I can’t begin to tell you—or explicate for you in shaded texts—how important Roland Barthes’ work was to me in college. When I was a cocky freshman at Tufts University, I finagled my way into a graduate seminar on Structuralism because I convinced the professor, the great Martin Green, that I was already well-read on the subject—which I was, though my French was much lousier than I let on.
Halfway through the seminar, real-life events intruded on scholarly pursuits. In the winter of 1980, Roland Barthes, at that point still publishing books and papers faster than many professors could catch up with, still deeply engaged in his explorations of how we navigate text, was hit by a laundry truck. He died a month later of related injuries.
I had my intellectual vanities as a college student, but I also had a finely tuned punk side. Roland Barthes let me be pompus and pure at the same time. He was unafraid that popular culture would destroy the academic canon. His criticism was open-minded and open-ended, asking questions and making points without pretension.