Sunday, December 02, 2012

Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes pp.168-188

Here are a few brief words on the end of Barthes' book, Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes ... by Roland Barthes.

Isn't this interesting?: "I would be nothing if I didn't write. Yet I am elsewhere than where I am when I write. I am worth more than what I write." He adds that these ideas are outdated. This is sad; these seem to be worthwhile. (169)

Oh, to be in Barthes' seminar; it would be like being in a train compartment with him - somewhat horrific (see pg. 171).

He lists more "new books" on p.173 and suggests that this book is informed by "the Linguistics of Value."

The second full paragraph on p.174 is an excellent description of procrastination. We certainly understand Barthes' humanity, but we also see something of his "depression" here).


"Dilatory" is a term he uses elsewhere. From the Apple built-in dictionary:
slow to act: he had been dilatory in appointing a solicitor.
intended to cause delay: they resorted to dilatory procedural tactics, forcing a postponement of peace talks.
This is quite the work, markedly different from his later Camera Lucida. But if the latter book can be thought of as a kind of eulogy for his mother, the present book seems a eulogy for Roland Barthes himself.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes pp. 145-167

This is the second to last section of the book. It continues to be particularly enjoyable (though perhaps difficult to apply to the current project, P.W.). In any case, we continue.

"One makes oneself intelligible" through categorization. In this case, Barthes divides his writing into phases, the last of which he calls "morality": "it is the thinking of the body in a state of language." (145)

He really resists meaning, which is a curious thought for those in communications studies, where meaning really is important (see his note on order on pg. 148).

A note: a collection of 4 essays was published posthumously as Incidents, probably not what he was intending (available for free from the University of California Press here, by the way).

Here is more of Barthes' "anti-meaning": "one dares not leave the fact in a state of in-significance; this is the movement of fable, which draws from each fragment of reality a lesson, a meaning." (151)

What a great story: he suggests that, at some level, he worries about a slight discolouration of the tongue, for the sole reason of being able to use the term "excoriation" (definition from the Apple dictionary: "damage or remove part of the surface of (the skin).") (152)

Another note: none of his books is "successful throughout," except, perhaps, The Empire of Signs (on Japan). (156)

Great section: "Choosing Clothes" on pg. 156 (now I'm writing in fragments).

The section entitled "Academic Exercise" on pg. 158 would make quite a final exam. And the Lord help anyone who might have had the (mis)fortune of sitting in a train compartment with Barthes (see the section called "A Projected Book on Sexuality" on pg. 164).

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes pp.113-144

Here we have less writing by this humble commentator than last time probably. Well, take what you can get, I suppose.

While I recognize Barthes' frustrations in much of his language here (his distaste for other languages--though he learned English in school), I do like how he lists his likes and dislikes (on 116-117) and then states, plainly, that "this is of no importance to anyone," that it has no meaning. (117) But of course things mean (especially to the, or at least this, reader).

An interesting though: "what I write about myself is never the last word: the more 'sincere' I am, the more interpretable I am." (120) I should mention that, if Camera Lucida was a kind of eulogy for Barthes' mother, it seems almost as if this book is a kind of eulogy for Barthes himself.

Barthes was unfashionable. (125) As an aside, the remaining members of the band Queen said a similar thing about themselves (throughout the band's career) in a 2011 BBC documentary I watched this week.

A thought: if writing constantly risks being vulgar (because it supposes certain effects of discourse, what of photography? "The imaginary grasped" by photography, as by writing, does it also "grimace"? What do you think this might mean? What does Barthes think about photography, then? (126)

The Neutral is a "back-and-forth, an amoral oscillation." (132) (Is it "willy-nilly," then?) He reveals here that The Neutral is not a "third term" (a kind of pseudo-synthesis, if you will) but rather "at another link of the infinite chain of language," that is, a constant second term, of course, leading to more. (132-133)

Another note related to the one above: am I correct in understanding that sleep (or, specifically, taking a nap at a bar) is the third term to "speaking/keeping silent"? (142)

The difficulty remains high with some of these fragments; his playfulness is highly evident though (though he seems to deny its presence).

Monday, November 12, 2012

Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes pp.75-112

On to the next section: Barthes begins to discuss writing. He moves then from writing to language itself. And he acknowledges the difficulty in his work: "He realizes then how obscure such statements, clear as they are to hum, must be for many others." (80)

"You constitute yourself": Barthes is speaking to himself here, and he precedes this statement with "worse still." (82) To be fixed seems not the ideal state for Barthes, and the account of his schedule does this to him (as does the book itself, no?). What, then, of photography? Does it also constitute the subject?

He speaks of film in a way that can be applied to photography: "here the image is the irremediable absence of the represented body." (84) irremediable = untreatable, incurable.

Note to self: he mentions "post-meaning" on p.87 - the absence of every sign.

He continues and accounts the practice of fragments (92-94). "One writes in order to be loved": another phrase destined for a t-shirt or Facebook status update. (104)

We see much of Barthes as a person in these sections (for instance, his afternoon snack of sugar in cold milk - I'm going to try this today in honour); these are personal images, but the fragments do not absolutely constitute the writer. We don't really know him. He is too slippery here (he talks a lot about the "drift" of writing - like a ghost, he drifts here as well).

I found this section quicker to read, maybe because I found (today, now) less to write down, less directly applicable to our discussions (on photography, or on less complex ideas in Barthes' oeuvre).

In any case, your mileage may vary.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Max Headroom useless information

I was looking through my computer files and found one from a bit of time ago. This file was created quite a while ago (it was originally a WordPerfect 6.0 for DOS file, but it might have started out as a WP5.1 file). In any case, it is a lot of useless information about Max Headroom. I'm not sure I need to keep it at this point in my life (I did have a ball pausing my cloudy videotapes in order to make out particular numbers on the screens or whatever). So, I'm inserting it here. Enjoy!


C:\gecko\misc\maxhead.wpd

Max Headroom: an artificial intelligence created by Bryce Lynch for the purpose of finding out how much Edison Carter knew about the Blipvert project in episode 1. Max originated from a download of Carter’s mind, and now roams the world-wide communications network at will. He is immensely popular and is a major ratings bringer for Network 23. Max believes that everything in the real world is just a television show. The name comes from the last image Edison Carter saw before losing consciousness in episode one, the maximum headroom warning on an underground parking garage gate.

Zik-Zak Corporation: motto - “know future”, major client of Network 23. Chairman is Ped Xing, and has base of operations in New Tokyo (when conversing with Network 23, they use Sat/Link 87-R, and sattelite 1b “Skycounsel” scrambler/descrambler 19 in episode 3). The corporation has been interested in Raking, with the thought of marketing the sport and building tracks, etc. (Ep. 2). They were also interested in purchasing the services of Max Headroom as well (ep. 3).
Mr. Kioko: analyst for the Zik-Zak corporation.

