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Monday, February 07, 2011

Myth Today- Roland Barthes

the following is a write up on Myth Today by Farah Aleem Ghori


Roland Barthes born in 1915 was a French literary critic and semiotician. Barthes has contributed to the field of mythology, semeiology and structuralism.

Mythologies is the title of a book by Roland Barthes which was published in 1957. It examines the creation of modern myths. Barthes also looks into the process of myth creation. He revises Ferdinand de Saussure's system of sign analysis by adding a second level where signs are elevated to the level of myth. Mythologies is split into two: Mythologies and Myth Today, the first section consisting of a collection of essays on selected modern myths and the second further and general analysis of the concept.

Roland Barthes says that only rhetorical forms of bourgeois myth can be sketched and not the dialectic or categorical forms. Rhetoric over here means a set of fixed regulated figures according to which the mythical signifier arranges themselves. In the contemporary bourgeois society, it is through their rhetoric that the passage from the real to the ideological is defined as that from an anti-physis to pseudo-physis. This defines the dream of the bourgeois world. Roland Barthes also lists out its principal figures.

The inoculation

This is a form of captivating language. It consists of acknowledging a small or accidental detail (or evil, as Barthes calls it) to mask bigger details or problems. A good example concerns the army: “Yes, the army is a stiff and blind and narrow minded– but it is also our greatest defence, the savoir of our country and a tool for spreading bigger good”. This kind of language is usually used concerning institutions, to create a good-bad balance for them to exist in, where one side always outweighs the other, serving the purpose of the institution. Barthes here speaks about the changing nature of the bourgeois. It has changed its position from being rigid to flexible. This has given way to a balanced economy.

The privation of history

Barthes argues that myth-making removes from an object all of its history. He gives the example of the ideal servant, who prepares everything. However, disappears when the master arrives. The master thus enjoys this beautiful product without wondering from where it comes from. Myth-making removes from an object all of its history and place in reality, and through the irresponsibility of language, removes any freedom concerning the object. This is because anything outside of reality is hard to change. By making something eternal its freedom to be anything else disappears and it is caught in the false reality of language.


The petit-bourgeois is unable to imagine the Other. He either transforms the Other or denies it. One example can be media’s portrayal of women. The difference between men and women is minimized to the extent that they follow the same lifestyles. They have equal and same status as of men in the society. This confirms that the “otherness” is reduced to “sameness”. However women are not the main characters of the discussion and this implies the marginality, in other words, the bourgeoisie’s partial incapability to imagine the Other.


According to Barthes “Tautology is this verbal device which consists of defining like by like (‘Drama is Drama’)”. When one is at a loss for explanation, there is accidental failure of language. Here, one kills rationality because it resists one, one kills language because it betrays one. Barthes also quotes a great example of this: “Because thats how it is, just because.” Another one I add is “It is what it is“. Such statements defy logic because they make anything permissible: the statement justify themselves. This work like in math, when one gets x=x, which is meaningless but absurdly true. Once again: this represent the boundaries of where language ends and cannot keep up with the reality is trying to describe. Thus, it creates an excuse to get around and further than reality, something of its own. Tautology thus creates a dead and motionless world as refusal of language is its death.


This is quite similar in method to Barthes’ inoculation. A balance is created by weighing too sides against each other. Here however, the myth-maker strives to create equality between both sides. Neither is better or worse than the other. They are weighed in relation to each other. Any objective qualities the two sides may have are lost.

The quantification of quality

When language cannot handle the complexities of reality, it strives to economize the world: qualities become quantities, and once again, language goes beyond reality to judge it. This is a figure concealed in all the preceding ones. Myth understands reality more cheaply by reducing any quality to quantity.

The statement of fact

Barthes argues myths tend towards proverbs, as a function of generalization and institutionalization. Barthes says that speech in particular can be of two types: active or reflexive. He uses the example of a farmer stating “the weather is fine” as active speech. This is because language here keeps a link to the real weather outside and its usefulness. Active language is almost technical language. Active language later turns in to reflexive language, which is removed from reality now. It allows for no freedom, and like a tautology, does not represent anything other than itself. Reflexive language is simpler and a form of generalization.

These rhetoric figures are without any special order. There can also be additions and subtractions to it. They can also be replaced with new figures.

Thus myths are born by trying to capture and possess the world. Myth-making tries to fix reality in one place and one form, to get out its essence by making it analogous to language. Myth-making tries to fix reality in one place and one form, to get out its essence by making it parallel to language. The failure of language merits myth-making. Simply because language cannot account for all of reality, generalizations must be made to deal with that.

In Barthes’s closing remarks in the ‘Necessity and limits of mythology’ section of ‘Myth Today’, he characteristically, positions himself (‘the mythologist himself’) as an excluded and alienated figure. The author begins this concluding section of his essay with a commentary on the nature and experience of mythologists, those who examine and understand myths (referring, it seems, and at least to some degree, to himself). He suggests first that "mythology is certain to participate in the making of the world," adding that "mythology harmonizes with the world, not as it is, but as it wants to create itself." He then goes on to write that that mythologists, by the very nature of what they do (examine and understand myths, their meaning and purpose) exist outside of both the meaning and purpose of myths, as well as outside the experience of the general, unenlightened humanity myths are clearly intended to affect.


"Barthes, Roland(1915–1980)." BookRags. N.p., n.d. Web. 6 Feb 2011. .

Krasovska, Laura. "Roland Barthes: Analysis of the Concept of Identification in Nowadays Media." N.p., 5.12.2006. Web. 6 Feb 2011.

Kudryashov, Roman. "Roland Barthes – Myth Today."What are these ideas and why are they here?. 11- 9- 2010 . Web. 6 Feb 2011. .

"Mythologies Study Guide." BookRags. BookRags, n.d. Web. 6 Feb 2011. .

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