A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments Summary

Roland Barthes

A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments

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A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments Summary

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Roland Barthes’s thought-provoking novel A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments is as romantic as the language it was written in. Translated from French for its publication in 1977, the whimsical piece has become a literary classic in a genre all of its own. By combining theory, linguistics, philosophy, literature, and experiences, Barthes’s novel explores the trials and tribulations of what being in love does to your mind.

Barthes utilizes first-person narrative throughout the novel, making the piece autobiographical. There are very few characters. Instead, he refers to the lovers he mentions anonymously, by using names like “X.” Despite being rooted in Barthes’s personal experiences, the novel generally addresses the mind of any individual, whether they are falling head over heels or they’re lost in heartbreak. The piece is an image-repertoire; it is an outpouring of realities that take control of one’s mind when one is deep in love.

The simple compartmental structure is key to this novel, as broken down by Barthes in the introductory section. A Lover’s Discourse is broken down into 80 fragments, or what Barthes calls “figures,” defined as “gestures of the lover at work.” He also highlights the importance of two other structural components: order and references.

Order is vital to this novel because there is no order at all when it comes to love. Barthes discusses how prioritization of emotions and experiences changes in every situation, due to external circumstances; all relationships are different in their order, although the figures are typically all present. He writes, “there are no first figures, no last figures,” suggesting that every fragment is equally important and plays a different role in a lover’s mind.

References are also crucial to the novel’s success, as the quotes and theories Barthes integrates from other sources validate his discourse. He calls on the work of great philosophers and weaves in references to Plato, Freud, and Goethe’s Werther to establish an idea of love outside of his own theorizations.

A Lover’s Discourse is essentially a stream of Barthes’s consciousness, split up into organized and neat categories and compartments. They range from feelings of excitement, adoration, and arousal to feelings of neglect, loss, and anxiety. Each figure comes with a short definition that’s packed with emotion, wit, and deeper meaning. Some of the most notable figures in a lover’s mind are “adorable,” “waiting,” “festivity,” and “suicide.”

“Adorable” is what happens when a hopeful lover is unable to name exactly what is so special about the person that they love; Barthes even refers to it as a “rather stupid word.” He frames it with a quote from French philosopher Denis Diderot to further support his argument about the word’s repetitive and “scratched record” nature.
“Waiting” occurs when meeting with a loved one is delayed, leading to a spike in anxiety. Barthes describes waiting as a sure sign of love: if you’re in love, you’re waiting by the phone, waiting for the next time you’ll see one another, or waiting for the person you love to love you back.

“Festivity” is how every moment with the person you love is a pure celebration. Every day is a “special day” when you’re with the person you love. And, on the flip side of that, Barthes explores the figure of “suicide.” It is a frequent and provoked idea when immersed in a discourse of love, often a result of another figure: becoming engulfed.

These fragments are cleverly and artfully designed to show the roller-coaster thought process of someone deep in love, be it unrequited or not. A Lover’s Discourse has no true plot, but it is packed with introspective content that forms a base code to love rooted in classic references