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Barthes: "Camera Lucida"
Old 05-11-2007   #1
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Barthes: "Camera Lucida"

I have started this thread after seeing the debate on Sontag's "On Photography" (which I first read some 20-odd years ago, and found pretty dull and incomprehensible, but which I read again more recently and was pleasantly surprised to find much more interesting than I remembered).
Has anyone read "Camera Lucida - Reflections on Photography"? Roland Barthes is highly regarded (by many). Personally, I found few comprehensible ideas, very badly expressed. I read it right through, but it never came together. Frankly, a total waste of time. Fortunately, it's only a 100 pages or so.
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Old 05-11-2007   #2
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I read the book recently. Fairly obscure tome to both to read and find. I, however, feel that it did present some interesting ideas ref. to the type of shooting that is done with a rangefinder...street shooting which as I remember he is thinking of capturing time or a moment that may no longer exist. He also, definitely stated that the taking and viewing of portrait photographs had three visions.
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Old 05-11-2007   #3
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Camera Lucida is one of my favourite books. It combines original thought (the idea of the "punctum" changed the way I look at and take pictures) with heartfelt personal reflections. Unlike Sontag, who gives an impression (maybe undeserved) of pretension, mild cynicism and distance, Barthes is obviously passionate about the photographs he discusses, all of which are beautiful.

The other major influence this book has had on me is his discussion on the attempt to find the "sine qua non" (the essence) of photography and his conclusion that it has eluded him. One of the things I sometimes find oppressive and dreary about photographic discussions is the implication that there is a set of rules and an optimum equipment set up for the creation of great photographs. If you want him to, Barthes will liberate you from these stifling illusions. Barthes was unable to subscribe to orthodoxy and dogma and I am personally grateful to him for making that freedom seem intellectually respectable and exciting.
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Old 05-18-2007   #4
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This is one of the most important books ever written on photography.

I read is many times over the years and advise all my students to absorb the concept of Studium and Punctum....

this concept is what makes a photograph work, without it.....it's just another snap.......his approach to emotion and the image about death is also important......

I have made the adjustment in my life many years ago.....

most photographers like to see a subject as if thier seeing it for the first time....this concept is taught in virtually every art/photography school....

I like to view the world as if I'm seeing it for the last time.....


Roland taught me that...I live it.....don
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Old 05-18-2007   #5
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I've not read Camera Lucida, but as a Film student I read other Barthes books. I always found Barthes and Sontag to be good reads and in an academic setting, a necesscity to be able to "discuss" or write about film or photography, but rarely did reading Barthes or Sontag make me want to jump up, grab a camera and go shooting. I've always been more inspired by the work of others, photographic, and otherwise (pop culture, music, novels, painting, performance art, etc.).

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Old 05-18-2007   #6
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What a bunch of crap.

Either you know how to take a photograph or you do not. Little is learned through schooling... it is a born talent.

A picture through the eyes of the beholder either works or it does not.

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Old 05-18-2007   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by George Bonanno
What a bunch of crap.

Either you know how to take a photograph or you do not. Little is learned through schooling... it is a born talent.

A picture through the eyes of the beholder either works or it does not.

Best,
George
Wow, what a shallow mind.

Isn't the above the same thing as saying that painting, drawing, singing, etc - are all born talents with an immediate finate skill level?

Guess we should shut down all art schools.
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Old 05-18-2007   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RayPA
I've not read Camera Lucida, but as a Film student I read other Barthes books. I always found Barthes and Sontag to be good reads and in an academic setting, a necesscity to be able to "discuss" or write about film or photography, but rarely did reading Barthes or Sontag make me want to jump up, grab a camera and go shooting. I've always been more inspired by the work of others, photographic, and otherwise (pop culture, music, novels, painting, performance art, etc.).

