THE FRIENDSHIP OF ROLAND BARTHES
Translated by Andrew Brown
One of the few individuals to hold Barthes's attention unconditionally was Philippe Sollers, a close friend twenty years his junior, an editor
and a renowned writer in his own right. Sollers published L'Amitié de Roland Barthes as his contribution to the centenary and Andrew Brown has now translated it into English. The book brings together Sollers's various writings on Barthes alongside some of the letters Barthes sent him over the course of their friendship. Like Badmington's book, Sollers's slim volume is steeped in affection, but this affection is mirrored by mourning. "The death of RB
on 26 March 1980 came as a terrible shock to
me", he writes,
"and it's still with me, it just won't go away."
Their friendship began in the 1960s, bounded by a shared vision of how literature should be written and read. They established themselves as an intellectual duo, defending each other in public whenever scandal struck. "Scandal", that is, in French intellectual terms: the feuds that follow an unorthodox claim or subversive idea. After the
"Picard Affair", for example, when Barthes was accused of "fraud" for his unashamedly subjective reading of Racine, Sollers says Barthes realized he needed a publisher who "didn't give a damn . . . and the publisher was me".
The pair also wrote in depth about the other's work. In 1971, Sollers published R.B. in Tel Quel, the magazine he founded and that was responsible for bringing Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida to a wider readership. For
Sollers, it was the search to discover, in Barthes's own words,
"how meaning is possible, at what price and by what means", that defined his character. Boredom, it seems, really was one of Barthes's defining traits. Sollers's incisive conversation was cherished for keeping it at bay (except during the visit to China: Sollers's passage on the trip is called "Chinese Torture"). In one of the letters, Barthes calls
Sollers his "great stimulating Drug".
The Times Literary Supplement, September 26, 2017