Barthes: “Textual Analysis”

In his essay “Textual Analysis: Poe’s ‘Valdemar'” Roland Barthes proposes a method of textual analysis which breaks up the structure of a text and analyzes the plurality of meanings that emerge from these separate “lexias” as well as their combined meaning and demonstrates this method in his textual analysis of Edgar Poe’s narrative ‘Valdemar’.

Barthes begins his essay by providing a definition of “textual analysis” by stating what it is, and what it isn’t, “Textual analysis does not try to describe the structure of a work… but rather of producing a mobile structuration of the text…Textual analysis does not try to find out what it is that determines a text…but rather how the text explodes and disperses” (151). Barthes also differentiates textual analysis from structural analysis in that the latter is applied strictly to oral narratives and the former to written works. Barthes then goes on to deliver a four-point outline of his proposed method of textual analysis. First Barthes proposes to divide the text into small chunks which he refers to as “lexias.” Second, the connotative meaning of each lexia is to be determined, meaning which does not rely strictly on grammar and definitions but on secondary meaning. Third, Barthes argues for a chronological reading, “…only this reading will be, in some measure, filmed in slow-motion” (153). The fourth and final point in Barthes’ textual analysis is that it is acceptable to “forget” some meanings, as “…the important thing is to show departures of meaning, not arrivals…” (153). Barthes goes on to utilize his method of textual analysis to analyze Poe’s narrative “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar,” ending his essay by demonstrating the plurality of meanings “…without one’s being able to choose which is the ‘true’ one…” (171).

I was intrigued by Barthes final sentences, “Undecidability is not a weakness, but a structural condition of narration…Writing is precisely this loss of origin, this loss of ‘motives’ to the profit of a volume of indeterminations or over-determinations” (171). These few sentences seemed very much like Derrida’s essay we read a few weeks ago, especially in relation to “play” and toying with the structure and meaning of language. The final sentence of his essay is also very interesting and very much in line with Barthe’s earlier essay “The Death of the Author.” “Writing comes along very precisely at the point where speech stops, that is from the moment one can no longer locate who is speaking and one simply notes that speaking has started” (171). I feel that this sentence very elegantly depicts Barthes’ views and his argument in this essay.

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