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.