Gorrister: Edison Carter’s controller, killed; body taken to Nightingale’s by Breugle and Mahler (episode 1)
Murray: producer of Edison Carter show, used to be a reporter, and was once a controller as well (although not a very good one).
Edison Carter: host of “What I want to know” Show, satellites globally in prime time, personal identification code #7-4928B-DG-6629 (in episode 2, the G seems to be replaced by a 9). His identification number in the Security Systems computers is 5671KB (ep.4). He is 27 years old (ep. 3). He is 6'2". His neighbour is Mr. Reevis.
Martinez: helicopter pilot for Edison Carter (chopper 7). The chopper callsign for their Sybaris landing in ep.3 is Lewis 23.
Gladys Mcwilliams: wife of Stu (no children, unemployed, doesn’t vote, civil disability), man who exploded watching a Zik-Zak blipvert; lives in unit 019 of apartment complex 142zeta (episode 1)

Network list:
Network 23 - top network (located in section 5, area 23). It employs 9870 people and has a monthy expenditure of $6.7 million. The 208-210 floors of the Network 23 building are restricted access. The board room is located on level 148.
Pulsart TV
Flanel 25
Bimboviz
Big Time: a 500-watt station run by Blank Reg and Domonique. Reg knows everyone in the Fringes. Big Time is guarded by Fang, their dog.

Television programs:
Missile Mike: very popular children’s show
Lumpy’s Prolotariot
Raking: “sport of kids”; race game involving betting, and consisting of kids on motorized skateboards, with accidents being refined as aggression. Teams include the Scorpions and Vipers.
Scumball: biggest televised sport
Vidicam unit:
Vidiphone:
Daytime Control: located on 40th floor; Murray is the producer
Night Control: extension 1987
2-way sampler:
Network 23 Rolling Databank: a collector of information on all the day-to-day runnings of the network. The file for the Edison Carter Show has the code 46CCW-9201-HAL-14.
Vidident: a computer program used in ep. 3 to identify suspects. It is accessed on Net 23 subterminal 171086. The program accesses the Diogenes Mainframe, and personality templates. The program used is vers 2.01 Rev A
Voice print Analyzer: like an audio lie detector, integrity is measured in percentages.
ICE: refers to security around a computer system. The ICE around the SS mainframe, A-7, is a Buss Guard Structure.

Locations:
Locomotive road: road in fringes in episode 2.
Fringes: outskirts of the city where the less-fortunate or criminal element reside; people eat rats there (ep. 2). In the Fringes, justice is cashflow.

Ned Grossberg: one-time chairman of Network 23
Bryce Lynch: head of Network 23's Research & Development (on 13th floor); birthdate is Oct 7, 1988 (Libra) [126RD]. (Door code for R&D in episode 1 is IJ2FI; a code which is associated with Lynch often)
Blipvertisement: concept developed by Bryce Lynch (called Project X-LN247) where a 30s ad is compressed into 3s, to stop potential channel switching.

Computer generated people program: program developed by Bryce Lynch that created the parrot in episode 1, and went on to create Max Headroom.
Ben Cheviot: Network 23 executive board member, and chairman after Grossberg’s departure. Clearance code is CT0011.
Edwards: Network 23 executive board member; Ratings analyst
Theora Jones: best controller available (previously worked for World1). Father unknown; mother deceased; 12 years spent in state homes. In episode 2, she receives a call on line 74, and her input code is THEO-274-GGF.
Shawn Jones: Theora’s brother, raker known as Ace; occupation as a busboy in “The Fresh Start” restaurant (fired in episode 2 - and where a drink called a Blizzard costs 2.18 Kredits), lives at Metroprojects Block 555/A with girlfriend Winnie and child.
Metropolice [metrocops]: police & security force
Casualty supervisor: possibly a city official consulted about the location of injured people.
Breugle & Mahler: hoods, may have killed Gorrister in Episode 1. Mahler is the muscle of the two.
David: employee of control, takes over as Edison’s controller briefly in episode 2.
Stanley: employee of Network 23 (possibly a janitor).
Terry: employee of control.
Jack: Net 23 employee greeted by Theora in Ep. 3.
Jack Friday: head of Network 23 sports, on floor 85.
Simon Peller: politician sponsered by Network 23; thinks of legalizing the sport Raking until he finds out what it is all about.
Miss Julia Fornby: Network 23 executive board member; coordinator of research and development. She agrees to steal the Max Headroom program for the Mother, a very rich and powerful (and dying) woman in episode 3. She had an affair with Cheviot. She may also be a PR person for the network.
Ashwell: Network 23 executive board member.
Grace: Rick’s bodyguard at the Ouza Bar in episode 2.
Rick: “be nice to animals” He is a blank, and knows many people. He is a friend of Reg and Edison Carter. He is a Rickshaw driver.
Poncho: a woman in the Fringes who is a friend of Reg.
Mel & Rayna: boyfriend and girlfriend from the River, that come to the city to sell blood at the body bank. They are blanks. Rayna is abducted for the use of her pituitary for the Mother. Rayna’s Type is 86.2.
Valerie Towne: C.E.O. of Security Systems Inc., lives on the 23rd floor of Sybaris.

Security Systems Inc.: largest and most powerful corporation of its kind in the world; has access to more priviledged information than any government, and their power reaches into government, homes, police, and the courts. SS is administered by A-7, a mainframe on level 7 of their headquarters, the Citadel. In ep. 4, Valerie Towne fabricated a buy-out scenario to push up the price of SS stock, to gain a world monopoly on security.

Nightingale’s Body Bank (open 24 hours): Florence, proprietor.
Dr. Mason: a surgeon at Nightingale’s.
Dr. Moon: a colleague of Fornby and head of the Transplantation project for the Mother.
Edie: doctor at Nightingale’s
Pantagenate: the head of Nightingale’s
Metro Tax Bureau: or Tax data centre, burns in episode 2, by torcher “all heated up over new TV tax”.
Ouza Bar: Carter visits this establishment in episode 2, and meets Rick there.
Caligula’s: a Fringe bar frequented by Breugle and Mahler.

Sybaris: condominium complex for the rich. The Mother, an old and dying woman, owns a whole floor in ep. 3 (the door code for that floor is 506274). Sybaris security are authorized by code 69B to use deadly force.

Miscellaneous:
News items 20 min in the future: Missile missing from AKG, Man sings whole of Shakespeare, Assassination of medic team in Bolivia, Nuclear submarine explodes.
Containment System R-7: the city is built on this radioactive site.
Human inaliable rights 20 min into the future: consumer credit, unlimited television, personal security.
Credit fraud is a worse crime than murder.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes, pp. 43-75

To make these parts a bit easier, consider the interesting ideas with particular reference to photography. This is not easy material; be thankful that we can, in fact, skim it. There are useful ideas, though.

Immediately, we are introduced to the Roland Barthes of the biography: “he.” Consider his thoughts on the adjective in relation to photography. For Barthes, an image names him (let us assume, perhaps wrongly, that he is speaking of a photographic image here), and it stands for domination and death (ideas that seem to foreshadow Camera Lucida).

He calls photography an “analogical” art in a rather difficult section. The analogy is in the realm of the imaginary; he likens these things to a mirror (again and again, the truth of the “image” is contested). (44)

He links back to the photos from the start of the book, as he mentions his work spaces: “it is the structure of the space which constitutes its identity.” (46)

An aside: he speaks of God who reverses victories. (47)

An important notion of the doxa: “Public Opinion, the mind of the majority.” (47)

What a great quote: “he imagines, each time he writes something, that he will hurt one of his friends-never the same one: it changes.” (49)

More referring to photographs:“the art of living has no history: it does not evolve: the pleasure which vanishes vanishes for good, there is no substitute for it.” (50)

In his section on Chaplin (on p.54), he mentions the “third term,” something I've written about in the past (in relation to Feist and others).

