Barthes’ punctum.

This must be “impenetrable French philosophical vocabulary” week here at the Hattery, because I’ve got another one (cf. Bergson’s élan vital). I’m finally reading the copy of Maria Stepanova’s In Memory of Memory I got a couple of years ago, and I ran into the sentence “Some things leaped into my memory ticketless, like a kid on a streetcar, usually a legend or a curiosity, the narrative equivalent of Barthes’s punctum” [Что-то заскакивало в память само, на правах трамвайного зайца, как правило, это была байка или курьез — словесный эквивалент бартовского punctum’a]. I remembered having come across this mysterious punctum before, and I decided to get to the bottom of it. Some googling turned up the useful Roland Barthes: studium and punctum, which says:

Barthes’ Camera Lucida, first published in 1980, assumes that the automaticity of the camera distinguishes photography from traditional media and has significant implications for how we experience photographs. To address the apparently uncoded level of photographs, which troubles the semiological approach Barthes himself adopted in the early 1960s, Camera Lucida advances a theory of photographic meaning that makes a distinction between the studium and the punctum and highlights the punctum as photography-specific.

The studium indicates historical, social or cultural meanings extracted via semiotic analysis. […] The punctum points to those features of a photograph that seem to produce or convey a meaning without invoking any recognizable symbolic system. This kind of meaning is unique to the response of the individual viewer of the image. The punctum punctuates the studium and as a result pierces its viewer. To allow the punctum effect, the viewer must repudiate all knowledge. Barthes insists that the punctum is not simply the sum of desires projected into the photograph. Instead, it arises from details that are unintended or uncontrolled by the photographer. Photography can be distinguished from painting or drawing in that its apparatus visualizes the world automatically rather than being wholly informed by the interventions of the photographer. The theory of the punctum speaks the indexical nature of the photographic medium. It also accounts for the importance of emotion and subjectivity in interacting with photographs. […]

It should be noted that presenting examples of punctum is an impossible mission. The punctum always turns into the studium when expressed in language. That is also why we may perceive that his examples do not support his theory. […] Barthes cannot dismiss knowledge as he claims. Nonetheless, he is fully aware that a theory of the punctum is not possible in language, “to give examples of punctum is, in a certain fashion, to give myself up” (p. 43).

Now, I started off nodding my head as I read: yes, I agree that “historical, social or cultural meanings” are not at the heart of any artistic creation, and I’m on board with any attempt to define what remains. But the further I read the more confused I got, and that last paragraph sent me into a tailspin (“That is also why we may perceive that his examples do not support his theory”). I was hoping the OED might provide a nice concise definition, but even though the entry was updated in September 2007 they don’t include this sense (too specialized?); the TLFi, French though it is, also ignores it. Wikipedia calls it “a term used by Roland Barthes to refer to an incidental but personally poignant detail in a photograph,” which is concise but I suspect deeply inaccurate. If anyone has anything to contribute, I’m all ears.


  1. I have encountered this in connection with photography. I think your quote is harder to understand than Barthes himself. Not that I claim to understand Barthes. This explanation makes more sense to me: ‘A term used by Barthes to refer to an incidental but personally poignant detail in a photograph which ‘pierces’ or ‘pricks’ a particular viewer, constituting a private meaning unrelated to any cultural code.’
    In Camera Lucia, Barthes gives examples – the fact that the examples are said in your quote not to support Barthes’ theory does not help to understand it. I certainly don’t understand – have not engaged with – the use Barthes makes of these two terms.
    I am sure some of your more learned commenters will assist!

  2. “It should be noted that presenting examples of punctum is an impossible mission. The punctum always turns into the studium when expressed in language. That is also why we may perceive that his examples do not support his theory.”

    is just a kind of rhetorical move, sort of a take on Godel’s incompleteness theorem, if that makes sense? It’s saying, basically, that Barthes, in talking about punctum (and particular examples of them) is:

    1) engaging in a kind of extraction of meaning “via semiotic analysis”
    2) and by publishing them in a book is making that discussion a part of the larger cultural discourse of which studium consists.

    And, by extension, anyone talking about punctum inevitably does these things, to greater or lesser degree. One need not publish, of course, for an utterance to become part of discourse even if its reach may be limited.

