Briggs, K., 2011, Excercise in pathetic criticism. York: Information as Material

Exercise in pathetic criticism

Exercise in Pathetic Criticism, the first in a planned series of literary experiments by Kate Briggs, is a one-page reconstruction of The Count of Monte Cristo according to the precepts of “pathetic criticism”.

Exercise in pathetic criticism#2

Kate Briggs is the translator of two volumes of How to Live Together: Novelistic Simulations of Some Everyday Spaces (Coste, C. ed., 2012. Columbia UP), the lecture notes for Roland Barthes’ first course at the Collège de France, and The Preparation of the Novel (Léger, N. ed., 2010 Columbia UP), Barthes’ last book which he published shortly before his death in 1980. This final work charts Barthes’ remarkable attempt to create a new form of writing and his aim to use his teaching to “unlearn what he knew”, to get rid of critical language; like Proust, to find “a third form”.

The chapter entitled From Life to Work was based on teaching sessions of March 10, 1979 and here Barthes described the possibility of a new analysis of reading: “…a method, a mode of criticism – that would be concerned with or that would start out from the moments of a work: powerful moments, moments of truth or, if the word doesn’t frighten us, of pathos (bearing in mind the link with the Tragic) → Pathetic criticism: rather than logical units (structural analysis), would start out from affective elements → one could go so far as to judge the values (the value) of a work on the basis of the power of its moments…”.


Taking Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo as a model he posited a style of affective reading that dares to ruin the literary work “in order to make it live”. He believed that, once reduced to these powerful and pathetic elements, it would be possible to use them to reconstruct, and therefore powerfully re-experience, the whole work.

Kate Briggs teaches the translation workshop component of the Masters in Cultural Translation at The American University of Paris. Between 2005 and 2008 she was postdoctoral research fellow in the School of Modern Languages, Literatures and Cultures at the University of Dublin (Trinity College) where she devised courses for and taught on the Masters in Literary Translation and Comparative Literature. She then worked as a freelance writer, translator and educator before joining The American University of Paris in January 2011.

Barthes’ approach to teaching was wholly collaborative, inviting his audience to share in and investigate his fantasy with him. In this spirit Kate has devised Individual Reading Records, a workshop in reading styles, which she will lead at Leeds College of Art on Thursday 8th May. Details of this will be given in a separate blog post.


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