I have been reading “Camera Lucida,” and I’ve also been having a massive geek-out and entries about each of those things are coming up. Also, the latter has still-unresolved drama so stay the-fuck tuned.
This is a really fruity book about the sorts of ways that people enjoy things. Even though it is very short, I found it kind of interminable, mostly because the context that it represents is way more interesting to me than anything that it contains. That phase of history when all the French psychoanalysts were obsessing over realization. Barthes tosses out a snide dismissal early on of people who decry pleasure, a sort of holding in the mouth already of the ashes of the apocalypse,* that is sort of illustrative of the terms of this project. In particular, it’s very eurocentric. You can’t really be telling people to reify their potential by casting off restraints (which, ultimately, is what we’re after here, all books aside) if you’re seriously considering the condition of the (third/post-colonial/take your damn pick) world. The whole thing was a bit of a funny bubble, which is part of the reason why Lacan gets sidelined for Derrida and Foucault.**
Of course, Barthes knows better than this. The flagship (har har) metaphor of “Myth Today” shows that he’s attuned to the larger world and (as I was surprised to discover) Le Plaisir du texte was published in 1973. I guess what we can take away from that is that Barthes saw fit to live in something of a capsule (albeit one he ventured beyond ably and often) pretty much until his tragic demise. That’s probably an important part of his contribution to philosophy, although it’s also an angle people play when they try to label him a lightweight.
* This is a Derrida joke. You can bet your sweet ass we’ll be coming back to it when we cover Specters.
** 1) This is not a weigh-in on this fact.
2) I didn’t say it was this way, Slavoj did.***
*** In a way.
So I was standing in line at the Safeway down the street and I glanced, as I often do, at the tabloid racks. One of them was purporting to publish a list of the people Obama “wants silenced.” At the bottom of the cover was a picture of Whitney Houston, and for a minute I thought that Whitney was one of Obama’s mortal enemies. Sadly, closed examination revealed that there was an unrelated story about Whitney still being “addicted to” Bobby Brown. Too bad, I would have bought the paper.
Note to tabloid writers: I will take out a lifetime subscription to you magazine if you can write even a single story linking Obama to the Jon-Benet Ramsey case.
I’m gonna skip this one. It’s good to have read (and even re-read it recently), but it’s not good to talk about. On to Barthes!
The Poetics has a couple of big advantages over The Ethics. For one thing, it’s shorter. That’s always good with old stuff. Back in the day people weren’t really into keeping things to a reasonable length. Like Dickens. Guy wrote two good books, and they’re his too shortest. Let that be a lesson to all of you.
At any rate, the other advantage is that the assertions aren’t as ontologically grounded. While both books are all about what’s good, talking about good plays is easier to do without sounding sanctimonious. Also, The Poetics includes an intriguing look at early understanding of the parts of speech, including defining nouns and words that don’t require tenses to make sense.
So I don’t know. I’ve never been a big fan of Aristotle, and I definitely haven’t had any changes of heart here.