  3. cuchuflete says

    As a less learned commenter, with the residue of opposition to certain French attempts to muddy otherwise clear waters—I was a grad student at Johns Hopkins shortly after Derrida left, and my department believed in “close reading of text”, and politely derided deconstructionism—I think I get the gist of what this is about. If you recall Julio Cortázar’s very short short story,
    Las babas del diablo, there is a candid photograph. Antonioni turned that into the film Blow-up, in which a detail unintentionally captured by the photographer leads to hours of brilliant intrigue.

    I suspect that photographic detail might qualify for membership in the punctum house of horrors. On the other hand, as nearly sixty years have passed since I watched that film, and nearly fifty since I re-read the Cortázar cuento, it may have been just a picture of a murder, punctum-free.

    If anyone chooses to watch the film, you may enjoy the soundtrack scored by a very young Herbie Hancock. This was released around the same time as Maiden Voyage.

  4. J.W. Brewer says

    I understand the point that for technological reasons a photograph can capture some incidental detail of a scene not intended by the photographer, such that a similar artist who was painting or drawing the same scene would not have chosen to insert it. That a viewer’s reaction to such an unintended detail does not invoke (or evoke) “any recognizable symbolic system” does not seem to follow from that. Indeed I would have thought a Barthesian might have thought it naive to assume that the viewer’s reaction upon noticing the particular incidental detail was not itself caused or mediated by the viewer’s prior life-to-date semiotic marination in various “recognizable symbolic systems.”

  5. John Cowan says

    The theory of the punctum speaks the indexical nature of the photographic medium.

    I think that should be bespeaks; at least, I hope it should be.

    In any case, I think the confusions arise because Barthes is trying to construct a public theory of private meaning, and art criticism can’t do that (maybe psychology can eventually).

    To begin with, I don’t think there’s anything special about photography. This blog post begins with photography, but goes on to a pair of shoes with attached leg braces which the blogger saw at MoMA. The private meaning of this installation (I don’t know what else to call it) for the blogger is the pain of her father’s diabetes that compelled him to wear such shoes:

    When I saw them in the museum I felt like someone was playing a prank on me–a f*cked [sic] up version of “This is your life!” to catch me off guard. I started to cry and then anxiously looked around to make sure no students were in the gallery. I knew if I had to explain my tears I’d start blubbering, and I didn’t want to do that.

    I shot some images of the strange sculptural use of my dad’s shoes and the dreaded artist who forced me to experience punctum for the first time in ages, and I walked as quickly as possible out of that gallery.

    That led me to think about Kipling’s story “The Beginning of the Armadillos”, which was on my mind anyway thanks to its use of “Best Beloved” by the narrator to address the child hearer. In this story, Painted Jaguar’s mother has told him the public meaning (for jaguars, at any rate) of the key terms tortoise and hedgehog, and when he meets one of each he says:

    Now attend to me,’ said Painted Jaguar, ‘because this is very important. My mother said that when I meet a Hedgehog I am to drop him into the water and then he will uncoil, and when I meet a Tortoise I am to scoop him out of his shell with my paw. Now which of you is Hedgehog and which is Tortoise? because, to save my spots, I can’t tell.’

    In self-defense, Hedgehog and Tortoise obfuscate this understanding:

    ‘Are you sure of what your Mummy told you?’ said Stickly-Prickly Hedgehog. ‘Are you quite sure? Perhaps she said that when you uncoil a Tortoise you must shell him out the water with a scoop, and when you paw a Hedgehog you must drop him on the shell.’

    ‘Are you sure of what your Mummy told you?’ said Slow-and-Solid Tortoise. ‘Are you quite sure? Perhaps she said that when you water a Hedgehog you must drop him into your paw, and when you meet a Tortoise you must shell him till he uncoils.’

    ‘I don’t think it was at all like that,’ said Painted Jaguar, but he felt a little puzzled; ‘but, please, say it again more distinctly.’

    ‘When you scoop water with your paw you uncoil it with a Hedgehog,’ said Stickly-Prickly. ‘Remember that, because it’s important.’

    ‘But,’ said the Tortoise, ‘when you paw your meat you drop it into a Tortoise with a scoop. Why can’t you understand?’

    Essentially H & T are trying to impose the private meanings of their names on Jaguar, which like many private meanings (in dreams, e.g.) make no sense in the public world. At first Jaguar hangs on to what is for him the main point:

    ‘You are making my spots ache,’ said Painted Jaguar; ‘and besides, I didn’t want your advice at all. I only wanted to know which of you is Hedgehog and which is Tortoise.’