On pp.55-56, he speaks of recording himself playing the piano, and then listening to it. He then discovers that the past of playing coincides with his present of listening, which results in "commentary [being] abolished." (56) Can the same be said about photography? It seems that he might be suggesting that, just as writing about oneself (committing an "image” to paper) is "suicide," so photography is death.

Another aside: Barthes composed music and suffered from migraines.

His discussions of the degrees of language (first – writing, second – writing about writing) as well as his ruminations concerning his own voice, are particularly worthwhile, though certainly far from the present discussions of photography.

He ends this present section being rather hard on himself, suggesting that he never defines the terms important to him, and that his writing on the "large objects of knowledge" are important to no one. (73-74)

Do not be too concerned if much of this writing is enigmatic. It is difficult writing, and it works really well to read through it a few times, and get what you can from it. Barthes’ writing seems to encourage fragmental understanding (as it is written in fragments anyway). So, be encouraged and continue on. Dialogue is welcome!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes (1975)

Here we begin thoughts and "discussions," in reading Roland Barthes' earlier work, Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes. The foreword is by Adam Phillips.

According to Phillips, autobiography is a fiction. Barthes suggests that one is stuck in the arresting identity one creates in the simple documenting of one's life. (v)

What must be in autobiography?
1) an account of the parents;
2) childhood memories and likes and dislikes;
3) something of a person's sexuality;
4) the story must make sense of a life, find a meaning or a pattern. (vi)

This is an autobiography without an author.

Philips states, "A sign system is a consensus in which there has never been an initial agreement; a language is a contract that no one has ever digned." (viii) He goes on to talk about the Barthes of Mythologies, who, it seems, is visited throughout the text by the :established" Barthes (newly instituted, at the time) in the Coll├Ęge de France.

We learn here of Barthes' favourite motto: Larvatus prodeo (I advance pointing to my mask), which suggests "an ironic self-consciousness." (x)

Phillips suggests that the text can be skimmed, something I always felt was what Barthes wanted (Phillips refers often to the short book, The Pleasure of the Text, and I always thought it was in that book that the idea of skimming Barthes first appeared). For Phillips, the book is "about how we might sustain our pleasure without losing our interest, and about how we might sustain our interest without losing our pleasure." (xiii)

The body of the book:

The first 42 pages consist of photographs. Barthes starts off by stating that he has finished the book; the photos are additions, a "treat" for the author (it will be too difficult to paginate my quotations here, as the first 42 pages are unpaginated).

His first comments seem to foreshadow what he ends up doing in Camera Lucida, in discovering why images enthral him. On the first page of substantial text, Barthes suggests that a childhood photograph shows his body "from underneath." Is he just suggesting that it shows his younger self (prehistory)? What does he mean by "from underneath"?

We encounter a photograph showing Barthes' knee-high socks, previously mentioned. In these photos, Barthes mentions boredom. I wonder what he means by this (a recent book, Travels in China, seems a kind of paean to boredom).

Barthes painted!

The last photo (42) is most often used as a kind of "official" photograph. Any ideas as to why this might be?

This is the first section of the book. The next parts are based on much writing, though fragmentary (and thus accessible, in form anyway). This text will be a bit more difficult to read through, and perhaps less applicable to the study of the photograph in crisis. But, then again, he just spent 42 pages showing us photographs, in attempting to show us his life. There must be something there, then, on which to comment.

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Last Part of Camera Lucida

Section 41: Barthes is considering the Winter Garden photograph after the passage of time, after "remaining with it," as he suggests. He refers to pioneers of scientific images: "What Marey and Muybridge have done as operators I myself want to do as spectator: I decompose, I enlarge, and, so to speak, I retard, in order to have time to know at last." (99) He wishes to "enter the paper's depth." (100) He gets at notions of desire here: "I can have the fond hope of discovering truth," though he admits he will not find it. (99)

Section 42: He suggests that, sometimes, he perceives something if the truth in a photograph, what he calls "a likeness." But the likeness is imprecise, imaginary: "they conform to what I expect from them." (101-102) For Barthes, the actual truth (that is not imaginary) exists in photos which are not "a likeness" (such as the Winter Garden photograph).

Section 43: Photos also display, not the truth of the individual, but the truth of lineage. This is both reassuring (Barthes suggests that the thought of origin soothes us) and disappointing: "it bares the mysterious difference of beings issuing from one and the same family." (105)

Section 44: He concludes, "I cannot penetrate, cannot reach into the Photograph." (106) The photograph is unlike the tect ("our vision of it is certain"). The photograph arrests interpretation: "this-has-been." (106-107) I am surprised by this observation. e, in semiotics (visual or textual), do not believe that any sign arrests interpretation (photograph or not).

I don't wish to speak for all semioticians here, but this is certainly what I believe.

Section 45: Barthes' frustration is evident here: he still seeks (more properly, desires something more in the photograph. He wishes to discover the person in the photograph completely. It seems here that Barthes is grasping at straws, so to speak. He wants to find the truth in a photograph, and so he finds, as the locus of his desires, the air (or the expression). But then he immediately writes, "The air of a face is unanalyzable." (107) But it evokes for the observer, "little individual soul, good in one person, bad in another." (109) The air is what allows Barthes to identify his mother in the Winter Garden photograph.
All the photographs of my mother which I was looking through were a little like so many masks; at the last, suddenly the mask vanished: there remained a soul, ageless but not timeless, since this air was the person I used to see, consubstantial with her face, each day of her long life. (110)
This is what makes a true photograph: the capturing of the air (one's soul, one's shadow). Barthes suggests it is due to either the photographer's talent or luck, but if it is not present, the photo simply identifies, but it is not a "true" image.

Section 46: He goes to great lengths in this section to come to his point, though he beautifully expresses it:
by leading me to believe ... that I have found what Calvino calls "the try total photograph," it accomplishes the unheard-of identification of reality ("that-has-been") with truth ("there-she-is!"); it becomes at once evidential and exclamative; it bears the effigy to that crazy point where affect (love, compassion, grief, enthusiasm, desire) is the guarantee of Being. (113)
He cites his student, Julia Kristeva, at the end of this section (an honour, I'm sure).

Section 47: What a great start to a section: he concludes his findings (photography shows that "that has been") and confronts his critics. The madness of photography is that it is about the absence of the object and also that the object existed where we see it in the photograph. In this way, photography is a hallucination. (115)

For Barthes (and all of us?), there is a link between Photography, madness, and love, or, more properly, Pity. We love those photos that allow us to enter them, to embrace the subject, to "[go] mad for Pity's sake." (116-117)

Section 48: The last section. Society attempts to control the madness of the photograph (as outlined in the last section). First, it makes photography into art ("no art is made," says Barthes). (117) Photography can be art, but it must be powerless photography. Second, society generalizes and make photography banal. For Barthes, photography is everywhere (he calls this a tyranny).