Ray - it works for me, Camera Lucida really fired my enthusiasm for making pictures that connect in some way emotionally (have the "punctum"). Barthes is always in the mental background when I'm shooting.
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Old 05-19-2007   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by lushd
Ray - it works for me, Camera Lucida really fired my enthusiasm for making pictures that connect in some way emotionally (have the "punctum"). Barthes is always in the mental background when I'm shooting.
I'll keep an eye out for the book. I'm always open to good reads on something I love. Mythologies was required reading for a theory class. I had. I enjoyed it, and it helped get me through the class. it really was "mental background" stuff, valuable nonetheless. I don't consider it wasted time. I think if you're serious about photography/image-making, then you can only benefit from reading works like Sontag, Barthes, Berger, etc.

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Old 05-19-2007   #10
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Barthes and Sontag are engaged in *critical* theory, not practice. Sontag didn't even know much about photography, at least when she wrote the book. Although they are considered to be deeper thinkers on cultural and artistic matters than simple newspaper critics, they are essentially engaged in the same trade -- they look at the results of somebody's artistic practice, and comment on how it impacts an individual or a culture. The distinction is important -- serious photographers and serious critics are doing two different things, not closely related. There are very good photographers who are purely eye, and who (I expect) never think about issues addressed by Barthes and Sontag. There are others (Jeff Wall comes to mind) who are very knowledgeable on issues of theory and history. But it's like finding a baseball pitcher who also hits well; he is practicing two radically different skills and they are not closely related.

My problem with Sontag is that she is a derivative thinker, who had an exceptional eye for intellectual fashion, but wasn't so good on the ideas. Much of what she had to say involved a reflexive anti-Americanism, combined with warmed-over French intellectual discussion, with little original work, so on reflection much of her work seems kind of dumb.

Barthes is a different matter.

There has recently been a major p*ssing match on Luminous Landscape (that carried over to several other forums) about a photograph by Michael Reichmann, entitled "Lolita," which is a really excellent example of how Barthes applies to the real world: Punctum vs. Studium. It's something that serious photographers should think about.

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Old 05-23-2007   #11
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Thank you all for your comments. Maybe I'll try to read it again with some of these thoughts in mind.

John - I saw the Reichmann image, not the discussion, but I did see his final comments on the site. I thought it was a good shot. Not being familiar with the pedophile vernacular, like Reichmann, the caption also did not upset me. However, I may be dumb, but I don't follow why this has anything to do with punctum and studium.
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Old 05-23-2007   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by George Bonanno
What a bunch of crap.

Either you know how to take a photograph or you do not. Little is learned through schooling... it is a born talent.

A picture through the eyes of the beholder either works or it does not.

Best,
George

LOL What can we say after that? George, that's a bit short and, sorry, a very shallow argument. Sorry.
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Old 05-23-2007   #13
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It helps, in reading Barthes, and also within photography, to have some understanding and interest in semiotics. I would suggest getting a basic book on the subject if you're interested in further reading.

Last edited by kbg32 : 05-23-2007 at 09:17.
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Old 05-23-2007   #14
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Originally Posted by kbg32
It helps, in reading Barthes, and also within photography, to have some understanding and interest in semiotics. I would suggest getting a basic book on the subject if you're interested in further reading.
An easy way to start is to read essays by Umberto Eco (not his novels). Very clear. I don't know the titles in English.
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Old 05-23-2007   #15
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I highly recommend "Travels in Hyper-Reality" - witty and original.
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Old 05-23-2007   #16
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Academically speaking, Barthes and Sontag are both laughable, amateurish efforts if you're speaking about any serious philosophy of the image. Even André Bazin, though dated his work is, has more to put your teeth in.

The sad thing is that there is actually very little real research in the fundamental aspects of photography: ontology of the image, transparency, distinction from drawing/painting (if there is one). In the end, Barthes still believes that the photograph has a distinct ontology, and Sontag distrusts the possibility of any art in photography. Barthes was writing for himself; Sontag wrote "On Photography" as a big f--- you to Richard Avedon.

It doesn't mean that you won't get anything from reading them. Their writing is very compelling, and probably resonates more with the artistically inclined ones than drier academic prose. But they are essays, not endeavours toward knowledge.

And the method of semiotics, applied to images, rests on two major flaws. One, that they behave like linguistic signs. Two, that images depict by virtue of resemblance to their subject.

