Barthes’s homosexuality is a well-known fact, and recent biographies have shed light on this major part of his social life. How should the inaugural text of Mythologies (‘The World of Wrestling’) be re-read in light of the fact that he was going to wrestling matches with Michel Foucault in order to hook up? What can we learn from it, say, about masculinity, and signs of gay visual culture and desire in general? If we look closely at Barthes’s work, we discover a network of signs that echoes the system of the homosexual Proustian subtext, and notice that gay visual culture becomes clearer and always more prominent in Barthes’s works from the 1970s, especially in images. Thus, the images speak when words remain silent, in a conservative France where homosexuality is condemned by law until 1981. Images also allow us to revisit key Barthesian concepts, such as the neutral, which can be taken as a queer notion avant la lettre, with interesting connections to Susan Sontag’s influential concept of ‘camp’.
Magali Nachtergael is associate professor of 20th and 21st century French literature at Université Paris 13 as well as an art critic. She is the author of Barthes Contemporain (2015) and Les mythologies individuelles. Récit de soi et photographie au XXème siècle (2012). In 2015 she curated the exhibitions Lumières de Roland Barthes in Bordeaux and Orthez, and she co-curated the exhibition The Family of the Invisibles in Seoul in 2016. A specialist of the relations of art and literature, her works focus on the relations of text and image (photography, contemporary art, media) and on Roland Barthes.