‘There is only one way left to escape the alienation of present day society: to retreat ahead of it’ – Roland Barthes
Roland Barthes sees the whole world in a tiny moment. His gaze is all-encompassing. Eventually his talent becomes a fatal disability; when he looks death in the eye, death returns his stare.
Paris has changed. It is 1980 and everything has become shiny. Metal reflects sunlight from all angles. Aluminium chairs have replaced wooden and wicker ones on the pavements outside cafes. Cars glint chrome finishes as they speed down the main boulevards. Even the garcons, the boys, are becoming metallic. Their eyes flash silver, they smile platinum smiles. Their bodies turn into armour-plating and they breathe zinc. Roland is transfixed. Baudrillard was right, he thinks, with a familiar twinge of melancholia. This is how hyper-reality looks. All is surface. He suddenly feels very old.
Dinner is over. Barthes calls in at his favourite bar on the way back from his evening with the politicians and their friends. Mitterand and his guests were charming, but tiring company. These days solitude is what he craves. Either that or the attention of a young, compliant mec, a guy from the banlieus. The city boys are getting far too cocky for his tastes. When he is hungry for meat he now tends to head out into the wilds of the suburbs.
Mitterand is caught between the old world and the new, thinks Roland, as if he has an audience to his thoughts. He still has a grasp of the ‘vieux monde’, of literature and philosophy. He can talk Rousseau, Baudelaire, Balzac, Lacan, with the best of them. But his suits are getting sharper, his sentences shorter. His eyes brighter. Like Giscard d’Estaing before him, he knows that the TV cameras are watching his every move. He is on the brink of fame and power, more like a movie star than a soon-to-be president. More Ronald Reagan than Charles de Gaulle. But Roland won’t live to see the show.
The cognac cannot last forever. He downs the last dregs and pays his bill before walking out into the shiny Paris air. The city smells like steel. He is stood on the narrow pavement, about to cross the road, when he is hit in the face by a vision of beauty. It nearly strikes him down. The boy must be twenty or so. He is tanned, with fine dark hair curling round his perfect cheekbones. He must be Mediterranean- Spanish, maybe, or Greek. His defined muscles poke from under his tight white t shirt. He is asking for it. Roland is possessed by an urge to find a pretext to speak to him, shake his hand, he could make some story up about a photography project, anything to get some of that. So as he strides into the road his eyes fixed on his prey as he walks towards the young man as a non-descript laundry van turns a corner into the very same road as the film suddenly seems to descend into slow motion as Foucault’s friend the meticulous observer retreats ahead of society’s alienation as the van impacts on his body as the boy turns and sees the collision as rain begins to fall on the scene like iron filings as desire looks back on its lost object, as nothing happens.
One month later Roland Barthes is dead.
From Scribbling on Foucault’s Walls by Quiet Riot Girl