    But alas for Jaguar, his two adversaries tangle him further in a mess of suppressio veri and suggestio falsi, all the while pretending to explain the outright amphigory of the previous passage:

    ‘I shan’t tell you,’ said Stickly-Prickly. ‘but you can scoop me out of my shell if you like.’

    ‘Aha!’ said Painted Jaguar. ‘Now I know you’re Tortoise. You thought I wouldn’t! Now I will.’ Painted Jaguar darted out his paddy-paw just as Stickly-Prickly curled himself up, and of course Jaguar’s paddy-paw was just filled with prickles. Worse than that, he knocked Stickly-Prickly away and away into the woods and the bushes, where it was too dark to find him. Then he put his paddy-paw into his mouth, and of course the prickles hurt him worse than ever. As soon as he could speak he said, ‘Now I know he isn’t Tortoise at all. But’—and then he scratched his head with his un-prickly paw—‘how do I know that this other is Tortoise?’

    A very sensible question, but Jaguar is up against people like the two interrogators in Catch-22, who buffalo the hapless Cadet Clevinger in the same way:

    “Precisely what did you mean, Cadet Clevinger, when you said we couldn’t find you guilty?”

    “I didn’t say you couldn’t find me guilty, sir.”


    “When what, sir?” […]

    “[A]nswer the question. When didn’t you say we couldn’t find you guilty?”

    “Late last night in the latrine, sir.”

    “Is that the only time you didn’t say it?”

    “No, sir. I always didn’t say you couldn’t find me guilty, sir. What I did say to Yossarian was—”

    “Nobody asked you what you did say to Yossarian. We asked you what you didn’t say to him. We’re not at all interested in what you did say to Yossarian. Is that clear?”

    “Yes, sir.”

    “Then we’ll go on. What did you say to Yossarian?”

    Tortoise carries on, scrupulously telling the truth (as he explains to Hedgehog later):

    ‘But I am Tortoise,’ said Slow-and-Solid. Your mother was quite right. She said that you were to scoop me out of my shell with your paw. Begin.’

    ‘You didn’t say she said that a minute ago,’ said Painted Jaguar, sucking the prickles out of his paddy-paw. ‘You said she said something quite different.’

    ‘Well, suppose you say that I said that she said something quite different, I don’t see that it makes any difference; because if she said what you said I said she said, it’s just the same as if I said what she said she said. On the other hand, if you think she said that you were to uncoil me with a scoop, instead of pawing me into drops with a shell, I can’t help that, can I?’

    ‘But you said you wanted to be scooped out of your shell with my paw,’ said Painted Jaguar.

    ‘If you’ll think again you’ll find that I didn’t say anything of the kind. I said that your mother said that you were to scoop me out of my shell,’ said Slow-and-Solid.

    ‘What will happen if I do?’ said the Jaguar most sniffily and most cautious.

    ‘I don’t know, because I’ve never been scooped out of my shell before; but I tell you truly, if you want to see me swim away you’ve only got to drop me into the water.’

    Finally, Jaguar resorts to threats of force in response to H & T’s intellectual/philosophical bullying:

    ‘I don’t believe it,’ said Painted Jaguar. ‘You’ve mixed up all the things my mother told me to do with the things that you asked me whether I was sure that she didn’t say, till I don’t know whether I’m on my head or my painted tail; and now you come and tell me something I can understand, and it makes me more mixy than before. My mother told me that I was to drop one of you two into the water, and as you seem so anxious to be dropped I think you don’t want to be dropped. So jump into the turbid Amazon and be quick about it.’

    ‘I warn you that your Mummy won’t be pleased. Don’t tell her I didn’t tell you,’ said Slow-Solid.

    ‘If you say another word about what my mother said—’ the Jaguar answered, but he had not finished the sentence before Slow-and-Solid quietly dived into the turbid Amazon, swam under water for a long way, and came out on the bank where Stickly-Prickly was waiting for him.

    So Jaguar roars for his mother, and she gives him a piece of art (a poem) that will help him with his trouble:

    ‘Can’t curl, but can swim—
    Slow-Solid, that’s him!
    Curls up, but can’t swim—
    Stickly-Prickly, that’s him!’

