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Queer Moroccan Boys

Jacek Kornak

Queer Incidents

In this essay I analyse a fragment from Barthes' Incidents, a book that remained unpublished during his lifetime, and one that took many years to emerge even after his death. In France, these four short essays were published in 1987, and the English edition appeared in 1992. Incidents was written in the style of a diary and collects selected fragments, written in a very condensed and peculiarly poetic style. I believe that Barthes intentionally meant them to be published posthumously. They are too well prepared to be just personal notes. The title essay, Incidents, concerns Barthes' trip to Morocco, which took place more than 10 years before his death. Thus, even if they were based on notes that he made during this trip or if they are based on his memories of that time, these texts are not spontaneous in their form and content.

What strikes readers of Incidents is the style which blurs distinctions between fiction and diary, fiction and criticism or theory, and between personal and public. Barthes starts the title essay: "In Morocco, not long ago…" This beginning already suggests a kind of fairy-tale, but not a typical one as it takes place "not long ago" and the three dots take us readers into the fabulous oriental world of free sexuality:

"Driss A. doesn't know that sperm is called sperm — he calls it shit: "Watch out, the shit's going to come now": nothing more traumatizing.

Another boy, Slaui (Mohammed Gymnastique), says dryly and precisely: ejaculate: "Watch out, I'm going to ejaculate" (Barthes, 1992: 24).

As Carol Mavor says, "the posthumous Incidents can make you tingle with embarrassment and even sadness for its strangely materialized sexuality" (Mavor, 2007: 152).

In my opinion this comment characterises very well the entire book, and, in particular, these two sentences. Sexuality is brought to the fore with an intensity that was never before present in Barthes' writing. The sentences are almost aggressive in their lack of sublimation, of any sentimental language or even of any personal form. "Writing cannot avoid being a terrorist act," (Barthes, 1998: 253) said Barthes in one of the interviews. Incidents may be an example of such a terrorist act. There is also no atmosphere of a liberating semiotic discovery, which was present for instance in Empire of Signs. The ultimate mood of the book is marked by melancholia. There is also a strong feeling of nostalgia in the construction of Barthes as a character of his own book. This nostalgia is the effect of impossible attachments, which are nevertheless necessary for him to survive.

The two short sentences quoted above form one of the fragments of Incidents. The essay is divided into very short paragraphs, usually one or two sentences each. The narration is not linear yet in some way continual. In Incidents Barthes does not tell us a coherent story about his stay in Morocco. These are disconnected fragments that present selected images of Morocco. None of them seem to be really privileged or highlighted and none of them seem to be a necessary element for the story. They all are rather accidental.

"Incidents is a diary-like work in which the text reverberates with Proustian undertones juxtaposing Barthes's desire for affection with the exigencies of his libidinal drive. The book's title, Incidents, from the Latin, incidens or incidere, signifies to fall into or to fall upon or, derivatively, that which happens by chance. Barthes's text depicts the fatalistic encounter of sexuality and death, both as biological entities and in terms of the deathliness of drives. Accordingly, the peripatetic movement of Barthes's cruising in Incidents recalls Ross Chambers's notion of "loiterature" (an open-ended non-narrative form) for it is emblematic of the repetitive emptiness of these "soirées vaines" ("futile evenings") acted out in occluded public spaces" (Kritzman, 2001: 540).

This is how Kritzman characterizes Incidents, proposing that melancholia and death are the main tropes which animate the book. In some sense Incidents is a product of an 'I' destabilized by melancholia but this also an 'I' that is deeply intimate. But what kind of intimacy is it, and how does Barthes construct it?

A Moroccan opera

The fragment I choose to read is also accidental in a way. The story presented here is operatic (let us say that it would make a contemporary opera): a professor of semiotics temporarily teaching in Morocco is fascinated by Moroccan boys. He has sexual intercourse with them; and his fascination becomes even stronger because of the boys' incorrect use of the French language in sexual situations. The main character is so obsessed with his profession, being a professor of semiotics, that language is his main focus even while describing a sexual situation. The form of this fragment, as well as many other fragments in Incidents, appears to be hyperbolic. It is condensed, impersonal, almost lyrical in its lack of any sentimentality.

