family Bookstore in Eugene, which is a fantastic bookstore that I love. I got The Half-Made World by Felix Gilman, John Henry Days by Colson Whitehead (which reminds me- I need to tell you about The Intuitionist, which I just finished!), and The Fashion System, by Roland Barthes.
I just find Barthes so fucking charming! Even when he drops, in the introduction, the oldest trick in the literary theory book: the old “everything you’re about to read doesn’t count.” From the introduction:
This venture, it must be admitted, is already dated. While writing his book, the author was unacquainted with certain important works that have appeared subsequently; participating in a world where reflection on meaning develops, deepens, and divides very rapidly in several directions at once, benefiting from all the speculation surrounding him, the author himselg has changed. Does this mean that at the time of publishing this work- belatedly- he cannot acknowledge it as his own? Not at all (if so, he would not publish it); but beyond a literal response, what is proposed here is already a certain history of semiology; in relation to the new intellectual art now being sketched out, this book forms a kind of slightly naïve window through which may be discerned, I hope, not the certainties of a doctrine, nor even the unvarying conclusions of an investigation, but rather the beliefs, the temptations, and the trials of an apprenticeship: wherein its meaning; hence, perhaps, its use.
I don’t know why it’s charming when Barthes does it, but I love it. Expect quotes from this here on ye olde keep your bridges burning. Also check this out, it looks like in 2006 somebody retranslated the title as The Language of Fashion and replaced the grownup lookin oatmeal cover with boring calligraphy on it with some legitimately attractive faces and colors! I wonder if that cover suckered anybody into buying a bunch of French semiology from 1963 when they thought they were getting… I don’t even know. A story about pretty ladies?