Friday, January 14, 2011

revisiting "Camera Lucida"

What Barthes in his Camera Lucida wants to do by pointing out the punctum, the very pathetic detail of the pictures he picks up, may be destabilizing the relation between the picture and the viewer. He encourages the viewer to forget the all obvious story a picture carries (which he calls the studium), and see the image itself. He invites the viewer to more active seeing, or to photographic seeing of a photograph.

He in a way underscores a tiny thing in a picture. Here I do a thought experiment, using a paragraph from a novel:

One day he got there about three o'clock. Everybody was in the fields. He went into the kitchen, but did not at once catch sight of Emma, the outside shutters were closed. Through the chinks of the wood the sun sent across the flooring long fine rays that were broken at the corners of the furniture and trembled along the ceiling. Some flies on the table were crawling up the glasses that had been used, and buzzing as they drowned themselves in the dregs of the cider. The daylight that came in by the chimney made velvet of the soot at the back of the fireplace, and touched with blue the cold cinders. Between the window and the hearth Emma was sewing; she wore no fichu; he could see small drops of perspiration on her bare shoulders.

It is from Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary (Forgotten Books, 2008, trans., Eleanor Marx-Aveling, p.19), which is well-known for its photographic way (or, cinematic way) of describing things. The reader anticipates Emma. That's why this description of the kitchen is touching. Despite the anticipation, Emma at last appears as a surprise. It is breathtaking. But Barthes could say "Forget the all story," and then arbitrarily underscores a word in the paragraph.

One day he got there about three o'clock. Everybody was in the fields. He went into the kitchen, but did not at once catch sight of Emma, the outside shutters were closed. Through the chinks of the wood the sun sent across the flooring long fine rays that were broken at the corners of the furniture and trembled along the ceiling. Some flies on the table were crawling up the glasses that had been used, and buzzing as they drowned themselves in the dregs of the cider. The daylight that came in by the chimney made velvet of the soot at the back of the fireplace, and touched with blue the cold cinders. Between the window and the hearth Emma was sewing; she wore no fichu; he could see small drops of perspiration on her bare shoulders.

I'm not so sure whether I've succeeded to defamiliarize the paragraph, but I hope you've got the point. We can do this experiment, using also field recordings and inserting something into them, in order to encourage the listener to listen more actively.

Introduction/Attendance (Margit Island Audio Diaries 1) by Yasuo Akai

But the concept of "the image itself," or "the thing itself," is tricky one....

1 comment:

  1. I love the idea of photographic or cinematic ways of writing, Flaubert does it all so beautifully and elegantly.

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