Writing Degree Zero  

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"The Word, here, is encyclopaedic, it contains simultaneously all the acceptations from which a relational discourse might have required it to choose. It therefore achieves a state which is only possible in the dictionary or in poetry-places where the noun can live without its article-and is reduced to a sort of zero degree, pregnant with all past and future specifications." (Writing Degree Zero, p. 54)

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Writing Degree Zero (Original title: Le Degré zéro de l'écriture, 1953) is a book-length essay published by Roland Barthes, his first book, published by Seuil. It was released in English by Hill and Wang in 1968. Its current edition features a foreword by Susan Sontag and was translated by Annette Lavers and Colin Smith. It introduced the literary term écriture (sometimes translated as "scription") into Anglophone literary theory and was concerned with the sociology of literature and authorial intentionality in French literature. It championed "neutral, colorless mode of writing" of the nouveau roman (Evans) and identified the goals of the writings of Alain Robbe-Grillet and Michel Butor (Kirjasto).

An earlier version of the article had appeared in the journal Combat in 1947, but not much more than the title and a few lines of the introduction remained the same. Sartre's What Is Literature? constitutes the most immediate context for Barthes's first theoretical intervention.

From the publisher:

"In his first book, French critic Roland Barthes defines the complex nature of writing, as well as the social, historical, political, and personal forces responsible for the formal changes in writing from the classical period to recent times."

Roland Barthes determines in Writing Degree Zero that language and style are both matters that appeal to conventions, and are thus not purely creative. Rather, form, or what Barthes calls ‘écriture’, the specific way an individual chooses to manipulate conventions of style for a desired effect, is the unique and creative act. One’s form is vulnerable to becoming a convention once it has been made available to the public. This means that being creative is an ongoing process of continual change and reaction. He saw Albert Camus’s The Stranger as an ideal example of this notion for its sincere lack of any embellishment or flair.

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