Image-Music-Text brings together major essays by Roland Barthes on the structural analysis of
narrative and on issues in literary theory, on the semiotics of photograph and film, and on the
practice of music and voice. Throughout the volume runs a constant movement from work to
text: an attention to the very ‘grain’ of signifying activity and the desire to follow – in literature,
image, film, song and theatre – whatever turns, displaces, shifts, disperses.
Stephen Heath selected and translated this anthology of essays by the French semiologist Roland
Barthes in 1977. He begins with a brief glossary since the technical terms that he invokes in
French were not well-known to English speaking readers where the book was first translated.
They include analytic distinctions like ‘langue and parole, statement and utterance, and pleasure
The term ‘langue’ is used here in the sense of language considered as a structural whole but the
term ‘parole’ refers only to speech.
The term ‘statement’ is akin to a proposition while an ‘utterance’ is a temporal instantiation of
Pleasure is related to the reduction of homeostatic tension in the subject though ‘jouissance’
refers to that which is ‘beyond the pleasure principle”
Image includes press photographs and paintings; music, in this instance, mainly refers to the
distinction between ‘what is heard’ and ‘what is played’ by the subject; and the term text
involves an attempt to mark the transition from the ‘work to the text.’
Narrational systems which is an approach based on the assumption that all narratives share
some structural features in common and that the tools of linguistic analysis will help us to
ascertain what these are.
Denotation used in the singular and connotation used in plural. Denotations related to the
referential or lexical meaning of a term; they refer either to a literal object in the world or
semantic objects in a dictionary. Connotations, on the other hand related to the semantic
associations that cluster around a word. For example, scientific texts try to be as denotative as
possible while literary texts thrive on the range of connotative meanings that are built into a text.
BRIEF POINT ABOUT EVERY CHAPTER
Chapter 1: The Photographic Message
In short, all these "imitative arts" comprise two messages: a DENOTED message, which is the
ANALOGON itself, and a CONNOTED message, which is the manner in which the society to a
certain extent communicates what it thinks of it…the code of the connoted system is very likely
constituted by either by a universal symbolic order or by a period rhetoric, in short a stock of
stereotypes (schemes, colours, graphisms, gestures, expressions, arrangements of elements)
Chapter 2: Rhetoric of the Image
What Barthes is essentially trying to do in "Rhetoric of the Image" is to examine and understand
the messages that images contain, and the extent to which they take part in creating an
ideological worldview. That is to say, Barthes is asking how ideologically charged are images
and transmit an educational message to society. "Rhetoric of the Image" focuses on commercials
since they contain a highly condensed image that aims for maximum efficiency in transferring its
message. Commercials have to get their message across in 30 seconds and they therefore employ
highly charged and intensive images in order to convince us to buy this or that product.
Therefore, for Barthes, commercials are a very convenient medium in which to explore the way
ideologies are reflected in visual images. Commercials have to be able to speak in a conventional
language, use conventional terminology and transmit its message very fast, and therefore they
provide access to conventional ideologies of their time.
Chapter 3: The Third Meaning
Barthes's essay, "The Third Meaning: Research notes on some Eisenstein Stills," approaches a
third order of meaning, an inarticulable beyond, extant to the first-order obvious and the second-
order symbolic but not wholly divorced from them. The third meaning takes its shape from a
"theoretical individuality" (55) (close associate to the punctum/sting, no doubt). And it is, of
course, difficult to name because, as Barthes puts it, the third meaning or obtuse meaning "is a
signifier without a signified" (61). Barthes's essay-notes proceed through a kind of awkward
profundity; piling through an array of near-descriptors, as near as one can get without reducing
the third meaning into something it is not.
Chapter 4: Diderot, Barthes, Vertigo
The title of this essay1 came by way of, ‘Diderot, Brecht, Eisenstein’, an essay by Roland
Barthes to which I shall refer later. Recent theory has been very interested in the facts of which
my extemporaneous substitution of one phrase for another is an instance: meaning is only ever
produced in difference, and the final closure of meaning is only ever deferred — the combination
of observations which Derrida enshrined in his neologism, différance, but to which C. S. Peirce
had already referred in his notion of ‘unlimited semiosis’. Meaning is never simply ‘there’ for
our consumption, it is only ever produced in a process of substitution of one term for another in a
potentially limitless series. In the social world, however, meaning must come to rest somewhere;
what is it that sets limits on the meanings of images?
Chapter 5: Introduction to the Structural Analysis of Narratives
Barthes identifies three main levels of description for a narrative: function, action, and narration.
He uses “function” for the smallest unit of a narrative, because it is to consist of things like
Chekhov’s gun. One unit might be the reference of a rifle on the wall. The rifle will function
later in the story. Barthes finds that identifying the functional units becomes increasingly more
complicated the more you think about it. For one, he makes an assumption I don’t quite agree
with to make things easier: art has no noise. If the author refers to a red sweater, the detail is not
just meaningless noise, it must have some significance. If you want a rule of thumb, the
functional units will be roughly each sentence unless there is strong reason to divide the sentence
or include two.
Chapter 7: The Death of the Author
The Death of the Author” by Roland Barthes is a landmark for 20-th century literature, literary
theory, post-structuralism, and postmodernism. The essay opposes the established trends “in
ordinary culture […] tyrannically centred on the author, his person, his life,” and abolish the
classical literary criticism that analyses a literary work within the biographical and personal
context of the author of the work. The philosophical implications of “The Death of the Author”
transcend literature and are closely related to the postmodern trends of collapse of meaning,
inability of originality, the death of God, and multiple discovery. The essay argues that a literary
work should not be analysed by the information about the real-life person who created it. The
text (rather than the author, as Barthes himself would agree) complains:
Chapter 8: Musica Practica
Barthes sketches out what he calls a practical music and why that music began to die out with
Beethoven. And like so many of Barthes’ essays, it suffers from the same set of problems. In one
sense, Barthes is incapable of making his essays accessible to the average person. He nearly
requires of the reader that they become him, Roland Barthes, in order to comprehend certain
references or vague assertions. Furthermore, his wording is overly obtuse and his conclusions
stated with unfounded certainty. In other words, Barthes was an elitist when it came to writing. Is
not the measure of a person’s intellect not only that he can understand the truths that define our
universe but also their ability to express those findings, to effectively promulgate the fruits of
their work among the people?
Chapter 9: From the Text
In his essay, From Work to Text, Barthes argues that the relation of writer, reader and observer is
changed by movement from work to text. In this light, we can observe Barthes's propositions of
the differences between work and text in terms of method, genres, signs, plurality, filiation,
reading, and pleasure.
Barthes said that the text should not be thought as an object that can be computed. It would be
futile to try to separate out materially works from texts. Besides, we must also avoid the
tendency to say that the work is classis and the text is avant-grade. Barthes implies that there is a
concrete quality to some writing, which identifies it as a ‘text’ and not as a ‘wok’. When
discussing the issue of whether texts can be seen as a product of modernity, he comments,
“There may be ‘text’ in a very ancient work, while many products of contemporary literature are
in no way texts”. Barthes thought that the Text is a "methodological field" rather than a portion
of the space of books", that is the work (170). Like Lacan's distinction between "reality" and
"real": the one is displayed, the other is demonstrated. Likewise, the work can be seen and held
in hand while the text is a process of demonstration, which is held in language. "The text is
experienced only in an activity of production": the text is writable through tracing the flickering
of presence and absence of the chain of signifiers. So, the text "cannot stop" because the process
of language does not come to an end, the meaning is always suspended, something deferred or
still to come.