Interview with Vincent Meessen
Katrin Mundt & Vincent Meessen
VM: The research process more often than not begins with a chance encounter, a find. And this accidental encounter is often triggered by a reading. But I prefer to talk in terms of a clinamen than an accident. Maybe we’ll come back to this, for the word requires more ample explanation. In Lucretius and Epicurus’s birth of physics, a clinamen designates the change in trajectory of an atom. This atom’s swerving off course as it changes trajectory and accidental collision with another atom provided them with the explanation of the creation of matter. Without this clinamen, then, there is no collision between atoms and thus no matter, no turbulence of life, and thus, ultimately, no free will. This oblique movement, this minimal, even infinitesimal variation, thus causes huge repercussions. The change in trajectory that governs research is often a diversion of attention caused by a partial object, a forgotten detail, divorced from knowledge, or judged anecdotal. There is a physical element in the notion of clinamen, therefore, but this displacement in relation to the norm necessarily bears philosophical and political implications. The occurrence of a clinamen thus apparently incorporates the notion that chance can have a meaning so long as one manages, in a joint but paradoxical movement, to inform and fabulate it. For, as I try to connect and relate this partial element to others, two indissociable but paradoxical movements are engaged. A first movement tends towards informing. It goes, to put it simply, in the direction of knowledge. But as soon as the partial object connects with related elements, that immediately draws me into a plot. In short, I cannot separate fact from fable. With Vita Nova, the partial object was a 1955 Paris Match cover showing a saluting colonial cadet. A full-page version of this image is reproduced in a Phaidon best-seller on conceptual art. It illustrates the theoretical contribution of Barthes, who demystified this photo in his famous 1957 essay, Mythologies. The authors’ intention in reproducing this image in their book is to testify to Barthian semiology’s influence on conceptual practices, and notably those that use the illustrated press as a medium. They are not mistaken in that; Myth Today is memorable as, amongst other things, it is perhaps the first modern critique that deconstructs the mechanisms of political imagery. It is no doubt useful to mention that what increased my curiosity was the caption printed on the cover of the magazine. The caption stated that this child, who’d come to parade in Paris, was from Ouagadougou, a city I have regularly worked in over the last few years. And just like Barthes, who, referring to the photo of a young schoolboy, muses in Camera Lucida: “It is possible that Ernest is still alive today, but where? How? What a novel!”, I thought that this cadet was maybe still alive and that it was pertinent, with him, to question the multiple narratives that his image has generated. I went back to Ouagadougou in 2006 with, as sole information, the three children’s first-names published in Paris Match. I mobilized the press and met a lot of former cadets, now pensioners, most of whom went on to finish their careers as high-ranking officers in the army. I investigated their experience of the military academies in the colonial period. Three years later, after literally immersing myself in Barthes and his commentators, I went back to shoot Vita Nova.
KM: Paradoxically enough, this cover image of Paris Match never actually appears in Barthes’ essay. It was not until later, when Barthes’ analysis had become canonised, that it attained such visibility, circulating as an image severed from both its historical and theoretical contexts – while at the same time illustrating those very contexts. The image signifying the myth of French imperiality was stolen and reused as the myth of its first critical, semiological reading. For us today, both these layers are equally latent in the image and make it difficult to relate to it directly. Was this ambivalence the reason that you made it the visual anchor-point of your video, the image being the point where the histories of the child soldier and Roland Barthes intersect, but also where our perception of its double “mythification” of the image is at stake” ?
VM: The paradoxes you point out are at the heart of Vita Nova. The first paradox is indeed the mythical destiny of this image, which is not in fact reproduced in Myth Today. The image is described in it and activated for the needs of a cause; it has the value of an example. But its absence is as much a distancing as a tactic that enabled Barthes to narrativize it, to make it exist at a literary level. As you quite rightly point out, the anti-colonial critique of the French imperial myth has progressively become secondary. It has been surpassed by the mythical value of its deconstruction. One might say, to use Barthes’ words, that the commentators have naturalized his critique. The image has again been confiscated and has driven the critique to a superior mythical level. There is a very obvious spiral effect that I tried to make use of in the film. But I would like to point out that Barthes clearly understood the risk of a semiological doxa. In 1971, he returned to Myth Today and produced a kind of critical re-reading of it. In it, he pointed out that demythification had itself become a normative discourse. It was no longer a matter of unmasking myths, he said; what was needed was to rock the sign. So yes, faced with this ambivalence of the sign that this Paris Match cover constitutes, faced with its critical liming, it was necessary to open up the image, to return to its referent, to reanimate it by reconnecting it, to try to get the measure of what these narratives had managed to truncate and exclude.