What eroticizes and intensifies the sexual situation is the particular use of language. It creates for readers the picture of an innocent savage. This is the typical motif: the boys do not know that sperm is called sperm; they act spontaneously; there is no sin of transcendental reflection. These boys seem to represent the recourse or immediate access to something unmediated, almost prelinguistic. As if they finally break the spell of language. Identity can be grasped only through language, and language also creates the community; therefore, for Barthes on a utopian level Moroccans might represent the promise of non-identity for the reason that in their use of language there is a lack of the signified. The relation between the words they use and their traditional denotation is not stable. They are on the edge of language, and this excites the narrator. They speak French but their French slips away from the common use of French. The language becomes flexible in their use of it, and they prove it by acts which correspond to the language: they fuck the narrator. And it is intelligible to readers; moreover they prove that they are sovereigns of the language, not the subjects of it.

The questions one might posit here are: is it already the emancipation of language or is it the moment when utopia starts? Knowing Barthes' irony, we might suspect the second one. Here the irony is built on several levels.

It is clearly a description of a sexual act but it is described with the focus on language, not deeds. It seems that language is strongly connected to sexual act. "Let us (if we can) imagine a society without language. Here is a man copulating with a woman a tergo, and using in the act a bit of wheat paste. On this level, no perversion" (Barthes, 1997: 156-7). For Barthes there is a particular link between not only language and sexuality but also the perversion. The orgasm in Incidents, Lacanian le petit mort, is intensified or possibly even achieved by the linguistic error. This is a very interesting narration, and contrary to many traditional representations of sex, in which sex might be described by the use of more and more words to express intensity. The intensity in modern narration is achieved by the multiplication of words, which aim to chase and catch something that is outside of themselves.

In Incidents, particularly in the first two essays about Barthes' childhood and about Morocco there is no ethical level. There is a utopian idyllic atmosphere. There are no choices made. Barthes' style oscillates around some kind of impressionism, but it radically changes in the last essay, which takes place in Paris before the death of Barthes. Then Barthes as a character of the essay resembles Don Giovanni, who is condemned, but still has the power to say 'no' to society. This schema of the plot in itself is almost a self-parody, and a reading via the trope of irony can bring us to more interesting conclusions.

Queer play between the narrator and the reader

The two sentences from Incidents are not simply an example of utopian sexuality; the irony involved makes them much more ambiguous. There is a distance between the voice of the narrator, which is quite dry and academic, and the intensity of the sentences. This clear dissonance between the narration and content of these sentences situates the readers in a peculiar position. It is difficult to fully identify with the text. The text presents itself as perverted, and the author as a fictional character is the one who can only fully enjoy the text. We cannot therefore identify with the picture, which is drawn but we can try to follow the narration.

In these two sentences the narration is told from the outside. It is a third person narration. No "I" is included in the picture. A reader might find this move uncanny, especially since this is a description of sex. One would rather expect something in this style: "I felt an immense pleasure when Driss A. entered me … after a while I just couldn't speak anymore, the pleasure was everything … it was as if time had stopped … Driss was continuing … I thought that any moment I would explode … at the end he made a linguistic joke about the French language." I have no experience as a fiction writer, so forgive me if this is not as visual a fragment as it could be; in any case I hope it gives a taste of what a traditional reader, based on 19th century novels, might expect from a description of sex with a Moroccan boy. In the entire scene the narration is in the passive form. In relation to the sex, the narrator seems to be an observer, in opposition to the author, who seems to be engaged in the situation. What is surprising is that the author is not the creator of meaning; he is a recipient of the meaning and its displacement: of the sperm which is called "the shit." The figure of the author as a passive recipient of meaning is very disturbing for the reason that at this point the confused reader does not know with whom to identify. Who will guide us and show us the center and draw the limits to the peripheries of meaning? The narration is not transparent and one cannot follow it. One can identify neither with the narrator nor with any of characters, but still there is some perverse pleasure of this, text although the source of this pleasure is not directly present in the picture.

