Barthes: Ideas Circulate

“There’s never really any originality. We live in a sort of large-scale exchange, a sort of grand intertext. Ideas circulate and languages too. In the end, the only thing we can do—and claim it as our own—is to combine them. That’s more or less how I see things. But you don’t create an idea—it’s there, it’s like a sort of major transaction in a large-scale economy. Ideas circulate and, at a certain point, you stop them, arrange them and edit them, a little bit the way they do in films, and that produces a work.”

Roland Barthes, ‘Simply a Particular Contemporary’, (trans. Chris Turner)

15 thoughts on “Barthes: Ideas Circulate

    • Those were the frames of reference available to Barthes.

      I tend to the opinion that there are orders of creation. At the highest order, when form and content find a “total” fusion—arguably only possible in music—are, say, the late Beethoven quartets. Writing, painting (and mathematics?) have their own order from, in literature, the magnificence of Woolf or Kafka down to more mediocre ephemera (like the fatuous Opinions of this blogger!)


        • Does it matter whether I agree? I found it a passage worthy of reflection, as were the comments generated.

          What do you mean by ‘originality’? If the question is whether I think it possible to provide fresh or novel insight into the human condition, then I would say a definite Yes. Do I believe it is possible to form ideas ex nihilo, then I think the answer is No. Every idea is shaped by its sociocultural system. There is too much ambiguity in how we use these English words.


          • Fair point sir. Sorry if I seem overly critical, I’m only exercised about it because it’s a bit of bugbear of mine. I think the attitude that quote sums up has had bad effects. Puts everything in quotation marks. I’ve seen a lot of young people who don’t feel they can create anything because of that.


          • I can imagine and understand the frustration. For what it’s worth, I don’t think Barthes was espousing the ‘every text is a pretext’ Derridean concept, nor do I think Derrida meant his wordplay to be interpreted in the way that second-rate postmodern critics favour. Thanks for taking time to comment.


  1. What did ‘it’ accomplish? For better of worse ‘it’ reshaped notions of “truth”; reshaped notions of “discourse”; reshaped the existence of the “margin(al)”, allowing this space to infiltrate the mainstream. Of course this was not all down to “French ‘theory'” but it remains astonishing the way in which this band of “theorists” succeeded in inserting themselves into both left and right wing academic and socio-political thinking, punching far above their apparent weight.


  2. Pingback: Barthes: Ideas Circulate — Time’s Flow Stemmed – Naked Cities Journal

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