Counter-memories: companions pieces to Barthes’ Camera Lucida

There is nothing to unite the following short prose passages except the fact that they were written between the start and end of my reading of Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucida. They are arranged only in chronological order, rather than an aesthetic order, and they have only been minimally edited. These have nothing to do with the content of this brilliant text on the essence of Photography, but are simply a product of my emotional and intellectual response to Barthes’ writing style and insight, which I find to be the most inspiring out of any great writer that I have ever had the privilege of reading.

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I suddenly had a crisis of an identity that I knew not how to define, other than describing it as the realization of a fear that the object I had created had nothing to do with how I grew up (i.e. it was detached from my past, that I had somehow changed), even though it did.

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His hair was perfectly coiffed – coiffed, koo-ah-f-d, even the sound of it was the sound of hair being slicked up and back as your mouth opened itself to the vowels. He was wearing a light blue collared shirt that vehemently denied his blue-collar-ness. At the end of his arm were these golden cufflinks that had an effect of punctuation; they were large and had a black disk like a full stop. I was not sure what to make of this. Looking down, black pant leg to black sock (he was sitting sideways on the seat such that only one leg faced me), then a black suede shoe. I don’t know what term to use to describe it – what entry in the fashion vocabulary should be applied for such an item – except that it was something that appeared at a part of this person where I thought a well-shined black leather laced-up Wall Street shoe would appear.

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The inability to talk about the real – the acknowledgement of something being lesser than what you want to put in words. Talking about something apart from yourself is a protection from confrontation of reality. To toe the line between fiction and non fiction is to allow yourself the possibility of escape, of adornment, while at the same time having a complete, detached, rational perspective of what is going on before you. How could I elevate writing-about-life above the level of a rant, or of a yearning?

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I have this view of myself as being the one who is the most responsible, devoted, committed. It is something that I allow others to perceive. But truly, truly I do not feel as though that is the case at all. Instead, I shrink away from throwing myself into anything that requires my intellectual commitment, an obsession… I cannot read constantly; though I love to read and write, it has been ages since I last finished a book. I want the names of authors I know nothing about to casually fall from my lips – I want to feel knowledgeable. I don’t know what it is I am afraid of. I refuse to believe it is only procrastination. Sometimes I wonder if something – that something – has scarred me from the idea of becoming obsessed. Or maybe, I am just so overwhelmed by everything there is in the world to possibly become obsessed with, that I find the only way to cope is to dabble. It is also, I think, a prevention of failure. To avoid setting up goals, e.g. to read all the books by a certain author, is to avoid becoming disappointed in myself for not achieving that.

I only have to be better, just that much better than all the people around me, and yet I am personally traumatized by people – writers, for example – who are far greater than I am and ever will be. I don’t know what I am aiming for. I don’t think I know what it means to “do your best”. To throw myself into the act of constant reading would be a promise to throw myself into everything I do, and I don’t think I truly can. What if I choose the wrong thing to be the best at, at the expense of something else?

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To be alone, is to not be reminded that you are alone.

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I still find it difficult to look at photographs of you. I don’t think it’s for the same reasons as before, but yet I still avert my eyes. I used to not want any reminders of what we used to be, as little as it was… I used to not want to be reminded of something I thought I destroyed. Now it’s part self-hatred (how could I have loved you, such a strange and imperfect you), part having-moved-on (but should I still recoil at an image of you, if this is really so?). Perhaps it is the knowledge of the image being nothing like the you that I knew, that I had built you up to be. I’m not afraid of falling back into it – I mean, I can say your name now, I can talk about you anecdotally without my voice getting all weird as if it’s trying to run away from what it is saying. I think I just want you to be the past, the beautiful, painful past, a memory that no image could possibly live up to, even the image of you standing before me. What you meant to me can never be visually expressed. I can only hope that one day, I can look directly in your eyes, and feel absolutely nothing.

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I am a few pages away from the end of this book, and I am not sure if I will remember anything from it. It is not forgettable by any means; it has in fact been a breathtaking experience of resonance and reflection. The same can be said of one of A Lover’s Discourse. I cannot quote from it, I cannot even identify a specific idea offhand. It comes in vague flashes, simply an understanding of having experienced something truly great, beyond any other author that I have read. I can honestly say that, even as I honestly say that I will not remember it in specifics. I just know that it meant something to me at the point when I was reading it, and to go back to it in an effort to simply ‘remember’ would feel false. I shall carry that feeling with me. I will not put it in words.

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