Reminder: Jason Harding’s paper on the CIA and Encounter magazine tomorrow



Signs of the Times

For Henriette’s Tomb: Barthes, Mourning, Mallarmé

Neil Badmington, Thursday 12 Nov 2015, CEIR Seminar Series


Roland Barthes

Roland Barthes, who would have been one hundred years old last Thursday 12th November, once described the photograph as ‘a kind of primitive theatre, a kind of Tableau Vivant, a figuration of the motionless and made-up face beneath which we see the dead’. Today, a photograph has emerged of the moment before three gunmen burst into the Bataclan Theatre in Paris last Friday 13th, killing eighty-nine people who were enjoying a gig by the Californian band, Eagles of Death Metal.

Barthes’s ideas about photography stem directly from the death of his mother, Henriette, and are published in Camera Lucida, from 1980. In that remarkable text, Barthes outlines his concepts about the ‘studium’ of a photograph—that which is ‘always coded’, and the ‘punctum’—that which is not; it is that small detail in a photograph that speaks of its ‘truth’, it is what ‘pierces’. Looking at the photograph taken at the Bacalan last Friday evening we can see that the studium—the culturally coded content of the photograph—is apparent in the hair styles of the members of the audience, the clothes they are wearing, their hands aloft in the air making the ‘devil horns’ sign (signifying that they are watching a rock band) and even the way the angle the photograph is taken from. The punctum, for me (and, as Barthes tells us, the punctum is often a very personal reaction), is a man standing alone, to the right of the image—just in shot, near the edge of the photograph itself—who reminds me of one of my friends. I could go into more detail, here, regarding the punctum and my reaction to it, but I won’t out of respect for the people who were there. (more…)

Visiting Speaker, 17 Nov 2015: Jason Harding on the CIA and the literary canon

Jason Harding (Durham University) will be presenting his paper, ‘The CIA and the Literary Canon: The Case of Encounter Magazine’, at 5.30pm on Tuesday, 17 November 2015. The talk will take place in the Cardiff University’s John Percival Building, Room 2.48, and will be followed by a wine reception.

2015.02.hardingIn 1967 the New York Times revealed that one of London’s pre-eminent magazines of literature, arts, and politics, Encounter, had been launched and funded by the CIA. This talk will examine the control exerted by the CIA front organisation, the Congress for Cultural Freedom, over the contents of Encounter.

I want to propose some unsettling questions about the ideological pressures that shaped a literary canon during the Cold War. To what extent did Encounter’s literary editors – Stephen Spender and Frank Kermode – seek to neutralise the political extremism of the European avant-garde? Examination of this topic is allied to the contributions of leading contemporary writers – notably, Saul Bellow and Vladimir Nabokov – and the degree to which the great literature prized by Encounter was interpreted as an exemplum of (what Lionel Trilling called) the Liberal Imagination (“variousness, possibility, complexity, difficulty”) and thereby an antidote to those cultural works promoted by Soviet Communism.

Reminder: Neil Badmington’s paper on Barthes tomorrow


Speaker, 12 Nov 2015: Neil Badmington on Barthes, mourning and Mallarmé

Neil Badmington (Cardiff University) will be presenting his paper, ‘For Henriette’s Tomb: Barthes, Mourning, Mallarmé’, at 5.30pm on Thursday, 12 November 2015. The talk will take place in the Cardiff University’s John Percival Building, Room 2.47, and will be followed by a wine reception.

2015.01.badmington12 November 2015 would have been Roland Barthes’s hundredth birthday. A series of global events will mark the day by celebrating Barthes’s birth and achievements. This talk will concern itself instead with death and failure—the death of loved ones and the failure to produce a work in their memory.

What, I want to ask, is the relationship between Barthes’s diary about the loss of his mother, Henriette, and Stéphane Mallarmé’s notes for a work in response to the death of his young son, Anatole? There are some obvious points of connection—each text is fragmentary, was written in grief upon small slips of paper, and remained unpublished until after the death of its author—but I want to go further by considering the echoes of Mallarmé’s fragments in Barthes’s Mourning Diary. These echoes revolve around the relationship between the experience of grief and its physical surroundings, and the failure to develop notes into a commemorative work or literary ‘tombeau’. (more…)