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?
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.