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Seeing Things: literature and the visual

Peter Vernon

Textual and Visual Selves in Autobiographical Writing

Claudine Raynaud

Texte intégral

I. The body of writing and the photograph (of the body)

  • 1 The photograph is not a sign which can be subsumed under the same characteristics as the linguistic (...)
  • 2 Barthes's autobiographical text starts with a reproduction of his handwriting and a denial of veris (...)

1This paper can only pretend to be the beginning of a reflection on the place of photographs within the body of contemporary autobiographies that display a dialogue between "family pictures" and the autobiographical textual "self". Indeed, modern autobiography enacts more than ever a relationship between photographs and captions, or as the French put it "legends", between autobiographical narratives and reproductions of framed family photographs. It is the combined effect of two signs: the linguistic sign and the photograph as sign, in relation to a reflection on identity, truth, and selfhood that I wish to investigate.1 Is the reader confronted with a re-doubling of the "recall of the referent" in the echo established between the text of someone’s life story and the portrait(s) of the author included in the same work? Is the relationship that of a bridge between two signs-the visual and the textual-in relation to the referent; or a confrontation; or perhaps a juxtaposition of two media-the text and the photograph-widening the gap between the quality of the two signs? The confrontation of these two image-repertoires ("imaginaries"), that of the text and that of the photograph, might lead to a more urgent questioning of the singular body. The distanced print of the body is visible in the photograph. Traces of the body are finally lost in the passage from handwriting to the printed text.2 Alone, the metaphor remains.

2A further and more pointed question might enlighten this project, that of the place of family pictures, photographs of the direct ancestors of the autobiographer, parents, grand-parents, and that of his/her childhood pictures. The album pictures, the family souvenirs parallel the troubled quest for "self" and writing (self-in-writing) enacted by the text; they also entail a reflection on memory, time and identity. Both the autobiographical text and the photographs betray a preoccupation with lineage, an insistence on the evolution of the "body" from conception and beyond, as the encounter between the parents whose photographs are handed down, often after their deaths. One obvious link and difference - a dialogue between the two, a kind of "déliaisonis" the enactment in any autobiographical narrative of the split between the "sujet de l’énoncé" (subject of the utterance) and "sujet de l’énonciation" (subject of the uttering) made even wider in childhood memoirs: an otherness or an othering linked to time. Similarly, it is in the photograph that the self produces of his/herself that rests the destiny of the subject as split in the image that others make of him/her. The otherness lies more heavily on the mediation of the gaze of the other (the photographer [s]). This split is dramatised by the portraits (of the author) in the autobiography. Barthes muses:

Where is your authentic body? You are the only one that can never see yourself except as an image; you never see your own eyes except dulled by the gaze they rest upon the mirror or the lens (I am interested in seeing my eyes only when they look at you): even and especially for your own body, you are condemned to the repertoire of its images. (Barthes, 1977, 36, fragment facing two portraits, one from 1942 and another from 1970, italics mine).

  • 3 A note explains that the text of the performance changed with each show and that the written text i (...)

3Indeed, the first text that comes to mind in relation to the topic at hand is Roland Barthes by roland barthes (1977) and its sequel, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography (1981). But I would like to venture also into Cixous’s recent book Rootprints (1997), (Photos de racines [1996]) and beyond, into Two or Three Things I Know for Sure (1996) by Southern American writer Dorothy Allison. The latter work contains the text of a performance that juxtaposes fragments of texts and photographs taken from Allison’s album.3

4In the three works, an intricate dialogue develops between the linear textual narrative (the space of the writing) and the very quality of the portrait, the family pictures or the other photographs that constitute the family album. It is first and foremost in the opposition between the print ("empreinte" in French) and the graphic printed text ("texte imprimé"), between the distanced print and the allusive power of the words that a critique of identity and of the frontier of the self in relation to time is effected. Barthes’s definition of punctum, his secondary and revelatory meaning, is that the punctum is Time: "I now know that there exists another punctum (another "stigmatum") than the detail. This new punctum, which is no longer of form but of intensity, is Time, the lacerating emphasis on the noeme ("that-has-been"), its pure representation" (1981, 96). Barthes reflects on the photograph of a young criminal before he is going to be executed. Looking at this photograph one is caught in the clash between life and the certainty of death to come, the certainty that the person the spectator is looking at is now dead. This liminal case brings forward the two terms of the body and death. It has often been asserted that death was the horizon of autobiographical writing, that more often than not that type of writing was against/with death. The photograph brings the dilemma of the always already inscribed death of the singular human being to the fore. It performs it in anticipation.

