The Pleasure of the Text
Cover of the first edition
|Original title||Le Plaisir du Texte|
|Publisher||Éditions du Seuil|
The Pleasure of the Text was written in French and later translated into English. Barthes sets out some of his ideas about literary theory. He divides the effects of texts into two: plaisir ("pleasure") and jouissance, translated as "bliss" but the French word also carries the meaning of "orgasm".
The distinction corresponds to a further distinction Barthes makes between texte lisible and texte scriptible, translated respectively as "readerly" and "writerly" texts (a more literal translation would be "readable" and "writable"). Scriptible is a neologism in French. The pleasure of the text corresponds to the readerly text, which does not challenge the reader's position as a subject. The writerly text provides bliss, which explodes literary codes and allows the reader to break out of his or her subject position.
The "readerly" and the "writerly" texts were identified and explained in Barthes' S/Z. Barthes argues that "writerly" texts are more important than "readerly" ones because he sees the text's unity as forever being re-established by its composition, the codes that form and constantly slide around within the text. The reader of a readerly text is largely passive, whereas the person who engages with a writerly text has to make an active effort, and even to re-enact the actions of the writer himself. The different codes (hermeneutic, action, symbolic, semic, and historical) that Barthes defines in S/Z inform and reinforce one another, making for an open text that is indeterminant precisely because it can always be written anew.
As such, although one may experience pleasure in the readerly text, it is when one sees the text from the writerly point of view that the experience is blissful.
Few writers in cultural studies and the social sciences have used and developed the distinctions that Barthes makes. The British sociologist of education Stephen Ball has argued that the National Curriculum in England and Wales is a writerly text, by which he means that schools, teachers and pupils have a certain amount of scope to reinterpret and develop it.
Comments on Translation
Richard Miller's English translation of the text bears some scrutiny, as there are several instances where the translation almost subverts the meaning of the text as it reads in French. For instance, Miller translates the French term "romanesque" into English as "novelistic". This translation decision subverts the meaning of the French term, as the term romanesque invokes a reference to the Nouveau roman, a mid-20th century literary genre known for rejecting the established conventions of literature including the form, function and style of the novel as it came to be understood from the 19th through the earlier half of the 20th century.