Mourning Diary- Roland Barthes

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“That’s how I grasp my mourning. Not directly in solitude, empirically, etc.; I seem to have a kind of ease, of control that makes people think I’m suffering less than they would have imagined. But it comes over me when our love for each other is torn apart once again. The most painful point at the most abstract moment…”– Roland Barthes, Mourning Diary

I doubt I’d have picked this book up had it not been for my uncle’s recent death. Grief isn’t the sort of thing I exactly want to think about but in this case I had to confront it, and felt reading someone else’s thoughts might help put things into perspective for me.

Barthes’ diary is about the death of his mother, who he was obviously very close to, and it is one of the most heart-wrenching pieces of writing I’ve ever read:

“Suffering, like a stone…
(around my neck,
Deep inside me)”

It was so very touching, perhaps even more so as I was thinking about my late uncle, life, death, grief… And I’ve also been writing, though nothing as gut-wrenching or as emotional as Barthes did. In fact I forgot about my grief and dwelled on his, a man who has been dead since 1980. The impact of the written word is eternal.

From the little I know about Barthes, I’m aware that he was a linguist among other things and indeed he had some thoughts on the language of mourning. Which got me thinking about the cultural aspects of grief and mourning but I’m still dealing with/thinking about that:

“My suffering is inexpressible but all the same utterable, speakable. The very fact that language affords me the word “intolerable” immediately achieves a certain tolerance.”

The composition of the diary was very short diary entries over the space of several months but there was so much emotion distilled in each entry:

“As soon as someone dies, frenzied construction of the future (shifting furniture, etc.); futuromania.”

What I appreciated was the personal explorations of how grief plays a part in all parts of life. There are levels of grief, and our grief changes how we see almost everything. And there’s no time-frame to get over the grief either. But grief as something personal is something I’ve heard a lot over the years, and I realize nobody can really understand our grief. As Barthes said, ““Each of us has his own rhythm of suffering.”


4 thoughts on “Mourning Diary- Roland Barthes

  1. Beautiful review Rowena. Seems one can never know the depth’s of another’s grief. I think western culture is so focused on youth and health we’ve lost the language to speak to those experiencing loss or grief. All the clumsy “so sorry,” or the need to stay positive saddens me. I’m very interested in reading this book, thanks for bringing it to my attention.

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