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Having reviewed over 1200 books on this blog, I have now written two myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. The Kids of God is a thriller set in a dystopia ruled by fascist paramilitaries. Both are available as paperbacks and on Kindle through Amazon. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

"Camera Lucida" by Roland Barthes

This bizarre book is an utterly subjective attempt by Barthes to explain to himself how some photographs have an effect on him and others don't. I can live with that. I find it less comfortable that he then dresses his thoughts up in philosophical language, including italicised neologisms from Latin, with which he attempts to generate some sort of generalities which I presume he expects to apply to me. Or else why write the book?

He states "I make myself the measure of photographic knowledge". Very pre-Socratic; Parmenides would be proud. But you can't make yourself a measure and then assume that anything you say applies to me.

For example, he claims that there is a clear distinction between pornographic photos and erotic photos: erotica "does not make the sexual organs into a central object." This is reasonably objective. But he goes on to argue "the pornographic body shows itself, it does not give itself, there is no generosity in it". It seems he wants to have his cake and eat it: he is prepared to dichotomize photos of naked people for himself and then to claim that this distinction can be generalised. This seems dodgy to me.

In some ways Barthes is firmly in the Cartesian tradition, using introspection to identify his clear thoughts because he seems to assume in some way that what he can conceive of clearly must in some way be true.

But Barthes is fundamentally a phenomenologist. This presupposes an external reality but then discards it in favour of subjectivity. There are "two experiences: that of the observed subject and that of the subject observing ..." This is like those literary theorists who claim that the meaning of a novel resides only in the readers' interpretations and not in the author's intentions.

There were some moments when I sat up and thought, that is interesting, I wonder ...
  • The essence of photography is the pose
  • Most communicative signs are arbitrary representations of reality, for example bread and pain are both alphabetical representations in different languages of something made with flour that we eat. A photo, however, is unique in being a non-arbitrary representation of its reality.
  • A photograph can show someone alive who is going to die who is already dead.
But much of this seemed to me to be self-indulgence.

December 2015; 119 pages

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