Camera Lucida, Part One

by Paul Burmeister

Having just completed a close reading of Roland Barthes' landmark, Camera Lucida (1980), I offer here several questions from my notes on Part One. Camera Lucida is divided symmetrically into two parts of 24 short sections each; the first part is a meditative, often digressive speculation on the nature of photography.

Is Barthes truly able to overcome his habits of intellectual construct and of reductive theoretical system? As Michael Fried has noted, what authority does Barthes have if Barthes' own proposal makes every viewer's interpretation of a photograph equivalent to every other viewer's? Are we to be persuaded by force of Barthes' ego, his pedigree as a leading theorist, even in a domain where he is fond of calling himself a child and primitive? How does the reader understand Barthes' use of "absolute subjectivity" and "affective consciousness," apart from Barthes' body of work?

Certainly, there are beginnings—what Geoff Dyer calls "setting-forths"—in Part One that are flawed.

Geoff Dyer playlist

by Paul Burmeister

Working through a good collection of Dyer's writing (Otherwise Known as the Human Condition),  I intently read his essay, "Is Jazz Dead?" Although many American readers may not agree with his conclusions on the subject, along the way he shares interesting examples.

 . . . which calls to mind the easy advantage of sampling jazz in iTunes format. Sampling and buying one tune at a time—this is often the way I assemble a playlist, organizing the group entirely around someone else's critical judgments. My playlist from Dyer's essay includes artists I was not familiar with, such as Rabih Abou-Khalil, Anouar Brahem, and Nils Petter Molvaer. The playlist also includes familiar artists such as Don Cherry and Keith Jarrett, both of whom were well-represented in my existing collection but not for reasons Dyer finds them crucially important.