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.


Phil Wiebe said...

Style is the beginning of writing: “By committing itself to great risks of recuperation, it sketches the reign of the signifier” (76). I’m not quite sure what that means, but the reign of the signifier could refer to how style is basically concerned with form over substance (signifier over signified). Overemphasis on style results in the pursuit of another value – writing itself, which Barthes considers excess. We see again Sartre’s influence on Barthes: his style is the product of a time when “political intentions, philosophical notions, and true rhetorical figures” were cherished (76).

Barthes is often timeless, but here, he either dates himself, or is just plain wrong: “Surely there is no longer a single adolescent who has this fantasy: to be a writer!” (77). I have been that adolescent. I cannot tell if Barthes is saying that we cannot fantasize the writer without his work, or the work without the writer, or that we can only imagine the writer without his work (would that make more sense, since Barthes probably would like us to imagine the work without the writer [Death of the Author]).

Barthes makes a brief nod to the all-encompassing nature of language, but makes himself radical through his understanding of its implications. His thinking is a bit reductive and it feels like ‘the cake eats itself’ – you can’t have it OR eat it. Was there any significant ground on the philosophy of language Barthes covered that hadn’t already been sketched out by Wittgenstein?

In contrast to his gloomy nature, Barthes apparently had a thing for comedy, specifically gags – he praises the Marx brothers (note the coincidence). I feel like there is a part of Barthes that never grew up (perhaps because he had no father). Snapshots of Barthes’ life: he was tidy, enjoyed gardening, actively propagated small talk, perhaps a bit anal-retentive or obsessive-compulsive about his schedule, enjoyed some television, liked detective novels (I imagine him reading Dashiel Hammett or Raymond Chandler).

Phil Wiebe said...

Perhaps my favourite segment from Barthes: “He attempts to compose a discourse which is not uttered in the name of the Law and/or of Violence; whose instance might be neither political nor religious nor scientific; which might be in a sense the remainder and the supplement of all such utterances. What shall we call such discourse? Erotic, no doubt, for it has to do with pleasure; or even perhaps: aesthetic, if we foresee subjecting this old category to a gradual torsion which will alienate it from its regressive, idealist background and bring it closer to the body, to the drift” (84). Here he is closest to describing my aims.

The comparison of etymology to palimpsest is one of Barthes’ most apt (85).

I wonder if Barthes knew that what undermines liberalism is the realization of the necessity of violence by the existence of evidence. The left claims to champion the natural (natural rights, natural law, natural living) without understanding that “the ‘natural’ is, in short, the ultimate outrage” (85).

An account of a dream is only insipid insofar as a dream cannot be described – it is not a representation, it is a Phenomenon.

Here’s a Barthes t-shirt quote: “I write classic.” At high school (and also Prov) I was surrounded by a good deal of Koreans, who often sported shirts bearing English text that were clearly written by someone with a good grip of English spelling and sentence construction but missing the je ne sais quoi word choice or finer points of grammar that a native speaker might have. This reminds me of one of those.

Barthes compares his fragmentary writing style to music rather than aphorism. I think of it more as a spoken conversation with a man who sometimes uses words I do not understand. He is obsessed with the bourgeois and the petit bourgeois; does he know that he is one of their number? Barthes’ discourse is increasingly Franco-centric; I do not think he could constitute himself as a person outside of France. Continual reference to Gide and Brecht – why?

Photography does not constitute its subject, it is simply the catalyst for the viewer to do so.