Sunday, April 8, 2012

Roland Barthes – Myth Today – Summary, Review and Analysis – part 3

In "Myth Today" (in Mythologies) Roland Barthes follows de Saussure's observation regarding the arbitrariness of the lingual sign. But in myth, Barthes argues, the sign entirely arbitrary and it is possible, at least partially, to give a reason why one signifier has a certain meaning attached to it (unlike ordinary, none-myth, language). This does not mean that the relation between signifier and signified in myth is obligatory, for the same meanings can be signified in different ways. But still the relation is not arbitrary because it uses symbols, metaphors and metonyms to convey a certain identifiable meaning.

Myth, according to Barthes and unlike certain formulation of the concept of ideology in the Marxist tradition, does not conceal anything, but it does distort. The myth according to Barthes is an ideological apparatus which portrays reality in a certain manner and in compliance with a certain ruling ideology (Althusser presents a similar argument in Ideologyand Ideological State Apparatuses). The myth does not deny the presence of anything, but it does deny its historicity and it being open to other readings (this is Barthes' initial inclination towards post-structuralism). The myth flattens and limits the scope of meaning of the sign It uses and makes sure it could be understood in only one manner.

This is according to Barthes the power of the myth. The none-arbitrary nature of relation between the signifier and the signified presents this link as factual and as a lucid representation of reality as it really is. A myth in that sense is not what it says, but the underlining "natural" and self evident assumption on which it is founded. What presents itself as natural robs signs of their historicity and political nature and thus denies and conceals power struggles and relations in society. This is similar to Marx's description of ideology as "cameraobscura" which inverts reality. Like Levi-Strauss, myth for Barthes is a type of collective illusion, a story that society tells itself in order to justify its own world the way that it is. 

Roland Barthes - Myth Today - Summary, Analysis and review - part 1 - part 2 - part 3 -criticism

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