  • 4 On the role of the family album, see Susan Sontag: "Through photographs, each family constructs a p (...)

5The photograph also raises the question of the relation to the real (of the past). Memory reinvents, recuperates the "feelings" of one’s life in the narrative, substitutes to lived experience the text which stands in for it, re-enacted with each reading, mediated by the "I" narrator. The picture which acts as a "souvenir" ("la photo-souvenir") is a detached object, a fragment carved out from that past, which both attests to a once-has-been and registers the never-to-be-again of that moment. It is a social ritual embedded in a culture of the visual and, at the same time, a private contemplation: what one might salvage of one’s being in the otherness of the photograph.4 Yet with Barthes, things are not that simple. It is the irreducible, and not the irreversible, that he discovers in the childhood photograph: what is still with him when he contemplates them, what has not gone away. The same Utopian thrust towards a remainder is present in the reflection that Dorothy Allison makes on one of her school photographs. It is as if the corporeal print stopped any attempt at thinking the irrevocable: nothingness. Barthes speaks of the adherence of the referent in photography.

II. Barthes’s stubbornness of the referent

6Camera Lucida contains a textual reference to a photograph of Barthes’s mother that he does not include in that work. (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Photograph of Barthes' mother c1932

7This photograph is also absent from Roland Barthes by roland barthes, which begins under the sign of the evanescent mother, a photograph of his mother which the reader can barely make out, walking on a beach. What strikes the viewer is the indistinct character of that print. The mother is forever walking away, vanishing in the loose grain of the photograph at the same time as she is caught in the motion of moving forward. The introduction of the autobiographical text is a reflection on "images", which in this case means "pictures". Barthes distinguishes this moment - the space of the album from the text proper:

So you will find here, mingled with the "family romance," only the body pre-history - that body making its way toward the labour and the pleasure of writing. For such is the theoretical meaning of this limitation: to show that the time of the narrative (of the imagery) ends with the subject’s youth: the only biography is of an unproductive life (1977, Introduction).

8In Camera Lucida, the critical reflection on photography becomes, as early as chapter three, a reflection on the "I" narrator as critic and writer. It is the existence of some photographs for him, and him only, that will be the link between the objects under study in a global reflection on photography. As always in the late Barthes, the autobiographical posture or concern undermines the "objectivity" of the critical endeavour, or rather it justifies it. "I decided to take myself as mediator for all Photography" (Barthes, 1981, 8, italics mine). One could say that Barthes does not abandon his quest for the uniqueness of (a) being, in that case, the Mother’s being, precisely because of the centrality of the "I" as subject of desire. From the start, as he goes through some photographs, the fragmentary character of photography appears as an obstacle in his quest towards the essence of his mother’s being: "I recognised her differentially, not essentially. Photography thereby compelled me to perform a painful labour; straining towards the essence of her identity, I was struggling among images partially true, and therefore totally false" (1981, 66). Yet he attains the truth of his mother’s being in what he calls the Winter Garden Photograph. After his mother’s death, he goes through some photographs of her to see if he can "find" her: "My grief wanted a just image, an image which would be both justice and accuracy - justesse: just an image but a just image. Such for me was the Winter Garden Photograph" (1981, 70). This photograph is never even given for the reader to see. It will remain private, the subject of this subjective certainty.

9In his earlier definition of photography Barthes insisted on the encounter with the Real that photography represented:

In the Photograph, the event is never transcended for the sake of something else: the Photograph always leads the corpus back to the body I see; it is the absolute Particular, the sovereign Contingency, matte and somehow stupid, the This, (this photograph and not Photography), in short, what Lacan calls Tuché, the Occasion, the Encounter, the Real in its indefatigable expression (Barthes, 1981, 4).

10Such a definition conforms with a reflection on autobiography since autobiography entails a particular link to the referent. The autobiographical narrative displays a relation of identity between the "I" narrator, the main character and the proper Name on the cover page. The existence of this name and life can be proven by the parish registers. The extra-textual (here, the judicial) authenticates the narrative self. Lejeune’s definition of the autobiographical pact is an astute way of inscribing the referent not so much ontologically but rather as a contract between reader and writer in relation to the status of the referent. I quote:

As soon as we include the [title page] in the text, with the name of the author, we make use of a general textual criterion, the identity ("identicalness") of the name (author-narrator-protagonist). The autobiographical pact is the affirmation in the text of this identity, referring back in the final analysis to the name of the author on the cover (Lejeune, 1989, 13-14).

