Livingdying ~ Roland Barthes’s “Mourning Diary” / A Longhouse Birdhouse (12.15.10)


"The day after his mother's death in October 1977, Roland Barthes began a diary of mourning."

(October 26, 1977-September 15, 1979)

October 27

Who knows? Maybe something valuable in these notes?

November 5th

Sad afternoon. Shopping. Purchase (frivolity) of a tea cake at the bakery. Taking care of the customer ahead of me, the girl behind the counter says Voilà. The expression I used when I brought maman something, when I was taking care of her. Once, toward the end, half-conscious, she repeated, faintly, Voilà (I’m here, a word we used with each other all our lives).
The word spoken by the girl at the bakery brought tears to my eyes. I kept on crying quite a while back in the silent apartment.
That’s how I can 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…

November 18

Not to manifest mourning (or at least to be indifferent to it) but to impose the public right to the loving relation it implies.

November 19

A trip from Paris to Tunis. A series of airplane breakdowns. Endless sojourns in airports among crowds of Tunisians coming come for Aid Kebir. Why does the ominous effect of this day of breakdowns suit mourning so well?

November 26

What I find utterly terrifying is mourning’s discontinuous character.


November 28

To whom could I put this question (with any hope of an answer)?

Does being able to live without someone you loved mean you loved her less than you thought. . .?

February 16, 1978

This morning, more snow, and lieder broadcast on the radio. How sad! — I think of the mornings when I was sick and didn’t go to school, and when I had the joy of staying with her.

April 18, 1978 Marrakesh

Now that maman is no more, I no longer have that impression of freedom I had on my trips (when I would leave her for short periods of time).

May 18, 1978

Maman’s death: perhaps it is the one thing in my life that I have not responded to neurotically. My grief has not been hysterical, scarcely visible to others (perhaps because the notion of “theatralizing” my mother’s death would have been intolerable); and doubtless, more hysterically parading my depression, driving everyone away, ceasing to live socially, I would have been less unhappy. And I see that the non-neurotic is not good, not the right thing at all.

June 13, 1978

Not to suppress mourning (suffering) (the stupid notion that time will do away with such a thing) but to change it, transform it, to shift it from a static stage (statis, obstruction, recurrences of the same thing) to a fluid state.

June 24, 1978

Virtually no sign of an internalized mourning.

This is the fulfillment of absolute internalization. All judicious societies, however, have prescribed and codified the externalization of mourning.

Uneasiness of ours insofar as it denies mourning.

July 18, 1978

Each of us has his own rhythm of suffering.

July 29, 1978

(Saw a Hitchcock film, Under Capricorn)

Ingrid Bergman (around 1946): I don’t know why, nor how to express it: this actress, this actress’s body moves me, touches something in me which reminds me of maman: her complexion, her lovely, simple hands, an impression of freshness, a non-narcissistic femininity…

Paris, July 31, 1978

I live in my suffering and that makes me happy.

Anything that keeps me from living in my suffering is unbearable to me.

August 18, 1978

The locality of the room where she was sick, where she died, and where I now live, the wall against which the head of her bed rested where I have placed an icon — not out of faith — and still put flowers on a table next to it. I have reached the point of no longer wanting to travel in order to be here, so that the flowers here will always be fresh.

January 20, 1979

Maman’s photo as a little girl, in the distance — in front of me on my desk. It was enough for me to look at it, to apprehend the suchness of her being (which I struggle to describe) in order to be reinvented by, immersed in, invaded, inundated by her goodness.

January 30, 1979

We don’t forget,

but something vacant settles in us.

March 18, 1979

Each time I dream about her (and I dream only of her), it is in order to see her, believe her to be alive, but other, separate.

May 1, 1979

I was not like her, since I did not die with (at the same time as) her.


Mourning Diary by Roland Barthes
translated and with an afterword by Richard Howard
(Hill and Wang)

(photo: RB and his mother in Bayonne, circa 1923)

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