Roland Barthes (1915–1980)
French literary theorist and cultural critic. Born in the French town of Cherbourg, Barthes grew up in Normandy and later Paris. Despite showing great promise as a student of French literature and the classics, he suffered from ill health that hampered his education and made him something of an outsider in academia. His best-known essay, “The Death of the Author” (1968), draws upon the intellectual currents of his day—existentialism, Marxism, semiology, and structuralism, for example—to assert that literary texts exist outside authorial intention or control; thus readers, not writers, create meaning. Barthes’s fiercely anti-bourgeois views on modern society and literature—developed in essay collections such as Mythologies (1957) and S/Z (1970)—were controversial when first published, but his methods have greatly informed those employed by contemporary cultural critics. See also egs.edu/library/roland-barthes/biography.