11Even if the link between the referent and the autobiographical text means that one is always dealing with a certain type of "fiction", the autobiographical apparatus sets up a "resistance of the referent" which recalls the "stubbornness of the referent" of the photograph according to Barthes. There has to have been a body, an objet for the print to exist, even if the print says more or something other than the verifiable "existence" of the body or the object. This has-been-there is precisely what the photograph repeats with each new glance at it by the spectator.

12Barthes further stresses: "It is as if the Photograph always carries its referent with itself, both affected by the same amorous or funereal immobility, at the very heart of the moving world [...]" (1981, 5-6). The adherence of the referent to the photograph is the presence of an object or of a body: "No Photograph without something or someone" (Barthes, 1981, 7). What is being photographed, in typical Barthesian fashion, is then called "the Spectrum" (1981, 9). Barthes justifies his choice of word as follows:"... this word retains, through its root, a relation to 'spectacle' and adds to it that rather terrible thing which is there in every photograph: the return of the dead" (1981, 9). The fixedness of the moment and the stillness of the subject contrast with the attempt of the narrative to mimic the passing of time thanks to narrative conventions (prolepses, analepses, etc). Textual linearity is also a graphic, and hence visual, sign for elapsing time.

13The relation to time of the photograph, in the case of portraits of the autobiographer or portraits of the members of one’s family, are always those of discreet moments that can never be recaptured. They are collected in a chronological order, often dated and constitute a narrative made up of distinct "pictures" with time gaps separating them. It is a social ritual, a family rite, which in the case of a famous writer’s autobiographical text will set in motion the question of "privacy". Which pictures from the family album does he choose to give to the reader? Which others have been withheld from the reader/spectator’s gaze? In a way, the opposition is between what Barthes calls the image-repertoire constituted of images (pictures) and the image - repertoire that the text engenders or generates. Could we claim that the portrait of the autobiographer and the family photographs are both an access to the "self" and a barrier - a necessary allusion - since they give the spectator and the reader an image on which he/she can rest his/her gaze? At the same time, that image might limit the textual image-repertoire that is set into motion by the text (its descriptions, its sounds, its references). What enters into consideration is the fascination of/with the image and its deictic character. It calls the reader/spectator to come and look, whereas the text does not rivet the attention of the reader with a "See", "Look", "There it is", although it might call the reader to listen. Jean-Marie Schaeffer develops this aspect of the photographic apparatus in his definition of the photograph as "icône indicielle" (1987, 59). Indeed Shaeffer’s definition takes into consideration both the arché of photography (i. e. the photographic apparatus, photography as an act and the actual material production of photography) and the photograph as visual presentation that he inscribes within an analogical relationship (1987, 15).

14Looking at the family pictures of the author can be encompassed by what Barthes calls the "studium". We have all been trained to make and look at family albums. As he states: "... culturally, [we] participate in the figures, the faces, the gestures, the settings, the actions" (1981, 26). The voyeuristic element is not absent from this gaze: what does Barthes look like? Which one of his students or friends was his lover in the picture which bears the caption "friends"? It is in the twist between the duplication, the reproduction of a familiar object, (Barthes’s family album is like any other family album, like mine) and the singular (Barthes is Barthes the "author" ("RB"), the Professor at the College de France, etc., and nobody else) that the reader/spectator is caught. That hesitation between two antithetical poles is not enacted by the text which the signature signals as singular (his, his life, his reflections, his style, the grain of his voice, and not mine).

15This oscillation between the universal and the singular duplicates the proliferation of selves and the idea of an essence and the opposition between identity and otherness inherent in the split self, that the photograph exposes: "For the Photograph is the advent of myself as other: a cunning dissociation of consciousness from identity" (Barthes, 1981,12). Barthes goes further and defines the liminality of that state: "In terms of imagerepertoire, the Photograph (the one I intend) represents that very subtle moment when, to tell the truth, I am neither subject nor object but a subject who feels he is becoming an object: I then experience a microversion of death (of parenthesis): I am truly becoming a spectre" (Barthes, 1981,14).

16What does the reader turned spectator make then of the mixture between these two media: the autobiographical narrative and the photograph in the same work? In Roland Barthes by roland barthes, the images at the beginning of the text are placed there after the fact. The autobiographical text follows the logic of the alphabet with an entry or several entries for each letter, in the manner of A Lover’s Discourse (1978). It is thus an arbitrary logic that aims at deconstructing the chronological verisimilitude of the autobiographical narrative. That such a chronology is never followed, except in classical and popular narratives, is a fact. Autobiographical writing is always a way of disrupting the chronology of somebody’s life, if only because the process of remembering, rather than the construction of one’s life story presides over the telling of one’s life. The subject of writing, the subject of desire differs from the subject-in-the-process-of-becoming-object that the photographs give the viewer to see.

