Emanuele FADDA

L’arbitraire est-il une “obsession” saussurienne? A partir de la lecture barthézienne de Saussure

ABSTRACT. Roland Barthes’ attitude towards Saussure is rather peculiar: it’s a kind of "psychoanalysis" of (real or supposed) Saussure’s obsessions. Still, this attitude betrays a deep empathy, which Barthes manifests at times.

A cross reading of Saussure, sign and democracy and Barthes by Roland Barthes shows it easily. In fact, Barthes crosses and superimposes two Saussurean dichotomies: arbitrary vs. motivation, and analogical vs. mechanical, identifying the motivated with the analogical. The so-called “obsession” with arbitrariness (whose counterweight should be analogy) is opposed by Barthes to his own obsession with analogy (whose counterweight should be arbitrariness).

One might say, then, that the so-called Saussurean "obsession" is essentially nothing other than the linguist's adherence to the spontaneous attitude of the speaking subject, consistent with the assertion of the primacy of the "feeling of language" as the only object of the linguist's work. The linguist, in Saussure’s way (and practice), must find and share the attitude of the speaking subject, adding to it a conscious reflection. Saussure and Barthes, in fact, share this attitude, even if their feelings seem opposed. Barthes is then a mirror to see Saussure: a distorting mirror if we look at theoretical aspects, but a good mirror, if we look at the relation between human experience and epistemological stance.

KEYWORDS. Ferdinand de Saussure, Roland Barthes, arbitrariness, linguistic sentiment, psychoanalysis.

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