Re-reading Camera Lucida
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La Chambre Claire — Note sur la photographie was the last book by Roland Barthes to be published during his lifetime; the translation, Camera Lucida — Reflections on Photography, is the latest of about a dozen works by Barthes to become available in English. There has been a tendency amongst those who have so far written about Camera Lucida to regard it as Barthes’s last word on photography. In the strictly literal sense this is of course true; in any other sense it makes a nonsense of what Barthes stood for. In a preface of 1963 he characteristically remarks that to write is, ‘to become someone to whom the last word is denied; to write is to offer others, from the start, the last word’ (CE xi) Of course that ‘last word’ offered to his commentator is itself no more than a thread in a web of texts which will grow for as long as Barthes’s work is discussed — as long as the written Barthes survives.
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