Roland Barthes (1915-1980), a French critic and intellectual, was a seminal figure in late twentieth-century literary criticism. Barthes's primary theory is that language is not simply words, but a series of indicators of a given society's assumptions. He derived his critical method from structuralism, which studies the rules behind language, and semiotics, which analyzes culture through signs and holds that meaning results from social conventions. Barthes believed that such techniques permit the reader to participate in the work of art under study, rather than merely react to it. Barthes's first books, Writing Degree Zero (1953), and Mythologies (1957), introduced his ideas to a European audience. During the 1960s his work began to appear in the United States in translation and became a strong influence on a generation of American literary critics and theorists. Other important works by Barthes are Elements of Semiology (1968), Critical Essays (1972), The Pleasure of the Text (1973), and The Empire of Signs (1982). The Barthes Reader (1983), edited by Susan Sontag, contains a wide selection of the critic's work in English translation.
Richard Howard was born in Cleveland, Ohio on October 13, 1929. He received a B.A. from Columbia University in 1951 and studied at the Sorbonne as a Fellow of the French Government in 1952-1953. He briefly worked as a lexicographer, but soon turned his attention to poetry and poetic criticism. His works include Trappings: New Poems; Like Most Revelations: New Poems; Selected Poems; No Traveler; Findings; Alone with America; and Quantities. He won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1969 for Untitled Subjects. He is also a translator and published more than 150 translations from the French. He received the PEN Translation Prize in 1976 for his translation of E. M. Cioran's A Short History of Decay and the American Book Award for his 1983 translation of Charles Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du Mal. In 1982, he was named a Chevalier of L'Ordre National du Mï¿½rite by the government of France. He teaches in the Writing Division of the School of the Arts, Columbia University.