Benjamin, Barthes, and the Singularity of Photography
New Books in Arts & LettersNew Books in Critical TheoryNew Books in French StudiesNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in PhotographyNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books Network October 29, 2014 Roxanne Panchasi
Kathrin Yacavone‘s Benjamin, Barthes, and the Singularity of Photography (Bloomsbury, 2013) is an engaging study that explores connections between two of the most significant thinkers of the twentieth century: Walter Benjamin (1892-1940) and Roland Barthes (1915-1980). Considering Benjamin’s influence on Barthes’ later work on photography, the book also opens up the possibility of thinking of Barthes’ influence on how we think about and understand Benjamin in terms of the medium’s effects and significance in theoretical terms.
Divided into two parts, the book situates Benjamin and Barthes in their respective historical and political contexts while pursuing a series of themes through their work on photography: self and other, autobiography, memory, and redemption. It also looks closely at each author’s readings of particular photographs, and even establishes links between these. An intriguing postscript explores the continuing relevance of the ideas of these thinkers into the age of digitization. Listeners will find much in our conversation that illuminates the history and theory of photography, as well as the ideas and oeuvres of both Benjamin and Barthes more broadly.
In our interview, Kathrin and I speak about the book and also about her recent work editing a Summer 2014 issue of Nottingham French Studies on “Photography in Contemporary French and Francophone Cultures”. Outlining the themes of the articles included in this recent collection, Kathrin offers some thoughts on the continuing vitality of the medium in present-day France.