In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Picture of the Elder R.B. in a Prospect of Mortality
  • Christopher Norris (bio)

The Winter Garden Photograph was my Ariadne, not because it would help me discover a secret thing (monster or treasure), but because it would tell me what constituted that thread which drew me toward Photography. I had understood that henceforth I must interrogate the evidence of Photography, not from the viewpoint of pleasure, but in relation to what we romantically call love and death.

Ultimately — or at the limit — in order to see a photograph well, it is best to look away or close your eyes. “The necessary condition for an image is sight,” Janouch told Kafka; and Kafka smiled and replied: “We photograph things in order to drive them out of our minds. My stories are a way of shutting my eyes.”

— Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: reflections on photography

The Winter Garden one it was that showed   How far he’d gone in striving to subdue The old desire for some great master-code,

Some old high-structuralist variant of the view   From nowhere. Now this image found him out, Revealed what Maman’s photograph could do

To signify not just the final rout   Of that whole system-building enterprise But the one truth that silenced every doubt

And all doubt-driven quests to theorize   Its mute appeal. So studium gave way To punctum, just as method in the guise

Of a once cutting-edge activité   Structuraliste turned out (as now he thought) Just one more routine in the cabaret

That academe came up with to abort   All revolutions save the ones confined To bouleversements of the textual sort, [End Page 184]

Or shake-ups of the semiotic kind   That still gave scope for theory to inflict Its patriarchal law. What limped behind

In that split second when her image clicked   With everything to him most near and dear Was theory and its claim to contradict

The evidence that otherwise stood clear   To anyone sufficiently in tune With such vast trepidations in the sphere

Of mind or soul incarnate. Those immune   To image-reveries might then select Some new post-structuralist option as a boon

To their still theory-hooked though jaded sect   Since perfectly adapted to the need Of waverers half-minded to reject

All commerce with that passé structuralist creed,   Yet half-aware what help it might provide For diehard structuralists inclined to read

Their Lacan, Barthes and Derrida beside   Their lightly thumbed Saussure. Thus they’d reveal Between the lines, by way of some applied

Linguisterie, how theory’s old appeal   Might be explained, though not explained with quite Such pyrrhonist conviction as would deal

A fatal blow to its presumptive right   As once and future king. This ruse allowed Much wordplay in sub-Joycean mode despite

The need, as stern detractors soon avowed,   For theory’s aid in seeking to expose Or deconstruct all versions of the proud

Yet self-deluding myth whose adepts chose   To make-believe a demiurgic power Of écriture that promised to disclose

What transformations might be wrought by our   Utopian language-games. This notion seemed To born-again post-structuralists and the shower [End Page 185]

Of Tel Quel addicts something to be deemed   Just old high modernism gone to pot, Although they claimed a liberty undreamed

Of by that superannuated lot   Since premised on the faux-Saussurean wheeze That somehow one could cut clean through the knot

That sutured word and world. Then one could seize   This chance to let the signifier float Free of reality’s prosaic squeeze

On everything that language might connote   Beyond the dull quotidian sense of things. True, that’s the gist of much that RB wrote

Way back when plaisir came from running rings   Round hapless Picard and those other last- Ditch promulgators of a faith that clings

To relics of a reassuring past,   Like old-style explication de texte Or other one-time nouveautés now cast

Impatiently aside. Yet now what vexed   His restive soul was not so much the main Concern of his camp-followers, “What comes next

For us post-structuralists?”, but more the pain   And pleasure mixed of what contrived to slip Through theory...


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pp. 184-206
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