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New Critical Essays on Music, Art, and Representation

by Roland Barthes

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1984
Publisher: Hill and Wang/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Five of the essays here--including the seminal "The Third Meaning," which is Barthes' semiological prÉcis of the element of "code apperception" independent of a "signified" or a "signifier"--have been published before, in 1977's Image/Music/Text. In these and more specific pieces, Barthes again addresses the arts that seem to be language-free yet, he argues, are not; once more he stresses the systematization of connotation or prefabricated meaning that we take (or think we take) from a work of art. In the visual arts, Barthes focuses on painters and illustrators preoccupied with letters and signs: the essays on Cy Twombly, Requichot, and ErtÉ (women as signs is the strained premise) often seem merely clever; more persuasive are a short essay on pop art and a curious study of baroque illusionist Arcimboldo's alphabetic paintings of heads-and-foods. ("The principle of the Arcimboldesque 'monsters' is, in short, that Nature does not stop.") Even less commanding are the studies of music--including an examination of the voice (its "grain") that trails off into Lacanian psychoanalysis and musings on the contemporary shifts in modes of listening. And it's only in essays on photography--essentially familiar fare for those who've read Barthes' extensive oeuvre on the camera--that Barthes' structural preoccupations seem to lead to the heart of an art-form. Otherwise: intricate, often dazzling intellectual explorations--but too limited by Barthes' theoretical framework to bring real illumination to music or art.