If you want to learn something about images, go read instead "Understanding Picture" by Dominic Lopes, Oxford OUP. As for photography, there aren't many monographs about it yet. "Aesthetics and Photography" by Jonathan Friday, Ashgate 2002 is a good start.
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Old 05-23-2007   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mhv
Academically speaking, Barthes and Sontag are both laughable, amateurish efforts if you're speaking about any serious philosophy of the image.
Humm, very interesting comment if not pedant. For any serious philosophy reader/teacher, Barthes is far from being laughable. You may not like his theory (personally, I don't), but saying he is "laughable" is really laughable.

Quote:
Originally Posted by mhv
But they are essays, not endeavours toward knowledge.
Your distinction between essay and endeavours toward knowlegde is weak. BTW what is knowledge about aesthetic? (see Kant and the Urteilskraft).

Quote:
Originally Posted by mhv
And the method of semiotics, applied to images, rests on two major flaws. One, that they behave like linguistic signs. Two, that images depict by virtue of resemblance to their subject.
One: what do you mean? For semiotics, signs are about meaning, true, and meaning is accessible to rational human being through language (I put aside theories of perceptual meaning, which do not convince me). That's common sense.
Two: either trivial, or false ... maybe you don't know abstract photography (see for instance this picture by OurManIn Tangier: http://www.rangefinderforum.com/phot...hp?photo=62923)

Best,
Marc
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Old 05-23-2007   #18
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i have been an interior designer [ don't get out much ? ] since the 60s ... you can imagine how ID was considered originally - colours and fabrics anyone ?- now it has swung into the ridiculous '' interior architecture '' school ...

if I were to read every book on Id from so many sources - I would never have done anything for myself - yet , i have imbibed quite a lot of little morsels which helped me do MY thing ...

is it not the same with books about '' photography '' / does not each of us take what we need , and leave the rest alone ?

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Old 05-23-2007   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Marc-A.
Humm, very interesting comment if not pedant. For any serious philosophy reader/teacher, Barthes is far from being laughable. You may not like his theory (personally, I don't), but saying he is "laughable" is really laughable.
Well let's just say that it's not the kind of work that would get you tenured...

Academic discussions are not about likes or dislikes. You agree, you agree partially, you disagree partially, or you disagree totally. In my case I disagree a good deal. So it's not a question of me liking his face or not.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Marc-A.
Your distinction between essay and endeavours toward knowlegde is weak. BTW what is knowledge about aesthetic? (see Kant and the Urteilskraft).
Why would I rely on Kant for aesthetics? Knowledge about aesthetics: go read works like Gregory Currie's "Ontology of Art", David Davies "Art as Performance", Nicholas Wolstertoff "Works and Worlds of Art", Dominic Lopes "Understanding Pictures" or the whole Oxford Handbook of Aesthetics if you care about knowledge.

Knowledge about aesthetics means knowledge about topics like the ontology of artworks, the nature of aesthetic experience (if there is one), the role of cognition in appreciation of works of art, what is expressiveness in music, do the art-historical facts about a work of art have any bearing on its artistic value, the moral role of the artist in a society, and all the specific problems associated to either literature, fiction, photography, painting, music, sculpture, or dance.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Marc-A.
One: what do you mean? For semiotics, signs are about meaning, true, and meaning is accessible to rational human being through language (I put aside theories of perceptual meaning, which do not convince me). That's common sense.
Two: either trivial, or false ... maybe you don't know abstract photography (see for instance this picture by OurManIn Tangier: http://www.rangefinderforum.com/phot...hp?photo=62923)

Best,
Marc
A) Semiotics is founded upon the principles that there is a universal theory of signification, of which language is the paradigmatic example. B) with respect to the problem of depiction, semiotics considers that the resemblance between a sign and its object explains how marks on paper can depict something. That's Peirce's definition of an iconic sign.

