Nothing to Say: Fragments on the Mother in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

Elissa Marder

in The Mother in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

Published by Fordham University Press

Published in print February 2012 | ISBN: 9780823240555
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780823240593 | DOI:
Nothing to Say: Fragments on the Mother in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

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This chapter explores the uncanny link between photography and the mother in Roland Barthes' final book Camera Lucida, asking why his reflections on the ontology of photography ultimately take the form of an autobiographical elegy to his dead mother. Barthes' text establishes a complex connection between the reproductive properties of photography and the death of his mother. Its language conceives of photography as a mechanical mother that mimes, distorts, and usurps the maternal function. The relationship between photography and the maternal function permeates all aspects of Barthes' discussions on photography beginning with his audacious axiom that in photography, the referent “adheres.” His conception of the corporeal status of the photographic referent ultimately leads him to conceive of photography as having a prosthetic maternal function: it endows the modern subject with a social, codifiable, collective body.

Keywords: Camera Lucida; Roland Barthes; photography; umbilical cord; Latin; referent; stupid metaphysics; birth; prosthetic mother

Chapter.  4540 words. 

Subjects: Literary Theory and Cultural Studies

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