Badmington on Roland Barthes and Mythologies

Barthes scholar takes another look at a classic collection of essays

A new expanded edition of Roland Barthes' Mythologies has recently been published by Vintage. It includes material never previously published in English, and a brand new introduction by Barthes scholar Neil Badmington, editor of a four-volume collection of the French thinker's work. In today's Times Higher Education, Badmington explains just what Barthes means by 'mythology', and how the term is essential for a contemporary understanding of the culture that surrounds us:
Why is the Church like margarine?

This sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, but is actually one of the questions addressed in Roland Barthes' Mythologies, which first appeared in 1957. Inspired by Ferdinand de Saussure's proposition that meaning is culturally determined and that the discipline of semiology would one day exist, Barthes examines how a range of everyday objects, values and rituals signify in French culture. The subject matter shifts considerably from chapter to chapter: food, hairstyles, horoscopes, detergents, Martians, religion, toys, photography, plastic and advertising are among the many targets. But through the eclecticism rings a repeated denunciation of "myth", or the transformation of the historically specific values of the ruling class into naturalised, eternal, universal truths. "I resented", Barthes wrote, "seeing Nature and History confused at every turn, and I wanted to track down, in the decorative display of what-goes-without-saying, the ideological abuse which, in my view, is hidden there." [Read the article]

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