And, in a way, he calls for the destruction of the medium: "let us abolish the images, let us save immediate Desire (desire without mediation)." (119) But in the end, he suggests the choice is in the hands of the observer, to banalize photography (to make the medium "tame"), or to make it mad, "to confront in it the wakening of intractable reality." (119)

This is a beautiful book, and it has made me want to track down photos of madness, that make me want to get inside of them, that frustrate me because of my inability to do so. I want to find photos of those I love, that show the truth of these people. But, in a way, I also want to find those photographs that hurt me because they simply identify but do not convey the "air" of the subject. Those kinds of photographs don't only point to the absence of the subject, but also the absence of the subject's soul, the truth of them. In that absence, I can grieve, I think. Barthes seems to wave these sorts of photographs, perhaps as art.

I think I can embrace them because of what they lack, and what that lack then evokes from me.

I also want to capitalize "Photography," and write with more semicolons. I won't blame Roland Barthes for that.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Section 33-40 of Barthes' Camera Lucida

These notes are hampered (enhanced?) by my daughter's constant commentary beside me as I was preparing them. She, though, was talking about Nutrios, tea, and Disney's version of Pocahontas, and whether Grandmother Willow was a "man tree or girl tree." On to the notes from these sections of the book.

Section 33: An important thought right at the start: “looking at photograph, I inevitably include in my scrutiny the thought of that instant, however brief, in which a real thing happened to be motionless in front of the eye.” (78) In cinema, that "pose" is swept away. Where Barthes speaks earlier of the pose as disguising the authentic or true, here he suggests the pose contains the authentic or true.

Interestingly, he seems to have found differences between cinema and photography suddenly. Film shows the actor in two "poses": the real one (Barthes calls this "this-has-been") and the role that is being played.

Finally, he mentions that photography is proof of the truth. (79)

Section 34: Who invented photography? Not painters, but chemists. A beautiful passage follows: "The photograph is literally an emanation of the referent. From a real body, which was there, proceed radiations which ultimately touch me, who am here." (80)

Photographs are alive (the photographic process itself is alchemic(al?), and vital). This is curious, as Barthes also suggests that photographs show the dead (and die themselves). He decides here that he detests colour photographs, as it is (for Barthes) simply cosmetic a "superadded light." (81)

Section 35: Photography attests to what has existed. But then Barthes makes an astonishing observation: photography resurrects. (82) But then he suggests that photography affects him as he observes it: "why is it that I am alive here and now?" (84)

Section 36: "What has been": maybe death is not the primary signified of the photograph after all. Photography "is authentication itself." (87) These are interesting comments to consider when thinking about digital photography (in fact, pages 87-88 seem key in a discussion of how digital photography is fundamentally different from traditional photography, how it puts traditional photography into crisis). He finished the section with this: "the power of authentication exceeds the power of representation." (89)

Section 37: He returns yet again to the Winter Garden photograph - he calls it "my Photograph." (90) I must quote Barthes at length here:
The Photograph is violent: not because it shows violent things, but because on each occasion it fills the sight by force, and because in it nothing can be refused or transformed (that we can sometimes call it mild does not contradict its violence: many say that sugar is mild, but to me sugar is violent, and I call it so). (91)

Section 38: Suddenly Photography equals death again; the photograph itself is mortal, susceptible to the effects of humidity and so forth. In the past, memory was eternal, but not so for the photograph. Camera Lucida, the book, is referred to here as a trace of teh "astonishment of 'that-has-been.'" (94) Is he talking about the Winter Garden photograph here? Note: sad words at the end of this section, about the passage of time and the tenuousness of "proofs" of love, etc.

Section 39: He identifies a second "punctum" that exists in (all?) photographs: Time (and its passage, I assume). Of his mother's photograph: "she is going to die." (96)

Section 40: Here, Barthes suggests that the act of observing photographs is one done alone (Cinema is embarrassing alone). What does Barthes mean when he suggests that the amateur is the one who stands for the professional in photography, who stands closer to the defining character of photography (he suggests that the amateur is not the "immature state of the artist in photography")? (98-99)

This is the penultimate section of the book. The end of this particular volume is in sight, and so, thoughts about its whole are welcome.

Monday, October 08, 2012

The latest - Sections 25-32

What follows is more of my (hopefully helpful) musings on Barthes' Camera Lucida. Read on.

Section 25: Barthes begins his personal search, at this point, for a "true" photograph of his mother. When he suggests that he was wanting to write what he calls a "little compilation," it is quite possible that this is to what the second half of the book amounts.

Section 26: History: "the time when my mother was alive before me." (65) Barthes shows such sensitivity here; he refers to his mother's scent and her personal things. By the way, the photo to which he refers, of his mother and himself on a beach (see section 25, and see below) is published in Roland Barthes par Roland Barthes.


Section 27: Barthes blames photography for forcing him to engage with "painful labour," that is, "straining toward the essence of her identity." (66)

Photographs are like dreams for Barthes: they are not the object, they are about the object. This is different from what he says earlier in the book in terms of a photograph "meaning" its referent, but he is now discussing his mother, not some universal characteristic of the medium (he returns, though, to the idea of the referent in section 32).

Section 28: The heart of the book is here in this section: the Winter Garden photograph. Just as a photograph never shows the true person due to the pose, so here is the true person because of her innocence (he says it means, "I do no harm"). (69) So, for Barthes, this is a "just image." (70)

Section 29: Barthes suggests here that the photograph of his mother as a little girl makes him recall her last days, as a "little girl," needing his assistance always.

From that tender idea, Barthes seems to teeter on the edge of despair: "I could do no more than await my total, undialectical death." (72)

Section 30: So, he here suggests that desire in photography is not rooted in pleasure but rather in love and death. I do wish that he would have reprinted the photograph here (as do my students), but he does not; after all, it's not for us.

Section 31: Barthes expresses a bit of his own background here, raised as protestant. But as for the rest (psychoanalysis discussion aside), he simply states that "everything has remained motionless." (75)

Section 32: Photography: "I can never deny that the thing has been there." Photography, for Barthes, is not art or communication, but Reference: "it has been here, and yet immediately separated; it has been absolutely, irrefutably present, and yet already deferred." (77)

That brings me to the end of this week's section. I have written less here, but this is truly the emotional heart of the work, and the importance of the beginning of the second part of the book remains.

Monday, October 01, 2012

More on Barthes - Sections 17-24

Here is more on Barthes and Camera Lucida, to the end of the first part. The questions are fewer here (and the dialogue more like monologue), but we will continue on.

Section 17: Here, Barthes discusses the unary photograph, which comes to him in the form of journalistic photographs and pornographic photographs. These are photographs which interest Barthes but do nothing else for him. Such photographs "[transform] 'reality' without doubling it ... no duality, no indirection, no disturbance." (41)

News photographs are very often unary, in that they can shock, but not in any real way (not like a punctum). Furthermore, for Barthes, pornographic photographs present a single idea (interestingly, he states that Mapplethorpe's photos become interesting because of fabrics).

