Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: a Study Guide. Annotations 2

A continuation of notes on Camera Lucida to help elucidate the text. Part 1 of the notes can be found here, while the general introduction giving brief contextual notes can be found here.

Part II: Section 25 (page 63)

Carefully compare the opening of section 1. What more do you learn about the purpose of this book here?


Barthes’s conception of “hysteria” is very Lacanian. A hysterical symptom (e.g. fantasy pains in a limb which has been amputated) is a mark of mourning for the lost state of plenitude and bodily integrity. It relates to the form of the body as it is imagined (imaged – seen – by the mind) not the body as it is or seen by others.

67: beginning of section 28

Note: the position of this section corresponds closely to the “Golden Mean” (media aurea). Find out what the “Golden Mean” is. Why might it be important here?


Another of the several references to Marcel Proust’s A la recherche du temps perdu. (1913-1927). Note the many similarities with Camera lucida.

»  The Proust is written as an interior monologue in the first person and is in many respects autobiographical, tracing the gradual self-awareness of the narrator.

»  The novel is concerned with seeking the buried memory released by everyday incidents (the famous madeleines – a kind of biscuit – that start the whole story off). Time is a key concept, both as a destroyer and as producer of memory. The sequence of time is perceived in the light of the theories of the French philosopher Henri Bergson, whom Proust admired, (and which are also heavily influential on psychoanalysis). Time is not psychologically measurable by the clock or calendar: sometimes it goes fast or slow, and maybe not in a straight line (since moments from the past can suddenly emerge and have a huge effect many years later without ever having emerged before). Moments of the past and the present have equal reality.

»  Proust also explored subconscious motivations, and the irrationality of human behaviour, particularly in relation to love.


Labyrinth – The princess of Crete, Ariadne, is in love with the hero Theseus, sent to the island as part of the annual human sacrifice to the monstrous Minotaur who lives in a labyrinth deep underground. Ariadne helps Theseus kill the Minotaur by supplying him with a thread by means of which he can find his way out of the labyrinth.


What does Barthes resist in the definitions of the “Family” he refers to here?

What connection (again!) is made here with the “image”?

76 – under cover of method

What terms you have read about before (at length) do the binary opposites “banality” and “singularity” recall?


noeme – Greek philosophical term for “concept” or “mental image” that is derived from sensory experience and so is not “pure thought”: Barthes is probably thinking of Aristotle.


What is the difference between cinema and the photograph here?


note how the language of resurrection, which has already appeared earlier, begins to become more common – how stressed is it?

Albertian perspective – Alberti, Leon Battista (1404-1472), Italian architect and writer, who was the first important art theorist of the Renaissance. Developing the work on mathematical laws of linear perspective which the architect Brunelleschi had studied, he wrote a treatise called Della Pittura (On painting; 1436) which set down the laws of perspective for the painters of his own and succeeding generations until the late nineteenth century.

Sontag, Susan – famous American critic of film, photography and cultural theory and an expert on Barthes (she actually edited The Barthes Reader in 1987, a selection of texts by Roland Barthes, from which Camera Lucida is interestingly omitted). She is most famous for her 1964 essay on “camp” which propelled her to international fame. And which already showed the traces of Barthes’ influence.


Bouvard and Péchuchet – 2 comic characters in a novel by Flaubert that Barthes has mentioned in many of his works as types of the stupid and pedestrian bourgeois (they are one of the leitmotifs that artfully characterise Barthes’ oeuvre as an oeuvre). What is his attitude to wards them in Camera Lucida?


How is language different from the Photograph?


thesis – a statement concerning reality

physis – nature in pure form, reality itself – important term in Greek philosophy and tragedy.

How does Barthes define “realism” here?


What is the distinction Barthes is making between cinema and photography here?


“History” as a discipline that depends on research in archives, evaluating different forms of evidence etc. is regarded as having an origin in the nineteenth century. Before that “histories” were chronicles, anecdotes (more or less fabricated) or genealogies used to prove the legitimacy of kings and princes. Barthes regards all history (irrespective of when or where it was written) as ideologically motivated. On p. 94 Michelet, a nineteenth-century historian and one of the founders of the historical method, will be mentioned. Barthes had written extensively about his ideological presuppositions in an earlier book.


