Roland Barthes on photography

Over at Frieze Sylvère Lotringer looks at Barthes after Barthes, examining mourning, fiction and the final thoughts of a great writer, predicated by the upcoming publication of  Roland Barthes as yet unreleased Ur-novel The Preparation of the Novel.

One section in particular in which looks at the period when Barthes wrote Camera Lucida which was published in Paris in February 1980. In this work Barthes discussed Marcel Proust and the still young art of photography. It was during this time that Barthes was also working on another work, The Preparation of the Novel.

Lotringer writes

He was bringing out instead its anthropological status: photography as a direct emanation of the referent, testifying that the event or the person had been there. It was this presence at a second remove that mattered to Barthes, its sudden return from the dead, death claiming its due from the living. A photograph was ‘what excludes me’. In the absence of religion, where else could death have taken refuge if not in these fragile images, which ‘keep producing death while attempting to preserve life’?
Photographs have a definite hold over us: ‘We dream,’ Barthes wrote in Preparation, ‘therefore we enter into a transference.’ Photographs fascinate, they intoxicate the viewer. But ‘to be fascinated = to have nothing to say.’


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