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MYTHOLOGIESBooks by Roland BarthesA Barthes ReaderCamera LucidaCritical EssaysThe Eiffel Tower and Other MythologiesElements of SemiologyThe Empire of SignsThe Fashion SystemThe Grain of the VoiceImage-Music-TextA Lover's DiscourseMicheletMythologiesNew Critical EssaysOn RacineThe Pleasure of the TextThe Responsibility of FormsRoland BarthesThe Rustle of LanguageSade / Fourier / LoyolaThe Semiotic ChallengeS/ZWriting Degree ZeroMYTHOLOGIESRoland BarthesSelected and translated from the French byANNETTE LAVERSTHE NOONDAY PRESS - NEW YORKFARRAR, STRAUS & GIROUX2

ContentsTranslated from the French Mythologies (c) 1957 by Editions duSeuil, ParisTranslation (c) 1972 by Jonathan Cape Ltd.All rights reservedLibrary of Congress catalog card number: 75-185427Of the essays reproduced in this book, "The World of Wrestling"first appeared in Esprit, "The Writer on Holiday" in FranceObservateur, and the remainder in Les Lettres Nouvelles.Manufactured in the United States of AmericaTwenty-fifth printing, 19913TRANSLATOR'S NOTEPREFACE TO THE 1970 EDITIONPREFACE TO THE 1957 EDITIONMYTHOLOGIESThe World of WrestlingThe Romans in FilmsThe Writer on HolidayThe 'Blue Blood' CruiseBlind and Dumb CriticismSoap-powders and DetergentsThe Poor and the ProletariatOperation MargarineDominici, or the Triumph of LiteratureThe Iconography of the Abbé PierreNovels and ChildrenToysThe Face of GarboWine and MilkSteak and ChipsThe Nautilus and the Drunken BoatThe Brain of EinsteinThe Jet-manThe Blue GuideOrnamental CookeryNeither-Nor CriticismStripteaseThe New CitroënPhotography and Electoral AppealThe Lost ContinentPlasticThe Great Family of ManThe Lady of the CamelliasMYTH TODAYMyth is a type of speechMyth as a semiological systemThe form and the conceptThe 87174788184889194971001031091091111171214

Reading and deciphering mythMyth as stolen languageThe bourgeoisie as a joint-stock companyMyth is depoliticized speechMyth on the LeftMyth on the RightNecessity and limits of mythology127131137142145148156Translator's NoteThe style of Mythologies, which strikes one at first as being highlypoetic and idiosyncratic, later reveals a quasi-technical use ofcertain terms. This is in part due to an effort to account for thephenomena of mass culture by resorting to new models.First and foremost among such models, as indicated in the Preface,is linguistics, whose mark is seen not so much in the use of aspecialized vocabulary as in the extension to other fields of wordsnormally reserved for speech or writing, such as transcription,retort, reading, univocal (all used in connection with wrestling), orto decipher (plastics or the 'good French Wine'). The author'steaching is also associated with a rediscovery of ancient rhetoric,which provides one of the connotations of the word figure when itis used in connection with cooking or wrestling.Spectacle and gesture are often irreplaceable and refer to theinterplay of action, representation and alienation in man and insociety. Other terms belong to philosophical vocabulary, whethertraditional (e.g. substance, which also has echoes of Bachelard andHjelmslev), Sartrean/Marxist (e.g. a paradox, a car or a cathedralare said to be consumed by the public), or recent (e.g. closure,which heralds the combinative approach of semiology and itsphilosophical consequences). Transference connotes thediscoveries of psycho-analysis on the relations between theabstract and the concrete. There is in addition a somewhathumorous plea for a reasoned use of neologism (cf. pp. 120-21)which foreshadows later reflections on the mutual support oflinguistic and social conventions.Such characteristics have been kept in the hope of retaining someof the flavour of the original.56