Donald Winnicott: British paediatrician who analysed the effects of maternal deprivation in children: the catastrophe Barthes refers to is the absence or death of a mother figure in early childhood.


compares the religious meditation in solitude – devotio moderna – in the Middle Ages with the solitary perusal of photos today


What does Barthes mean when he says that only in private is his image “free to abolish itself”? (see above also pp. 10-15 on the pose)


compare p. 5. In fact the structure of this book can be compared to an elaborate musical form (cf. p. 27 which provides a clue). Part 2 has been recapitulating and developing part 1. Some recapitulations are more obvious than others.


Golaud & Mélisande. A reference to the Belgian Maeterlinck’s symbolist play (which the French composer Debussy turned to his only complete opera) Pelléas et Mélisande. Golaud finds Mélisande in a wood and marries her, in love with her beauty (her image). She never says where she comes from or who she is beyond her name, or whether or not she and Pelléas (Golaud’s half-brother) had an affair or not. At the end of the opera/play, she becomes pure image, a dead body, without ever saying anything to confirm or deny Golaud’s suspicions about her.


“no one is ever anything but a copy of a copy, real or mental” – where have you heard or read (something like) this before?


What is the Photograph able to reveal now?

How is this the corpus that Barthes has been trying to assemble?


The camera lucida was a more sophisticated later development than the camera obscura (see p. 10). It allowed the painter to see simultaneously the subject painted and the image projected onto the canvas. Barthes (of course) is correct historically in linking the camera lucida to the photogaphc camera: Henry Fox Talbot, an artist and one of the pioneers of Photograph, tried to use chemical means to fix the images projected by his camera lucida.

(how many pages before the end is this term introduced? How many after the beginning did you find camera obscura ?)


Strangely at this extremely late stage a new term is introduced. Which concept /term does it recall – and vaporize?

Masks – where have you read about masks in this book before?


another difference between film and photography?


Kristeva, Julia – Bulgarian who defected to France in the 1960s and has become one of the most notable psychoanalysts and literary critics of the century. La verité folle refers to her article “Le vréel” published first in 1979 – just before Camera Lucida was written (translated as “The True-Real” in The Kristeva Reader ed. Toril Moi 1986). The article concerns the idea that a sign can be linked simply to another sign without any reference to its referent (i.e. the thing it refers to). So “cow” would not refer to an animal but may simply be linked to another signifier, say, “wit” which might be connected to “time” which might be associated with “egg-cup” to produce the “sentence” “cow wit time egg-cup”. Obviously this is meaningless according to conventional logic since it refers to nothing at all. However, mysticism and madness might find a kind of truth in it. In terms of image, hallucinations work in the same way (p. 114). (Note that for Kristeva, Barthes, Derrida and Foucault madness is often a positive value since it is interpreted as a resistance to the violence of the patriarchal culture of the twentieth century. Following Lacan, these thinkers often consider madness as the result of an overwhelming confrontation with reality – against which most of us build elaborate and “rational” defence systems). You may like to compare it to Baudrillard’s notion of “simulation” too: how are they the same and different?


ecmnesic – “a form of partial amnesia, in which the memory of events prior to a particular period in the patient’s life is preserved in its entirety, whereas the memory of events subsequent to that period is completely abolished” (see footnote to p. 250 in the Penguin ed. of Freud’s Studies on Hysteria – though Freud took the term from a French psychiatrist, Pitres)


ecstasy – “exit from the self” – according to many religious traditions union with God. Of which concept is it a variant?

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Andrew King

Andrew King is Professor of English Literature and Literary Studies at the University of Greenwich. He has always been interested in how and why certain texts are kept for posterity and others disappear. His first degree was in classical and medieval Latin, and he has MAs in Medieval Studies and English. He completed his PhD in English at Birkbeck, supervised by Laurel Brake. He taught for many years at Universities overseas, though immediately before he came to Greenwich in May 2012, taught at Canterbury Christ Church University. His official profile can be found at

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