CAMERA LUCIDA

REFLECTIONS ON PHOTOGRAPHY

Nothing is more present or more mysterious, still, than the Photograph—so one blinks only at Barthes' assumption, at the start of these meditations on its nature, that he is doing something exceptional. More unusual, for such endeavors and for Barthes, is his directness (rendered in limpid prose by Richard Howard). What is there in certain photographs, he asks, that attracts me? The investigation, then, is subjective—no visual-arts touchstones, no socioeconomic ballast. Barthes distinguishes between a general interest in a scene, which he calls (with his penchant for coining terms) the stadium, and something "which arises from the scene, shoots out of it like an arrow, and pierces me": the puncture. Though he errs in supposing that the punctum, in the photographs he cites, is necessarily accidental (surely the Nicaraguan nuns were as important to photographer Koen Wessing as the Nicaraguan soldiers), he exactly names the sort of detail which, from photographer to photographer, surprises: "one boy's bad teeth" in a William Klein scene of Little Italy, the dirt road in a Kertesz picture of a blind gypsy violinist ("I recognize, with my whole body, the straggling villages I passed through on my long-ago travels in Hungary and Rumania"). Other recognitions, other distinctions emerge—between "landscapes of predilection" (where one feels one has been, or is going) and tourist photographs; between erotica ("disturbed, fissured") and pornography. But it is in searching back through photographs of his mother, after her death, that Barthes arrives at the essence, for him, of photography: one childhood picture, not reproducible ("It exists only for me"), but a "just image." Grander statements appear—to the effect, for one, that photography alone authenticates existence and foretells death—but it is the emotional experience of photographs, ordinarily the preserve of fiction, that resonates here. Readers of Susan Sontag's On Photography will find Barthes a gentler, more private, also insinuating voice on the subject.

Pub Date: July 13, 1981

ISBN: 0374532338

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Hill and Wang/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Oct. 10, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1981

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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THE MYTH OF SISYPHUS

AND OTHER ESSAYS

This a book of earlier, philosophical essays concerned with the essential "absurdity" of life and the concept that- to overcome the strong tendency to suicide in every thoughtful man-one must accept life on its own terms with its values of revolt, liberty and passion. A dreary thesis- derived from and distorting the beliefs of the founders of existentialism, Jaspers, Heldegger and Kierkegaard, etc., the point of view seems peculiarly outmoded. It is based on the experience of war and the resistance, liberally laced with Andre Gide's excessive intellectualism. The younger existentialists such as Sartre and Camus, with their gift for the terse novel or intense drama, seem to have omitted from their philosophy all the deep religiosity which permeates the work of the great existentialist thinkers. This contributes to a basic lack of vitality in themselves, in these essays, and ten years after the war Camus seems unaware that the life force has healed old wounds... Largely for avant garde aesthetes and his special coterie.

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 1955

ISBN: 0679733736

Page Count: 228

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1955

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