Text & Work

According to Barthes, the increasing emphasis on interdisciplinarity in literary and cultural analysis has altered our conception of language and the traditional notion of the literary work. The work has changed and a new object, the Text, has appeared. While Barthes does not want to limit the notion of the Text by providing an absolute definition, he says that it is “that social space which leaves no language safe, outside, nor any subject of the enunciation in a position as judge, master, analyst, confessor, decoder” (Barthes “From Work to Text,” 1475).

Barthes distinguishes the Text from the work on the basis of seven propositions: method, genre, signs, plurality, filiation, reading, and pleasure. To learn more about Barthes’s propositions, and the difference between the work and the Text, use this interactive explanation.

Text & Work: Examples

Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Romantic poem “How Do I Love Thee?” is an example of the traditional work because its meaning is limited by genre, author, and linearity. The reader is not able to actively engage in the production of this text, thus the act of reading is an act of consumption and the work is a commodity.

T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” is an example of the Text because the reader is not restricted by linearity and hierarchy, thus the reader can actively produce the text. It is only when the reader tries to read this Text as a traditional work that it is commodified and consequently becomes unreadable and/or boring.