Sunday, 10 January 2010

Writing Instruments and Roland Barthes

What was Roland Barthes relationship to writing instruments? The French literary critic had a passion for pens and inks. In an interview to Le Monde in September 1973 he revealed:

I would say (...) that I have an almost obsessive relation to writing instruments. I often switch from one pen to another just for the pleasure of it. I try out new ones. Besides, I have far too many pens - I don't know what to do with all of them. And yet, as soon as I see them, I start craving them. I cannot keep myself from buying them.

When felt-tipped pens first appeared in stores, I loved them a lot. (...) Since then I've become tired of them, because the point flattens out too quickly. I've also used nibs - not the "Sergeant-Major", which is too dry, but softer nibs, like the "J". In short I've tried everything... except Bics, with which I feel absolutely no affinity. I would even say, a bit nastily, that there is a "Bic style", which is really just for churning out cheap copy, writing that merely transcribes thoughts.
In the end, I always return to fine ink pens. The essential thing is that they can produce that soft, smooth writing I absolutely hold dear.
Roland Barthes quoted in Neil Badmington, "The 'Inkredible' Roland Barthes", Paragraph 31:1 (2008).

J nibs (second and third from the right) by Guillott

Cumberland Pencil Museum. Photo L. Apostolakou


  1. "I cannot keep myself from buying them."

    How many people, past and present (myself included), could describe themselves the same way? :)

  2. It's good to know "we are not alone"! :)

  3. "affinity" -- an interesting word choice for our relationships with writing instruments!

  4. 'affinity' was indeed a delicately chosen word, as we would expect from the author of 'paroles', but better still is the way he says "almost obsessive". Everybody who is really obsessive always says that they are 'almost' obsessive'!

  5. True! He had also confessed that though he tried to unclutter his life from too many writing instruments, his "drive to purchase" remained unflagging.

  6. Thanks for the great article. Does anyone know which brand and model Barthes used the most?

    Let me explain: my wife is finishing her PHD tomorrow and I'd like to surprise her with a gift... Problem is, everyone is talking about Barthes (of which my wife is quite found: Palimpsests are a key aspect of her PHD... And her name is Barthes!) but nobody about the brand or models...

    I know there must be several because he said so in numerous interviews, but maybe there is at least one that would stand out?

    Many thanks for any (quick) info you might have...


  7. Very cool idea! Thanks for posting this.
    Really its amazing information about Writing Instruments
    Awesome job !!! well done keep it up.

    Writing Instruments