    H & T realize that they are in trouble, so they compromise (in both senses) their individual identities so Jaguar can’t tell them apart next time, which makes him go back to his mother for further instruction in public and private meanings:

    Mother,’ he said, ‘there are two new animals in the woods to-day, and the one that you said couldn’t swim, swims, and the one that you said couldn’t curl up, curls; and they’ve gone shares in their prickles, I think, because both of them are scaly all over, instead of one being smooth and the other very prickly; and, besides that, they are rolling round and round in circles, and I don’t feel comfy.’

    ‘Son, son!’ said Mother Jaguar ever so many times, graciously waving her tail, ‘a Hedgehog is a Hedgehog, and can’t be anything but a Hedgehog; and a Tortoise is a Tortoise, and can never be anything else.’

    ‘But it isn’t a Hedgehog, and it isn’t a Tortoise. It’s a little bit of both, and I don’t know its proper name.’

    ‘Nonsense!’ said Mother Jaguar. ‘Everything has its proper name. I should call it “Armadillo” till I found out the real one. And I should leave it alone.’

    And so he does, and eventually armadillo becomes not just the private name used by the two jaguars, but the public name as well:

    So Painted Jaguar did as he was told, especially about leaving them alone; but the curious thing is that from that day to this, O Best Beloved, no one on the banks of the turbid Amazon has ever called Stickly-Prickly and Slow-Solid anything except Armadillo.

  6. J.W. Brewer says

    Leaving Kipling out of it, the supposed “punctum” reaction to the shoes-with-leg-braces has a different focus then the quotes in the original post, because it seems improbable that the artist (add sneer quotes if you like …) did not intend, in this installation, to evoke at least the generic category of persons like the writer’s father who for medical reasons needed (at least when that was the technology of the time) to wear shoes-with-leg-braces.

    To take a similar example, an artwork depicting someone who appears to be a military veteran who is in a wheelchair due to combat injuries may well evoke a stronger and more intense reaction from someone who is personally close to such a veteran, but that’s not because such a reaction is unrelated to the “public meaning” of the image.

    To take another example (loosely parallel to the bathing-suit one), a photograph from the Seventies of suburban Americans in a car that happens to show a specific make and model of car that my own family owned/drove at some point in that decade might well affect me differently than an otherwise similar photo depicting a different make/model of car. But that’s not specific to photography – a painting realistic enough to identifiably depict a specific make/model, or a prose description that mentions the specific make/model could elicit the same reaction.

  7. John Cowan says

    Fair enough. But I wear shoes similar to those (though without leg braces) and I don’t think they would invoke any such private meaning to anyone who knows me, because I don’t suffer as a result of wearing them (though I do leave them off when I’m home). So an installation of my shoes wouldn’t trigger any such punctum.

  8. As a nitpicking sidenote: “трамвайный заяц” isn’t necessarily a kid; it’s anyone (of any age) who rides without paying their fare, a widespread synonym being “безбилетник” — lit. “ticketless one”.

  9. Yes, and of course Dugdale knows that — I presume the intention was to make the translation appropriately readable (заяц is a lively word, but “a rider who doesn’t pay the fare” would be deadly).

  10. PlasticPaddy says

    In German Schwarzfahrer (I think). We say “fare evader/dodger”, but that may be deadly in comparison to wolf.

  11. cuchuflete says

    Once upon a time, long away and far ago…. there were turnstile jumpers.

  12. In German Schwarzfahrer (I think)
    but that may be deadly in comparison to wolf.
    Which wolf?

  13. my understanding of punctum (and i haven’t reread the essay in decades) is pretty easy to illustrate with a variation on JWB’s example. for barthes, the difference between a photograph and a painting, each depicting a person crossing a suburban street with a 1974 camaro visible a block away in the background, is that the painter has to have actively decided on the model of car in the image (whether as such or just by choosing a specific shape while painting it), while the photographer need not have made any decision beyond accepting the presence of a car that is in the image only by chance. that absence of active decision, to my understanding, is what takes a detail out of the realm of studium – it’s not that the detail stands outside of semiotic systems (any individual’s response to it will be shaped/created/made nameable by those systems), but that its presence in the image is not a result of a semiotic act.

    i don’t think i can go any further than that, or express any opinions about that analysis, without a reread, but i think that’s the core thought.

