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?

Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: a Study Guide Annotations 1

The following notes are intended to help the reader understand Barthes’ references, technical terms, themes. The previous post provides very briefly the context for this text.

The page numbers below refer to the translation of La chambre claire by Richard Howard, Jonathan Cape (now Macmillan), 1982.

page 4

Barthes needs a “corpus” or collection of texts in order to classify them, which is the basis of scientific understanding. NB. Word-play corpus/ corpse/ [dead] body. The term “body” and all cognates are one of the main strands that weave in and out of this text.

Tuché – the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan borrows this term from the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle, for whom it means “chance” or “accident”: the point is that reality is accidental and has no “meaning” or narrative – it just “is”. The following references to Buddhism and to the English mystical commentator Alan Watts are all connected to this idea.


antiphon – the first of the many musical references that Barthes uses in this text: look out for others. What may be the function of such references?


mathesis – mental discipline, knowledge or science


eidolon – Greek word for “image”, “likeness”, but also “spectre” or “ghost”. Note the large number of words with the same root eid– that appear in this text. “Idol” (which is etymologically connected to eidolon) with its erotic and religious connotations does not appear, but seems to be hovering just out of sight like a ghost…

terms you need to remember the meanings of in this work:

What is the Operator? __________________________________________________

What is the Spectator?__________________________________________________

What is the Spectrum?__________________________________________________

NB the word-play spectacle/ spectre throughout


camera obscura – an arrangements of lenses and mirrors in a darkened room or box invented in the sixteenth century. Artists used it to project images onto canvas on which they would base their pictures. Note how Barthes introduces the idea of the camera lucida by means of a kind of a binary opposite, the camera obscura.


zero degree – a reference to Barthes’ own first published volume Writing Degree Zero (orig. 1953 as Le degré zéro de l’écriture) – “degree zero” here means “without meaning”, “purely for and in itself”.


parenthesis – see note to page 20 below


eidos – According to Plato the “eidos” is the real image of something (usually translated in English as “Idea”). It exists in the realm of the eternal and so is not perceptible by the senses. In Husserl (see note to p. 20) it means the same as “essence”, which can be arrived at by pure consciousness. I’m not sure which sense is uppermost in Camera Lucida.


Rue St. Rustique, Montmartre

Atget, (Jean) Eugène Auguste (1856-1927), French photographer, now recognised as one of the major figures in the history of photography. In about 1898 Atget began his photographic career; within a decade he had produced some of his most impressive documentary series on Parisian life—tradespeople, architecture, shop windows, parks, cafés, and markets. He’s most famous for his pictures of empty Paris streets.

Rue St. Rustique by Atget,  March 1922


The task of phenomenology is to study essences, such as the essence of emotions. Although Husserl, the founder of phenomenology, never gave up his early interest in essences, he later held that only the essences of certain special conscious structures should be studied by phenomenology. As formulated by Husserl after 1910, phenomenology is the study of the structures of consciousness that enable consciousness to refer to objects outside itself. This study requires reflection on the contents of the mind to the exclusion of everything else. Because the mind can be directed towards non-existent as well as real objects, Husserl noted that phenomenological reflection does not presuppose that anything exists, but rather amounts to a “bracketing of existence” (compare the “parenthesis” Barthes refers to on page 14), that is, it sets aside the question of the real existence of the contemplated object.

What Husserl discovered when he contemplated the contents of his mind were such acts as remembering, desiring, and perceiving and the abstract content of these acts, which Husserl called meanings. These meanings, he claimed, enabled an act to be directed towards an object under a certain aspect; and such directedness, called intentionality, he held to be the essence of consciousness. Transcendental phenomenology, according to Husserl, was the study of the basic components of the meanings that make intentionality possible. Later, in Cartesian Meditations (1931; trans. 1960), he introduced genetic phenomenology, which he defined as the study of how these meanings are built up in the course of experience.

NB the author of the book that Camera Lucida is in homage to (Sartre) was key in the introduction of phenomenology to France during Barthes’ youth.


Greuze, Jean-Baptiste (1725-1805), French painter. He studied art in Lyon and in Paris, where he became a leading genre painter who concentrated on sentimental moralistic scenes and portraits.

The Village Betrothal by Greuze

26 – 7 and many pages following  concern two of the most cited terms from Camera Lucida

  • The studium of a photograph comprises those aspects that we learn to appreciate through enculturation. We ourselves bring “studium” to a photograph. It is part of our consciousness.
  • The punctum of a photograph comprises those aspects that wound or puncture us like Cupid’s arrow. Beyond our conscious control, the “punctum” seems to leap out of the photograph into us. The same points don’t always continue to wound us.


What is surprising about the connections made with photography on this page? Can you relate it to film?


“noise” (“in cybernetics”) here = interference or static that surrounds a radio signal and makes it less clear

What does Barthes mean when he writes, “Is not the very capacity to perceive the political and moral meaning of a face a class deviation?” (it should become clearer if you read the few sentences following that one). Do you think what he says is true? Why?


fantasmatic – producing fantasies

NB the recurring theme of the “Mother” – is it related here to the studium or the punctum?

What is a “unary photograph”?


Do you find Barthes’ refusal to regard Robert Mapplethorpe’s photographs as merely pornographic and unary convincing? Why (not)?


metonymy – substitution of attribute or associated object for the thing itself. In Lacan such substitution of one object for another marks the movement of desire along a chain (we desire one thing, then another, then another…). Metonymy is a structure that enables the psychoanalyst to follow the chain of the analysand’s desire and thereby to understand his/her unconscious. The punctum as metonymic is thus clearly marked as beyond the conscious control of either the Spectator or the Operator. (cf. Derrida’s supplement – this is referred to on p. 47).


myth of Orpheus –  Orpheus was the mythical musician who tried to bring his beloved back from the dead. The gods of the underworld permitted this so long as he did not look behind him towards his beloved who was following him.


satori – a Japanese term that means “enlightenment” and “nothingness”. Barthes had written a book on Japan: The Empire of Signs. (see also later the reference to the haiku, a very strict Japanese verse form of 17 syllables)

pages 55-6

What are the differences, according to Barthes, between cinema and photography?


….and the pornographic and erotic?


Palinode = recantation or “a singing over again”. It also means a retraction of a thesis. But it also recalls Palinurus, a character who, right at the end of Vergil’s Aeneid Book V, falls overboard just before the hero Aeneas lands his fleet in Italy (his destination) and descends into the underworld to meet his dead father. Palinurus is commonly interpreted as the necessary human sacrifice for a journey to the land of the dead. Aeneas meets him in the underworld and promises him a magnificent monument even though his body is lost for ever: a tomb without a corpse = a sign without a meaning. NB cf. also Socrates’ recantation in Plato’s Phaedrus.

Now move on to the next post for the rest of the notes.