KM: Your video starts in complete darkness, the only thing we perceive being the voice of an old man self-consciously trying to sing the Marseillaise. After a few seconds, he is seen facing a microphone, still struggling to remember and perform. As he finally starts to sing in his faltering voice, he blunders, gets the lyrics wrong. This is accompanied by a shot of the magazine cover, which will continue to shadow the old man, Issa Kaboré, throughout the video, like his double. This first “encounter” is mirrored by a scene towards the end of the video, when Issa holds this very Paris Match issue in hands and identifies himself on one of the pictures – not the cover, but a black-and-white group picture somewhere in the middle of the magazine. We suspect that he is not the embodiment of the iconic image, but someone similar. Issa disengages from the “icon”, but continues to be haunted by it. As he reclaims his own image, reassociating his name and his history with it – an act which, quite significantly, is testified to by his grandchildren – he seems to experience a moment of painful alienation from himself. As a spectator, one cannot help being touched by the physical impact of this scene, or that of the video’s opening sequence. How did you manage to reconcile filmic mise-en-scene and immediacy in these scenes? What role did Issa play in deciding how he would remember, and how he would encounter his past?
VM: The opening scene with Issa Kaboré is moving. To me, it is like a short film in itself. It’s an invitation, sung by his first words: “Allons enfants, allons enfants…”, which functions as a call to the spectator in that, from the outset, he/she shares something: the fact of having been a child. It proposes a journey towards this shared childhood past. A long silence follows, punctuated by a slip that literally cleaves the French national anthem. Finally, comes the acknowledgement of the pain that this failing memory causes. The research can begin. This sequence-shot dates back to the recce shoot in 2006. I had just found Issa Kaboré in Ouagadougou. I had invited him to a studio that day to meet one of his former fellow cadets again. I wanted them to discuss this period and Diouf Birane, the saluting child on the Paris Match cover, with whom they paraded in Paris in 1955. Diouf Birane was Senegalese. He later became a doctor and died in the Eighties. I wanted directly to investigate into their daily life at the time, but also into these military academies’ role in the colonial authorities’ creation of these African elites. Issa isn’t Diouf, even if the montage is voluntarily ambiguous in this respect. What matters in terms of the narrative is, of course, the affect conveyed by this experience of his image. I found Issa thanks to this image which troubles him so. He came across it for the first time in 2006, fifty years after it was taken, therefore, but in the form of a small, digital print. It was only when shooting this sequence in 2009 that I gave him a copy of the magazine from that period. Suddenly, thanks to the presence of his grandchildren, to the physical materiality of the magazine, and to the establishing of a documentary protocol, a kind of future perfect became possible. For, as you mentioned, at the end of the film, Issa also appears as a grandfather. This relation traces a convergence line, a “to come” in this story. The horizon of memory is fictional as it requires a transmission that can not forego a fabulation by those to whom it is addressed.
KM: You are hinting at the perspective of the witness here, at Issa’s role as a witness. This is an aspect that for me is closely connected with the role of the voice in these two scenes and in the video in general. Issa is not telling us his experiences, but his voice as an “organ” of memory is foregrounded. We see a painful memory literally getting in his way as he tries to articulate a song which he was drilled to perform and embody as a child. It is the excess of the voice, the blunder, the Freudian slip, which exceeds meaning, through which memory involuntarily articulates itself here. Did Issa ever try and tell you his memories? Their absence in the form of a narrative in the video seems essential. And is this where his contemporary alter ego comes into play?