Section 18: Here Barthes returns to the Nicaraguan photo from earlier, and begins to explore how different figures view the composition of the scene. The Operator views reality, and the socio-political factors which contribute to the presence of the nuns. From the perspective of the Spectator, the detail is random (part of me wonders, though, if an analytical spectator might recognize the socio-political reality of the photograph). (42)

Barthes makes an important point: one shouldn't need to study a photograph to discover the punctum: "I should receive it right here in my eyes." (43)

Section 19: The punctum is "lightning-like," but, for Barthes, works to "expand" the photograph. It works in terms of metonymy, where the punctum as "part" stands in for the "whole." It also works to fill the whole picture (while remaining a detail). (45)

Section 20: Intentionality works against the punctum. Rather, the photograph whould indicate the Operator "could not not photograph the partial object at the same time as the total object." (47)

Section 21: Photography (with punctum) is likened to Haiku: they are both "undevelopable." He makes the point that the "essence" ("of a wound") can only be repeated under insistent gaze. Everything is given. This is seemingly contradictory to what he mentions in section 19, that the punctum expands the photograph. I suppose there may be subtlety between expansion and development. (49)

Section 22: Important: "The studium is ultimately always coded, the punctum is not." (51) If one is able to apply code (convention, meaning) to the "punctum," it is not punctum: "What I can name cannot really prick me." (51) The punctum often reveals itself in remembering the photograph.

"In order to see a photographe well, it is best to look away or close your eyes." (53) Agree?

Section 23: The punctum is what the Spectator adds to the photograph and "what is nonetheless already there." (55) He says something interesting here: that one doesn't have time to add to the image in movies. The figures in photographs "do not emerge, no not leave" like the images in film that are always moving, emerging, leaving. (57)

An aside: Barthes' line, "they are anesthetized and fastened down, like butterflies," predates The Smiths' lyric, "pin and mount me like a butterfly" (without the sexual connotations of the latter).

He returns here to section 17 and the pornographic photograph. He suggests that the erotic photograph "launches desire": he calls this a "subtle beyond," a "blind field." (57-58) His work on desire is always important and certainly, at the heart of all of his exploration of photography is the notion of desire.

Section 24: In the last section of Part 1, Barthes admits failure: he has discovered something about how desire works in photographs, but nothing of the nature of photography. He admits that this has been a deeply personal project so far (and far from universal); this fact does not change as the book progresses.

Palinode: "a poem in which the poet retracts a view or sentiment expressed in a former poem." (from the built-in OS X Mountain Lion dictionary)

Thus ends the first part of the book. Barthes' thoughts get increasingly personal as the book continues. Please continue the fine comments and encourage others (anyone else) to contribute. Dialogue is ideal, though certainly absent in the last few weeks (my fault, not the fault of P.W.) - in any case, carry on.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

A Decision

If I finish reading all of Eco's fiction, then I can buy myself a copy of David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest.

But I need to finish the A Series of Unfortunate Events books first, not to mention Zafon's 3 books too. Did I mention I'm also re-reading Morrison's The Invisibles?

I also need to write a preface for a proposed work on Bowie, and now I have the big idea to expand and publish something about Feist.

And I want to buy one of those Starbucks Verismo machines, and I don't even really drink coffee (does a venti 6-pump vanilla latte breve count?).

And I want to buy Cabin in the Woods and The Avengers on DVD. And those books on Disney animation.

But first, if I finish reading all of Eco's fiction, then I can buy myself a copy of David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Sections 9-16 in Barthes' Camera Lucida

There are less questions asked below, but certainly an engagement with the text is required. In any case, I will dive in with section 9. Get a nice cup of tea, a fountain pen, and read along (or consult, more properly, after reading, and compare notes).

Section 9: The adventure of the Nicaraguan photo is from the "co-presence of two discontinuous elements, heterogeneous in that they did not belong to the same world ...: the soldiers and the nuns." (23) But the characteristic doesn't seem to translate to other photos by the same photographer (Koen Wessing).

I should mention here, completely off-topic: I'm listening to Bats for Lashes' album Twin Suns while typing this. That's all.

Section 10: Two elements whose co-present establish adventure:
1) the field of general interest for the observer--"studium"--"a kind of general, enthusiastic commitments, ... but without special acuity." (26)
2) "this element which rises from the scene, shoots out of it like an arrow, and pierces me."--"punctum" (26) He calls this a "sting, speck, cut, little hole. ... that accident which pricks me." (27)

These are central ideas from Camera Lucida; we will hear much more about these things throughout the book.

Section 11: He makes a judgment about many photos here, how they please (or displease) him without "pricking" him. (27) "The studium is of the order of liking, not of loving." (27) It is about understanding the intentions of the author, he claims. This is a particularly strange claim for Barthes to make, considering his views on authorial intention elsewhere.

Why does Barthes call the Photograph "dangerous"? (28)

Here he also lists the functions of photography: "to inform, to represent, to surprise, to cause to signify, to provoke desire." (28) He goes on to discuss these five functions in this order in the next five sections of the text.

Section 12: Here, Barthes shows how a photograph can inform, "to accede to an infra-knowledge." (30)

Section 13: Right at the start of this section, Barthes enters into the controversy as to who created photography and, of course, sides with the French. He also makes a definite link between photography and its parent, painting (because of framing and perspective). But then, he makes the link with theatre, because of Death ("however 'lifelike' we strive to make it ..."). (31)

Photography is a kind of primitive theatre, ... a figuration of the motionless and made-up face beneath which we see the dead. (32)

Section 14: Here, Barthes admits his failings in terms of being the "operator" of cameras. And it seems that he is being a little bit sarcastic (or mean) toward the photographer, suggesting the he or she is only after surprise (he calls this "the essential gesture of the Operator"). (32)

1) The first surprise, for Barthes, in the "rare referent."
2) The second is the ability to apprehend the gesture, to stop time.
3) The third is what he calls "prowess," the ability to see, for instance, the explosion of a drop of milk.
4) The fourth surprise is the "contortion of technique," playing with the technology of photography. (33)
5) And, finally, the fifth type is the "lucky find" of a whimsical, but natural, scene.

Barthes does not speak highly of these "surprising" photographs (at least, that is the sense I have).

Section 15: This is a difficult section on meaning in photographs, and portraiture in particular (remember that this section explores the function, "to cause to signify," above). What he does suggest is that "the semiology of Photography is ... limited to the admirable performances of several portraitists." (38) I what he calls "good photographs," the "object speaks" (at least). (38)

Section 16: Have you ever wanted to live in a photograph? Which one, and why?

For Barthes, this is a requirement: "landscape ... must be habitable, not [only] visitable." (38) He speaks here of a powerful notion of "home" (a notion that, for Barthes, evokes the Mother--this foreshadows his thought further in the book regarding his actual mother, and the obvious safety he felt with her, "a utopian time"). (40)

All, feel free to comment, post, enter into dialogue (especially P.W.).

Monday, September 17, 2012

The first part of a long term exploration of Roland Barthes' Camera Lucida

This post is the first in a weekly series of "dialogue" surrounding Roland Barthes' exploration of photography as a cultural process in his book Camera Lucida (the edition from Hill and Wang from 2010, with a Foreword by Geoff Dyer). I am guiding a student through a directed study of this book (and Barthes' comments regarding photography in general), and so these entries are supposed to represent both kinds of guides, as well as sort of discussion points. Hopefully, these are both helpful and thought provoking. This is an experiment, and all are invited to participate. Comments are welcome.

Right at the outset of the book, the author includes a Polaroid photograph by Daniel Boudinet from 1979. What do you think it was about the image of pillows and drawn curtains that would have enticed Barthes?