III. Cixous’s genealogical legends and Allison’s violence of the banal

17Cixous’s text of Photos de racines, which can literally be translated as "Pictures of roots", "photographs of roots", is divided into several chapters. The first one is a dialogue between the critic Mireille Calle-Gruber and Hélène Cixous about the latter’s critical and novelistic career, but it also contains "windows" which open up onto Cixous’s notebooks, another interesting autobiographical insertion. The second part is ironically entitled "Portrait of the Writing," fusing the descriptive genre of the portrait, along with the inevitable pictorial reference, and the impossibility of giving a portrait of the writing. "Ecriture" is a process; it comes with the body; it writes the female body and sexual difference. This portrait by Mireille Calle-Gruber bridges the gap between the "inter views" (with the pun included in the gap, the distance, between "inter" and "views") of section one and the albums and legends of the section that I would like to focus on, if briefly.

18Hélène Cixous reflects on the family albums she goes through:

Album in ruins to be respected. It is memory itself. A place I do not return to. If we leaf through, we do absent-mindedly, going by the open photos, that fade to let me pass. I was bom so far from my beginnings. I follow the bed of the blood. My distant blood, my foreigner, what a way we have come...(1997, 179)

19Indeed, she is interested in a genealogy of her being, all the way back to the impossible origins of the wandering of the Jews. She starts with maps of Europe and the Mediterranean Sea, with long routes of exile, with the polar opposites the North and the South, the East and the West: "What constitutes the originary earth, the native country of my writing is a vast expanse of time and lands where my long, double childhood unfolds. I have a childhood with two memories" (1997, 181). She is both Mediterranean and Nordic; the body is Mediterranean, the jouissances Nordic. The photographs included are those of the ancestors: German great grandparents, the German parents, the mother and her sister. What Cixous must admit, in looking at this German lineage, is that "[her] grandfather died on the Russian front as a German soldier "(1997, 185). Cixous follows with a poetic text about the lonely grave of this dead grand-father, a photograph of the headstone facing, so to speak, a photograph of the grand-father in his uniform, with lilac and a spiked Prussian helmet that acts as a punctum to Cixous’s sensitivity: "Such is the strange heart of the family ous’s sensitivity:" Such is the strange heart of the family album. (Figure 2).

Figure 2: The soldier with lilac and his grave at Baranovici (Byelorussia)

20The implausible origin with a spike. It pierces my chest" italics mine). She forces the reader/viewer to read the lay-out of the photographs from right to left, as opposed to the Roman way. Death precedes life; the grave precedes the picture of the soldier with the bunch of flowers. The date of his birth on his tombstone is not given; the only certainty is the date of his death: "GEST. 27.7.16": "On the right the standing soldier. To his left, preceding him in our reading which goes from left to right, his grave. But read from right to left according to the Hebrew mode, first him, then his grave" (1997, 187). By this command to the reader, Cixous the narrator reverses the order and she plays on the fact that this reversal is an acknowledgement of a different cultural code, the learning of the logic of another language, while the lay out of the text restores the arbitrary order from left to right. This photograph of the grandfather as a German soldier is later confronted to the family tree and the death of many of the members of Cixous’s family in Hitler’s death camps.

21Barthes, waiting on his dying mother, finds himself exchanging roles with her, engendering his own mother. Cixous similarly plays with identification. Her grand-mother’s name Omi, allows for the pun: "She is ‘M.o.i’." She is "I". She also identifies with the German grand-father thanks to the way in which the first person pronoun "I" functions in any autobiographical text She is her dead ancestor: "My name is Michael Klein. I am resting. I have lost my birth. How can I be so dead? The passer-by would teach me more than my death about myself. This is where I begin. The last day. But there are no passers-by. The entire forest has no address. Everything is interrupted" (1997,186).