Go read a few things, and you'll see that there are many more competing theories on depiction. There is resemblance between a design on paper and a depicted object; there are various theories of the optical field; there is the seeing-in theory, the paradigm of which is our ability to see a face in the cloud; there are theories of informational content; and myriad other variations. The Routledge Companion to Aesthetics has a few good thing in its article on depiction.

What I'm saying is simply that Barthes does not think further than "photography is the real thing, not a representation" and that I distrust profundly his image semiotics theory.

Last edited by mhv : 05-23-2007 at 19:23.
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Old 05-24-2007   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mhv
Well let's just say that it's not the kind of work that would get you tenured...
Oh that’s the issue : get tenured.

Quote:
Originally Posted by mhv
Academic discussions are not about likes or dislikes. You agree, you agree partially, you disagree partially, or you disagree totally.
Thanks, but please relax, I didn't use "like" in a technical sense.

Quote:
Originally Posted by mhv
Why would I rely on Kant for aesthetics?
Obviously, you don’t care. Baumgarten, old crap. But Currie, Davies or Wolstertoff (whose work I appreciate btw) are not in the same ballpark as Kant. Where do you study ?

Quote:
Originally Posted by mhv
Knowledge about aesthetics means knowledge about topics like the ontology of artworks, the nature of aesthetic experience (if there is one), the role of cognition in appreciation of works of art, what is expressiveness in music, do the art-historical facts about a work of art have any bearing on its artistic value, the moral role of the artist in a society, and all the specific problems associated to either literature, fiction, photography, painting, music, sculpture, or dance.
Thanks for the lecture. So you mean the trivial fact that we blabla about a topic which is art, and you hold that that blabla is knowlegde about this topic. Interesting. The problem is that you’re mixing the issues and you think that all which relates in one way or another to art has someting to do with aesthetics. That's very weak. For instance, the moral role of the artist in a society, is not an aethetic issue, but a sociological one.
Btw I’m so impressed by big words : ontology wow ! Let me put it straight : ontology of artworks is bullsh*t (in H. Frankfurt’s sense). I know it’s trendy to reawaken ontology when contemporary theories have nothing serious to say about art, politics, society, ethics …etc. But it's useless. Well, like Rawls, I try to understand politics without ontology ; like Carnap, I try to understand logics without ontology or metaphysics … etc.

Quote:
Originally Posted by mhv
A) Semiotics is founded upon the principles that there is a universal theory of signification, of which language is the paradigmatic example.
Yep, that’s exactly what I understood … again common sense. That’s why I said : « meaning is accessible to rational human being through language ». And that’s why language is, and will remain, the primary paradigm of signification, as Leibniz put it (again I put aside theories of perceptual meaning which don’t concern aesthetics).

Quote:
Originally Posted by mhv
B) with respect to the problem of depiction, semiotics considers that the resemblance between a sign and its object explains how marks on paper can depict something. That's Peirce's definition of an iconic sign.
Yep, that’s Pierce’s definition of an iconic sign. So what ? Icons are only one way to produce meaning, or to represente signification, or to derive significance. There are also indices and symbols, which don't "depict" objects by resemblance ; go and read again Pierce. There is no reason to think that photography is only about icon and not symbol. Btw Pierce's theory, as great as it is, is only one semiotic theory. Do you want to discuss iconography vs ideography?

Quote:
Originally Posted by mhv
Go read a few things, and you'll see that there are many more competing theories on depiction. There is resemblance between a design on paper and a depicted object; there are various theories of the optical field; there is the seeing-in theory, the paradigm of which is our ability to see a face in the cloud; there are theories of informational content; and myriad other variations. The Routledge Companion to Aesthetics has a few good thing in its article on depiction.
Thanks, I really need a Companion for students.

Quote:
Originally Posted by mhv
What I'm saying is simply that Barthes does not think further than "photography is the real thing, not a representation" and that I distrust profundly his image semiotics theory.
Distrust ? No you don’t mean that. You know academic discussions are not about likes or dislikes, trust or distrust. You agree, you agree partially, you disagree partially, or you disagree totally.

Thanks for the lecture. Next time let's talk about photography.

