A This-side of Language

On trauma and image from RB, "The Photographic Message":

These few remarks sketch a kind of differential table of photographic
connotations, showing, if nothing else, that connotation extends a long way. 
Is this to say that a pure denotation, a this-side of language, is
impossible? If such a denotation exists, it is perhaps not at the level of
what ordinary language calls the insignificant, the neutral, the objective,
but, on the contrary, at the level of absolutely traumatic images.  The
trauma can be seized in a process of photographic signification but then
precisely they are indicated via a rhetorical code which distances, sublimates
and pacifies them.  Truly traumatic photographs are rare, for in
photography the trauma is wholly dependent on the certainty that the scene
‘really’ happened: the photographer had to be there (the mythical
definition of denotation).  Assuming this (which, in fact, is already a
connotation), the traumatic photograph (fires, shipwrecks, catastrophes,
violent deaths, all captured ‘from life as lived’) is the photograph about
which there is nothing to say; the shock-photo is by structure insignificant:
no value, no knowledge, at the limit no verbal categorization can have a hold
on the process instituting the signification.  One could imagine a kind
of law: the more direct the trauma, the more difficult its connotation; or
again, the ‘mythological’ effect of a photograph is inversely proportional to
its traumatic effect. (30)

"The more difficult its connotation…," close to what Jeff posted
Monday at
this Public Address on

spectacle, disaster and "signature images."

Barthes – The Photographic Message (1961)

Press photographs.  Barthes refers to several such photographs in this
essay from 1961.  He was concerned with contending orders of connoted
and denoted meanings operable in the reading of photographs. The
"photographic paradox," as he puts it, involves the double structure of
contending linguistic orders (connotative, denotative) and the photograph as
, "a message without code" (17).  Paradoxically, the press
photograph bears a "continuous message" sustained in the two significant
structures (of which "only one is linguistic"…either accompanying text or
description). Barthes calls the relationship between the image and the text
"contiguous" rather than "homogenous" (16). And so the photograph must be read
with some awareness of these variations, which lead to variations in meaning.
Barthes: "What can at least be done now is to forecast the main planes of
analysis of photographic connotation" (20).

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