Barthes, Roland Mourning Diary

ISBN 13: 9780374533113

Mourning Diary

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9780374533113: Mourning Diary
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"In the sentence ‘She's no longer suffering,' to what, to whom does ‘she' refer? What does that present tense mean?" ―Roland Barthes, from his diary

The day after his mother's death in October 1977, Roland Barthes began a diary of mourning. For nearly two years, the legendary French theorist wrote about a solitude new to him; about the ebb and flow of sadness; about the slow pace of mourning, and life reclaimed through writing. Named a Top 10 Book of 2010 by The New York Times and one of the Best Books of 2010 by Slate and The Times Literary Supplement, Mourning Diary is a major discovery in Roland Barthes's work: a skeleton key to the themes he tackled throughout his life, as well as a unique study of grief―intimate, deeply moving, and universal.

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About the Author:

Roland Barthes (1915-1980) was a French cultural and literary critic, whose clever and lyrical writings on semiotics made structuralism one of the leading movements of the twentieth century. Barthes had a cult following and published seventeen books, including Camera Lucida, Mythologies, and A Lover's Discourse.

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MOURNING DIARY
October 26, 1977–June 21, 1978
  October 26, 1977
First wedding night.But first mourning night?  October 27
—You have never known a Woman’s body!—I have known the body of my mother, sick and then dying.  October 27
Every morning, around 6:30, in the darkness outside, the metallic racket of the garbage cans.She would say with relief: the night is finally over (she suffered during the night, alone, a cruel business).  As soon as someone dies, frenzied construction of the future (shifting furniture, etc.): futuromania.  October 27
Who knows? Maybe something valuable in these notes?  October 27
—SS: I’ll take care of you, I’ll prescribe some calm.—RH: You’ve been depressed for six months because you knew. Bereavement, depression, work, etc.—But said discreetly, as always.Irritation. No, bereavement (depression) is different from sickness. What should I be cured of? To find what condition, what life? If someone is to be born, that person will not be blank, but a moral being, a subject of value—not of integration.  October 27
Immortality. I’ve never understood that strange, Pyrrhonic position; I just don’t know.  October 27
Everyone guesses—I feel this—the degree of a bereavement’s intensity. But it’s impossible (meaningless, contradictory signs) to measure how much someone is afflicted.  October 27
—“Never again, never again!”—And yet there’s a contradiction: “never again” isn’t eternal, since you yourself will die one day.“Never again” is the expression of an immortal.  October 27
Overcrowded gathering. Inevitable, increasing futility. I think of her, in the next room. Everything collapses.It is, here, the formal beginning of the big, long bereavement.For the first time in two days, the acceptable notion of my own death.  October 28
Bringing maman’s body from Paris to Urt (with JL and the undertaker): stopping for lunch in a tiny trucker’s dive, at Sorigny (after Tours). The undertaker meets a “colleague” there (taking a body to Haute-Vienne) and joins him for lunch. I walk a few steps with Jean-Louis on one side of the square (with its hideous monument to the dead), bare ground, the smell of rain, the sticks. And yet, something like a savor of life (because of the sweet smell of the rain), the very first discharge, like a momentary palpitation.  October 29
How strange: her voice, which I knew so well, and which is said to be the very texture of memory (“the dear inflection . . .”), I no longer hear. Like a localized deafness . . .  October 29
In the sentence “She’s no longer suffering,” to what, to whom does “she” refer? What does that present tense mean?  October 29
A stupefying, though not distressing notion—that she has not been “everything” for me. If she had, I wouldn’t have written my work. Since I’ve been taking care of her, the last six months in fact, she was “everything” for me, and I’ve completely forgotten that I’d written. I was no longer anything but desperately hers. Before, she had made herself transparent so that I could write.  October 29
In taking these notes, I’m trusting myself to the banality that is in me.  October 29
The desires I had before her death (while she was sick) can no longer be fulfilled, for that would mean it is her death that allows me to fulfill them—her death might be a liberation in some sense with regard to my desires. But her death has changed me, I no longer desire what I used to desire. I must wait—supposing that such a thing could happen—for a new desire to form, a desire following her death.  October 29
The measurement of mourning.(Dictionary, Memorandum): eighteen months for mourning a father, a mother.  October 30
At Urt: sad, gentle, deep (relaxed).  October 30
. . . that this death fails to destroy me altogether means that I want to live wildly, madly, and that therefore the fear of my own death is always there, not displaced by a single inch.  October 30
Many others still love me, but from now on my death would kill no one.—which is what’s new.(But Michel?)  October 31
I don’t want to talk about it, for fear of making literature out of it—or without being sure of not doing so—although as a matter of fact literature originates within these truths.  October 31
Monday, 3:00 p.m.—Back alone for the first time in the apartment. How am I going to manage to live here all alone? And at the same time, it’s clear there’s no other place.  October 31
Part of me keeps a sort of despairing vigil; and at the same time another part struggles to put my most trivial affairs into some kind of order. I experience this as a sickness.  October 31
Sometimes, very briefly, a blank moment—a kind of numbness—which is not a moment of forgetfulness. This terrifies me.  October 31
A strange new acuity, seeing (in the street) people’s ugliness or their beauty.  November 1
What affects me most powerfully: mourning in layers—a kind of sclerosis.[Which means: no depth. Layers of surface—or rather, each layer: a totality. Units]  November 1
Moments when I’m “distracted” (speaking, even having to joke)—and somehow going dry—followed by sudden cruel passages of feeling, to the point of tears.Indeterminacy of the senses: one could just as well say that I have no feelings or that I’m given over to a sort of external, feminine (“superficial”) emotivity, contrary to the serious image of “true” grief—or else that I’m deeply hopeless, struggling to hide it, not to darken everything around me, but at certain moments not able to stand it any longer and “collapsing.”  November 2
What’s remarkable about these notes is a devastated subject being the victim of presence of mind.  November 2
(Evening with Marco)I know now that my mourning will be chaotic.  November 3
On the one hand, she wants everything, total mourning, its absolute (but then it’s not her, it’s I who is investing her with the demand for such a thing). And on the other (being then truly herself), she offers me lightness, life, as if she were still saying: “but go on, go out, have a good time . . .”  November 4
The idea, the sensation I had this morning, of the offer of lightness in mourning, Eric tells me today he’s just reread it in Proust (the grandmother’s offer to the narrator).  November 4
Last night, for the first time, dreamed of her; she was lying down, but not ill, in her pink Uniprix nightgown . . .  November 4
Today, around 5:00 in the afternoon, everything is just about settled: a definitive solitude, having no other conclusion but my own death.Lump in my throat. My distress results in making a cup of tea, starting to write a letter, putting something away—as if, horribly enough, I enjoyed the now quite orderly apartment, “all to myself,” but this enjoyment adheres to my despair.All of which defines the lapse of any sort of work.  November 4
Around 6 p.m.: the apartment is warm, clean, well-lit, pleasant. I make it that way, energetically, devotedly (enjoying it bitterly): henceforth and forever I am my own mother.  November 5
Sad afternoon. Shopping. Purchase (frivolity) of a tea cake at the bakery. Taking care of the customer ahead of me, the girl behind the counter says Voilà. The expression I used when I brought maman something, when I was taking care of her. Once, toward the end, half-conscious, she repeated, faintly, Voilà (I’m here, a word we used to each other all our lives).The word spoken by the girl at the bakery brought tears to my eyes. I kept on crying quite a while back in the silent apartment.That’s how I can grasp my mourning.Not directly in solitude, empirically, etc.; I seem to have a kind of ease, of control that makes people think I’m suffering less ...

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