The identity of a reader in a text is constructed via identification with a particular character, value or figure which subsequently becomes the center around which the interpretation is built up. This center guides a reader's reading and directs it. This is traditionally the condition of any transparency in literature. If the possibility of identification is undermined then arises a problem of relation between the reader and the text and between identity and its meaning. On the very level of discourse the narration violates its own possibility of signification.

A particular melancholia pervades the narration. The images seem to be very personal, very close, but the "I" is missing. Barthes gains a particular intimacy via this strategy. Through erasing a sentimental first person narrator, Barthes emphasises even more strongly the relationship between the narrator and the author. In this way, Barthes materializes the desire and the fantasy. D.A. Miller comments on this move: "Though he (Barthes) goes on regret not having a lyrical language at his command, his disposition — evoked lyrically enough, after all — has demonstrably more to do with restricted access to narrative" (Miller, 1992: 44). Barthes as a gay man writing about gay sex has limited possibilities of expression. His language falls into the dimension of perversion but Barthes as the author seems to affirm it.

The narrator as "I" who experiences being fucked by Moroccan boys is absent. The effect is not a lack but an excess, which brings readers back to the author, as if all this double hiding structure was aimed at showing that there is no narrator, but that Barthes himself would like to say: "Here I am, Roland Barthes, being fucked by Moroccan boys." The figure of the author is brought to us after the departure of the narrator from the plot and since we cannot identify fully with the text, we experience it as extremely unique and intense.

This double structure in the narration annihilates any possibility of depth as the subject/signifier in the text has very limited possibilities of relationship with any of the signified. The text does not allow infinite interpretation; on the contrary it undermines the very possibility of interpretation by breaking the lines of identifications between reader — text, author — narrator, and finally, author — text. "We are no longer confronted with an ontological problem of being but with the discursive strategy of the moment of interrogation, a moment in which the demand for identification becomes, primarily, a response to other questions of signification and desire, culture and politics" (Bhabha, 1994: 71). This is how Bhabha describes the problem of identity in relation to a play of signifiers in Barthes' work. He is commenting on earlier texts. But I find this quote very useful also in this context. The main question concerning these two sentences from Incidents would be: how is the author - signifier determined in relation to its identity?

The narrator is just dryly and precisely describing the linguistic peculiarities of sex with Moroccan boys. He is not engaged in the sexual act, but in the absence of other characters in this situation, it is the author who is the recipient of that displacement, of the sperm. It is this absence of the narrator in the situation described by him that suggests, in this case, that the main character is the author. This is very interesting for the reason that the author is presented as an accidental and undetermined figure in the text. This is the death of the author. The author becomes a fictional figure; he is an effect of the Text. It is possible to look at Incidents as a literary realization of Barthes' idea of The Death of the Author. He writes there: "We shall never know, for the good reason that writing is the destruction of every voice, of every point of origin" (Barthes, 1977: 142). Perhaps when Barthes got older he already knew what in that Nietzschean affirmative manifesto he claimed not to know. Therefore the difference between the manifesto and its realization is striking. The essay from 1967 is very positive. Barthes speaks of some kind of emancipation of the Text. He calls on us to reject God and his hypostasis. In 1979 when God is rejected, what is left are melancholic figures, fantasies, tropes. There is no center around which they can be organized, but there is a necessity to attach to them.

Moreover, the author's identity is not fixed. He can be reconstructed from the text but as a polysemic sign. He has no particular "I". One can read and reread the author, as I am doing now by substituting "I" to the concept of queer.1

In the fragment from Incidents Barthes does a great deal of interesting semiotic work. In fact, all traditional roles of the author, the narrator and the reader and their structures are questioned. The figure of the narrator linguistically explains the situation, the figure of the author is not a source of sense, but a passive recipient, and we as readers cannot find a clear way to read the text; consequently, our identity is also in question.

Queer liberation?

