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Barthes Summary 63-94: Winter Garden, History and Labyrinth

Barthes takes the Winter Garden photograph to depict his various thoughts on photography. He notes the element of time and history in photographs, and specifically Winter Garden was “the time when my mother was alive before me is—History” (65). As he recognizes fragments of her, he misses her being, her all together, the essence of her identity, his mother who “lent” herself to photography (65-7). He then moves on to mention Godard and how he wanted an image of justice and accuracy, much like what Barthes wanted in Winter Garden (70). Winter Garden for him was “like the last music Schumann wrote before collapsing…which accords with both my mother’s being and my grief at her death” (70). Barthes then goes back to the notion of time how, the Greeks enter death in reverse chronology and that he mourned his mother the same way (71). As he got to the last photograph of his mother as a young child, what he saw was “the mother-as-child” (71).

Barthes continues with the theme of labyrinth and Nietzsche’s prophecy: “A labyrinthine man never seeks the truth, but only his Ariadne” (73). And that similarly Winter Garden helped him realize what constituted that thread which drew him toward photography, what we romantically call love and death (73).

Coming back to the maternal image, Barthes brings in the Christian feminine Image Repertoire (75) noting that he grew up Protestant but culturally around Catholic art. Hence when confronted with Winter Garden he gives himself up to the Image Repertoire (75).

Barthes asserts the noeme of Photography: “That-has-been”, or the intractable. That it is irrefutably present, and yet already deferred, which intersum means (77).

Barthes contrasts photographs and the cinema. The photograph has posed in front of the hole and has remained there forever, whereas in the cinema the pose is swept away (78). The invention of color photography was brought up as a cosmetic, because what only mattered to Barthes was whether the photograph touched him with its own rays (81). He also expresses his anger over photography’s certainty and his oblivion (85).

Finally Barthes dives into the theme of Death (92), that photograph by nature is perishable and thus mortal (93). He also raises the paradox of History and Photograph: History a memory fabricated and Photograph the fugitive testimony (93). Barthes concludes that the age of Photograph is also the age of impatience (93-4).


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