Mourning Diary

In 1977, when he was 61, the French philosopher Roland Barthes lost his mother after a prolonged illness. Barthes, by then a celebrated cultural critic, was on the verge of beginning several seminal book projects, including his classic Camera Lucida. Yet alongside this work, he took notes describing his mourning, and compiled a journal of 330 cards spanning two years. These cards, translated by Richard Howard and presented now in book form, are themselves a classic in the making. Whether we approach Barthes as an old intellectual companion, or open his work for the first time, they’re not to be missed.


Fragmentary yet deeply insightful, intellectually astute yet always humane, Barthes records the progression of a profound loss in flashes that reveal both heart and mind to themselves newly.  Here’s fresh grief on October 29: “How strange, her voice…I no longer hear. Like a localized deafness.” Or this critique: “In the sentence “She’s no longer suffering,’ to what, to whom, does ‘she’ refer? What does the present tense mean?” For those familiar with Barthes’s work, the cards may provide rich insights into his academic life, and they may see how Camera Lucida’s meditations on lasting images relate deeply to his own experiences of loss and grief.


Nevertheless, that’s only one facet of this slender book’s power.  For any reader, the unveiling of a mind and heart at work—so clearly expressed, so deeply and astutely questioning the range of human feeling— can’t fail to leave its own haunting after-image.  

April 23: " 'A job,' the woman repeated again, smiling, as if I hadn't heard her. 'Would you like one?' "

Kenneth Calhoun (Black Moon) and Lysely Tenorio (Monstress) of the Discover Great New Writers program on B-movies, heritage, and finales.

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
A Private Venus

Dubbed "the Italian Simenon," Giorgio Scerbanenco (1911-1969) began his crime-writing career with books set in the USA, but quickly shifted scene closer to home, the city of Milan.  In this adventure, appearing in English for the first time, his underdog hero Dr. Duca Lamberti finds himself in the middle of a seedy, scantily clad criminal racket, where the presence of an outsider could result in death.

The Promise of Hope

Killed last year in the infamous terror attack at Nairobi's Westgate mall, Kofi Awoonor was a national treasure in his native Ghana.  His career began in 1964 with Rediscovery, and this magnum opus serves as a tribute to his entire long journey charting his beloved nation's course through his accomplished poetry.

Winter Mythologies and Abbots

A pair of linked stories finds that, as translator Ann Jefferson relates, "[Pierre] Michon's great theme is the precarious balance between belief and imposture, and the way the greatest aspirations can be complicated by physical desire or the equally urgent desire for what he calls glory."