Amie's site

In the seventies, Roland Barthes turned to the particular and the neutral, towards fascination and love, which altogether formed the third stage in his ‘semiological adventure.’ Here, political engagement gave place to a hedonism that was also, of course, an openness to pain, for pain is the vulnerability intrinsic to pleasure, the complement as well as the adversary, the deepening and that out of which sweetness comes as a sort of startling new premise into the world – for if the world holds such sweetness, surely it must be a different and stranger place than one took it for. What one took it for was indifferent – because it is indifference, rather than pain, that is the real opposite of pleasure, its real annihilation. Pain and pleasure can both be unbearable, but indifference is all too bearable.

Pain, then, is also part of the process. In particular, the pain Barthes felt was the loss of the person he most loved his mother. The first photo in his 1975 book, Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes, is not of himself, but of his mother, alone, on the beach. In 1979, after she had died, Barthes looked back on that photo in La Chambre Claire. In section 25, he sets the scene of arranging photos of his mother after her death, writing that he did not ‘love’ any of them except the one “that I had published where one sees my mother, young, walking on the beach at Landres, and where I ‘rediscovered’ her walk, her health, her radiance…” The rest, however, were tugged by indifference, or what Barthes calls history – that space in which the ones we know are only, only jurisdictionally recognizable – one may testify that these are photos of one’s mother, but there is a fissure between that testimony and the mother one knows.

In this book on photography, Barthes develops the idea of the punctum. The punctum is another name for Barthes’ beloved ‘detail’ – the effect of the real, this time seen outside the framework of that eternal couple, nature and culture. The punctum is contrasted with the studium. We may read, or scan, a photo, but what interests us, he claims, is the moment when something is released from the picture, “like an arrow, and comes to pierce me.” The cut or wound of that arrow, and the point of the arrow, are both designated by punctum – it is the base of punctuation and of puncturing. It is the pick, the little hole, the little spot. The stain.

All of which brings me to the point of this post. My friend Amie died last year. I wrote about this in a post in December. I have no photograph of Amie – in fact, I don’t know what she looked like, I have her voice in her emails and comments but not her physical presence of its grain – and yet I have a stong and overwhelming sense that we were intellectual companions, and that what I was doing, in Limited Inc, trying to assemble a book, The Human Limit, had to do, by every sort of coincidence and sign, with her project and her reflections. Her project was writing a treatise of some kind on soundtracks, which would bring together her love – her taste – for certain films and her fascination with sound as meaning and accompaniment.

The puncture created by her death in my world may be a small detail – the hole that punctures a balloon may be only the width of the point of a needle – but it is a telling detail to me, a proportion of volume to loss that still astonishes me. And I resent death not only for taking Amie, but also for taking her unfairly, before she had her chance. I don’t forgive the world this.

In the face of that loss, Amie’s friends have set up a blog on which some of her writing is being put up. The site is called Peirates. Mark it reader.


Anonymous said…
Roger, thanks for this.
I am not sure how the Peirates site will turn out, it is en chantier. She liked that phrase, I remember, as it is scanned by chant.

Anonymous said…
Roger, thanks so much for this.

The peirates site is still and will perhaps remain en chantier, an expression she was fond of, for in the expression one can hear chant.