The aim of this course is to offer students the opportunity for a detailed study of post-war French thought through the prism of writing on visual art and/or cinema. Despite the ostensible emphasis on the primacy of writing and of the text in French thought since the structuralist epoch inaugurated (arguably) by Lévi-Strauss’ La pensée sauvage (The Savage Mind)
in 1960, theorists of this period have often had recourse to considerations of visual art, often not as a secondary concern but as a central or symptomatic aspect of their thinking. Key questions include the ontological status of the image and of light, the role of the visual in intersubjective dynamics, and the role of visual art in forming and deforming the image of the body. We will consider three writers: Roland Barthes, Jacques Lacan and Gilles Deleuze. We will look in each case at a key primary text, but, subject to the number of students taking the module, students will have the opportunity to develop an individual focus on a further element, on which they will be invited to give a presentation.
1. Roland Barthes
Perhaps Roland Barthes’ most well known book was his last, the posthumously published
la Chambre Claire/ Camera lucida
. This ‘note on photography’ has become an essential contribution to philosophy of the photographic image, but it also gives a unique insight into Barthes’s sensibility as a writer and as a subject. We will focus on the distinction between the stadium
and the punctum
of the photograph, the ontology of the photographic image and the relation the photograph to death. Supplementary areas of study may include Barthes’ earlier essay on stills from Eisenstein films (‘Le troisième sens’/’The third meaning’), the short essay ‘En sortant du cinéma’/’On leaving the cinema’, the essay on Cy Twombly.
2. Jacques Lacan
A specific direction in which Lacan may be said to have taken the theory of psychoanalysis in his reading of Freud lies in the complex and elaborate theorisation of the visual and of the image developed in various areas of his extensive work. We will look in particular at the well-known
, via the short essay bearing this title. An equally important aspect of Lacan’s theorisation of the visual, however, is the account of the look and the gaze offered in the second part of Seminar 11, Les quatre concepts fondamentaux de la psychoanalyse/ The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis
. Supplementary areas of study may include Lacan’s reading of Holbein’s painting the Ambassadors
, or his account of mimetism. Students may also like to consider the use of Lacanian theory in film theory and readings of films, by Kaja Silverman or Joan Copjec, for example.
3. Gilles Deleuze
Gilles Deleuze’s extensive oeuvre, including those works co-written with Felix Guattari, may be most accessible via the two volume consideration of the cinema (Cinéma I: L’Image-mouvement [The Movement Image], Cinéma II: L’Image-temps [The Time-Image]), and Logique de la sensation (The Logic of Sensation), on Francis Bacon. We will be obliged to look at both of these texts via a series of excerpts, though you are encouraged to purchase the book on Bacon. We will look specifically at the conception of the body that Deleuze introduces in both texts. Students may choose to focus individually on other parts of the two cinema books.