  14. That’s extremely helpful, thanks!

  15. J.W. Brewer says

    My bafflement is that some of the explanations/examples focus on the artist’s creative process while others focus on a viewer’s subjective reaction, and because there’s no plausible 1:1 correspondence the same distinction with the same terminology can’t, it seems to me, work on both sides of that divide. Perhaps people interested in the latter (like the person block-quoted by John C.) have simply borrowed the Barthesian jargon while being somewhat oblivious to how they are applying it in a different context that does not perfectly correspond to the prior one?

  16. ‘the photographer need not have made any decision beyond accepting the presence of a car that is in the image only by chance’

    Isn’t the same potentially true of a painter painting a scene from life?

    In any case, there seems to be some ambiguity here about whether what matters is the intent of the artist, the effect on a viewer, or some specific relationship between the two (an emotional effect on a viewer from a piece of ‘reality’ — if that is the right word here — that the artist didn’t particularly intend to include, or maybe even notice).

    It all feels very twentieth-century, and not in a good way: philosophical angsting about things like mass reproduction, photography, and whatnot. I don’t mean that there aren’t some actually interesting semiotic questions here, but it feels like there’s something a bit reductive about how ‘punctum’ seems to get used. Maybe it’s the presupposition of a particular kind of engagement between an artist and their visual work (especially ascribing a value to even completely incidental and trivial features of a painting, just because the artist had to do slightly more work to put them in — I think this is what bothers me the most), and maybe also of the relationship of a viewer to visual art.

    Which I guess is all to say that I shared LH’s reaction: the quoted paragraphs seem to start out by digging into an at least somewhat interesting issue, only to go places with it that I can’t follow.

  17. @rozele: your example is enlightening, but it remains possible that a photographer could have waited for days on end for a particular car to appear,* or could have taken hundred of photos with different cars in them before deciding on the one that he or she liked best.

    *or could have arranged with a friend who owned a 1974 Camaro to drive through the neighboring block at an appointed time.

    There’s more happenstance in photographs than in paintings, generally speaking, but photographers nevertheless compose their works with a good deal of care, even the seemingly naturalistic ones.

  18. @J.W. Brewer: My understanding is that Barthes wanted the term to refer to (a subcategory of) the intersection between the two instances you describe. That is, the punctum phenomenon is when something that appears in a photograph only incidentally, not by the artist’s design, has a particular effect on a viewer. It may seem like an unnecessarily narrow category, and that it might be better to have terminology for the separate creator-side and viewer-side aspects and then look at what happens when they co-occur. However, what Barthes seems to have been interested in was when someone has a poignant reaction to something in a work of art that was not in any way part of the original artist’s conception of what they were communicating (and indeed has possibly never before even drawn anyone’s the notice).

  19. @NG; DL: there’s no way for a painter (etcher, weaver, &c) to not choose, which is the point as i understand it. i used “need not have” on purpose, and with precision – it’s a possibility that doesn’t exist in earlier representational media.

    what barthes is doing here, iirc, is trying to understand the implications of that possibility, for the viewer and analyst of images. we can debate his understandings, and his expressions of them, but the difference is a concrete and real one whether each of us concludes it’s meaningful or not (or agrees with oncle ro about its meaning).

  20. From a viewer’s perspective a photo is distinct from a drawing but in a rather subtle way : the technique, prior knowlege (or hypotheses) about how and why and what for it was created, etc.

  21. ‘I agree that “historical, social or cultural meanings” are not at the heart of any artistic creation,’

    At least I suspect not all of intended elements of artistic creation, of human imagination, and of an artist’s interaction with her material (clay or paint or… A musician knocks a gourd with her knuckles and the sound impressess her – or pierces/puctuates/is poignant and other p-words – and she decides to use it as a drum) are “meanings”, given that her viewer has similar perceptual apparatus.

    …and usually it is difficult to speaks of ‘meanings’ in music.

  22. FWIW, there’s a brave attempt (by a photographer and commentator on photography) to grapple with the meaning of “punctum” here:

  23. leaped … ticketless, like a kid on a streetcar” looks lighter, perhaps I like it more. Also “ticketless” was moved out of the scope of “like” .