22Like Cixous’s search for the genesis of the writing self, Allison’s autobiographical memoir Two or Three Things I Know for Sure is the record of the author’s life as storyteller. She tries to explain what she owes her aunts and the women of the family storyteller. She tries to explain what she owes her aunts and the women of the family when it comes to that craft of telling stories. In Rootprints, Cixous has written as a preface to "Albums and legends": "All biographies like all autobiographies like all narratives tell one story in place of another story"(1997, 178). Allison also sets the relationship between truth and fiction head over heels:

I know the use of fiction in a world of hard truth, the way fiction can be a harder piece of truth. The story of what happened, or what did not happen, but should have - that story can became a curtain drawn shut, a piece of insulation, a disguise, a razor, a tool that changes every time it is used and sometimes becomes something other than we intended (1996, 3).

23In her autobiographical text cum pictures, Allison talks from the point of view of those who have been repeatedly objectified. She grounds the narrative of "poor white trash" in a specific relationship to her own existence. As Susan Sontag explains in one of her essays from On Photography, pictures have often been taken of the underclass, of the poor, of the downtrodden, to eventually constitute a "genre", the pictorial equivalent of Agee’s Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (1939-1941), a book written during the Depression under the aegis of the Federal Writers Project:

The perennial surreal subject is How the Other Half Lives, to cite the innocently explicit title that Jacob Riis gave to the book of photographs of the New York poor that he brought out in 1890. Photography conceived as social documentation was an instrument of that essentially middle class attitude, both zealous and merely tolerant, both curious and indifferent, called humanism-which found slums the most enthralling of decors (1990, 56).

  • 5 In fact, the names have been changed and she says that the descriptions of certain people incorpora (...)

24At the same time, Allison shows the reader her family.5 The photographs are not directly commented upon, with some exceptions, but the text enters a strange relationship with them. On page 17, she tells of the pictures that she used to look at with her mother and are now part of her mother’s "things" which the two surviving daughters need to divide among themselves. She recalls her mother’s relationship to those pictures:

Mama would touch the pictures tentatively, as if she did not want to look too hard at the reality of those people lost and gone. Every time I asked, she promised that as soon as she found a spare moment she would go through the box, sort through the photos, and write it all down, each name, each fate she could remember. Every time seeing the way her hands moved on those snap-shots, I knew I wasn’t likely that she would keep her promise (1996, 19).

25Allison writes that she performs the same gesture as her mother and Fingers a photograph of her uncle leaning on a car. In this instance, the text coincides with the picture on the same page and the reader can "verify" in the list of photographs the truthfulness of the statement. This man is Allison’s uncle. She remembers how he cried one night because he had lost the woman he loved (1996, 30-32). The poignancy of the statement, the intimacy, the disclosure of the secret, clashes with the openness of the access that the reader has to these photographs, It also goes to prove that the photograph does not explain anything. The stories are the necessary complement of a chronicle of hurt, pain, hard work, misery, which the images betray or at times hide.

26The same effort to link her own sense of identity to these women, to her mother, to the other bodies of her female lineage, is reflected in Allison’s quest as in Barthes’s depiction of the Winter Garden Photograph. She tells of her own sister becoming her mother on the night of her death, being caring. She tells of herself becoming her Mama ells of her aunt "Dot" likening a portrait of herself to a portrait of Dorothy as a child. Pictures give away family resemblance, common traits, physical likeness.

'You are like me', she announced when she saw my third-grade school picture 'Got that nothing stop- you-look about you girl'. I studied the picture. All I saw was another grinning girl in dark-framed glasses missing a tooth.
‘No, Look’. She produced a picture I would find later among Mama’s treasures [...] (1996, 35)

27She refuses to see and yet she sees the ugliness and the determination that she shares with her aunt. The ambivalence of identification is displayed in the recognition of sameness (the aunt sees herself in the child) and the alienation in duplication or reproduction ("another grinning girl" italics mine) that the photograph enacts for Allison. The photograph is thus elevated to the status of the place where subjecthood is grounded and objectification is effected all at once and forever after in the production of the "likeness" of the picture. Allison refuses to be like her aunt and rejects identification by seeing lack: "missing a tooth" (italics mine).

IV. The irreducible and the bed of the blood

28The strength and the ambivalence of women's lineage in Allison's family echoes Cixous's "bed of the blood" (1997, 179) in reading her dual genealogy. If lineage means distant inheritance, the notion of the "irreducible" that Barthes found in his childhood photographs similarly calls forth a modality of being through time, In these fascinating pictures, Barthes finds a trace of what remains in him through change, "what is still in [him]" (Barthes, 1977, xxvi). Ultimately, the tension set up in the juxtaposition of the two media (text and photograph) insists on the Utopian uniqueness of a being together with the fact that writing is sustained by desire ("one writes with one's desire" (Barthes, 1977, backcover). The irreducible quality of one's being and the essence of the mother's truth must be imagined together with the "bed of the blood" and the willed likeness passed on from woman to woman. These "recognitions" are brought to the force in the visual aspect of the photographs and then abandoned in the text to the specific imagine-repertoire that writing generates.

