This is a really fruity book about the sorts of ways that people enjoy things. Even though it is very short, I found it kind of interminable, mostly because the context that it represents is way more interesting to me than anything that it contains. That phase of history when all the French psychoanalysts were obsessing over realization. Barthes tosses out a snide dismissal early on of people who decry pleasure, a sort of holding in the mouth already of the ashes of the apocalypse,* that is sort of illustrative of the terms of this project. In particular, it’s very eurocentric. You can’t really be telling people to reify their potential by casting off restraints (which, ultimately, is what we’re after here, all books aside) if you’re seriously considering the condition of the (third/post-colonial/take your damn pick) world. The whole thing was a bit of a funny bubble, which is part of the reason why Lacan gets sidelined for Derrida and Foucault.**
Of course, Barthes knows better than this. The flagship (har har) metaphor of “Myth Today” shows that he’s attuned to the larger world and (as I was surprised to discover) Le Plaisir du texte was published in 1973. I guess what we can take away from that is that Barthes saw fit to live in something of a capsule (albeit one he ventured beyond ably and often) pretty much until his tragic demise. That’s probably an important part of his contribution to philosophy, although it’s also an angle people play when they try to label him a lightweight.
* This is a Derrida joke. You can bet your sweet ass we’ll be coming back to it when we cover Specters.
** 1) This is not a weigh-in on this fact.
2) I didn’t say it was this way, Slavoj did.***
*** In a way.