Best,
Marc
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Old 05-24-2007   #21
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hmm...I would partly agree with the comment that the talk about the ontology of art is somewhat BS but I would never quote Harry Frankfurt (who, IMO, writes quite a lot of BS himself) and surely not Carnap.


Anyways, since we're talking about Peirce's semiotics and icons we need to keep a few things in mind. Firstly, and I think mhv hinted at that, there is the problem that the notion of resemblance is highly influeced by (or even dependent on) one's socio-cultural background. Secondly, one could argue that the signification of icons is not derived from resemblence but rather that it's the other way around. After all, one identical twin is not a sign for the other twin even though there's a high degree of resemblence. Also, a copy of a picture is not a sign for that picture.
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Old 05-24-2007   #22
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Jamie, I agree with all you said (even about Frankfurt ... but his book on BS made me laugh).
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Old 05-24-2007   #23
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"What I'm saying is simply that Barthes does not think further than "photography is the real thing, not a representation" and that I distrust profundly his image semiotics theory."

I don't think Camera Lucida can be reduced to this simple statement, however, you reminded me of an essay I wrote as a keen young photography student about an earlier piece by Barthes in which he asserts that a photograph is a "message without a code" (can't recall which one now, it's been a long time, but I think it's in in "Image, Music, Text").

At the time (and now) I really couldn't understand how such a thing could be possible, given that the photograph is not the thing it represents, it must be a message of some sort and encoded in some way to allow us to understand it (and I also think "message" and "code" in the context of that essay are too vague to be useful concepts, as is my assertion that photographs can be "understood", sorry!).

I did find the work of Christian Metz ("The Imaginary Signifier: Psychoanalysis and the Cinema" - the long chapter on metaphor) and the work of Lacan really interesting although not at all conclusive in thinking about this question.

I do think Barthes stumbles on this issue, especially for someone who grew up in a world containing Cubism, Marcel Duchamp, Surrealism and Rene Magritte.

The best (partly because it's short) consideration I've read is Michel Foucaults "This is Not a Pipe".
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Old 05-24-2007   #24
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had to read this at uni for an essay about studium/punctum.

i prefer the writings of walter benjamin.
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Old 05-24-2007   #25
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i prefer the writings of walter benjamin.

so do I!
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Old 05-24-2007   #26
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Marc-A.

Obviously, you don’t care. Baumgarten, old crap. But Currie, Davies or Wolstertoff (whose work I appreciate btw) are not in the same ballpark as Kant. Where do you study ?
You know, I don't get your point of view. What would be so wrong about disagreeing with Kant or Baumgarten, about considering that their model of aesthetics may be flawed? Yeah, I know the "it's not because it's old that it's crap" rengaine, there's good stuff in Aristotle, no mistakes. But to consider that Kant is the ultimate authority in aesthetics is like considering Plato the ultimate authority on ethics.

I study at McGill.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Marc-A.
Thanks for the lecture. So you mean the trivial fact that we blabla about a topic which is art, and you hold that that blabla is knowlegde about this topic. Interesting. The problem is that you’re mixing the issues and you think that all which relates in one way or another to art has someting to do with aesthetics. That's very weak. For instance, the moral role of the artist in a society, is not an aethetic issue, but a sociological one.
Give me a break! Aesthetics is pretty much an umbrella term nowadays, it's not specifically Baumgarten's "sensory cognition". Right, the role in society is not aesthetics, boo-hoo I made a mistake.


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Originally Posted by Marc-A.
Btw I’m so impressed by big words : ontology wow ! Let me put it straight : ontology of artworks is bullsh*t (in H. Frankfurt’s sense). I know it’s trendy to reawaken ontology when contemporary theories have nothing serious to say about art, politics, society, ethics …etc. But it's useless. Well, like Rawls, I try to understand politics without ontology ; like Carnap, I try to understand logics without ontology or metaphysics … etc.
You always postulate an ontology of one kind or another in a discussion about art. Obviously you don't care. Type vs. Token? Reactionary crap. Performance vs. Artifact? Pedant merde bovine by stuffy old farts. Yes, yes, absolutely useless, I must agree with you.

