some memorable passages/quotes from This Little Art (Kate Briggs)

  • Perhaps there is one answer. One general answer, one very spare answer, the one most likely to be the most broadly true of anyone who has experienced the desire to write. That answer would be: I write because I have read. – p. 99
  • The effort to reach for the general in such a way as to neither reduce nor crush, in the hope that no one will feel reduced or crushed, and so in such a way as to make no promise of a final theory, no totalizing claim with respect to the shared questions that the lecture courses were, nevertheless, deeply invested in asking was, for Barthes, a way of trying, 'in one's teaching, to attenuate the power and the arrogance of language; to analyse dogmatism, and to try not to practice it oneself,'... – p. 113
  • The desire to write comes (is the feeling you get) from certain readings: the kind of reading that agitates you into making a trace of itself. Or to put it another way, and reaching a little further for an answer to his outrageous, unanswerable question, Barthes arrives at the following claim: 'to want to write is to want to rewrite', he says. And then: 'Every beautiful work, or even every work to make an impression, every impressive work, functions as a desired work, but I would say, and it's here that it starts to get interesting, that every work I read as desirable, even as I am desiring it, I experience as incomplete and somehow lost, because I didn't do it myself, and I have to in some way retrieve it by redoing it; in this way, to write is to want to rewrite: I want to add myself actively to that which is beautiful and that I lack; as we might put it with an old verb: that I require.' – . 115
  • Is this what closeness looks like?
    The lady translator, shouting vowels at her ceiling in preparation for speaking out loud, out of a concern to protect her reading relationship, to not have it publicly queried and thereby taken away from her. Out of an anxiety that the audience might very well find grounds to question her claim to familiarity, her sense of being spoken to by that work, from the instant they hear her speak, or fail to speak, of it.
    To speak, that is, of the late work of a critic, theorist and writer whose very last piece of writing, the one that was left on his desk on the day of the accident that led to his death, was titled: 'One Always Fails in Speaking of What One Loves.'
    Or, in an alternative translation: we always fail to speak of what we love.
    Or alternatively again: you (a general you that includes me, the you we use in English, sometimes, to embrace both you and me),
    you always fail to speak, when you speak of what you love. – p. 178
  • This is what writing is, says Barthes. I would say: this is what writing is. This is what the actual setting down of writing as distinct from the fantasy of writing is: a kind of catch or halt or temporary immobilization in the run of culture. – p. 191
  • The middle-class maiden's productivity, practising in her own private amateur mode, is of value because she represents – she both enacts and represents – one of the ways in which things get made to move, how forms travel, how they get tried out, passing from body to body, from the public sphere into private and back again. Reading Chassain's discussion, I am struck by a line he quotes from a very early review Barthes wrote of a chamber music concert: 'A society is beautiful only to the extent that there's a natural circulation between the works of great men and the intimate life of its individuals and its homes.' – p. 218
  • (of translation) – 'One can sit down at one's table every morning at the same hour, assured of giving birth to something. Of course, the quality and quantity of daily production can vary, but the nightmare of the blank page is, for its part, definitively exorcised...' – p. 252
  • (of creative liberties in translation) – ...I always seem to eventually come back round to thinking: the constraints on how far I can go, the limits on my making-up... the limits on doing what I want, are what interest me. – p. 253
  • According to Pye, a more productive set of criteria for evaluating the quality of workmanship – more productive that the commonly used 'good' and 'bad', 'precise' and 'rough' – would be 'soundness' and 'comeliness'. Soundness, he writes, implies 'the ability to transmit and resist forces', while comeliness 'the ability to give the aesthetic expression which the designer intended'. Or, indeed, 'to add to it'. He goes on: 'in some cases precision is necessary to soundness, but in many others it is not, and rough workmanship will do the job just as well. In some cases precision is necessary to the intended aesthetic expression but in others it is not and, on the contrary, rough workmanship is essential to it.' – p. 267
  • What I am calling 'technique, the technical' in writing, says Barthes, is basically the experience of writing itself... An experience, he claims, that is always 'moral and humble'. This is where technical and – to the extent that the technical aspects of writing are always directed towards, always aspiring to an aesthetic – aesthetic concerns intersect with the ethical aspects of writing...
    Moral, perhaps, in the sense that Barthes gives to 'modest', or 'non-arrogant'....
    I'm not identifying with the prestigious author of a monumental work of literature, says Barthes, I'm identifying with the writer-as-labourer – now tormented, now exalted, but in all events – modest – – p. 270
  • 'I did it because there is a residue: residue = nothing more to say than the fact itself: that which one can posit, state, say, tell: we enter the discourse of the anecdote.' – p. 334
  • The demand to come up with a new, unexpected – some unforeseen – variation, in light of these new circumstances, taking a measure of how things are – this demand, wrote Barthes, is the demand of literature. This is its 'precious indirection'. Indeed, 'it is only by submitting to its law that I may communicate what I mean with exactitude; in literature as in private communication, to be least "false" I must be most "original", or if you prefer, indirect.' – p. 356