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!


Phil Wiebe said...

The primal motivations for Barthes’ writing: reaction (negative, defined by fear and rebuttal) and action (positive, defined by pleasure). The application of “the fiction of Style” to the reactive text renders it active and the reactive elements are mostly subsumed (43). Remark this self-awareness: “(mere parentheses)” (43).

The image is the self that others constitute for us. Adjectives are embellishments wholly devoted to the image, and thus are allied with death (one of Barthes’ recurring neuroses). His experiences in Morocco suggest that our ‘image-repertoire’ is primarily cultural. Note the contrast of ‘gloss’ and ‘matte’ (43).

He is what he thinks he is. The comfort that one makes for oneself he dubs ease, which “can be given a theoretical dignity . . . and also an ethical force: it is the deliberate loss of all heroism, even in pleasure;” Barthes follows a kind of negative hedonism (the aversion of suffering rather than the pursuit of pleasure) (44).

Apparently, analogy necessarily commits the naturalistic fallacy. Yet analogy seems inescapable, and can barely be subverted through ‘Copy’ and ‘Anamorphosis.’ Barthes prefers homology to analogy, for analogy is imaginary and thus beholden to the image.

“Real life, which proclaims nothing, which is always silent” (45).

Embarrassment is ease’s opposite. I think Barthes overestimates his childhood when he claims he belonged to no group and shared no values with the bourgeoisie; after all, “His formative problem was doubtless money” (45).

Phil Wiebe said...

By substitution and nomination, an object can remain the same while having its past stripped away – it has “no other cause than its name, with no other identity than its form” (46). Does this reveal the object in itself? For Barthes, form and name constitute the similarity of his workspaces, not actual shared material.

We see a basic level of Schadenfreude in Barthes. All triumphant discourse is arrogance to him, like those of Science, Doxa, and the Militant (what kind of militancy?) Doxa is the majority, doxology is the adaptation of communication to convention (image is this very thing, cf. Morocco story). The term dominant ideology is redundant.

The public is interested in choice over assent. This is an ‘arrogant discourse.’

Barthes is self-aware of the contradictions within his thoughts on language, especially regarding truth and assertion. “As if anything that came out of language could make language tremble” (48).

Very psychoanalytic here: “The pleasure which vanishes vanishes for good, there is no substitute for it. Other pleasures come, which replace nothing. No progress in pleasures, nothing but mutations” (50).

Barthes has an everyman vibe to him – he glorifies the amateur and proclaims the stupid worthwhile, he compares the erotic to the intellectual, and laments his ‘caste.’

A fine quote: “At least make your taste and your ideas match” (54).

Music is a noumenal experience for Barthes – he disappears, the essential nature of the composer’s music appears. This is not to say he has discovered ‘truth.’ Writing about himself is the ultimate abolishing coincidence.

Great line: “The function of any drawer is to ease” (61).

Kitsch is the aesthetic of the second degree. “Art always extends beyond a physical context” (68).