Myth Today is an extremely complex and difficult text about the way in which languages, visual or oral, are used to perpetuate myths in society that people believe to be the natural way in which things are, how assumptions are made, and accepted as the only way life is lived.  These myths are augmented by the language of myths, which obscure the realities beneath them. Advertisers and propaganda makers rely heavily on social myths to sell their products/ideas. These are notes from parts of the text that I am able to penetrate.

  • Myth – a system of communication, a mode of signification
  • Every object can pass from a closed object into the existence of a signifier.  Minor Droutet’s Tree is given as an example
  • Barthes establishes that verbal or visual mean of communication are carriers of myths
  • Links myth to semiology, to Saussuare and signification
  • Looking at basic semiotics, describes: Objects  – signifier + signified = sign, i.e. rose + passion = love
  • Myth is a “second-order semiological system”
  • Two semiological systems; language object such as word or image, reduced to put signifying function when it becomes myth.  Myth sees only the global sign.
  • Myth is the second language, not interested in the parts, but only in the thing signified from the sum of signified, signifier = sign, out of which grows the myth.  Rose, passion = love. Love = all that we learn to think love is
  • Signified formed by a string of signs (made up of signifiers and signifieds)
  • Form and concept: signified can have several signifiers, dependent on history, context, and ‘repetition of forms’, really crucial as allows myth to be deciphered.  insistence reveals intention
  • Myths can be spread over a large expanse of signifier -i.e. a book, or a single word
  • Myth hides nothing, it’s function is to distort
  • There is no need of an unconscious order to explain myth
  • Literal and immediate
  • it can appear only through a given substance, without the signifiers and signifieds it cannot materialise, manifest
  • In images is multidimensional – oral, linear
  • Meaning distorted by the concept, i.e. the concepts surrounding romantic love being ‘natural’ behaviours distorts the underlying social source for the myth
  • Myth a double system, making it hard to identify and get hold of as signification of a myth is constituted by a moving ‘turnstile’ between empty and present
  • Myth an ideographic system: i.e. the whole of Moliere can be seen in a doctor’s ruff
  • Reading myths;
  • Focus on an empty signifier and allow the concept to fill the form
  • If the signifier is full, you need to undo it, an obvious signified becomes an ‘alibi’
  • Focus on whole – meaning and form, receive ambitious signification
  • Myth transforms history into nature (the natural mother figure who looks, with her head to the side, at her child)
  • Myth is an inflection, not a lie or confession
  • Myth is read as a reason rather a motivator
  • Myth is always motivated
  • Myth is fundamentally borne of the bourgeoisie
  • The avant garde revolts against the bourgeoisie, but is of them and only contests the language it uses rather than its status
  • ‘everything in everyday life, is dependent on the representation which the bourgeoisie has and makes us have of the relations between man and the world.  These normalised forms attract little attention, by the very fact of their extension…’ (15/26)
  • Petit-bourgeois norms are the residue of bourgeois culture, they are bourgeois truths that have become degraded, impoverished, commercialised, slightly archaic, or shall we say out of date?
  • The bourgeoisie is constantly absorbing into its ideology a whole section of humanity which does not have its basic status and cannot live up to it except in imagination, that is at the cost of immobilisation, and by the impoverishment of consciousness.
  • Myth is depoliticised speech
  • Myth gives a naturalised image of reality
  • The function of myth is to empty reality
  • It abolishes the complexity of human acts
  • Myth exist on the left too – leftwing myth supervenes precisely at the moment when revolution  changes itself into ‘the left’; when it accepts to wear a mask, to hide its name, to generate an innocent metalanguage and to distort itself into ‘Nature’.
  • Statistically myth is on the right
  • It takes hold of everything, all aspects of law, of morality, of aesthetics, of diplomacy, of household equipment, of Literature, of entertainment.

Strategies (rhetorical figures) used by Myth include:

  • Inoculation – admitting the accidental evil of class-bound institution the better to conceal its principal evil.  One immunises contact of collective imagination by means of a small inoculation of acknowledged evil
  • Privation of history – miraculous evaporation of history is another form of a concept common to most bourgeois myths; the irresponsibility of man.  This seems extremely apt for today’s UK society
  • Identification – Petit-bourgeois is man unable to identify with Other. Otherness must be reduced and transformed to sameness. Other is a scandal which threatens his essence. The petit-bourgious  class is not liberal (it produces Fascism, whereas the bourgeoisie uses it); it follows the same route of the bourgeoisie, but lags behind it
  • Tautology – An ugly thing. One takes refuge in tautology as one does in fear, or anger, or sadness. Tautology creates a dead motionless world. See my blog post for Project 1 – Operation Black Vote advert
  • Neither-Norism, a lack of commitment, hovering on either side and nullifying both. Modern form of Liberalism. It becomes embarrassing to choose between sides of an argument. One no longer needs to choose, but to endorse. New Labour in the 90s.
  • Quantification of quality – myth economises intelligence; it understands reality more cheaply.  The ‘naturalness’ of an actor is a conspicuous quantity of effects for instance. Society will dismiss what is plain for all to see, had they not been shrouded in a mythical realities.  Myth stops people from questioning, from the child-like “why?”, from saying, “but that isn’t…”  It shuts people up.
  •  The statement of fact: An unalterable hierarchy of the world, a refusal of explanation.  Class system inevitable and cannot be dismantled is a belief held by many as a statement of fact.  Terrible Twos is an actual thing… (it isn’t) etc.

Necessity and limits of mythology

  • Man sees the reality and yet is complicit in Myth making making and living (see Brecht’s Einvertandnis)
  • Mythologist remains excluded, at a distance. The mythologist cuts himself off from all the myth consumers  – mythologist can become estranged in some cases from society if he wants to liberate the myth.  To decipher the Tour de France or Good French wine is to cut oneself off from those who are entertained or warmed by it
  • The mythologist wreaks havoc in his community
  • Utopia is an impossible luxury for him
  • Mythologist deals with the rhetoric surrounding the object, not with the object itself (how else though? Since the object is nothing without the signification and the eventual myth that is projected onto it. The object, surely, is not anything)
  • The fact we cannot manage to achieve more than an unstable grasp of reality doubtless gives the measure of our present alienation – (23/26)  Perhaps, unless you’re one of RD Laing’s understandably ‘mad’ people people, at which point it becomes wholesale alienation.  (Or a teenager? Again an especially traditionally alienated group)

Image (c)SJField 2016

Myth Today, Roland Barthes, 1957, From Mythologies, (translated by Annette Lavers, Hill and Wang, New york, 1984) (accessed 27/06/2016)


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