Dyer's introduction is full of wonderful points: Barthes' style is "compression and flow." (x) Perhaps Dyer's following statement is ripe for comment: "photography represents the advent of the self as other" (he attributes the sentiment to Barthes here). (xiv)

Consider Dyer's comments about digital photography:
- photograph as a record "of what has been";
- "photography as a technology in the process of becoming past, part of what has been." (xvii)

Section 1: Barthes cannot separate photography from cinema, but decides to figure out what it is apart from the other image-based media (or medium, I suppose, of film). He goes so far as to suggest that it (photography) doesn't exist.

Section 2: The various categorizations of photography, characterizations which could easily be applied to painting. He suggests that the photograph only means what it points to: "it points a finger." it is only a diectic language (that is, meaning is dependent on the context in which it is used). A photograph is always the photograph [of something]. (5) What is Barthes saying about photography as visual semiotics on p. 5? Why do you think Barthes capitalizes Pholography?

Section 3: He decides to look at only a few photographs (ones that he suggests "existed" for him, in order to "formulate the fundamental feature, the universal." (9)

Section 4: Important There are 3 impulses in photography:
1) to do (the Operator - this isn't Barthes)
2) to undergo (the observed subject)
3) to look (the subject observing)
For Barthes, photography is "the return of the dead." (9) He covers photography-according-to-the-photographer (#1 above) as simply a chemical and physical activity, but one outside of his experience. He leaves it alone. (10)

Section 5: Posing for the camera is a problem for Barthes. Photography, unlike painting or drawing, is anything but subtle - at least the artist can imbue the image with some character, whereas photography cannot. (11) "'Myself' never coincides with my [photographic] image." (12) What does Barthes say about painting in history here? What does Barthes mean by the following beautiful phrase: "cameras ... were clocks for seeing."? (15)

Section 6: Barthes constitutes #3 above - the spectator - and admits (simply) that he does not appreciate all photographs. (18)

Section 7: So, then, why the attraction to certain photographs? He talks about "advenience" or "adventure" of a photograph: "This picture advenes, that one doesn't." (19) The photograph that interests Barthes "animates" him. (20)

Section 8: He refers back to earlier sections here, suggesting that he could speak of photography in terms of "material essences" (science) and "regional essences" (perhaps sociology), but instead considers "sentimental" reasons.
I wanted to explore it not as a question (a theme) bust as a wound: I see, I feel, hence I notice, I observe, and I think. (21)

Hopefully the questions above will elicit some sort of discussion. There are (probably) no "right" answers, and I certainly don't know them all, but this is certainly a "rich text." It is a personal text, made quite evident by his observation of photography, or his desires for the photographic referent, as a "wound." His personal story comes out as he continues; Camera Lucida is a deeply personal book.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Some posts from my (now defunct) tumblr blog

I've decided to use my tumblr as something else, so I thought I would move some of the posts from there, to here, so as to not lose the gems of wonderfulness that are those posts. So, here they are, from earlier this year:

My first post on tumblr.

A University board member asked me whether I was “in media.” I mentioned that I was the professor of Communications & Media, so I suppose I was “in media” (of course, I think that’s all she meant). In any case, we had a great conversation about what we do in my University courses and what might be done in a community college. She appreciated the “analysis” portion of my courses, that one needs to understand what the “texts” of film mean. She didn’t use those exact words, but this is what she meant.

It made me think about discussions I have had regarding Zack Snyder’s film, Sucker Punch. I liked the movie; I thought it looked really good (there is a lot to be unpacked in that last statement of 6 words). Many would think that the film is a wonderful example of third-wave feminism, the notion that female erotic power can be used in favour of the female using it (awkward sentence, I know). But there is something wrong with Snyder’s film; I felt uneasy watching it, not only because I thought it looked good.

It might be an example of “third-wave feminism,” but it really does depend on the male gaze. It’s third-wave feminism with a whole bunch of voyeurism; now, maybe that’s an intrinsic part of third-wave, but I’m not so sure that the film is right.

These are the sorts of discussions I like to have with my students because, ultimately, this is more important and effective than saying, “Don’t watch it.”

Let these be initial thoughts. I may post more, or not. I’m just trying out tumblr, really.

I’m having trouble falling asleep, so I’ll write about an ill-defined “Theology of Desire.”

It is interesting how there are some atheists that I really admire; I don’t agree with them, but I really think they’re great. Consider the following: Salman Rushdie, Stephen Fry, Umberto Eco, Joss Whedon. And why is it that some of these atheists seem to know more about Christianity than I do, and seem to be able to explore such ideas with much more tact and intelligence than I can? Again, consider Whedon or Eco.

I’m currently (-ish) writing a paper on Whedon, suggesting that, in his work, one might find a kind of theology of desire (or, at least, his work can be considered a sort of lens through which a Christian theology of desire might be revealed). What do I mean by a “Christian theology of desire,” you ask?

That’s a good question, and I don’t really have an answer. But I can explore a bit of what I’m trying to get at (that is, my problem). I suppose that part of the allure that I feel when I watch some of Whedon’s televisual output (and I’m not really referring to Buffy here) seems to come from a place of desiring: I enjoy the company, if you will, that I see on the screen. I become part of a sort of community (albeit a fictional one that exists on a television screen). Without being overly dramatic, I desire those people (characters) on the show.

As the now legendary question went, “Are you speaking of a Nietzchean desire, or a Lacanian desire?” My answer remains, a Lacanian one. That is, perhaps it is that dastardly notion of wanting the one I can’t have (and the fact that it’s driving me mad) that so tugs at me.

And I think part of the allure has to do with aesthetics.

What a great cliff-hanger. Don’t you want to read more?

Monday, June 25, 2012

"Post-Meaning"

From Roland Barthes' Mourning Diary:
I brood over Tolstoy's story Father Sergius (recently saw the bad film). In the final episode he finds peace (Meaning, or Exemption from Meaning) when he encounters a little girls as she was in his childhood now become a grandmother, Mavra, who simply concerns herself with the family she loves, without raising any problem of appearance, of sanctity, of the Church, etc. I tell myself: that's maman. She never employs a meta-language, a pose, a deliberate image. That's what 'Sanctity" is.
These are some of Roland Barthes' thoughts about the neutral here, I think. And he defines what being "post-meaning" is all about as well: not employing a meta-language, a pose, a deliberate image. He speaks of this in Camera Lucida as well, when he explores the notion of the "true" photograph (impossible except in very young photographic subjects; otherwise, we know better and we pose).

Source: Roland Barthes, Mourning Diary, Richard Howard, trans. (London: Notting Hill Editions, 2011), 209. [This is a beautifully bound book, and wonderfully readable, especially because of its sewn binding.]

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Feist and Canada (and Barthes)

This post can start with the following quote from Dr. Peter Simon, the president of the Royal Conservatory of Music (based in Toronto), on the occasion of its 125th anniversary, and upon the bestowing upon Leslie Feist the title of Honourary Fellow of the Royal Conservatory: “The exceptional music created by Feist . . . has strengthened Canada’s standing throughout the world as an incubator of creativity.” This comment is somewhat ironic since virtually all of Feist's recorded output was recorded outside of Canada (Let It Die and The Reminder were recording in France, while Metals was recorded in California; perhaps only Feist's first album, Monarch (Lay Your Jewelled Head Down) was recorded in Canada, in Toronto). These creative works might have been "incubated" in Canada (though even that is arguable), but they were "birthed" elsewhere.

