Monday, August 27, 2007

The rib chop

I am in love this summer all over again with Roland Barthes. S/Z was the first book of his I read, and one of the first books of literary theory in general I ever read, too: I was sleeping over at my friend S.'s house, we were in high school (it was her stepmother's book, I believe she had done a master's degree in literature), and I am afraid I did something I must have done often before and would (will) certainly do again, which is ignore the obligations of guestdom and vanish into a book as though I were at home!

But I'm delving into his stuff again this summer as I think about what kind of a book I want this current academic one to be, and just went to the library in search of a passage that I remember Wayne Koestenbaum holding up for the students in his Daily Themes lecture class at Yale as though it were the repository of all writerly and bodily wisdom. Which I indeed think it might be....

Anyway, I think I'm going to have a slew of Barthes posts this week, but here's the passage I wanted, from Roland Barthes on Roland Barthes (the translation is Richard Howard's):
La cĂ´telette ~ The rib chop

Here is what I did with my body one day:

At Leysin, in 1945, in order to perform an extrapleural pneumothorax operation, a piece of one of my ribs was removed, and subsequently given back to me, quite formally, wrapped up in a piece of medical gauze (the physicians, who were Swiss, as it happened, thereby professed that my body belongs to me, in whatever dismembered state they restored it to me: I am the owner of my bones, in life as in death). For a long time I kept this fragment of myself in a drawer, a kind of body penis analogous to the end of a rib chop, not knowing quite what to do with it, not daring to get rid of it lest I do some harm to my person, though it was utterly useless to me shut up in a desk among such "precious" objects as old keys, a schoolboy report card, my grandmother B.'s mother-of-pearl dance program and pink taffeta card case. And then, one day, realizing that the function of any drawer is to ease, to acclimate the death of objects by causing them to pass through a sort of pious site, a dusty chapel where, in the guise of keeping them alive, we allow them a decent interval of dim agony, but not going so far as to dare cast this bit of myself into the common refuse bin of my building, I flung the rib chop and its gauze from my balcony, as if I were romantically scattering my own ashes, into the rue Servandoni, where some dog would come and sniff them out.


  1. This is the book he is talking about in the interview I posted on my website (www.helendewitt/dewitt/samizdat1.html)- one thing that interested me was that in the interview he says the book only contains photographs of himself from childhood and adolescence, because those are the only pictures of him that interest him -- but the edition I have, like yours, includes images from later in life. So perhaps they were added later, despite the fact of holding no interest for RB.

  2. Or perhaps it was one of those enabling misrememberings...