Last summer I bought in café Les Hirondelles at the Plaçe sous l’Orme in Asquins, at the foot of the Vézelay hill, a Le Monde special ‘hors-série’ about the French philosopher and author Roland Barthes – the unexpected. On occasion of the centenary, the hundred year birthday remembrance of ‘a revolutionary of language’.
The ‘unexpected’ started with me in 1975, the moment I bought ‘Mythologies’ –in translation-, in which he did demythologize cultural issues as fashion, advertisement, photography, music. In that sense he critized also the famous photo exhibition The Family of Man in 1958, in his view a mythological representation of the world, in which conflicts of interest and choices do not underlie violence, wars and poverty. His perspective was an enormous eye-opener. Looking is a matter of language.
In 1980, shortly before his death, La chambre Claire has been published; one of the most important books about photography. Immediately he became one of my philosophers. Not someone writing about ‘Sein und Zeit’, but more concrete: about image, looking, the landscape and the other human being.
I devoted one of the Piano Etudes on Roland Barthes: White melancholy. The text starts like this: Behind Hotel du Nord…. That hotel – referring to an earlier movie with the same name – which in one of my other projects already became the spot of the disastrous love affair.
I wanted to be with him, with Roland Barthes, to walk with him in my live and if I had forgotten this sometimes, I pronounce it again in this etude. Everything that Barthes means to me is more or less hidden in this telling: the unexpected, the momentum of the photograph, death, love, appearing and disappearing, music.
When I look at Barthes’ face, I see a dreamy one, as if he is there, but somewhere else at the same time, something no one can get close to. The quietness, the innocence of subtleness, absent. Only in his book Parisian nights I could read his unfilled desire and his loneliness, the man looking for anonymous warmth at the periphery of the city, in contrast with daytime, in front of filled college rooms –the public- in his famous lectures reflecting on everything that came to his mind. That’s the way I want to write, I want to think like him.
Italo Calvino –later more about him- did write on 9 April 1980 –on the birthday of my no longer living brother Joost when he reached 25 years- in La Repubblica an In Memoriam Roland Barthes: “In his last book, that I did read a few weeks ago, I was touched especially by the beautiful pages about being photographed, about the inconvenience of the experience seeing your face transforming to a thing.”
I look at his face, photographed by René Saint Paul in Paris in 1964 and be still with myself.
photo: René Saint Paul, Roland Barthes, Paris 1964
cover book: Roland Barthes par Roland Barthes, Editions du Seuil 1975 écrivains de toujours;
cover: drawing from Roland Barthes, memory of Juan-les-Pins, summer 1974