To begin a study of Roland Barthes' "neutral," it is useful to consider where the neutral lies: according to Barthes, the neutral is a "third term," that seems to be found between binaries. So, in this case, the most obvious binary is: Canadian/not Canadian. For Barthes, the third term is there between them. The "third term" can be thought of in the context of gender (the neuter, or the drone bee in a hive), or in the context of politics (Switzerland as a neutral), or in the terms of sound, that is, "the annihilation of opposition between sounds within certain languages." (xiv) This third way of conceiving of the third term is probably the most appropriate here, in that Feist annihilates the opposition between "Canadian" and "not Canadian." She inhabits that "other place" (I'm now in love with my own classification of "Faux-Toronto" and the "space of the music of Metals." For Barthes, the neutral is "neither-nor," which seems to fit Feist quite well. She is neither Canadian nor not Canadian. She is, just like the definition for CCM. I'm not missing anything in that last sentence: Feist is what she is (religious connotations aside).

To use Richard Howard's term in translating Barthes' text, Feist baffles the paradigm Canadian/not Canadian.

There is a bit of a difference between Feist as Barthes' neutral, and Barthes' own conception of the neutral. The neutral is a sort of "degree zero," a language without sign, and thus exempt from meaning. I'm not sure that Feist being a neutral makes her exempt from meaning. In fact, it seems to work the other way: she is infinitely full of meaning (I am reminded of Victor Turner and the liminal, that is, full of optimistic, infinite, possibility).

If Feist's vocal injury around 1998 or 1999 was one site of destruction and rebirth (as I have argued in the past), then her retreat from public life after her success ("1234") and her response is her second rebirth. Her first branded her in a particular way, marking her physically (resulting in the very sound we hear). The second rebirth freed her from that. Now she cannot be pinned down; she is not exempt from meaning, but now she "cannot be determined, arrested." She is "post-meaning." (Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes, 87)


Sources:

Author Unknown, "News Releases: The Royal Conservatory's 125th Anniversary Royal Occasion Gala Honours Measha Brueggergosman and Feist," The Royal Conservatory (9 May 2012); available from http://rcmusic.ca/media/news-releases/royal-conservatorys-125th-anniversary-royal-occasion-gala-honours-measha-bruegge; Internet; accessed 6 June 2012.

Roland Barthes, Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes, Richard Howard, trans. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1977).

Rosalind E. Krauss and Dennis Hollier, "Translator's Preface," in Roland Barthes, The Neutral, R. E. Krauss & D. Hollier, trans. (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005), xiii-xvii.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Feist present in a sort of "third term" (neutral) space?

I was reading an article from a Madison-based website called "77-Square," which did a kind of profile of Leslie Feist as a precursor to her concert on 3 June 2012 at the Capitol Theater. In the short interview, the singer makes some interesting points, providing for the reader a framework for her latest creative expression, the album Metals. She mentions that the new album is a response to the success of the previous one (The Reminder from 2007 and, especially, the hit single "1234"): "There's only so much honesty and presence you can bring to talking about the same thing over and over, or singing the same songs over and over. . . . It's really important to me to stay present and to stay a part of the whole thing when it's in my name."

The article outlines 2 particular notions, in order of importance (by the way, the one above is of secondary importance, though I will return to it below). The first part of the article talks about how Feist's response to her success was manifest, namely with the recording of the album in Big Sur, California. She talks about how John Steinbeck is the "godfather" of the new album, and that his work makes the reader think that "you've lived some meaningful, deep life there [in Big Sur] amidst all these salty characters." But, it turns out that Big Sur is not the ideal place once thought: "Prior to the February 2011 recording sessions, which took place on a sprawling coastal ranch, the singer believed California to be eternally sunny, with, in her own words, 'oranges trickling down from every tree.' In that regard, northern California's sometimes-harsh weather proved to be a bit of a wake-up call." The article writer goes on to suggest that the weather was stormy and "quite frigid."

Consider Feist's words:
I think there's definitely something about us being so cold during the making of the record. . . . I think all your senses are sharp and alive when you're dealing with less-than-humane conditions. There's a very intense intention behind everyone's playing.
So, remember what Feist stated about her time after The Reminder; she suggested that there is "only so much honesty and presence," and that she wanted to make sure to "stay present." The cold did that for her, as do her frequent breaks from the tour to return to Toronto (her home as stated in the article). So what does Toronto and cold weather have in common? Both of those things are Canadian.

Except that the cold she is talking about is in Big Sur, California. And the Toronto she is talking about is simply a place, a "moment," of refuge, and one that she even tries to recreate while on tour, by cooking for herself and shopping at local vegetable markets: "to take ownership of my days a little bit more." Her refuges are a momentary Toronto and faux-Toronto, Big Sur and the music (as space) of Metals. This is the neutral that I'm looking at.

Finally, from an article in the October 2011 issue of Elle magazine:
She tells me that she is approaching the release of the album and cross-country tour "quietly, with no presumptions that it will be what it was—I don't want to feed any fire." But I notice her hands trembling at one point, and I feel bad—like I'm violating her desire for privacy. [emphasis added]
The trembling hands act for me in the same ways as Barthes' punctum, that part of a photograph that resists codification, but pierces the viewer. This is what it does for me. But it also points to this "third term." She is not present in the interview with Elle, not really, not her. She is not being vulnerable, she is being uncomfortable. She is not herself; she suggests, though, that her self is in Big Sur, in faux-Toronto (with her cooking and shopping for food on her own). And in the music "with only the most basic tools, including a desk, a guitar, a single floor tom, a mallet and a 1950s Sears catalog amplifier she described as 'half broken.'" (from the "77-Square" article).


Sources:

Andy Downing, "5678...Feist Talks About Life After Megahit '1234,'" 77-Square (31 May 2012); available from http://host.madison.com/entertainment/music/feist-talks-about-life-after-megahit/article_e7a262d4-aa9c-11e1-a446-001a4bcf887a.html?comment_form=true; Internet; accessed 31 May 2012.

Kathryn Hudson, "Looking Forward," Elle Canada (October 2011), 130.

Friday, June 01, 2012

Some thoughts on Leslie Feist

As I prepare for the International Association for the Study of Popular Music (Canadian branch) conference in a couple of weeks in Wolfville, I am (naturally) thinking about Leslie Feist (and what I have to write about). What comes to mind immediately, and I think what one of the problems with my analysis of dear Leslie, is this: what does it mean to be Canadian? At a recent conference (PCAC in Niagara Falls in May), I attended an excellent panel on the Polaris Prize, for Canadian music. In that panel presentation, and in the discussion that followed, there was the question as to how one defines what "Canadian" actually means. This is not a new question, and it seems that it has yet to be answered in a satisfactory manner.

What came from the discussion reminded me of something I had come across while preparing a class on popular music history. Strange as it might be, I think it might be helpful to look at the definition of the subcultural music called Contempory Christian Music. Some define it as “bad songs written about God by white people,” or as a simple euphemism for rock music (at least, the "contemporary" part of the title does this). As for "Christian," it could be the content, or the author which defines the genre as Christian (both of these are problematic, by the way).

