Well, my bracket is done! That means the next sporting event I care to watch is the Kentucky Derby…ironic, huh? On that note, let’s have Peter jump out of the gate and take us through Barthes’s Mythologies.
I’ll also discuss your Rhetorical Project and then pass back your papers.
Whoa! How about the weather? Don’t they say March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb? Speaking of lion, what is Barthes talking about when he describes myth and for my name is lion?
Barthes expands Ferdinand de Saussure’s concept to cover myth, but let’s get on the same page about what’s going on in language.
- Signifier = arbitrarily assigned liguistic representation of the thing (images, the word*)
- Signified = object or mental concept
- Sign = Signifier + Signified (anything that conveys meaning)
*Please note that linguists would most likely challenge “word” being used.
As Barthes explains, myth is a second-order semiological system (p. 114-115). The sign in the first-order system becomes the signifier in the second-order system. Let’s take a look at Barthes’s discussion of the soldier.
Barthes on Rhetoric
What can Barthes teach us about rhetoric? He has an example on p. 136, and on p. 150, he identifies what he means by “rhetoric“:
“a set of fixed, regulated, insistent figures, according to which the varied forms of the mythical signifier arrange themselves….It is through their rhetoric that bourgeois myths outline the general prospect of this pseudo-physis which defines the dream of the contemporary bourgeois world.”
- physis: nature
From Greek: the material we can sense in the cosmos.
- anti-physis: what we can’t sense (but we think we do)
- pseudo-physis: ideologically real
A few terms to define from the preface:
- bourgeois: characteristic of the middle class.
- petit-bourgeois: belonging to the lower middle class.
- semioclasm: the destruction of signs (that, specifically, aren’t useful).
Key quotations from the preface:
- p. 9: First theoretical framework is “an ideological critique bearing on the language of so-called mass-culture.”
Second theoretical framework is “a first attempt to analyse semiologically the mechanics of this language.”
- p. 11: Barthes’s motivation for Mythologies is “a feeling of impatience at the sight of the ‘naturalness’ with which newspapers, art and common sense constantly dress up reality which…is undoubtedly determined by history.”
- p. 11: “myth is a language”
- p. 12: a paraphrase of a paraphrase: things repeated are culturally significant.
- p. 12: “What I claim is to live to the full contradiction of my time, which may well make sarcasm the condition of truth.”
Other areas of the book:
Although we can’t get through everything tonight, we should focus on the following places:
- “The Romans in Films,” pp. 26-28
- “Operation Margarine,” 41-42.
- p. 42: “A little ‘confessed’ evil saves one from acknowledging a lot of hidden evil.”
- p. 42: What does it matter, after all, if Order is a little brutal or a little blind, when it allows us to live cheaply?”
- “Of Novels and Children” (scroll down a bit)
- Of course, times have changed, which is why during the 2016 presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton avoided being associated with children…
- “Toys,” pp. 53-55
- p. 54: “the child can only identify himself as owner, as user, never creator.”
- p. 54: “French toys are usually based on imitation, they are meant to produce children who are users, not creators.”
- “The Nautilus and the Drunken Boat,” pp. 65-67
- p. 65: “Imagination about travel corresponds in Verne to an exploration of closure…to enclose oneself and to settle, such is the existential dream of childhood and of Verne.”
- p. 67: “Rimbaud’s Drunken Boat, the boat…can make man proceed from a psycho-analysis of the cave to a genuine poetics of exploration.”
- And to what (to whom) might the above refer?
- “Neither-Nor Criticism,” pp. 81-83
- p. 81: “Culture is a noble, universal thing, placed outside social choices: culture has no weight.”
“Ideologies…are partisan inventions: so, onto the scales, and out with them!”
- p. 82: “two common expedients of bourgeois mythology”–
1) “a certain idea of freedom, conceived as ‘the refusal of a priori judgments‘.”
2) pp. 82-83: “the euphoric reference to the ‘style’ of the writer as to an eternal value of Literature.”
- p. 83: Literature–“It is no longer its ornaments that it is defending, but its skin.”
- “The New Citroen,” pp. 88-90
- “Plastic,” pp. 97-99
I’m definitely interested in your take on Barthes. I know I didn’t put it in the syllabus, but I hope you had a chance to read Barthes’s “Death of an Author,” which was on Canvas.
Again, there is much more we could discuss about Barthes, and, in a different context (e.g., with a professor from a different area, such as, linguistics) we might discuss Barthes’s work, well, differently. I think it’s safe to say that, even though language is socially constructed, it isn’t monolithic. Signs convey meaning differently based on context and the individual’s socialization and experiences
Now, what can we say about “The Death of the Author”? How about “Death of a Martian”?
We’re going back in time about 60 years to read Nietzsche. I hope you already have Use and Abuse of History, and the select pages from Writings from the Late Notebooks (pp. 1-28) are on Canvas. We’ll have Rebecca and Jennifer lead our discussion on the separate readings.