Nevertheless, this does not mean liberation of the text or the language. It is, rather, a final intensification of them, which affects their displacement. Sexuality is a product of the language but it overcomes it. I do not mean that Barthes would like to say via these two sentences: "Now look! I found the way to tell the truth, to express authentic sexuality." No, we are still in the realm of words, tropes and fantasies. The melancholic and condensed form of this fragment clearly suggests that these are Barthes' sexual fantasies. Also its operatic, exaggerated form seems to connect readers with fantasies about wild sexual Arabs, rather than with any real sexual experience which one could have in Morocco. Neverhteless, in Incidents Barthes constantly plays with the idea of authenticity.

There is a particular context in which perversion and sexuality are built in Incidents. What eroticizes and perverts the text are figures of excluded and marginalized characters: Moroccans, prostitutes, feminine Arab boys, poor people. The spectrum of characters is almost like that found in the Bible, with a difference that probably the poorest of them is the author. Contrary to the Bible, he is not a messiah. So where is this liberation expected by readers? There is no liberation. Still, homophobia is strongly present in Barthes' text. All the play with homosexuality as a signifier: present — absent — over-present is motivated by homophobia. It is not without significance that the one getting fucked is without a name in the text, even though the text suggests the author. The problem of the name was always important for Barthes. The name limits and oppresses but also gives an identity; it can also strip away subjectivity. The name can de-subjectivise a homosexual. In addition, the Moroccan boys have no proper names. It is either Driss A. or Mohammed Gymnastique (Driss or Slaui are common Moroccan names). Not only do these names hide something, they also produce meaningful excess. The very names eroticise and pervert Moroccans. It is not motivated textually, but the difference, which motivates these signifiers and intensifies them, is unspoken homophobia.

Another level of the difference is racial; Moroccans are represented in relation to the French intellectual. They are strongly eroticized for the very reason of the absence of Western reason in them. They are outside Western subjectivity. This hope for something natural and intense related to Moroccans is a result of racism. Racism makes them overly sexual and exclusively sexual. In the text, their identity is not questioned but it is produced in opposition to the hegemonic structure of Western reason represented by the author. Barthes makes it very strongly visible in these two sentences. Racism and homophobia are not erased from the picture through irony or other textual strategies; on the contrary, they are highly visible.

However, it is exactly at this point that we are confronted with one more displacement. Moroccans are sexualized, but it is not that they are available for Barthes. He is the one who is available for them. He wants to be an object of desire for them. He is the one who waits for this artificially called sperm to come. This is his body which is longing to be sexualized, to take the symbolic position of Moroccans, even if it is an impossible longing. This impossible longing may be the source of melancholia in this scene. The Moroccans became the source of a new potential meaning or at least the displacement of the existing meaning.


The very condition of the meaning construction of Incidents, and in particular the two sentences I chose, is French, or more generally Western colonialism. Morocco in the French imaginary embodies the romantic, oriental fantasy of natural, irrational and sexual Arabs. The French are superior to them, as in colonial discourse they embody order, civilization and limits. Andre Gide's If I Die is a good example of how French literature captures Morocco: it is a mixture of fascination and a feeling of superiority. This dynamic of desire seems to be rather typical in Barthes' text: the French intellectual is fascinated by wild, naive Arabs.

According to the tradition of colonialism, Western culture represented rationality. It had the voice, while the others were muted. As Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak claims in "Can the Subaltern Speak?" (1988), they were not understandable, not self-reflective and what follows they were also passive, without a voice and without a history.

Barthes' imaginary is clearly based on Rousseau and French colonialism. But there is a metonymic relation between Incidents and the fantasy which underlies it. The sentences I have highlighted show the limits of the fantasy, which is its condition. I would even say that the very signification of the colonial fantasy is turned against itself.

In relation to Moroccan boys Barthes is mute. He is the one who has no voice. He is the one who, as the narration suggests, is passive and, moreover, he is the one longing for the semiotic salvation, which can only come violently via disruption of Western semiotic codes by Moroccans. They are potent in opposition to Barthes who is a figure of the decline of Western reason or of its impotence. He cannot preach to them. They are the ones who possess the promise of a change to come.

The hierarchy itself is not destroyed but it is turned upside down. Barthes avoids utopia for the very reason that the colonial hierarchy is in place in the text, but at the same time the very hierarchy becomes a mode of its own transformation. I would suggest that this is a strongly political move, which traces the roots of colonial fantasy, brings them out in the form of sexuality and at the same time undermines them, not through negation but through showing their limits and possibilities of resignification.

