Sensing the Image: Roland Barthes and the Affect of the Visual


There is a well-worn narrative, perhaps even a “mythology,” according to which Roland Barthes undergoes two distinct phases as a theorist. In the first phase, he is the mythologist-semiologist who crusades against the “pseudo-physis” of culture, unmasking its myths and decoding its signs. In the second phase, he retreats to the immediacy of his moods and passions, more interested in desire than demystification, in pleasure than politics. At first glance, these opposing tendencies play out nowhere more emphatically than in Barthes’s writings on cinematic and photographic images. While his early semiological texts strive to demystify the apparent immediacy of images by showing how they operate as signs, his later writings celebrate precisely those elements of the image that elude signification—the punctum of the photograph, the “obtuse meaning” of the film—dimensions of the image that can be seen but not described, sensed but not linguistically signified.

Read Article On Muse