Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Pleasure of the Text - Video Essay

The purpose of this video essay is to apply Roland Barthes theory of text of pleasure and text of bliss to the realm of visual and performative arts.   A question I pose is what emotional effects do these sounds and images produce for the viewer?  And do they reflect the textual effects Barthes describes in The Pleasure of the Text?

The first part of the video examines Barthes distinguishing between the text of pleasure and the text of bliss (which is also referred to as the readerly and writerly text). Barthes argues that the text of pleasure is a closed text because it situates the reader in a comfortable and pleasurable position.   For example, a majority of Hollywood films would fall under the text of pleasure, because they aim to situate the viewer as if they are right in the middle of the action without drawing attention to the production of the image unfolding on screen.

The text of bliss disrupts one’s readership—revealing gaps, ruptures and disturbances within the text.  Barthes postulates that the text of bliss is jouissance (pure enjoyment) because it breaks down the unity of the signifying chain.   Another way to put it is that the text of bliss attempts to go beyond meaning.  As Barthes notes, “it unsettles the reader's historical, cultural, psychological assumptions, the consistency of his tastes, values, memories, brings to a crisis his relation with language” (14).  The text of bliss finds itself in close association with the surrealism and avant-garde art. 

The last part of the video explores Barthes’ final concept in The Pleasure of Text, which he describes as the “grain the voice.” Barthes states that the “grain of the voice, which is an erotic mixture of timbre and language, can therefore also be, along with diction, the substance of art of guiding one's body…. [T]he language aligned with the flesh [is] a text where we can hear the grain of the throat” (66). For Barthes, the grain of the voice is not the language that speaks the body, but the body that speaks the language.

I found the grain of the voice concept breaking away from the binaries of the text of pleasure and text of bliss.  The grain of the voice demonstrates how text of pleasure can register moments of abstraction or bliss or even transcendence.  I believe the last clip on Ian Curtis from the post-punk new wave group Joy Division performing “Transmission” exemplifies how his passionate singing captures the grain of the voice—how Curtis’ body language attempts to go beyond meaning within the realm of pop culture.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Victor Turner - The Anthropology of Performance

In Victor Turner's essay "The Anthropology of Performance," he argues that change involves a re-adjustment, and that this re-adjustment is ceremonial and what he sees as being theatre or performance.   Turner breaks down four phases of public action:  Breach, Crisis, Redressive Action and Reintergration. For Turner, change within a culture occurs when a threshold has been crossed.  As Turner notes, "From the standpoint of relatively well-regulated, more or less accurately operational, methodical, orderly social life, social dramas have a 'Iiminal' or 'threshold' character. The latter term is derived from a Germanic base which means 'thrash'  'thresh,' place where grain is beaten out from its husk, where what has been hidden is thus manifested" (92). 

This passage from Turner is very similar to Roland Barthes' notion of the grain of the voice.  For Barthes, the grain of the voice, which he argues in "The Pleasure of the Text," (which happens to be the subject of my video essay) is when the voice aligns itself with the flesh or body.   It is at point where meaning is shifted to the energy of the performer.   It is when the body becomes the voice.   


Musicologist such as Simon Frith and Richard Middleton have tuned into Barthes' notion of the grain of the voice for its political implications in music.  For example,  Frith sees Elvis Presley's body and hip shakes in his early performance on television in the 1950s disturbing and disrupting the status quo.   And here is where Turner's conception of performance fits well with Barthes' grain of the voice - because we all know that Elvis' trangressive body language forever changed music ...