VM: Issa of course has several personal memories from this period, but they are tenuous, bordering on the anecdotal, or still buried. His silence isn’t feigned, therefore; it eloquently testifies to a loss, a void. As for his slip, it on the contrary functions as an overflowing. Forgetting preserves and contributes to creating an unprecedentedly powerful political poem: that of the recomposed anthem. So yes, here, the witness doesn’t have a position that is assigned by the narrative of his testimony, as is often the case in documentary, but rather by the difficulty of getting it to flow. I wouldn’t be saying all if I didn’t mention another striking memory that I unfortunately didn’t manage to capture in the film. During the recce, a former colonel and military doctor, who has now passed away, immediately recognized Issa in the photo, telling me he was a certain “Shiny Brow”. Later Issa explained. During the Nuits de l’Armée, the huge military parade in honour of the Empire reported in this Paris Match feature, they were also filmed by a television crew, a piece of information that put me on the track of the black and white film archives found at the French Ministry of Defence. During the rehearsals, in front of the entire group of cadets, a member of the camera crew, the lighting engineer, called out to him through the megaphone: “Hey, you there, with that shiny brow, move over a bit.” His classmates thought it was hilarious and from then on, everyone definitively knew him as “Shiny Brow”. The Nuit des Armées was thus a second baptism. A nickname related to the “fabrication of an image” came and, in the eyes of his classmates, effaced his civil identity. One might ask here what is magical in this police-like nickname, of an overexposed body that dazzles the technician’s camera. In Vita Nova, the young Miessan, his contemporary alter-ego filmed in Côte d’Ivoire, who is just eight years old, is instructed to state his identity to an off-screen adult. There is a conflict between this police-like summoning of identities and what Vita Nova proposes: a transfer of identities between divided subjects that do not coincide. Each of them is a little of the others. Barthes is in a becoming-Diouf, Diouf is in a becoming-Issa, Miessan is in a becoming-Diouf, etc. These part-captures of the characters subvert the idea of self-contained and chronological biographies and, on the other hand, propose a diachronic and speculative vision characteristic of the archive.
KM: You mentioned the historical recording of the parades at the Vel’ d’Hiv in Paris. In this context, it seems important to note that fragments of this film are not only included in your video as archival footage, but there are also scenes where a large audience, including Issa, is shown watching this film at an outdoor screening. This is a moment when established distinctions between actor and audience start to get blurred – both in relation to this particular historical spectacle as well as historical events in general. The simultaneous presence of two different audiences (one in the film, one outside) seems to me to be a very striking image for this, while at the same time serving as an indirect reminder of those historical events that are not visible but implied in these images. Obviously, this constellation of audiences also reflects back on us, challenging the ways in which spectatorship, agency and responsibility are seen to relate to each other. How did the audience attending the screening in Burkina Faso react?
VM: It was only when watching the army archives of the Nuits de l’armée that I discovered that what Paris Match called the Palais des Sports de Paris was in fact a way of renaming the Vel d’Hiv, possibly the most painful site of French twentieth-century History. Coming back to the role of the spectators you were referring to, it indeed puts three distinct audiences face-to-face. This triangulation doesn’t only involve these audiences, who seem each to reflect the other, but also those viewing my film at the moment they are watching it. It is thus a way of problematizing these positions and temporalities in that they are unique and non-reproducible… but bound for a destiny, that of the occurrence of their relation, that of the assemblage operated by the spectator. At this point of the film, a text by Barthes describes History as a spiral in which all things come back round, but in a different place. This repetition within difference is assimilated with the progression of metaphor, with fiction. According to Barthes, the spiral is also the metaphor of the metaphor. It thus associates History with a narrative regime that de facto belongs to literature. At its own level, Vita Nova proposes a fable on historiography which, and this for a long time now, is not only confronted with the power of the corruption of words, but also that of images. Every event is a formal cut-up. It can be portrayed as a converging of paths; that’s what I tried to do. The French historian Paul Veyne says that a fact is nothing without its plot. Barthes puts it pretty much the same way when he cites Nietzsche: there are no facts in themselves. Meaning has to be introduced, thus one has to interpret in order to produce an established fact. There’s a story that Barthes liked to tell: the story known as Ombredane’s chicken. It refers to a French psychologist who, it is interesting to note in passing, worked a lot in the Belgian Congo for the Université Libre de Bruxelles. He researched into the mentality and intelligence of black people by showing them colonial documentaries during outdoor screenings! We still haven’t acknowledged documentary film’s key role in the colonial project, and more specifically in the dissemination of its humanitarian mythology. My concern in such a scene in Vita Nova thus had a lot to do with the repression of the documentary genre itself. But, coming back to our chicken, Barthes made reference to and analyzed this scientific observation. On seeing the film, the black audience paid no heed to the film’s hygienistic message, but was interested in the lot of a tiny chicken in a corner of the screen, crossing the village square. Barthes saw it as a good example of the experience of the first representation, an “effect of the real”, a confusion between reality and fiction, a form of realist hallucination. Ombredane’s chicken is, for that matter, the episode through which Barthes introduces us to his famous punctum concept in Camera Lucida.