So, a better definition is as follows: "Contemporary Christian Music is music that appeals to self-identified fans of contemporary Christian music on account of a perceived connection to what they regard as Christianity." In other words, it is self-defining; it is what it is. Much of this comes from Mark Allen Powell's introduction to his excellent Encyclopedia of Contemporary Christian Music (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 2002).

I can't help to think, though, that Canadian music suffers from the difficulties in genre definition as CCM. In other words, the MAPL system might help (2 of the 4 criteria: music, artist, production, lyric), but it isn't perfect. But perhaps Canadian music is simply what we say it is.

Is Feist (as a musical entity, including all she sings and all she is, in terms of celebrity) Canadian? No (at least, that's what I'll be arguing, that she is something else). But yes, she is because we (most of us) say so. Consider Powell's definition now bastardized for your academic pleasure: "Canadian Music is music that appeals to self-identified fans of Canadian music on account of a perceived connection to what they regard as being Canadian."

Now, what would Barthes say about that? Wait for it. It's bound to be exciting.


Or something.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Startin' Monday

I'm thinking of beginning to read some Karl Barth (not to mention more Roland Barthes). I met with a friend recently who suggested that he and some friends of his were going to read Church Dogmatics together (but didn't end up doing much of that). I have a colleague that bought a highly discounted set of Church Dogmatics, and it has been sitting on his shelf for over a year; that said, I am tempted to buy a highly discounted set for myself so that I can have it sit on my shelf for a long while.

In any case, I found a copy of excerpts from the set, and I will begin reading that, and see what happens. If I happen to actually read a substantial portion of it (say, a chapter or something like that), then I will seriously consider the cheap 14 volume set. That said, I should also read some Roland Barthes (same pronunciation of the last name, different nationality, sexuality, religious belief, etc.). I am reviewing The Preparation of the Novel for a journal (due sometime in 2013); it will certainly be difficult. The book is a collection of his lectures, and probably not something meant to be published. Interestingly, his actual spoken lectures are somewhere online. I might make it a point to listen to some of them. My french comprehension is not really the best (especially France french, as opposed to Quebec french), so I'm not sure how useful it would be.

I am also preparing for the IASPM conference at Acadia University in June. I am presenting on Feist (again), and her Canadian-ness (again). I anticipate excitement on all sides.

I must also work on a proposal to publish a book on David Bowie's 1995 album, entitled 1. Outside. It is one of his most critically acclaimed works, but I don't think much of anything has been written about it. The publisher would like a proposed table of contents and some sample chapters. I have my work set out for me for the next short while.

By the way, the title of this post comes from the song, "Startin' Monday," by Terry Scott Taylor, from his album Avocado Faultline. I guess it's also a saying that people say, for when they're going to start doing things, like dieting and exercising and so forth. I'm going to do all of that too, by the way.

Monday, May 07, 2012

A quote

"Give me a drink," asks Jesus. The demand would appear to be double. Seated wearily at a well whose water is beyond reach, Jesus desires a drink. But he has another desire that well water cannot satisfy, as [John] 4:10 suggests "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, 'Give me a drink,' you would shave asked him, and he would shave given you living water." What Jesus longs for from this woman, even more than refreshing spring water, is that she long for the living water that he longs to give her. Jesus thirsts to arouse her thirst. His desire is to arouse her desire, to be himself desired. His desire is to be the desire of this woman, to have her recognize in him that which she lacks in herself. His desire is to fill up her lack. Only thus can his own deeper thirst be assured, his own lack be filled.

- Stephen D. Moore, "Are There Impurities in the Living Water That the Johannine Jesus Dispenses? Deconstruction, Feminism, and the Samaritan Woman." The Interpretation of John John Ashton, ed. (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1997), 83.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Quoting from the recent report, "Regarding an ideological or faith test as condition of employment at Providence University College" by William Bruneau and Robert Chernomas:

If academic freedom means academic staff must be free from ideological, doctrinal, or theological tests, then one may argue Providence University College is a “university” in name only. The fact that Providence has been chartered by the Legislature of the Province of Manitoba gives Providence the power to say it is a “university.” But there must be substantial doubt that free teaching, instruction, research, and public comment occur at Providence.

As a professor in the employ of Providence University College, this last sentence by Bruneau and Chernomas is absolutely false. I also find it insulting, and makes me particularly uncomfortable.

You can read the whole report here.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

I just posted the following to nicholasgreco.tumblr.com

A University board member asked me whether I was “in media.” I mentioned that I was the professor of Communications & Media, so I suppose I was “in media” (of course, I think that’s all she meant). In any case, we had a great conversation about what we do in my University courses and what might be done in a community college. She appreciated the “analysis” portion of my courses, that one needs to understand what the “texts” of film mean. She didn’t use those exact words, but this is what she meant.

It made me think about discussions I have had regarding Zack Snyder’s film, Sucker Punch. I liked the movie; I thought it looked really good (there is a lot to be unpacked in that last statement of 6 words). Many would think that the film is a wonderful example of third-wave feminism, the notion that female erotic power can be used in favour of the female using it (awkward sentence, I know). But there is something wrong with Snyder’s film; I felt uneasy watching it, not only because I thought it looked good.

It might be an example of “third-wave feminism,” but it really does depend on the male gaze. It’s third-wave feminism with a whole bunch of voyeurism; now, maybe that’s an intrinsic part of third-wave, but I’m not so sure that the film is right.

These are the sorts of discussions I like to have with my students because, ultimately, this is more important and effective than saying, "Don't watch it."

Friday, January 27, 2012

Sunday, January 01, 2012

New Post for a New Year

It is no secret that our family spent a week before Christmas at Walt Disney World in Florida. It seems that this has become a bit of a tradition for us, as we have visited that spot 7 times in the last 10.5 years (and are already in the planning stages to go in May of 2013). When we arrived this time, I had the big idea to write a paper on the experience, to try to decipher why I find it so appealing to return to the same theme park year after year (and, potentially, every second year for the rest of my life).

The point of such a study is the relationship between power and desire at Walt Disney World. My idea is that power (Disney power) is what elicits desire (at least in the opinion of this researcher). Foucault might ask where biopower fits in to this. Is there anything in terms of what society needs from its people? Does Disney contribute to biopower, the requirements of modern society? I also thought about Paul Virilio, r regarding speed and spectacle, two elements of the Walt Disney World experience that often results in overstimulation (so much so that the girls needed to stay at the hotel for a morning to "decompress"). I'd also love to respond to Jon Pahl's various criticisms of the "public theology" of Walt Disney World. I think I agree with some of his criticisms. I'm just not sure that they are so problematic (maybe Disney can be "redeemed").

Consider the Disney monorail for a moment: it is a kind of site of conflation of globalization and postmodernity (or maybe modernity, more accurately). I'm thinking about Harold Innis' notions of space/time bias as well as concepts such as space/time compression in globalization. Typing this out, I'm not sure if this works theoretically (or what my original thoughts were).

So, here are some keywords at the end for consideration: biopower, speed, "secular" public theology, space/time compression in a Baudrillardian space. I'm not sure this will go anywhere, but it's a blog entry for a new year, in any case.