Barthes on Barthes’ Scarf

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Christy Wampole ventures a reading of Roland Barthes' scarf à la Barthes.

The Barthes scarf is a particularly readable and mythological object: fragile, expensive, and thus to be handled with care, as he handled all of his objects of study. Perhaps silk is the best material with which to honor Barthes. It is a natural fiber, exuded by a living thing and thus containing something of this life within it; its history represents the encounter between East and West; and its invitation to touch puts it in the same category as human skin. The scarf holds its own significance. As a tool for veiling, it floats somewhere between the necessary and the ornamental, and it might remind us of the forgotten link between “text” and “textile.” The author’s text becomes textile, now meant to adorn a throat, to cloak a woman’s hair, to waft in the wind—in short, to become unreadable. The irony of all of this would surely not have been lost on Barthes.


I highly recommend you read the Barthesian texts Wampole mentions. You will have the same reactions. I did, at least. My dissertation title Second Empire of Signs: Modernism and the Arcades Project was a play on a Barthes book.

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