British Journal of Canadian Studies

‘I have heard of the end of writing’: Kristjana Gunnars and Roland Barthes

British Journal of Canadian Studies (2018), 31, (1), 63–79.

Abstract

The work of Icelandic-Canadian writer Kristjana Gunnars crosses genres and confuses the boundaries between fiction, poetry, biography, essay, and theory. This article addresses her relationship to the French literary theorist Roland Barthes. By paying close attention to the texts which mention Barthes specifically, the poem-cycle Carnival of Longing (1989) and the memoir Zero Hour (1991), it is possible to examine the approaches to desire, grief, and writing that give both Gunnars’s and Barthes’s work their enduring relevance. Gunnars reads Barthes against the grain, seeing the fragmentary strategy of A Lover’s Discourse (1979) as a refusal of genre and taking Writing Degree Zero’s (1968) revolutionary strategy of ‘colourless writing’ as a strategy for dealing with grief. An examination of her citations of and allusions to Barthes will show us how Gunnars interprets and remakes theory into poetry.

L’oeuvre de l’écrivaine islando-canadienne englobe les genres et confond les frontières entre roman, poésie, biographie, essai et théorie. Cet article traite de sa relation au théoricien littéraire français, Roland Barthes. En accordant une attention particulière aux textes qui mentionnent expressément Barthes, au cycle de poèmes Carnival of Longing (1989) et au mémoire Zero Hour (1991), il est possible d’examiner les approches du désir, du chagrin et de l’écriture qui font que les travaux de Gunnars et de Barthes restent d’actualité. Gunnars lit contre Barthes voyant la stratégie fragmentaire de Fragments d’un discours amoureux (1977) comme le refus d’un genre et prenant la stratégie révolutionnaire de l’écriture blanche exprimée dans Le Degré zéro de l’écriture (1953) comme une stratégie pour surmonter le chagrin. Un examen de ses citations et de ses allusions à Barthes nous montreront comment Gunnars interprète et réinvente la théorie en poésie.

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Author details

Gardner, Calum