It won’t have escaped the notice of the most casual of visitors to the Ramblings that I’ve written quite a lot about Roland Barthes over the last few years…! I’ve read several of his major works, but I’m often attracted to more marginal writings; so when I stumbled across mention of today’s book I couldn’t resist. “Incidents”, translated by Teresa Lavender Fagan and published by Seagull books, draws together four essays and was originally first published shortly after Barthes’ untimely death. These are more personal works than might be usually expected from such a theorist, although of course he did write the extremely personal “Mourning Diary“. As the jacket of “Incidents” states, Barthes was wary of keeping a journal just with a view to having it published; however, these are diary-like experiments and they’re all very different and all quite fascinating.

The first section of the book is a fairly straightforward work called “The Light of the South West“. It’s something of a paean to an area of France from which the author came and loved very much and this comes through in his lyrical prose. The second piece, “Incidents“, give its title to the collection and this is very different to the first. In this, Barthes records his experiences on a visit to Morocco; the structure is fragmentary, much like “Mourning Diary”, and this is a very personal work as it reveals the author paying men and boys for sex.

Isn’t the great material of modern art today, of daily art, light? In ordinary theatres, the light originates at a distance, directed onto the stage. At Le Palace, the entire theatre is the stage; the light takes all the space there, inside of which it is alive and plays like one of the actors: an intelligent laser, with a complicated and refined mind, like an exhibitor of abstract figurines, it produces enigmatic shapes, with abrupt changes: circles, rectangles, ellipses, lines, ropes, galaxies, twists.

Next up is an essay entitled “At Le Palace Tonight…” in which Barthes gives his impression of a then-fashionable theatre-house in Pars; it’s a remarkably evocative piece, capturing Parisians out and about and enjoying themselves, thought interestingly Barthes comes across as very much an observer rather than a participant. Finally, there’s “Evenings in Paris“, a series of journal entries recording Barthes’ experiences as an older gay man in Paris; again, there’s very much a sense of him feeling like an outsider, and more often than not he ends up at home alone, listening to the radio.

“Incidents” is a fascinating book, and it was published posthumously by Barthes’ literary executor; part of me wonders what the author would have thought about that? As far as I’m aware he kept his private side to himself during his lifetime, and “Mourning Diary”” was also published long after his death. I suppose you could argue that if an author writes *anything* he’s expecting it to be published at some point; and if we argued with that we wouldn’t have Kafka!

However, I found this a fascinating and atmospheric read, and one which shone a new personal light on Roland Barthes. In many ways, he seems to have been a solitary, melancholy man, possibly because he apparently never publicy acknowledged his homosexuality during his lifetime. His more complex works are fascinating, often difficult though always rewarding; however, these fragments of his personal writings are beautiful and haunting, ranging from his romantic attractions to his love of the writings of Chateaubriand.

“Incidents” is published by Seagull Books, and they’ve accompanied this edition with photographs by Bishan Samaddar. They’re fine photographs in their own right, but I have to be honest and say that for me, they didn’t really sit that comfortably with the text; and in fact at times they seemed to be at odds with it so that I was pretty much ignoring them by the end of the book. That aside, however, I found this a thought-provoking read; a glimpse at the man behind the theories; and I’m happy to recall that I have another five volumes of Barthes translations from Seagull lurking on the shelves! Maybe they can be a summer project… ;D