Thursday, March 19, 2009


When I first decided (a couple of years ago, in a post-degree jag of self-improvement) that the thing I wanted most was to become a proficient photographer, I first (such an Englishwoman, never quite comfortable with the fact of her own creative impulses) amassed a collection of books on the subject. One of those was Roland Barthes' Camera Lucida, wherein Susan Sontag's foreword describes Barthes' critical dandyism. Sontag explores the process by which the Critic-Dandy chooses to collect certain objects into their discourse. For her, the objects are selected according to a kind of polyphonic whimsy, which draws more, and more various, objects together to form a diorama of the critic's individual taste.

Her admission of the critic's personal investment in the Things he critiques is as simple as asking "Why do you like what you like?", but I think its often overlooked: too personal, too emotional, too human. In this essay on Barthes, Sontag is concerned with feeling the shape of Barthes' oeuvre; its 'retroactive completeness', the patterns and preoccupations that emerge fully in hindsight. I've been thinking for some time about how this process can be traced backwards, how childhood predilections and obsessions feed our critical bent in adulthood.

All of this is proving a rather long and ponderous vamp to a clip of Reggie finally "seducing" Joan in The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin. I remember watching reruns of this melancholy and terminally dreary BBC comedy, and somehow knowing that it would come in handy later. As a pretty self-defeating 10 year-old, this small ping of recognition would generally mean I obstinately stopped paying attention, but the brown absurdism of this tremendously sad programme still took root, clearly.

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