KM: What you are saying about the “reality effect” of the documentary image was precisely what made me curious about the reactions of the audience watching this archival film today. They seem so transfixed by its anachronistic celebration of French superiority that I was wondering how these images were being read, made sense of, appropriated by them, and whether there was an exchange about this afterwards.
VM: Your question about people’s reactions during the open-air screening is interesting. It indeed brings to mind a verbal exchange with the public, an off-screen moment of the film that did in fact take place. But this question first and foremost refers to a “reality effect”, that is to say a reality created in the editing stage. We are under the impression that the audience is watching the images of Issa, Diouf and their peers parading in Paris. Yet these images were only found by an archivist in Paris when I was already shooting. It was another film, La La force noire, by Eric Deroo, one of France’s colonial imagery specialists, that we screened open-air. This film is entirely composed of French Ministry of Defence archives. It offers a critical, but to my mind very institutional, reading of the colonized African people’s participation in France’s wars. The screening was held in the former Ouagadougou cadets’ barracks, which today have become a high-school. That was where the history class scene in Vita Nova was filmed with one of the high-school classes. I then asked several students to restore an outdoor film screen and make it work again. During the screening, the young people’s attention was extraordinary. We were virtually able to measure in real time the unease that the film provoked in some of them. These images confronted them with a history that has been doubly confiscated. Firstly, they never have access to this kind of film. Secondly, this history continues to be told by the French. After the screening, however, it wasn’t me, but the elders, who answered their questions. The students experienced the interpretation of historical archives via a personified archive, a living, but rare and counted archive: that of the elders who lived some of these events and who have managed to make it several decades past the critical age of 47, the average male life expectancy in Burkina Faso. My film is documentary in that it calls on documents, places and facts as witnesses in their own right. These forgotten, sometimes repressed, facts are repositioned as a narrative. My story reinscribes them in History. But what I call my story is first and foremost that of other people. The film is also a documentary fiction for those who are still alive, the human witnesses; they trigger for me a poetics of action, a meaning constructed by the unpredictability of their presence, whether it be visual or via the soundtrack. I couldn’t predict their existence or their reaction. Their presence, that which I was looking for when I travelled there, was the condition for the emergence of this memory. In this sense I am a witness, therefore, the witness of a fiction that I documented.
KM: Let’s come back to a concept you referred to earlier. The displacement of meaning as conceptualised in Barthes’s punctum – its shift away from the semantic core of an image’s documentary “content” to the seemingly marginal, but immediately striking detail – seems to be a movement paralleled by your video. You take detours, moving between known “facts” and legend, between the superficially visible and the suppressed or absent. Thus, your search for a nameless boy photographed for a 1955 magazine cover gradually discloses someone else’s portrait as well as that of Roland Barthes: you apply Barthes’ own analytical tools to his seminal texts, to the outspoken as well as their omissions and silences, until the words themselves start to reveal a different kind of authorial voice. Similarly, the only visual trace that Barthes leaves in your video is as marginal as it is historical: his profile appears, barely visible, on a photograph taken at his grandfather’s funeral, thus reassociating his image with a name and a history. It is only by relying on our peripheral vision that we can see Barthes. Could you comment a little on this meandering movement? And would you agree that the unexpected collisions and collusions of image and text that it produces result in what I would provisionally call a “filmic punctum”? Barthes described the punctum as a quality essentially relying on the stillness of the photograph, and thus, a quality contradicted by the continuous succession of individual images in film. I was wondering, however, if our necessarily decentered, peripheral reading of your video does not in fact result in the same kind of intensity of insight that Barthes describes for the photographic punctum.
