Benjamin, Barthes and the Singularity of Photography

By | February 10, 2012

Earlier this month we published an exciting new comparative study of Walter Benjamin and Roland Barthes. Kathrin Yacavone (Department of French and Francophone Studies, the University of Nottingham, UK) looks at the importance of photography to these two thinkers and argues that, despite the different historical, philosophical and cultural contexts of their work, Benjamin and Barthes engage with similar issues and problems that photography uniquely poses, including the relationship between the photograph and its beholder as a confrontation between self and other, and the dynamic relation between time, subjectivity, memory and loss. Each writer emphasizes the singular event of the photograph’s apprehension and its ethical and existential aspects rooted in the power and poignancy of photographic images. Mapping the complex relationship between photographic history and theory, cultural criticism and autobiography, this book will be of considerable interest not only to historians and theorists of photography but also to scholars working in literary and cultural studies.

Some early endorsements:

“Meticulously tracing the network of connections between Benjamin’s and Barthes’s visions of the encounter between photograph and viewer, this book performs an invaluable critical service. Kathrin Yacavone’s discussion will be required reading for anyone seriously interested in photographic phenomenology or who has ever felt the singular impact of a photographic image.” — Michael Sheringham, FBA, Marshal Foch Professor of French Literature, All Souls College, University of Oxford, UK

"The book offers a detailed comparison of two of the most influential photography critics/theorists in the 20th century. While Benjamin and Barthes are often mentioned alongside each other, their respective theories have not systematically and extensively compared. Given the towering status of both writers both within (critical) theory more generally and within photography studies more specifically, this study will mark a welcome addition to two important and further expanding fields of scholarship." — Carolin Duttlinger, University Lecturer in German & Fellow of Wadham College, University of Oxford, UK

"This first book-length comparative study of Benjamin’s and Barthes’s work on photography addresses head-on the ethical phenomena involved in producing and reading photography." — Elizabeth Stewart, Associate Professor of English, Yeshiva University, New York, USA

Benjamin, Barthes and the Singularity of Photography is available now in North American and will publish in the UK and rest of the world in April.

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