Barbara Johnson
Barbara Johnson | b. 1947– d. 2009
Barbara Johnson is known as a translator in various senses of the word. She
is the celebrated translator of Jacques Derrida’s Dissemination (1972; trans.
1981), and she is also one of the earliest and most interesting translators of
structuralist and poststructuralist theory into literary insights. Often praised
for her “lucidity” and “clarity,” she has nevertheless emphasized, again and
again, the unavoidability and necessity of linguistic complexity and diffi culty
in formulating intractable problems. For her, language cannot be extricated
from what is problematic; language is not simply about problems, it partici-
pates in them.
Born in 1947 near Boston, she was the fi rst of four children. Her father was
a school principal and her mother a librarian. She attended Oberlin College
(1965– 69), majoring in French, and completed a Ph.D. in French at Yale
University in 1977. Her studies at Yale took place at a complicated intersec-
tion of politics and criticism: while the eff ects of the 1969 student strike
against the Vietnam War and the trial of Black Panther Bobby Seale in New
Haven lingered, the “Yale School” of academic literary theory was develop-
ing, and, around 1968, there had exploded onto the scene “French Theory”— a
shorthand designation for structuralism and poststructuralism in many
fi elds. The “Yale School” was the label by which the academic and pop u lar
press referred to a group of male literary critics (Paul de Man, Harold Bloom,
Geoff rey Hartman, J. Hillis Miller) who were all interested in Romanticism
and who often incorporated structuralist and poststructuralist perspectives
in their work. At the same time, the works of Derrida, Jacques Lacan, and
Previous Page Next Page