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Friday, December 13, 2013

Myth Today -Roland Barthes

The second section of Roland Barthes' "Mythologies", titled "Myth Today", is a theoretical discussion of Barthes' program for myth analysis which is demonstrated in the first section of Mythologies. What Barthes terms as "myth" is in fact the manner in which a culture signifies and grants meaning to the world around it. According to Barthes, anything can be a myth, and he follows this approach throughout the examples in Mythologies. Barthes picks Saussure's theory and popular culture and develops the idea of semiotics further.


According to Barthes, myth is a form of signification. However myth is different from ordinary speech and language. Barthes follows Saussure's discussion regarding the nature of the linguistic sign and he characterizes myth a second class of signification. What was the sign in the first order of language (for example the signifier "cigarette" and the signified of an object made of paper and tobacco) turns into a signifier in the second order (signifying lung cancer). In other words, myth for Barthes is a realm of second class signification which could be seen as a cultural association, to distinguish from denotation.  With myth being a secondary system of signification in which the sign becomes a signifier, that process of signification takes the meaning of symbols in the myth to the realm of association, not denotation.


According to Barthes myth, as a form of speech, is not limited to lingual signs and other types of representation (visual, musical etc.) can also take part in a myth because they convey secondary meanings that surpass their referential denotation. Barthes gives the example of a magazine cover portraying a African child in uniform saluting the French flag. The first level of signification is the denotation one – the child saluting the flag. But in the second level of signification, that of myth and connotation, the sign becomes a signifier and the child hails France as a great empire.


Since myths do not convey their meaning directly but in a covert manner, Barthes calls his semiology of myths "a science of forms". In the picture, Barthes analyzes everything works together- the child, uniform, flag, salutation etc. to produce the desired meaning and to establish the myth.



Characteristics of myth

1. Myth is a type of speech

2. Relation between the form of the myth (the black soldier saluting) and concept(French imperialism) is unequal.

3. Form is poorer than the concept. (On the cover, the black soldier becomes simply a form for communication of the idea. Thus, the individual is robbed of his history and loses his individuality.)


·                    Original text of Roland Barthe's essay, "Myth Today"

·                    Classroom discussions and the lecture

(Notes of the lecture delivered on 6 December 2013 by Dr. Anil Joseph Pinto; prepared by Anjali Menon)


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