Barthes' relation to the Moroccans in Incidents has two interesting political aspects. First, it is related more directly to Western colonial fantasies and to the possibility of their subversion. We can read Barthes' fragments as a dream, an impossible wish to become like Moroccans through the act of being fucked by them. He is fascinated by their naïveté, which allows them to be on the edge of language. It is a version of the traditional Western philosophical dream to overcome alienation. Barthes not only desires Moroccans, but in his fascination with their use of language we can see that he desires to be like them. It is a utopian dimension which is foreclosed for Barthes. Nevertheless on the level of fantasies it is meaningful. The very possibility of articulating such a dream is very political. Another political aspect is the undermining of the author's own agency, the agency of the Western intellectual. It seems that this agency is a construct that is not permanent and necessary but accidental and temporal; moreover it can be contested and subverted. Therefore, even if the promise of transgression, at the very moment when it is fantasized, is already denied to Barthes, it is still a politically potential transformational tool.

Queer textual politics

The subject, even if displaced, appears later. It reappears as an effect of language and in direct relation to the oppression in language. Derrida writes: "Writing is unthinkable without repression" (Derrida, 1978: 285). Barthes is very much aware of it. His performance of writing presents not only linguistic oppression of desire, but also shows its new possibilities in perversion. Desire here overcomes the transparency of meaning. It is not that desire has an ability to overcome the language. Language itself has elements which have the potential to displace meaning.

Barthes' writing, Incidents, is not just an interesting exercise of style. His engagement with language and figures, tropes, and narration is a deeply political task of rewriting sexuality. Perversion, which hyperbolically materializes sexuality and desire, is one of the ways to politicize sex. Sex becomes not a given fact — a signifier which is in a clear relationship to one signified but a site of contestation. Barthes proposes searching for alternative constellations and relationships between "I" and language, between identity and desire in language. It is not a theoretical task. In any case, from this perspective the distinction between theory - practice and theory - literature no longer exists. Barthes calls himself not a critic, but a novelist who writes novels without a story (Barthes, 1998: 262). He also said this before Incidents. In Incidents we can say there is a story that becomes a practice of theory, a story that is a practice of politics.

In 1972 Paul de Man called Barthes primarily a critic of literary ideology (de Man, 1993: 164). It might be true. De Man claims that the kind of writing represented by Barthes is utopian and naïve from several points of view. The liberation of a signifier is a romantic idea and Barthes' criticism falls into the trap of transcendentalism: claiming a privileged position in relation to the text. Such criticism is not able to understand its own discourse, and moreover, it does not take seriously enough either semiological structures or the contingency of ideology. De Man could be right if Barthes had not written Incidents. In Incidents Barthes does not have a privileged position regarding the text. He is a character created by the text, a character who does not liberate the text, but who himself is bound by the limitations of the signifier, which he becomes. Differences which structurally enable the text are not overcome. They are the conditions of texts and they can be brought out but not dismissed. These are: Western cultural hegemony (Barthes as a French professor in relation to Moroccans), racism (almost hyperbolic sexualization of Moroccans) and homophobia (nicknames of lovers and omission of his own name in the story).

The strong materialization of sex makes us, the readers, feel uncomfortable and delays the reference to the one that is being fucked in the story. The perversion in these two sentences is a threat to their transparency and, even further, to the rationality which would allow us to classify and fix the meaning in relation to the signifiers. In Incidents ideology is more of a contingent problem than in Barthes' earlier work.

Also, the relationship of the subject to the writing is radically decentered, not from the outside via criticism but immanently, in the very act of writing. The text is reorganized not only because the author is a passive recipient of meaning and not the source of it, but also because the truth of the text is not at stake anymore; it is replaced by the category of intensity. In Incidents we can also clearly see the break with Barthes' previous search for the neutrum. The two sentences under analysis seem to say: writing is never neutral. It is particularly visible in the case of sexuality. What does it mean for a man to be fucked? What does it mean for that body? How does it change its meaning? Why, finally, in Barthes' text is homosexuality never called by name but is materialized as perversion? Writing is always an act, a political act. This act seems to confirm the norms but at the same time it resists them from the inside. It redescribes the oppressions.

