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Barthes "Myth Today"

-from Barthes, Roland. Mythologies(Tony McNeill's Introduction). 
Trans. Annette Lavers. NY: Hill and Wang, 1972.

a type of speech; a system of communication(109), a mode of signification,
--a second-order semiological system (111)

Semiology distinguished from Formalism (112)
Semiology is a science of forms, since it studies significations apart from their content. "a little formalism turns one away from History, but that a lot brings one back to it."

Three terms: signifier, signified and sign (form, meaning and signification)--the signifier is empty, the sign is full (113)

We must here be on our guard, for despite comon parlance which simply says that the signifier expresses the signified, we are dealing, in any semiological system, not with two, but with three different terms.

rose as a sign ...on the plane of experience I cannot dissociate the roses from the message they carry, as to say that on the plane of analysis I cannot confuse the roses as signifier and the roses as sign.

e.g. black pebble as a signifier can signify in several ways (death sentence, etc)
signifier/signified/sign: signifier empty, sign full
Freud--the manifest meaning of behavior---its latent or real meaning dream as a sign

The formation of myth The signifier of myth presents itself in an ambiguous way: it is at the same time meaning and form, full on one side and empty on the other. As meaning, the signifier already postulates a reading...it has a sensory reality...As total of linguistic signs, the meaning of the myth has its own value, it belongs to a history, that of the lion or that of the Negro: in the meaning, a signification is already built, and could very well be sufficient if myth did not take hold of it and did not turn it suddenly into an empty, parasitical form.

When it becomes form, the meaning leaves its contingency behind; it empties itself, it becomes impoverished, history evaporates, only the letter remains.--regression from meaning to form, from the linguistic sign to the mythical signifier. ...the form does not suppress the meaning, it only impoverishes it, it puts it at a distance...



1. Signfier 2. Signified
3. Sign

* A signified can have several signifiers--true for linguistics, psychoanalysis, and myth.
* myth hides nothing: its function is to distort, not to make disappear
*Myth has an imperative, buttonholing character: ...it is I whom it has come to seek. ...

For this interpellant speech is at the same time a frozen speech: at the moment of reaching me, it suspends itself, turns away and assumes the look of a generality; it stiffens, it makes itself looks natural and innocent

* its motivation The mythical signification...is never arbitrary; it is always in part motivated, and unavoidably contains some analogy.

How to decipher myth

  1. If I focus on an empty signifier, I let the concept fill the form of the myth without ambiguity, and I find myself before a simple system, where the signification becomes literal again: the Negro who salutes is an example of French imperiality, he is a symbol for it. This type of focusing is ..that of the producer of myths...
  2. If I focus on a full signifier, in which I clearly distinguish the meaning and the form, and consequently the distortion which the one imposes on the other, I undo the signification of the myth, and I receive the latter as a imposture: the saluting Negro becomes the alibi of French imperiality.
  3. Finally, if I focus on the mythical signifier as on an inextricable whole made of meaning and form, I receive an ambiguous signification...I become a reader of myths. The saluting Negro is no longer an example or a symbol, still less an alibi: he is the very presence of French imperiality.
[1. producer of advertisement;
2. critic
3. reader of advertisement]
The first two types of focusing are static, analytical; they destroy the myth, either by making its intention obvious, or by unmasking it: the former is cynical, the latter demystifying. The third type of focusing is dynamic, it consumes the myth according to the very ends built into its structure: the reader lives the myth as a story at once true and unreal.



...[myth] transforms history into Nature....for the myth reader...everything happens as if the picture naturally conjured up the concept, as if the signifier gave a foundation to the signified...

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