Roland Barthes & The Art Of The Vacation Schedule

I recently had to read the autobiography of French writer and philosopher Roland Barthes for school.

I hadn’t encountered his work before. I’d heard the name in the way that you hear about mid-century movies, works by Fellini or Truffaut that we all should have seen but have it located at the very end of our endless queues of things to watch. Barthes is noted for wandering around many schools of theory, exploring the role of the author and how materiality dominates the bourgeoisie. I do not claim to be an expert in his work but I will say that I found him most impressive, funny even, the type of writer-philosopher who seems to be able to speak directly too you instead of over your head.

Perhaps this is simply the result of his being so close to contemporary: a barrier of language is eliminated. He was also gay. Perhaps this was why I found myself attracted to his work: the queerness mashed with my francophile tendencies opened him up in a way most philosophers do not afford me. Whatever it is, I love him. He isn’t without critique, I am no expert in his work, but I am very much captivated by him.

The book I had to read for school was Roland Barthes By Roland Barthes, a book that claims to be about his life but instead is an unraveling of his thoughts about everything that makes a life (and then some). There is a lot of writing about writing too, about the practice and potential for our words. But there was one section that rang so sweetly: the brief “Emploi du temps” or “Schedule,” a short zone where he sketches how he works when he is on vacation.

In it, Barthes details down to the minute how he spent his days. It’s a teachable moment for those who see their schedules going off the rails and, for me, it serves as an example of the importance of unplugging on some days to get shit done (or, better yet, that the weekend can be a workday if you frame it correctly).

Barthes does try to pretend that this schedule is crass, that it isn’t his, but you can very clearly tell that it is what he subscribed to and would recommend to creatives hoping to get shit done. I had a feeling this was true and some scholars of his have more or less verified its truth.

I may not be able to adapt my life to this schedule every day but I most certainly will try. Give the below, transcribed-from-the-book a read and you’ll see how lovely it sounds. Shall we all get a chateau and try to live this life? We can dream.

Emploi du temps ~ Schedule
During vacation I get up at seven, go downstairs, and open the house, make myself some tea, break up some bread for the birds waiting in the garden, wash, dust my desk, empty its ashtrays, cut a rose, listen to the seven-thirty news. At eight, my mother comes downstairs too; I take breakfast with her: two soft-boiled eggs, a slice of toast and black coffee, no sugar; at eight-fifteen, I go for the paper in the village; I say to Mm C.: A lovely day, overcast, etc.; and then I begin working. At nine-thirty, the postman comes (Sultry this morning, what a lovely day, etc.), and a little later, in her delivery truck full of loaves, the baker’s daughter (she’s in school, no occasion to mention the weather); at ten-thirty sharp, I make myself some black coffee, I smoke the day’s first cigar. At one, we have lunch; I nap from one-thirty to two-thirty. Then comes the moment when I drift: no will to work; sometimes I paint a little, or I go for some aspirin at the druggist’s, or I burn papers at the back of the garden, or I make myself a reading stand, a file, a paper rack; by this time it is four, and I go back to work; at five-fifteen, it is teatime; around seven, I stop working; I water the garden (if it is good weather) and play the piano. Adfter dinner, television: if the programs are too silly, I go back to my desk, and listen to music and take notes. I go to bed at ten and read a little from a couple of books: on the one hand, a work written in a highly literary language (Lamartine’s Confidences, the Goncourts’ Journal, etc.), on the othera detective novel (preferably an old one) or an (unfashionable) English novel, or some Zola.

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