VM: The film proposes a story which, like History with a capital ‘H’, is first and foremost a matter of cut-up, arrangement and mise-en-scene. And I believe that History was one of Barthes’ main concerns, and this in spite of the numerous attempts to break free from it through his refusal of genealogy, origins, biography, etc. History is problematic because it takes him back towards Nature. History constantly comes back to haunt him through the texts he likes. Michelet’s History as resurrection turns up in Camera Lucida, just as Proust’s In Search of Lost Time considerably influences its narrative progression. I indeed conceived of the film as a narrative in which an image comes to life and in its movement actualizes a totally forgotten visual archive. On the one hand, I try to make History legible as a stratification of competing regimes of enunciation: the History of a defeated person whose memory temporarily fails him, the written History of names and dates recited at school, the oral and legendary History told in the village…, all of this is a little bit the lost time of narrative. But in parallel, another history is slowly constructed, which functions as the elucidation of the punctum of the Paris Match photo. Yet for Barthes, this punctum is always personal and intimate because it is the thing that moves you so in certain photos, which you cannot put a name to. How, then, to put oneself in Barthes’ place and put words to this emotion, this delight? By creating a character and a voice that conveys his text. This voice is that of a reader, of a narrator who re-plays Roland Barthes by oral ingestion. Ultimately, it is thus kind of as if this character rediscovers and adapts a missing page of the fiction script better known under the name of Roland Barthes. But I don’t think we can talk about a filmic punctum, other, perhaps, than to indicate that this film tells the story of a forgotten punctum. For it is important to specify that studium and punctum are not just theoretical concepts that make images reveal themselves. They are also the operators of a novelistic narrative that allow Barthes the critic, progressing in his becoming-writer, to tell a story: that of his negotiation with the uncompromising reality of death. Camera Lucida is a major literary work in its duplicity: it is constructed on a realist illusion, on the mise-en-scene of a critique of photography, and this to novelistic ends. Cultural and common, the studium is abandoned in favour of the intimately biographical punctum. In other words, Barthes cannibalizes images just as he cannibalized other people’s texts. He decontextualizes left, right and centre and fetichizes details to his own critical and poetic ends. In Camera Lucida, nothing or nobody can thwart his project to state the work’s vital motivation: his attachment to his mother. In my film, I re-enact – elsewhere and with distance – the specific moment where Barthes feigns fully finding his mother again in a photograph that he doesn’t show… In Vita Nova, the reunion with Barthes, or, to be more precise, with his spectre, takes place thanks to a photograph taken at his grandfather’s funeral. It is the moment where “my” narrator is freed from the citatory register.
KM: Yes, and it is not only the narrator as reader and re-writer, but the narrator’s voice, as a character in its own right, which performs this shift from a written to an embodied history. The voice is what it says, but also much more than that. It performs its own materiality, producing presence and memory at the same time: its accent, its idiosyncratic friction and timbre, bear the imprint of, and thus continuously reproduce a specific place and history, the very historicity of its own meaning. Therefore, isn’t it this accent which introduces radical difference into the material of Barthes’ texts, which brings his texts back to a different life?
VM: Yes, I believe that the voice is the tool that renders the difference perceptible, and within the voice, accent also expresses a dissent. Here, this voice institutes a heretical reading. This way of incorporating the text recalls the political dimension of the voice, its power to vehicle a disagreement. Appropriated, Barthes’ text comes back as stolen speech, which is his definition of myth. In historical documentary, the voice-over is usually what ascribes images their meaning. This authority of the voice reinforces the absence of the deceased who can no longer answer. Vita Nova is an echo chamber; the voice-over refers the text back to its author not as a civil or biographical individual, but as the complex product of a culture that is intimately traversed by the colonial experience. I conceived of this use of the voice in echo of his text “The Death of the Author”. In it, Barthes writes that it is language that speaks and not the author, whose voice loses its origin. The text’s meaning, a fabric of multiple quotations, resides in fine with the reader. The dead author is replaced by the concept of “scriptor”, a paper being that mixes and play around with the different writings and “is born at the same time as his text”. It is no longer the work that imitates life, but life that imitates the work. There is in him an asserted need to give birth to himself via his work and that knowing himself to be inhabited by words that pre-exist him, which, for their part, never die. This rebirth cannot be natural. It is cultural, but neither theological nor historic; for him, it is textual and thus open to interpretation, or even non-sense. It takes place via the Text, becomes the immortal testament that authorizes the dead author’s untimely return. There is a poetic thought that I am interested in and which I translate as follows: we are beings possessed by language and not the contrary. We too often continue to think that it is our reason that orders words and creates a meaning. Being a “reciter” is to be a body aware of the fact of being possessed, of this folly that we try to master, of this non-sense which is the truth of reason. Or, to put it another way, that truth is the myth of science. This poetic consciousness is highly perceptible in Barthes, who was perhaps the least methodical and thus the most poetic of his generation. There is, in Barthes, a true animism of language, a way of animating others’ words as if they were fetishes, of transporting critical writing in a hereafter of its political function, of poetizing the essay’s form. His life leaned entirely towards the invention of a new, interstitial path, somewhere between criticism and the novelistic, a kind of unique science of the poetic.
