Photography as Automaton: Roland Barthes and Fellini’s Mechanical Doll

  • Margaret E Owens Nipissing University


The stated purpose of Camera Lucida was to champion photography over cinema; however, at a critical moment in the text Roland Barthes turns to an episode from a film, a scene involving an automaton in Fellini’s Casanova, to expound the notion of the photograph as a type of madness, a “shared hallucination.” This essay explores the automaton as a nodal point linking the rival media of cinema and photography. Although Barthes disavows any interest in Fellini’s film beyond the scene in which Casanova dances with an automaton, the film in fact shares many thematic concerns with Camera Lucida. When read in light of the film’s metacinematic preoccupation with mechanical dolls and mannequins, the automaton passage in Camera Lucida may be linked to a longstanding topos in Western culture: a Pygmalionesque fantasy in which the artificial woman (robot, automaton, replicant) metaphorically embodies the allure of visual media.


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Biografia autore

Margaret E Owens, Nipissing University

Department of English Studies,

Associate Professor