Oh, and maybe you should not use big words like metaphysics and combine them with other big words like logic. Maybe someone like you would scold you for using them while failing to impress him.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Marc-A.
Yep, that’s exactly what I understood … again common sense. That’s why I said : « meaning is accessible to rational human being through language ». And that’s why language is, and will remain, the primary paradigm of signification, as Leibniz put it (again I put aside theories of perceptual meaning which don’t concern aesthetics).
So perception is irrelevant to aesthetics? Recognition of shapes is irrelevant? That's interesting, to say the least... Smoke doesn't have a meaning?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Marc-A.
Yep, that’s Pierce’s definition of an iconic sign. So what ? Icons are only one way to produce meaning, or to represente signification, or to derive significance. There are also indices and symbols, which don't "depict" objects by resemblance ; go and read again Pierce. There is no reason to think that photography is only about icon and not symbol. Btw Pierce's theory, as great as it is, is only one semiotic theory. Do you want to discuss iconography vs ideography?
That's the point: images are taken to be fundamentally iconic signs by most semiotics theories. I don't care if Peirce considers rubber ducks to be symbols or the index of his grandmother, but pictures are not icons.

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Originally Posted by Marc-A.
Thanks, I really need a Companion for students.
Maybe you do.

Last edited by mhv : 05-24-2007 at 06:52.
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Old 05-24-2007   #27
Marc-A.
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Originally Posted by mhv
You know, I don't get your point of view. What would be so wrong about disagreeing with Kant or Baumgarten, about considering that their model of aesthetics may be flawed? Yeah, I know the "it's not because it's old that it's crap" rengaine, there's good stuff in Aristotle, no mistakes. But to consider that Kant is the ultimate authority in aesthetics is like considering Plato the ultimate authority on ethics.
Did I say something like that? Humm I don't think so. But you can't make philosophy if you don't bear in mind the kantian distinction between theoretical, practical and teleological judgments (judgment about "taste", aesthetic judgments belong to this kind). You can contest this distinction, but you have to be cautious.
BTW, I don't see why you can't consider Plato as the ultimate authority in ethics. This year, I gave 5 lectures of 3 hours on Plato and especially on Er, in the last book of Republic, His realism is not obsolete, though I don't agree with his method of ethics (I'm more humian on the subject).

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I study at McGill.
Good university; have good colleagues there and in Montreal Uni.

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Give me a break!
I will, don't worry. If you hadn't been that pedant "uh Barthes is laughable" I wouldn't have noticed your comment. There are a lot of interesting comments around here.


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You always postulate an ontology of one kind or another in a discussion about art. Obviously you don't care.
No you don't always postulate an ontology (apply Ockham's razon here) . I won't make a lecture, but if you don't know please stop being categoric and start to be modest. Apply Socrates' motto.


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Originally Posted by mhv
So perception is irrelevant to aesthetics? Recognition of shapes is irrelevant? That's interesting, to say the least... Smoke doesn't have a meaning?
Did I say that? I don't see your argument, but anyway ...

Thanks for the conversation.

Marc
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Old 05-24-2007   #28
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Meh, forums arguments always end up in misunderstanding. Let's leave it there.
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Old 05-24-2007   #29
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Meh, forums arguments always end up in misunderstanding. Let's leave it there.
Why? It was starting to be quite amusing!
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Old 05-24-2007   #30
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Why? It was starting to be quite amusing!
You must be one of these popcorn-munching heated thread audience, aren't you?
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Old 05-24-2007   #31
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He, and most of this thread are just over my head. And I ain;t ashamed to admit it! I just tried reading it again a few months ago- still nothing.

Sontag will grace my reading table again next, see how I fare this time around. I also read this in school, but don't recall any of it.
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Old 05-24-2007   #32
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Man, these Europeans take their philosophy seriously. Over here on the other side of the pond we mostly read the sports section and look at the photos. Duh.
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Old 05-24-2007   #33
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What is this 'read' you speak about?
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