KM: The voice as embodied expression of a person’s history finds its counterpart in the name as signifier pointing to one’s place within a network of social and family relations. Names are a claim, they expose where we belong. We have spoken earlier about how names are stolen, returned and changed. Names are erased from or inscribed in history. Historiography is still constructed around the names of those identified as the “fathers” of a movement, an invention, or a country, names that are memorised, canonised and mythicised by the generations to come.
There is one name in particular we have not mentioned so far, even though it has been lingering between the lines of our entire conversation. Often in our references to Barthes’ “history” or “biography”, we were using these indications as a placeholder for the name of Louis-Gustave Binger, Barthes’ grandfather. Famous explorer of West Africa, he claimed Côte d’Ivoire for France in the late 19th century. According to Barthes, grandparents are the true bearers of the myth – a myth which, in his case, was handed down to the grandson as a secret that cannot be told…
VM: Earlier, you asked me why I chose such a sinuous path in the film. I could answer by recalling that Barthes, after researching into the origin of his name, related it, if I’m not mistaken, to the meanders of a river. As the explorer of the Niger Loop and later founder of the Côte d’Ivoire colony, Binger was officially considered the “father” of the nation. He founded and set up the first capital, give his name to the second… Yes, he made History, as we say. One of his old palaces is a national museum, he features on the country’s stamps, the photographs taken during his explorations are the first photographs ever taken in Côte d’Ivoire, engravings made from these photos continue to serve as official representations in that they feature on the State of Burkina Faso’s official website, for example… Colonial imagery can be long-lasting. Just as is the existence of the cadets, whom I filmed in Côte d’Ivoire’s unique military academy, the continuing existence of which was ensured at the time of decolonization, and which is located in… Bingerville, the town that today still bears the name of Barthes’ grandfather. Barthes’ apparently innocent choice of this Paris Match photo thus partly masks a critique of one’s origins. Behind the anti-colonial critique is hidden the grandfather, the incarnation of nature, of law and of the impossible heritage. Was it really unconscious? In the Mythologies typescript, which I consulted in Barthes’ archives, I was able to read one of the first versions in which Barthes initially alluded, before crossing it out, to the title of his grandfather’s famous exploration writings. But it also goes further; it touches directly on the memories of his childhood and on the umbilical tie with his mother, Henriette Binger, the explorer’s daughter. In my opinion, this proper noun is the stake of a major conflict: that of a poetics and a politics of the name. Many agree finally in seeing Camera Lucida not as a book on photography, but as a novelistic monument in memory of the dearly-loved mother. A mother unloved by her own father. But, who knows, remembers that Binger wrote Le serment de l’explorateur, a colonial novel in which an explorer heads off to Africa leaving his wife and daughter behind him? One only has to carefully re-read Camera Lucida to notice the number of colonial occurrences, including the numerous references to slavery: Avedon, Van der Zee, Nadar… moreover all catalogued as major mythologists. Let’s consider Nadar’s photo reproduced in Camera Lucida: it is impossible not to relate it both to the Paris Match cover and the explorer Binger. This photograph depicts his colleague Savorgnan de Brazza, a perfect substitute because he too is associated with the myth of the peaceful colonizer. The man who gave his name to Congo Brazzaville is flanked by two black ship boys in black berets. Barthes hesitates and finally attributes this photo’s punctum not to the “odd posture” of the lad with his hand resting on the explorer’s thigh, but to the crossed arms of the one standing behind him. Diouf’s salute signified subjugation. The hand on the thigh that signifies serene confidence here is ignored in favour of the crossed arms that stagger Barthes. It is the exact moment in the book where he defines the punctum as being a “powerlessness to name which is a clear symptom of unease”. The unspeakability of the crossed arms is perhaps today at last clearer. It is the pretext for a poetic gesture on the part of Barthes which therein signs the refusal of a heritage imposed by nature, the affirmation of an autonomy and the inscription of a becoming: that of a vita nova, a new life.