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How to Read Barthes' Image-Music-Text

How to Read Barthes' Image-Music-Text

Ed White
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Pluto Press
Pages: 208
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    How to Read Barthes' Image-Music-Text
    Book Description:

    Roland Barthes remains one of the most influential cultural theorists of the postwar period and Image-Music-Text collects his most influential essays. Ed White provides students with a clear guide to this essential but difficult text. As students are increasingly expected to write across a range of media, Barthes' work can be understood as an early mapping of what we now call interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary study. The book's detailed section-by-section readings makes Barthes' most important writings accessible to undergraduate readers. This book is a perfect companion for teaching and learning Barthes' ideas in cultural studies and literary theory.

    eISBN: 978-1-84964-722-9
    Subjects: Political Science, Anthropology
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents (pp. [v]-[vi])
  3. Introduction (pp. 1-12)

    Image-Music-Textconsists of thirteen essays published by Roland Barthes between 1961 and 1973. As a whole, the pieces track Barthes’ movement from an influential early theorist of semiotic analysis and structuralism to his emergence as a major poststructuralist thinker. Sometimes, indeed, one essay will challenge, revise, and correct the preceding essay: having offered an “Introduction to the Structural Analysis of Narrative” (1966), the next essay, “The Struggle with the Angel” (1971), asserts that it is attempting “textual analysis,” not structural analysis. Stylistically, the essays include methodically analytical essays laden with highly specialized terminology (like “Structural Analysis”), more accessible critical manifestos...

  4. 1. The Photographic Message (pp. 13-25)

    This essay, the earliest included inImage-Music-Text, seems to take as its primary concern the isolation and characterization of the photograph—specifically thepressphotograph—as a unique medium for communication. Barthes had earlier analyzed many photographic images—glamour shots of Greta Garbo and Audrey Hepburn, for example, or theParis-Matchcover—but here he treats the press shot specifically as an image, and specifically the kind of image created by a camera. The photograph as a unique technological medium was a subject of interest to Barthes throughout his career—he included personal photographs in his autobiography,Roland Barthes, and...

  5. 2. Rhetoric of the Image (pp. 25-38)

    “The Photographic Message” appeared in the premier issue of the French journal Communications in 1961. For the next few years, Barthes reviewed several studies of the image in the pages of this same journal, and in 1964 published “Rhetoric of the Image.” This new essay is still interested in the question of the image as a sign—as a relationship between signifier and signified—and as he begins this essay, Barthes stresses the paradoxical status of the image. On the one hand, some people view the image as very rudimentary and basic—a picture lacks the complexity and nuance of...

  6. 3. The Third Meaning (pp. 38-53)

    “The Photographic Message” argued for the impossibility of access to the real world through the analogic image of the photograph, asserting that connotative systems always overwhelm the denotative. “Rhetoric of the Image” changed that argument, stressing that connotative interpretation is a slightly messier project using the denotative image as both alibi and as a type of syntagmatic infrastructure: by this argument, the connotative dimensions of the image are parasitic on the denotative “has-been-there.” Furthermore, analysis could not simply look at the sign, but had to look at larger structures to see how different elements of signification interacted. Image-Music-Text ’s third...

  7. 4. Diderot, Brecht, Eisenstein (pp. 53-65)

    “The Third Meaning,” as we have seen, moved beyond a description of how the photograph works, or how we read photographs, to a discussion of an alternative reading method, a different form of criticism that could resist unifying tendencies in photographic stills or films. This new form of criticism would focus on the “filmic,” a perception that could at once read the “horizontal” elements of cinema (its narrative, its movement through time, its attempt to unify meaning) with a competing “vertical” axis, focused on the perception of the production of meaning. The goal of such a criticism would be to...

  8. 5. Introduction to the Structural Analysis of Narrative (pp. 65-100)

    The first four essays ofImage-Music-Textnicely encapsulate several trends in Barthes’ career through the 1960s. First, there is a constant redefinition and expansion of the object of study, as in the move from the apparently simple form of the press photograph, to the more loaded advertising photograph, to the complexly situated filmic still, to, finally, the idea of the artistic tableau as a site of visual perspective. What this indicates is that Barthes’ analysis increasingly attempts to redefine the object of study itself, moving from the common-sense view of the image in the starkest sense (the simple photograph of...