Barthes cites our racial imaginary about Moroccans, the fantasy which sexualizes their bodies. However, this citation fails to affirm this fantasy. There is something disturbing in the picture of a French professor being fucked by Moroccans. It is hard to point at immediately what it is, but it is not exactly the kind of description we would expect. This citation fails for the reason that in fact we do not know who is in the position of the subject in the text, even though we know who is speaking. The position of Western reason, the position of Barthes in Incidents, is questioned.

Queer intimacy

The sex described by Barthes in Incidents seems to be very impersonal: there is no "I". Nevertheless the intensity of the text gives a strong feeling of intimacy. The intimacy in these two sentences is at the core of the reader's attention. It is an intimacy that might even embarrass or irritate readers, and not only because the topic of these sentences is sex. The intimacy presented by Barthes does not suggest anything to us, does not give us any space for interpretation or any way to distance or defend ourselves from it. We, the readers, are taken immediately, without any mediation, into the heart of this intimacy. We are directly confronted with perversion and subsequently with homophobia and racism.

Intimacy was a topic of Barthes' writing from the end of the 1960s, and in some sense he might always have been writing about it. This is how Julia Kristeva (2000; 2002) reads him: "He seduces his reader by addressing something wholly intimate, that is, taste, and then makes a political incision" (Kristeva, 2002: 83). For Kristeva intimacy has quite a different meaning from the one presented in Incidents. What seduces her would not seduce us, the readers of Incidents. She refuses to discuss Incidents. She finds seductiveness in sublimation of sex and desire. And, of course, even from a queer point of view, one can easily read Barthes' work as a sublimation of homosexuality. Barthes writes about mass culture, fashion, his mother, Proust. What topics can be more gay than these? Kristeva gives us tools to code and decode the desire there. It can be interesting and even political, but I do not know how radical such a position is, especially considering the later Incidents. In Barthes' earlier texts we can find homophobia only in the form of highly sublimated Barthes' desire, which cannot be expressed in language. D.A. Miller (1992) focuses on this in his book. Sexuality is present dialectically, exactly as that which is unspoken, non-present. Barthes was therefore a 'decoder of intimacy' from the myths of everyday life artefacts. The attribute of that intimacy was artificiality, a kind of campy thing. Intertextual codes were very important for Barthes throughout most of his work. They had to be traced and revealed as in a detective story.

In this sense Incidents is not campy. There is no process of coding and decoding sexuality. It is candidly brought to us in the form of perversion. Also, sexuality is directly present, almost omnipresent. Only the language is more present. Therefore we cannot talk about sublimation in Incidents. Barthes does not talk about any cultural mythology; he does not analyze any expression of ideology in the spectacle of everyday life; he does not show the infinite play of signifiers. The two sentences rather reveal a moment when signifiers stop for a moment of intensity. There is no need for any decoding because sexuality here is more than explicit. There is no need for any interpretation or exegesis. The reader simply needs to enter the text. If there is anything that Barthes earlier called a mirage of citations, it is in the linguistic practice of homophobia and racism. These are the real intertextual codes of Incidents. These are the citations that language reproduces over and over again.

Intimacy here exists on several levels. It is not only the topic: sex that Barthes had with Moroccans. It is not only about the presentation of the situation itself. It is more about the search to connect with the other. Barthes seems to pose a question: how can the other really disturb my language/psyche? There is no equality between lovers here. Relations of power are strongly present in this picture. Intimacy does not annihilate them but rather mediates them. Intimacy is presented at the very moment when the intense sexual presence of the other displaces language. This is the moment when intimacy is constituted. It is a moment of a possible new connection. It is not outside of power, but it has a capacity to form new structures in the language and transform old ones. This intimacy allows Barthes a relationship with the other, as well as a new relation to language (therefore to his own psyche?).

