Thursday, September 8, 2005

Barthes - Rhetoric of the Image (1964)

In the advertising image, nice bright colors--a net-sack of Panzani pasta and assorted spaghettimakers including vegetables, fresh and plenty. Though non-linear, many of the signs accord with a variety of "euphoric values," says Barthes: domestic preparation, freshness, an unpacking, the casual market-knowledge of slow foods of a pre-mechanical pace (no need for preservation, refrigeration). Also, in the coordination of colors and types, Barthes suggests second meaning--Italianicity or a gathering of things Italian, much of this "based on a familiarity with certain tourist stereotypes" (34).  Each of these meanings match with distinctive kinds of knowledge.

"Thus we find ourselves immediately at the heart of the most important problem facing the semiology of images: can analogical representation (the 'copy') produce true systems of signs and not merely agglutinations of symbols?" (32)

Onward down a trail of theorizing resembling the semiotic pursuit begun in "The Photographic Image," Barthes names three orders of meaning in the advertising image, three messages: "a linguistic message, a coded iconic message, and a non-coded iconic message" (36). A reading of the image might consider each of these messages (as well as the questions opening the essay: "How does meaning get into the image? Where does it end? And if it ends, what is there beyond?" (32)).  The meanings are discontinuous; they involve "floating chains of signifiers" (39), and this polysemous quality--a quality shared by all images?--opens onto choice (i.e., those two signifiers, but not this one).  Consequently, "in every society various techniques are developed," Barthes explains, "intended to fix the floating chain of signifieds in such a way as to counter the terror of uncertain signs; the linguistic message is one of these techniques" (39).

The interplay of these signifying orders--the three message-types--concerns Barthes throughout the essay.  In specific cases, the linguistic message might reinforce or "support" the coded iconic message, resulting in what he calls anchorage: "a kind of vice which holds the connoted meanings from proliferating, whether towards excessively individual regions (its limit, that is to say, the projective power of the image) or towards dysphoric values" (39).   Anchorage basically involves "elucidation" and selection. Relay, a term B. partners with anchorage, is less common, he says; as I understand it, relay is the linguistic message that leads (often through a series of images), thereby making the image-set or sequence "lazier."  Relay introduces diegesis; it stories the image and, as a consequence, eases or relieves seeing.

In the final two sections of the essay--"The denoted image" and "Rhetoric of the image"--Barthes addresses a pair of problems: the truth or fact of the image as taken-to-be natural and the rhetorical factors affecting the reading of the image.   The first problem results from from mechanical capture and (re)production--a sort of latent mathesis: "the absence of a code reinforces the myth of photographic 'naturalness': the scene is there, captured mechanically, not humanly (the mechanical here is a guarantee of objectivity)" (44). Myth indeed.  He continues, "What we have is a new space-time category: spatial immediacy and temporal anteriority, the photograph being an illogical conjunction between the here-now and the there-then. (44) And, "Hence the photograph is not the last (improved) term of the great family of images; it corresponds to a decisive mutation of informational economies" (45). [Strung together quotes; allowable for notes?]

Lastly, in terms of rhetoric and lexicons (lexia?), Barthes works through some of the issues involved, from attitudes and ideology, to knowledge and "surprises of meaning" (47): "The variation in readings is not, however, anarchic; it depends on the different kinds of knowledge--practical, national, cultural, aesthetic--invested in the image and these can be classified, brought into a typology" (46).

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