  9. 6. The Struggle with the Angel (pp. 100-111)

    This essay appeared five years after “Introduction to the Structural Analysis of Narratives,” and one can see immediately that Barthes has abandoned some of the assumptions of that earlier work. While he partly declines to go over the rudiments “of the structural analysis of narrative” because it is “becoming well known,” he also immediately asserts that such analysis is “not a science nor even a discipline” (126). Not only is he not describing a precise “method” of analysis, but he does not want to suggest “a ‘scientific’ view of the text that I do not hold” (127). In this case,...

  10. 7. The Death of the Author (pp. 111-122)

    This short, experimental essay—comprised of six fragments of under 3,000 words—may be Barthes’ best-known work. It first appeared in English in 1967, in the experimental, multimedia journalAspen, published in the United States; the following year it appeared in the experimental French journalMantéia. Three years later, in 1970, Barthes published a book titledS/Z, which is, among other things, a close reading of the novella “Sarrasine” by the nineteenth-century French realist writer Honoré de Balzac (1799-1850). There, Barthes attempts to lay out and demonstrate a new practice of reading competing tendencies in Balzac’s story. “The Death of...

  11. 8. Musica Practica (pp. 122-129)

    This essay, the first of two treating music, appeared in 1970 in the French literary journalL’Arc. In this essay, we will find Barthes again challenging the conventions of interpretation associated with the nineteenth century and traditional approaches to art. In some respects, this is the argument of “Diderot, Brecht, Eisenstein” or “Death of the Author” applied to music, but there is an added dimension to the argument as well, one that turns our attention toward the bodily aspects of interpretation.

    The essay begins with the opposition between “two musics”—“the music one listens to” and “the music one plays”...

  12. 9. From Work to Text (pp. 129-139)

    From the late 1960s into the early 70s, Barthes wrote a series of manifesto pieces announcing the shift in his criticism from structuralist analysis of the working of signs to what has come to be called “poststructuralism.” Poststructuralism exists in many different forms, and Barthes’ writings constitute only one variant, if an influential one. But as it emerged as a movement—and we see, in this piece, the attempt to define a broader philosophical movement—a number of theorists, Barthes included, published programmatic statements describing the new approach. “The Third Meaning,” “Diderot, Brecht, Eisenstein,” “The Death of the Author,” and...

  13. 10. Change the Object Itself (pp. 139-145)

    Roland Barthes’ career can usefully be read as an influential and illustrative case of French theory’s transition from structuralism to poststructuralism, and the changing concerns we have seen emerge are very representative of broader shifts. The clear interpretive agenda of structuralism—the delineation of language’s components, the systematic mapping of its dynamics, and the location of language’s role in society—increasingly mutated into something very different—a fuzzier and more complicated sense of language, a prescriptive insistence on possible engagements with language, and a denial of the distinction between language and society. This last point was grounded in the increasing...

  14. 11. Lesson in Writing (pp. 145-151)

    We have seen, in Barthes’ works, a number of attempts to explain and illustrate the new approach to language he advocates by the late 1960s and early 1970s. His account of music listening in “Musica Practica,” of textual interpretation in “The Struggle with the Angel,” of reading as being something like a walk in the countryside in “From Work to Text”—all struggled to clarify what a new interpretive approach might look like. Among the clearest of these examples was perhaps his account of theater in “Diderot, Brecht, Eisenstein,” as he envisioned the reader/viewer focusing on specific elements of the...

  15. 12. The Grain of the Voice (pp. 151-159)

    In his later writings, re-envisioning the criticism of any cultural medium, Barthes typically adopts two complementary strategies. One is a reformulation of the field of art, such that one’s perceptions and understanding are transformed by its complexity, multiplicity, and diversity. We may think of the complex view of the stage in “Diderot, Brecht, Eisenstein,” or “Lesson in Writing,” or of the networked texts described in “The Death of the Author” and “From Work to Text.” Alongside this strategy, Barthes often invites us to pinpoint particular elements and “change the object” of study itself, as in the essay of that name....

  16. 13. Writers, Intellectuals, Teachers (pp. 159-191)

    In his first published book,Writing Degree Zero(1953), Barthes argued that the best literary writing was perpetually engaged in a struggle to express social speech. Speech was the sphere of both meaningful communication and an engagement with reality. Writing, by contrast, was “‘closed’ and thus different from spoken language.”⁷ Destined to obey certain formal conventions and the rules of style, the best writing constantly attempted to approximate or express the dynamism of speech, only to become sedimented and rigid over time. Albert Camus, for example, captured elements of everyday speech in works like The Stranger (1942), but his innovations,...

  17. Reading Across Barthes’ Work (pp. 192-194)
  18. Index (pp. 195-202)