(451-459) Reflections on Reflections of Reflections 451

Crowned by a spirit in black.
Ceremony is the medium whereby
The Genius communicates through the divining board.

The spirits of my ancestors appear in my dreams. I know they love me just like they love their own children whose child I am. I meditate on their pictures and feel their love for me and I love them. The photograph is a shadow of the past and has become a part of the world of the shades in the present:

By means of one image
Ten thousand ends are not concluded.

Reflections on Reflections of Reflections . . .

Camera Lucida reads like a fictional novel, taking the reader through a man's exploration of himself while searching for a new way of seeing photography. Barthes' process of looking, analyzing his own reactions, changing his perspective according to the results the analysis, looking again, and repeating the process is as instructive to his readers as are his conclusions. Barthes seems to recommend that we follow his example and intensely seek the knowledge that the Greeks advocated when they said "know thyself." The photograph is like the surface of a pool which reflects our ideas. Barthes sought reflections of the idea that would most affect him, which he discovered was his own Death. A Narcissus who enters the pond to become one with his beloved would drown. The equivalent to drowning while looking at a photograph would be madness. Madness is a death of one's identity. One's identity is lost looking at itself.1


The Sun's principles are the virtues.
Three years, there is no food.

The photograph seemed to be a portal into the mythical underworld of the Dead for Barthes. This idea was reinforced in his use of Greek mythology with underworld themes. Barthes compared his experience, of going deeper inside himself to find a universal essence of photography, with Sisyphus' punishment in Hades. Barthes compares the photographer with Orpheus when he warns the artist not to "turn back and look at what he is leading." Barthes commits himself, at one point, to move back in time while looking at photographs of his mother, noting that the Greeks believed one enters Death by going "backwards." Barthes becomes, in his work, a mythical personage that is on an adventure taking him into the underworld and, eventually, to his own death. Barthes died the same year he completed this work.2


Attaining 7
Also 9.

The timid yield to the unyielding
Unable to rule;

Barthes seems to find pleasure in the pain which his favorite photographs cause in him. Like Narcissus, Barthes prefers a dangerous ecstatic process of self-discovery over "the civilized code of perfect illusions." The pain is ultimately caused by the awareness of his own Death that, to him, is an "intractable reality" important to him as a theorist as well as a human being who is approaching the last years of his life.3 Camera Lucida offers a method by which all of us may face (or seek) or own Deaths in ecstasy.


Rule; sickness is not sickness;
Ill omens completing, do not explain it.

When I consider my own Death, I naturally think about what may lie beyond it. For Barthes, the soul continues to live, in an altered form, in the minds of other souls who are still living. The "world of the shades" resides in the human mind and is accessed through the photograph, which has been produced by images from the past. Barthes entered the underworld while still alive seeking his departed mother, like Orpheus seeking Euridice, and gained an understanding of the nature of his continued existence after Death.4 Barthes entered the other world through Narcissus' portal; his own reflection. His book, Camera Lucida, is a fascinating documentation of Barthes' adventure causing a part of his soul to live on in its words in our minds.


Sickness is sickness;
It is cured by the wizard,
Not the doctor.

There is no past, present and future. All is one existing simultaneously. The prophets return when we realize it. We have rituals which help us realize it.

1 Bartes, Roland. Camera Lucida; The Noonday Press; 1981.

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