Finally, the author's footnotes are indicated by numerals, and thetranslator's by asterisks.Preface to the 1970 edition (Collection 'Points', Le Seuil,Paris)This book has a double theoretical framework: on the one hand, anideological critique bearing on the language of so-called massculture; on the other, a first attempt to analyse semiologically themechanics of this language. I had just read Saussure and as a resultacquired the conviction that by treating 'collective representations'as sign-systems, one might hope to go further than the pious showof unmasking them and account in detail for the mystificationwhich transforms petit-bourgeois culture into a universal nature.It is obvious that the two attitudes which determined the origin ofthe book could no longer today be maintained unchanged (this iswhy I have made no attempt to bring it up to date). Not becausewhat brought them about has now disappeared, but becauseideological criticism, at the very moment when the need for it wasagain made brutally evident (May '68), has become moresophisticated, or at least ought to do so. Moreover semiologicalanalysis, initiated, at least as far as I am concerned, in the finalessay of Mythologies, has developed, become more precise,complicated and differentiated: it has become the theoretical locuswherein a certain liberation of 'the significant', in our country andin the West, may well be enacted. I could not therefore write a newseries of mythologies in the form presented here, which belongs tothe past.What remains, however, beside the essential enemy (the bourgeoisnorm), is the necessary conjunction of these two enterprises: nodenunciation without an appropriate method of detailed analysis,no semiology which cannot, in the last analysis, be acknowledgedas semioclasm. *February 19707- R. B.8

* See Translator's Note on neologism.PrefaceThe following essays were written one each month for about twoyears, from 1954 to 1956, on topics suggested by current events. Iwas at the time trying to reflect regularly on some myths of Frenchdaily life. The media which prompted these reflections may wellappear heterogeneous (a newspaper article, a photograph in aweekly, a film, a show, an exhibition), and their subject-mattervery arbitrary: I was of course guided by my own current interests.The starting point of these reflections was usually a feeling ofimpatience at the sight of the 'naturalness' with which newspapers,art and common sense constantly dress up a reality which, eventhough it is the one we live in, is undoubtedly determined byhistory. In short, in the account given of our contemporarycircumstances, I resented seeing Nature and History confused atevery turn, and I wanted to track down, in the decorative display ofwhat-goes-without-saying, the ideological abuse which, in myview, is hidden there.Right from the start, the notion of myth seemed to me to explainthese examples of the falsely obvious. At that time, I still used theword 'myth' in its traditional sense. But I was already certain of afact from which I later tried to draw all the consequences: myth isa language. So that while concerning myself with phenomenaapparently most unlike literature (a wrestling-match, an elaboratedish, a plastics exhibition), I did not feel I was leaving the field ofthis general semiology of our bourgeois world, the literary aspectof which I had begun to study in earlier essays. It was only,however, after having explored a number of current socialphenomena that I attempted to define contemporary myth inmethodical fashion; I have naturally placed this particular essay atthe end of the book, since all it does is systematize topics discussedpreviously.910

Having been written month by month, these essays do not pretendto show any organic development: the link between them is ratherone of insistence and repetition. For while I don't know whether, asthe saying goes, 'things which are repeated are pleasing', * mybelief is that they are significant. And what I sought throughoutthis book were significant features. Is this a significance which Iread into them? In other words, is there a mythology of themythologist? No doubt, and the reader will easily see where Istand. But to tell the truth, I don't think that this is quite the rightway of stating the problem. 'Demystification' - to use a word whichis beginning to show signs of wear - is not an Olympian operation.What I mean is that I cannot countenance the traditional beliefwhich postulates a natural dichotomy between the objectivity ofthe scientist and the subjectivity of the writer, as if the former wereendowed with a 'freedom' and the latter with a 'vocation' equallysuitable for spiriting away or sublimating the actual limitations oftheir situation. What I claim is to live to the full the contradictionof my time, which may well make sarcasm the condition of truth.1957MYTHOLOGIES- R. B.* 'Bis repetita placent': a paraphrase, used in French, of Horace'ssaying 'Haec decies repetita placebit' (Ars Poetica).1112

