BARTHES’s MYTHOLOGIES AS SEMIOTICS Diciplines
From the rituals, taboos, and myths of primitive cultures it is only a short step to contemporary culture. After Levi-Strauss had shown the way, a whole range of contemporary cultural phenomena came under structuralist scrunity. The French literary critic Roland Barthes (1915-1980) who later would straightforwardly claim that culture is a language in 1950 published Mythologies in which he applies a very loose and freewheeling structuralist analysis to the differences between boxing anf wrestling and between soap powders and detergents, to the drinking of wine versus the drinking milk, to striptease, to the design of the new Citroen and so on. The method (although Barthes is highly unmethodological) is familiar: the activities under scrunity are taken apart so that their constituent elements – the various signs that make up the structure – become visible, after which Bartes analyses how they acquire meaning because of their difference from the other elements in chain. His boxers, wrestlers, and stripteasers do not make personal statements with the motions they go through, but these motions are signs that take their meaning from underlying structure of their activities. The central insights of this cultural structuralism – called semiology (a term coined by Saussure) or semiotics – have been enormously productive and still play a prominent role in the way we think about how cultures (and all sorts of subcultures) work. Especially the idea that we can see the most unlikely things as signs and study them as part of a larger sign system in which the meaning of those signs is not inherent in the signs themselves but the productt of difference has paved the way for in-depth analysis of virtually everything imaginable. Fashion has for instance has been prominent target – in particular of Barthes – because its semiotic character is fairly obvious. In classrooms, where I always wear a jacket, I usually face T-Shirts, sweaters,...
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