The Mother in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction: Psychoanalysis, Photography, Deconstruction

By Elissa Marder | Go to book overview

EIGHT
Nothing to Say: Fragments on the Mother
in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

As if the horror of death were not precisely its platitude! The horror is this:
nothing to say about the death of the one whom I love most, nothing to say
about her photograph, which I contemplate without ever being able to get to
the heart of it, to transform it. The only “thought” I can have is that at the end
of this first death, my own death is inscribed; between the two, nothing more
than waiting; I have no other resource than this irony: to speak about the
“nothing to say.”

—ROLAND BARTHES, Camera Lucida

This before is not known, obviously, because it is there before we are. It is
something like birth or infancy (Latin, in-fans)—there before we are. The
there in question is called the body. It is not “I” who am born, who is given
birth to. “I” will be born afterwards, with language, precisely upon leaving
infancy… Aesthetics has to do with this first touch: the one that touched me
when I was not there.

—JEAN-FRANÇOIS LYOTARD, “Prescription”

Ironically, the author of “The Death of the Author” did not, in fact, touch the question of his own death in that influential essay. But in his last work— published after the death of his mother and during the short span of time during which he “awaits” his own imminent death by writing about his mother’s death and photography—when he claims that he has nothing more to say, nothing to say except that he has nothing to say, Roland Barthes provides us a powerful commentary on the relationship between modernity and death. For Barthes, photography is lethal because through this uncanny medium, death is removed from the realm of language and becomes inscribed directly upon the body. After the advent of photography, it would

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