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

By Elissa Marder | Go to book overview

NINE
Darkroom Readings: Scenes of Maternal Photography

The impossible sometimes, by chance, becomes possible as a utopia.

—JACQUES DERRIDA, “The Deaths of Roland Barthes”

I had the impression that, by focusing on these words like a photograph,
one could—and the analysis would be endless—discover within them so
many “things” that their letters showed by concealing themselves, remaining
[demeurant] immobile, impassive, exposed, too obvious, although suspended
in broad daylight in some dark room, some camera obscura of the French
language.

—JACQUES DERRIDA, Athens, Still Remains

The figure of photography as a mortifying prosthetic mother with which we ended the last chapter is only part of story that Barthes’s text tells about the complex relation between photography and the mother in Camera Lucida. In this chapter, we will explore how photography also functions as a form of maternal writing. By looking closely at an often-overlooked passage in Camera Lucida (in which Barthes discusses the feeling of “déjà vu” stirred up by a nineteenth century photograph), we will uncover the latent traces of a very different kind of photographic maternal function. This photographic maternal conjures up an evocative and provocative relation to the past and takes the form of something we will come to call “photographic writing.” Like the belated, nonmimetic relation between the dream of wolves and the primal scene that we have been examining throughout this book, photographic writing neither proves nor documents past events; instead, it creates fantasmatic images for primordial events (like the primal

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