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"An inert and neutral state of form": zero-degree writing, photography, and early prose narrative in French

Gilbert, J; (2021) "An inert and neutral state of form": zero-degree writing, photography, and early prose narrative in French. Exemplaria , 33 (3) 234- -249. 10.1080/10412573.2021.1965431. Green open access

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Abstract

Part of my project on literary form in translation, this article stages a dialogue between, on the one hand, the formal and stylistic qualities of medieval literary French prose in the first half-century of its practice, and, on the other, Roland Barthes’s essays on zero-degree writing and on photography. French literary prose, which came to the fore suddenly around 1200 ce, presents itself as an impoverished form of writing lacking the vividness and drama of the well-established verse narration. Why, then, did it enjoy international success? The same question may be asked of early photography, self-evidently so much poorer than painting. Barthes helps us to see how a deliberate “loss of color” helps to generate a new vision of the world — which, for early French prose, was linked to the idealism and violence of crusading. Conversely, reading the utopian Le Degré zero de l’écriture and, especially, the melancholic La Chambre claire alongside medieval Grail romances helps us to see how the quest for an (envisaged or lost) ideal inspires both, and to understand the role of form and the impetus for renewal in Barthes’s final published essay.

Type: Article
Title: "An inert and neutral state of form": zero-degree writing, photography, and early prose narrative in French
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1080/10412573.2021.1965431
Publisher version: https://doi.org/10.1080/10412573.2021.1965431
Language: English
Additional information: © 2021 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/), which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, and is not altered, transformed, or built upon in any way.
Keywords: Roland Barthes; “prose turn”; early French prose; Grail romance; zero-degree writing/Degré zero de l’écriture; La Chambre Claire; colorlessness
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of Arts and Humanities
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of Arts and Humanities > SELCS
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10122073
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