Roland Barthes and The Preparation of the Novel

'How does a novel persuade itself into completion?'
Roland Barthes
David Winters reviews Roland Barthes' The Preparation of the Novel for 3:AM Magazine:
As Raymond Federman once wrote, ‘everybody is writing a novel these days,’ even if, and perhaps because, ‘nobody knows why.’ We live in a world where the wish to write, or, more often, to have written, speaks only of some other, inner wish, whose sense is left unspoken. The novel, real or projected, achieved or abandoned, exists in the mind of its writer less as a literary object than as a wish underwritten by other wishes. In this sense, The Preparation of the Novel takes the measure not of a set of texts, but of a nested structure of desires.

‘By the end of the 1970s,’ writes Kate Briggs in her preface to these lectures, ‘apparently “everyone knew” that Roland Barthes was writing a novel.’ Yet at the time of his death in 1980, Barthes had barely begun to plan his “Vita Nova”; the book remained a sketched hypothesis. This volume, comprising his third and final set of lectures at the Collège de France, could be said to plot the gulf between the project’s, any project’s, intention — its biographical or existential coordinates, conceived as a dense network of points — and its terminus as a felt form, whether fully grown or aborted, or both at once.

‘Will I really write a Novel?’ Barthes enquires at the outset of the course. ‘I’ll answer this and only this. I’ll proceed as if I were going to write one.’ He will prepare as if preparation were an end in itself, inhabiting the mad fantasy of a writing that falls short of its own composition, ‘pushing that fantasy as far as it will go.’ Only then will he breach or break, or get broken into, the recognition (kenshō) that writing is nothing but its wants and longings, that ‘the product is indistinguishable from the production, the practice from the drive.’ This is the reason why he must preserve the indeterminacy of each of the terms in his title. He speaks of a preparation that is neither ‘of’ nor ‘for’ a novel, and of a novel that is not a novel, nor a set of notes for a novel never to be written. [Read More]

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