29When Barthes chooses to hide the Winter Garden Photograph of his mother, he deprives the reader of the public exposure of a private link, the testimony of his epiphany. He keeps a secret. He returns the subject to the intimacy of the love encounter that cannot be shared (Melkonian, 1989, 62). The reader/spectator is thus robbed of the other's intimacy that the display of the family pictures had lured him into thinking that he could touch. The narrator ostensibly withholds a proof and thus enacts a mise en abyme of what the photograph (of the other's mother, of the other's lover) also performs for any third party: the defection of desire.


Works cited

Allison, Dorothy, 1996. Two or Three things I Know for Sure. New York: Plume Books.

Barthes, Roland, 1980. La Chambre claire : Note sur la photographie. Paris: Seuil.

—, 1981. Camera Lucida. Reflections on Photography Trans. Richard Howard. New York: Hill and Wang.

, 1977. Fragments d’un discours amoureux. Paris : Seuil.

, [1978] 1990.: A Lover’s Discourse. Fragments. London: Penguin.

, 1975. Roland Barthes par roland barthes. Paris : Seuil.

, 1977. Roland Barthes by roland barthes. Trans. Richard Howard. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Cixous, Hélène et Mireille Calle-Gruber, 1994. Photos de racines, Paris, Edition des femmes.

Lejeune, Philippe, 1975. Le Pacte autobiographique. Paris: Seuil.,

— 1989. On Autobiography. Trans. Katherine Leary. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Melkonian, Martin, 1989. Le Corps couché de Roland Barthes. Paris: Armand Colin.

Schaeffer, Jean-Marie, 1987. LImage précaire: Du dispositif photographique. Paris: Seuil.

Sontag, Susan, [1977] 1990. On Photography. Anchor Books : New York.


1 The photograph is not a sign which can be subsumed under the same characteristics as the linguistic sign, as Jean-Marie Schaeffer demonstrates. Using Pierce’s terminology, the critic arrives at the following definition: "The photographic image is a non-coded marker ("indice") which functions as a sign of existence" (1987, 58, translation mine). This definition of the photograph prevents him from falling into the twin traps of essentialism and objectivism: "This conception of the photographic image as marker leads neither to the transparency of the sign (which would reveal its own essence) nor to that of a signatura rerum. I hope to show that one can support the idea of the existence of an iconic analogy without falling into a naturalistic or an objectivistic representation" (1987, 58, translation mine).

2 Barthes's autobiographical text starts with a reproduction of his handwriting and a denial of verisimilitude: "Tout ceci doit être considéré comme dit par un personnage de roman". "It must all be considered as if spoken by the character of a novel" (Barthes, 1977, 1).

3 A note explains that the text of the performance changed with each show and that the written text is also differs from the performances. It would be interesting to study the genesis of these various texts.

4 On the role of the family album, see Susan Sontag: "Through photographs, each family constructs a portrait-chronicle of itself - a portable kit of images that bears witness to its connectedness. It hardly matters what activities are photographed so long as photographs get taken and cherished. Photography becomes a rite of family life just when, in the industrialised countries of Europe and America, the very institution of family starts undergoing radical surgery. As that claustrophobic unit, the nuclear family was being carved out of a much larger family aggregate, photography came along to memorialise, to restate symbolically, the imperilled continuity and vanishing extendedness of family life" (1990, 8-9).

5 In fact, the names have been changed and she says that the descriptions of certain people incorporate several real characters. The spectator tries to find out, however, who the mother is among the different photographs. He/she tries to identify her and he/she reads the text of her death while looking at her portrait. See Author’s note: "The names of most family members have been changed and other characters are composites,-creations based on friends, family and acquaintances" (1996, 98). That indication clashes with the list of photographs on the previous page taken from Allison’s personal collection as the backcover explains.

Table des illustrations

Légende Figure 1: Photograph of Barthes' mother c1932
Fichier image/jpeg, 141k
Légende Figure 2: The soldier with lilac and his grave at Baranovici (Byelorussia)
Fichier image/jpeg, 203k


Professor of English and American Literature at the Université de Tours, and is former director of GRAAT. She has published widely in Seventeenth-Century British Literature and Black American Studie.

© Presses universitaires François-Rabelais, 2005

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