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 Collège 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).
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.