    In Russian выскочить “to jump/spring out ” is used with memory, in the sense “to fall out of”.
    Заскочить is the reverse, usually not with memory (?fell in memory) and when she uses it in unidiomatic way the metaphor contained in the root becomes obvious. She notices and expands it: “on the rights of a streetcar-ADJ fare evader” (using PP’s version, the adjective from streetcar is commonly used with хам, which enables her to use it here at risk of bringing wrong associations…) introducing the metaphor with “on the rights”.

    PS “notices and expands” – or else the tram hare is here to support this new use of the verb.

  24. FWIW, there’s a brave attempt (by a photographer and commentator on photography) to grapple with the meaning of “punctum” here

    Thanks, that’s great stuff. Here’s the heart of it:

    Put this together. Whatever punctum is, it is that which makes the picture real for Barthes. It might be a detail, it might be an overall effect. It is elusive, although apparently the effect is not. The fact that it is, in Barthes eyes, unintentional, something the photographer could not avoid, is useful here. Because it was something unavoidable, it speaks to the reality of the photograph. Wherever punctum resides, it is distinctly not artifice, nor within artifice. It functions to reify the picture, by its own reality, by its lack of artifice. Barthes has, by the way, a somewhat touching naivete about what is and is not artifice.


    The brutal reality is that there is no such thing as punctum, it is a figment of Barthes investigation into his own, supremely weird, interior consciousness, coupled to mourning his recently deceased mother (and he is maybe the ultimate expression of a Mama’s boy), and his own need to explain photography to himself (and, tediously, to the rest of us).

    This is not to say that there is no emotional reaction to photographs. Of course there is. Much of what Barthes has to say is not wrong. It is the notion that there are two radically distinct possible ways to react that is simply silly, and it is in this radical distinction that the definition of punctum lies. No radical distinction, no punctum.

    This, furthermore, explains why the theory of studium and punctum have led to nowhere. Well, there are at least two reasons. The first one, though, is that nobody can be bothered to work out what punctum actually is, and when they do, it makes no sense. You cannot extend or build upon an idea that you cannot first make some kind of sense of.

    The second reason is political. Barthes says at one point (Chapter 36) “the power of authentication exceeds the power of representation” which means, from Barthes’ viewpoint, the power of the photograph to reify, to show us what was really there is more important than the power of the photograph to communicate about what was there. This is anathema to the very people who like to cite Barthes. The only thing they want a photograph to do is to communicate, to reveal the flaws of the photographer, the plight of the subject, and so on. The only thing a photograph does is represent.

    The only part of the photograph that matters, to the modern theorist, is the studium, that cluster of nameable, mentionable, reducible, discussable things. The idea that there is anything in a photograph that is ecstatic, unnameable, is anathema. The idea that the simple testimony of that-has-been which a photograph brings – which Barthes argues successfully is the only thing a photograph brings, is anathema. From our position here in 2019, we can readily view Barthes’ book as a polemic against the very idea that “the politics of representation” is an important idea for understanding photography.

    Here I find myself surprised to be aligned with Barthes. While his punctum is a stupid fantasy, the idea of the photograph as primarily, most importantly, an index which may “create the blind field” is pretty much exactly my position.

    I now know pretty much everything I need to know about it, and I’m spared having to tackle Barthes.

  25. J.W. Brewer says

    I like the deployment of the phrase “a somewhat touching naivete,” and think the same could probably said (mutatis mutandis) of quite a lot of the po-mo theorists (whether French or otherwise) who patted themselves on the back for cleverly undermining (according to themselves) the last X millennia of the Western intellectual tradition.

  26. If Barthes was a poet, he could express the sentiment in 100× fewer words and no Latin terminology, and no one woud begrudge him his subjectivity.

  27. John Cowan says

    Presumably then the meaning of the monkey selfie is all punctum, since to the monkey it has no cultural meaning whatsoever.

  28. cleverly undermining (according to themselves) the last X millennia of the Western intellectual tradition

    “All Previous Thought = the school curriculum in my day.”

  29. J.W. Brewer says

    @Rodger C.: I do think that French intellectual dudes of a certain generation had typically been taught in lycee a more comprehensive range of Authoritative Dead White Guys than Americans of the same generation, and had been taught them in a particular fashion that ended up being well-designed (if not intended) to provoke reaction and indeed overreaction.

  30. Rodger C says

    Thanks. I already had a general notion that it must be an artifact of the French educational system, with its notorious uniformity. I always felt that American Derrideans were in the grip of a kind of colonial mimesis.

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