ROLAND BARTHES “To the Seminar”
Where should I begin with this wonderful reading? I have thoroughly enjoyed the winding, twisty and metaphoric nature of this text. Deciphering Barthes’ cadence and the resolution of his ideas was a challenge, but a welcomed one. This text certainly reminds me of one of his other great works, in my opinion, “The Death of the Author”. In that 1967 essay Barthes espouses the separation of the writing and the creator (author). He argues that they are unrelated in nature, and points further more at the seemingly tidy and convenient nature of criticism that uses the history of the author as pretext or explanation as being actually sloppy and flawed. “To give a text an Author is to impose a limit on that text.”(Barthes, 1967) What Barthes posits in that groundbreaking work can be applied in the understanding of this seminal essay “To the Seminar”.
Upon reading “To the Seminar” I was left with more questions than answers. I guess that was really the aim of the piece. Barthes aimed his text, at the destruction and renewal of not only the physical space of the Seminar, but more over the psychological and virtual space that we share. This space and what happens here is merely fleeting and is renew as we the participants move from body to body within the mechanism of the seminar. “Knowledge, like delight, dies with each body.” (Barthes)
I believe that words of this nature truly speak to the cyclical nature, the circle, that occurs within these communities (learning or other). These lived worlds eventually become shared realities. Their relation/relationships or situatedness, which happens between student and teacher, as participants of in the Seminar are also freed or limited by the cycle/circle/chain. Once the teacher now becomes the student and the cycle begins all over again. I see this freedom from the crushing obligation of social reproduction in the form of Authentic Knowledge and Authorship of truth with a capital “T”. So, Knowledge, like delight, dies with each body.” It must! What does this mean and does this have to happen?
If the seminar is guided by; Three Spaces (institutional, transferential, textural), Disappointment, Morality, Conversation (discourse), Giddiness, Practice, The Chain, Knowledge, Death and so on, we must understand that there are poles (polarities) that exist in this space. These checks and balances have extremes. Knowledge cannot exist without the question. Abstract cannot exist without concrete, nor author without reader.
With each new cycle/switch/change must come a diminishing/or death of the last body of knowledge in order to acquire the new on. Like delight, pain must visit in order to create perspective for pleasure’s sake. It must create a vacancy for understanding.
This is all very similar to “Death of the Author.” As teacher/student/participant in the “The Seminar” we must remove ourselves from control of… and be part of…learn from and through Different Bodies outside of official/authentic knowledge (books, school, power relationships, apprenticeship relations).
Do we, or should we embrace difference, otherness? If so, are we welcoming conflict? Barthes would say.. “Difference means –what? That each relation, gradually (it takes time), is made original: discovers the originality of bodies taken one by one, breaks off the reproduction of roles, the repetition of discourses, counters any staging of prestige, of rivalry.” “Difference is not conflict.”
So then, what is my place amid the space of the seminar? Am I the one whose role it is to be the first to become original? This is a serious question that I must, and believe we all should by proxy, should ask myself. Is it my goal to embrace, or question difference/otherness in and around my lived world? Is this the purpose of the seminar? Should it be a studio environment in which I am constantly working on my perception of the world outside? Should it be a peaceful place in which no traces of the outside world exist? I would disagree with that. The seminar should be a place that is reflexive of the world around it. It should be by the inclusive nature of it, a reflection of the world in which the participants exist.
The seminar is a space of differences. So should this space seek out difference, welcome it? If the seminar is a text according to Barthes “Desiring the text, of putting in circulation a desire for the text.” Should the seminar be a place that centered on human flourishing and enlightenment? I believe and would like to believe that it is that place. I tend to err on the side of process over product, and that abstract notion is exactly why the seminar is a highly disputed area. The seminar is a nebulous area of delight that continually renews itself through question and contradiction. Its inclusive nature means that the identity is constantly changing amid the make up of its population, which is ever expanding to complete the cycle of change. In this space teacher becomes student as more experiences allow for transferential moments. The texture of the space then changes, it becomes soft one moment, sharp another. The seminar is a text. This text as Barthes would say “…are not products but practices; it might even be said that the “glorious” text will someday be a pure practice. Within this space nothing is judged (disparaged, praised), none prevails over its neighbors.” Within the space of the seminar we find disappointment, it is a space of disappointment, which helps navigate the negotiation that happens within the space. None are completely satisfied at the result.
These questions should help guide our experience in the seminar. Why must we always place intelligence in opposition to the warmth of the heart???? Why must inclusion be in opposition to learning? Are outcomes and process intertwined? Should we weary of teaching, apprenticeship and mothering in our education experiences? Are they bad elements to have in the mix of interchange?
This list of questions are what populate my mind’s eye as I continually work and rework the material that is contained in this, what I believe to be a critical essay of sorts. Roland Barthes was, I am sure, many things during his life and career. To me he is a very intelligent and inquisitive person that isn’t satisfied with the normal answers. I find that I am drawn to his dialectic and would be honor to one day be able to replicate him in style, rather than content. I wrestle with similar questions about culture and society, and the place of interchange/sharing/communication in the progressive nature of our existence.
The portion of the text that really got me thinking, rather laughing out loud in my apartment at 2:00am was this line from Barthes, “…reason is never anything but the sum total of reasonable people, research is never anything but the sum total of people who, in fact, search.” I will continue to search with others to answers to my own questions on life, death, and love. I endeavor to never be manacled by the limits of reason, or by reasonable people. I will continue to let knowledge, like delight, die with each new body.