The World of WrestlingThe grandiloquent truth of gestures on life's great occasions.- BaudelaireThe virtue of all-in wrestling is that it is the spectacle of excess.Here we find a grandiloquence which must have been that ofancient theatres. And in fact wrestling is an open-air spectacle, forwhat makes the circus or the arena what they are is not the sky (aromantic value suited rather to fashionable occasions), it is thedrenching and vertical quality of the flood of light. Even hidden inthe most squalid Parisian halls, wrestling partakes of the nature ofthe great solar spectacles, Greek drama and bullfights: in both, alight without shadow generates an emotion without reserve.There are people who think that wrestling is an ignoble sport.Wrestling is not a sport, it is a spectacle, and it is no more ignobleto attend a wrestled performance of Suffering than a performanceof the sorrows of Arnolphe or Andromaque. * Of course, thereexists a false wrestling, in which the participants unnecessarily goto great lengths to make a show of a fair fight; this is of no interest.True wrestling, wrongly called amateur wrestling, is performed insecond-rate halls, where the public spontaneously attunes itself tothe spectacular nature of the contest, like the audience at asuburban cinema. Then these same people wax indignant becausewrestling is a stage-managed sport (which ought, by the way, tomitigate its ignominy). The public is completely uninterested inknowing whether the contest is rigged or not, and rightly so; itabandons itself to the primary virtue of the spectacle, which is toabolish all motives and all consequences: what matters is not whatit thinks but what it sees.This public knows very well the distinction between wrestling andboxing; it knows that boxing is a jansenist sport, based on ademonstration of excellence. One can bet on the outcome of a13boxing-match: with wrestling, it would make no sense. A boxingmatch is a story which is constructed before the eyes of thespectator; in wrestling, on the contrary, it is each moment which isintelligible, not the passage of time. The spectator is not interestedin the rise and fall of fortunes; he expects the transient image ofcertain passions. Wrestling therefore demands an immediatereading of the juxtaposed meanings, so that there is no need toconnect them. The logical conclusion of the contest does notinterest the wrestling-fan, while on the contrary a boxing-matchalways implies a science of the future. In other words, wrestling isa sum of spectacles, of which no single one is a function: eachmoment imposes the total knowledge of a passion which rises erectand alone, without ever extending to the crowning moment of aresult.Thus the function of the wrestler is not to win; it is to go exactlythrough the motions which are expected of him. It is said that judocontains a hidden symbolic aspect; even in the midst of efficiency,its gestures are measured, precise but restricted, drawn accuratelybut by a stroke without volume. Wrestling, on the contrary, offersexcessive gestures, exploited to the limit of their meaning. In judo,a man who is down is hardly down at all, he rolls over, he drawsback, he eludes defeat, or, if the latter is obvious, he immediatelydisappears; in wrestling, a man who is down is exaggeratedly so,and completely fills the eyes of the spectators with the intolerablespectacle of his powerlessness.This function of grandiloquence is indeed the same as that ofancient theatre, whose principle, language and props (masks andbuskins) concurred in the exaggeratedly visible explanation of aNecessity. The gesture of the vanquished wrestler signifying to theworld a defeat which, far from disguising, he emphasizes and holdslike a pause in music, corresponds to the mask of antiquity meantto signify the tragic mode of the spectacle. In wrestling, as on thestage in antiquity, one is not ashamed of one's suffering, oneknows how to cry, one has a liking for tears.14

Each sign in wrestling is therefore endowed with an absoluteclarity, since one must always understand everything on the spot.As soon as the adversaries are in the ring, the public isoverwhelmed with the obviousness of the roles. As in the theatre,each physical type expresses to excess the part which has beenassigned to the contestant. Thauvin, a fifty-year-old with an obeseand sagging body, whose type of asexual hideousness alwaysinspires feminine nicknames, displays in his flesh the characters ofbaseness, for his part is to represent what, in the classical conceptof the salaud, the 'bastard' (the key-concept of any wrestlingmatch), appears as organically repugnant. The nausea voluntarilyprovoked by Thauvin shows therefore a very extended use ofsigns: not only is ugliness used here in order to signify baseness,but in addition ugliness is wholly gathered into a particularlyrepulsive quality of matter: the pallid collapse of dead flesh (thepublic calls Thauvin la barbaque, 'stinking meat'), so that thepassionate condemnation of the crowd no longer stems from itsjudgment, but instead from the very depth of its humours. It willthereafter let itself be frenetically embroiled in an idea of Thauvinwhich