Roland Barthes, Mythologies

August 30, 2011 § 6 Comments

I don’t know what’s going on with these lists, it feels like everything I read ends up feeding into the last selection even though the choice to read one thing before the next is almost always the result of blind happenstance. Which usually goes something like oh Amazon.balls I don’t have [book X] yet but lookie here’s [book Y], or when I randomly pull a shit out of my literary puppypile all like, it doesn’t make any big diff, at this point in the summer everything I read will make me want to cry. What can I say, the Lord works in mysterious ways.

So Mythologies. The first section is a collection of sketches, some esoteric, some concrete, some chock fulla lulz, but all dealing with myth. Well, “myth,” since as he explains in Part II, Barthes’ conception of the term is less (though not not) about actual myths i.e. The Bull Who Couldn’t Stop Raping, or that thing they made into a movie, or the one with the golden shower. Instead, myth is framed as a mode of signification, one which builds upon an existing semiological system (words correspond to the things they refer to, forming discrete units of linguistic meaning i.e. signs). Just as the relationship between the signifier (the word “cat”) and the signified (an actual cat) is arbitrary, i.e. this could easily have been conjoined with this and the sign would still mean the same thing (seriously, the exact same thing), so too is the relationship between myth and the linguistic system out of which it emerged. That isn’t to say that the relationship between myth and language doesn’t matter; arbitrary means “could have been otherwise,” not “inconsequential.” The historical origins of a given myth are hugely important, and are precisely what elevate myth to its exalted status. The problem is that MYTH is subsequently taken as FACT, as some natural and necessary state of affairs. And why argue with how things are, naturally and necessarily?

I direct you to yesterday’s post.

Given that myth tends to naturalize all stripes of fuckery, for example patriarchy and racism and heteronormativity oh my, it’s important to guard against any account which renders “natural” historical contingencies (see above video; seriously, what does that even MEAN, “natural woman” — especially coming out the cupcake-hatch of an 11 year-old). Easier said than done though, due to myth is a slippery little bastard & insinuates itself into our (presumed) collective experience via seemingly innocuous rhetoric (again, see above video). Barthes’ formulation of the Innoculation, the privation of History, and Identification (among others, but my brain is seriously leaking fluid) all belie the tangled web myths weave. For example sad horny housewives are innoculated against myth via romance novels, which reinforce a patriarchal worldview even as they provide an escape from that same slophole; the seemingly commonsensical category of “race” obscures the historical march of racial classification, in turn obscuring the arbitrariness of racial subjugation; assface Freud and his fapping minions naturalize the inferiority of women by framing and subsequently pathologizing the vagina (read: woman) as an inverted and therefore failed penis (read: man).

In conclusion…oh god, I don’t know. Turtles all the way down, something about ideology, tonight I dine in hell. And so on.


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§ 6 Responses to Roland Barthes, Mythologies

  • Anonymous says:

    I never liked mythologies as a theory book- it just seems like he builds a semiotic model to explain the psuedo-made-phenomenology that Levi-Strauss talks about in “The Effective-ness of Symbols.” BUT, I do love R’s style of critique. Also, is that the book with the essay “I FUCKING HATE THE EIFFEL TOWER!11!!” in it?

    Also, funny story, Barthes was a student of Lacan—which is why there’s so many thinly veiled psychoanalytic stabs at psychoanalysis.

    And finally, a video that you can use R’s model of myth to analyze:


    • lol thanks for the comment “anon” –if that is your real name, Dinosaur Dickens.

      First, the secret of turtles lies somewhere herein, at lest the bible tells me so.

      Re: Baaaarrrrtheees, I will always have a softspot for the gentle old queen, mostly due to Camera Lucida and also how he died. I do think he would have had way less baggage to cast off had he been born, say, 30 years later, but that’s true of basically everyone…

  • Anonymous says:

    Also, turtles, HOW DO THEY WORK.

  • […] Interestingly, this morning’s (second) selection provides a roundabout take on academic evolution. Course good old Stuart Hall isn’t explicitly engaged with the march of the theoretical penguins (get it???? it’s a metaphor) but the shoe still fits — I roll my eyes at what was said then because of all the other things that have been said since. As Hall argues, the past is only ever viewed through the present; we cannot step outside history, or whatever it is we happen to regard as historical, in itself an ideologically-loaded endeavor. Consequently we must approach our various origin stories (in terms of race/ethnicity, in terms of culture, in terms of THEORY WARZ, in terms of whatever else we assume has a discrete beginning) as both critical to our understanding(s) of our current selves and also entirely mythological. […]

  • […] Roland Barthes, Mythologies: Myth naturalizes all stripes of fuckery; what we think is natural and necessary is actually historically contingent. (Hall, Omi/Winant, Radway, Freud) […]

  • I didn’t mean to offend youI gave much time to the old car.You have my word.We should save unnecessary expenses.Are you free this Saturday? You know what I’m talking about.You know what I’m talking about.I quit!A barking dog doesn’t bite!Most people eat, write, and work with their fight hands.

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