The intimacy in Incidents also displaces the position of a reader, allowing the reader to identify with the Western position that exaggerates the sexuality the Arab body and at the same time presenting this identification as a racist move. Readers are thus put in the position of a racist. We are not innocent.2

Our fantasies are revealed to us. For us there is no possibility of a communion with the other for the reason that we are kept in the text at a distance, at the bay of perversion. There is no catharsis available and the text does not offer an absolution for readers. In fact we are racists, but it seems there is hope for us. This fact has possible modalities; it can be transformed into something new, which was possible for Barthes but not yet for readers. The play with the reader is very interesting, as it both allows and forecloses identification with the text. At any point we do not have a feeling of being in any privileged position regarding the text; we are not emancipated readers. We can see these sentences as almost aggressive but at the same time intentionally aloof from us, almost indifferent to us readers. There is no real character we can easily identify with; nevertheless the description suggests it is just an adventure in Morocco, and anyone can have it. If you want to, go to Morocco and enjoy the perverse pleasure of Moroccans' broken French. It is an interesting trick; one must not think that everything is already done for the reader in the text. There can be a new intimacy but it is still to come. Therefore, "from now on we must admit the possibility of reversing Saussure's proposition some day" (Barthes cited in Derrida, 1974: 51).

Queering language

What we can learn from Barthes is that the critical potential of sexuality can be achieved by a temporary and uncanny constellation of sex, language and desire. There is no liberation of sex, but there are always undiscovered modalities of sex and language.

Barthes intentionally rejects creating homoerotic scenes similar to classical erotic scenes in Western culture. The point is not to reproduce the structure of heterosexual desire in a gay version and in this way to break the exclusion. The affirmation of alternative forms of desire cannot happen by submitting them to the hegemonic form. This is also what D.A. Miller refers to in Barthes' work: "The very notion of a "gay version" here only tends to analogize gay experience to the structure of its own thereby all the more deeply denied oppression" (Miller, 1992: 45). Barthes affirms his limited access to narrative. He makes us conscious of these limitations and at the same time he expands the homosexual narration, not by submitting it to a sentimental narration of love in our culture but by exaggerating the narration of perversion which was given to sexually excluded positions. In Incidents we can clearly see the performative power of language and its limits. Moroccans are within the language but they can play with its power from the inside. They are not figures of future happiness. Incidents ends rather in a sad way. But they stand as a reminder of a possibility and a need for resistance to linguistic and more broadly cultural norms that create identity and community.

Incidents points out clearly that narration about perversion is artificial, but it is no more artificial than any other narration about love. The privilege of sentimentality, and more generally of language that expresses love as a personal relationship between two lovers of the opposite sex, is a historical construction that might be contested from within language. The narrative unity of sentimental love and its coherence is fictional and so are narrations on homosexuality. In Incidents Barthes brings out artificiality as an excellent tool for examining sexuality.

Barthes' aesthetics do more than to express internalized homophobia and racism. His aesthetics provide a tool for political reflection on recognition, identity and rights in the case of sexual minorities. Barthes does not aim at just constructing an experimental text; furthermore he does not give us any clear answers to the problems of sexual minorities. Identity categories, which we necessarily have to use in our social existence, are entirely products of power relations. Perhaps Barthes' decision not to use "I" and to write himself within the text as a fictional character is a strategy for searching for some resistance to language, or it may be a strategy for bringing more diversity into language. Barthes' work operates under Western fantasies of identity and the relation to the other, but he crosses from within ideological and political constraints proving that they are temporal semantic constructions. Incidents is an incitement to rethink over and over again our relation to language, to desire, to fantasies, to norms.


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Mavor, C. (2007) Reading Boyishly, Durham: Duke University Press

Miller, D.A. (1992) Bringing out Roland Barthes, Berkeley: University of California Press

Spivak, G. C. (1988) "Can the Subaltern Speak?" in Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture, C. Nelson and L. Grossberg (eds.), Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press: 271-313.

1 The concept of queer I understand mostly along with Sedgwick' Tendencies, as a transitive, related to perversion and eddying.

2 Barthes writes about it in S/Z: "I is not an innocent subject that is anterior to texts (…) This 'I' that approaches the text is itself already a plurality of other texts" (Barthes, 1974: 10)