Mythologies: The Complete Edition, in a New Translation

Overview

“No denunciation without its proper instrument of close analysis,” Roland Barthes wrote in his preface to Mythologies. There is no more proper instrument of analysis of our contemporary myths than this book—one of the most significant works in French theory, and one that has transformed the way readers and philosophers view the world around them.

Our age is a triumph of codification. We own devices that bring the world to the command of our fingertips. We have access to ...

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Overview

“No denunciation without its proper instrument of close analysis,” Roland Barthes wrote in his preface to Mythologies. There is no more proper instrument of analysis of our contemporary myths than this book—one of the most significant works in French theory, and one that has transformed the way readers and philosophers view the world around them.

Our age is a triumph of codification. We own devices that bring the world to the command of our fingertips. We have access to boundless information and prodigious quantities of stuff. We decide to like or not, to believe or not, to buy or not. We pick and choose. We think we are free. Yet all around us, in pop culture, politics, mainstream media, and advertising, there are codes and symbols that govern our choices. They are the fabrications of consumer society. They express myths of success, well-being, or happiness. As Barthes sees it, these myths must be carefully deciphered, and debunked.

What Barthes discerned in mass media, the fashion of plastic, and the politics of postcolonial France applies with equal force to today’s social networks, the iPhone, and the images of 9/11. This new edition of Mythologies, complete and beautifully rendered by the Pulitzer Prize–winning poet, critic, and translator Richard Howard, is a consecration of Barthes’s classic—a lesson in clairvoyance that is more relevant now than ever.

The distinguished literary critic and leading exponent of semiology, the science of signs and symbols, seeks to create a mythology of daily life.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This new edition brings into English for the first time all of the essays in the groundbreaking Mythologies by French semiotician and critic Barthes, translated by the redoubtable Howard (Flowers of Evil), and joins them with Lavers’s earlier translation of Barthes’s accompanying analytical essay, “Myth Today.” Barthes examined mass culture, its ads and hidden or disguised messages, its icons and politics, its desperate speed in the mid-1950s. With several exceptions, these pensées are in delectable, bite-sized pieces. Though very much of their time, these essays tell us a lot about how we might intellectually navigate our own century. When the specifics are unfamiliar to a non-French reader, unobtrusive and cogent notes identify the individuals and issues. By framing the mythic in the quotidian, Barthes examines everything from detergent (“dirt is a sickly little enemy which flees from good clean linens at the first sign of Omo’s judgment”) to professional wrestling (“Wrestling is not a sport, it is a spectacle”), Garbo’s face (“virtually sexless, without being at all ‘dubious’”), Billy Graham, the Tour de France, a French striptease, plastics, and onward. With so much new material now included, this volume is not an unabridged reissue so much as a celebration anew. 16 pages of b&w illus. (Mar.)
Library Journal
An abridged English translation of Mythologies (1957), one of Barthes's most famous books, has been available since 1972, but it omitted 25 of the original essays, included here. Overall, Barthes (1915–80) argues in these diverse pieces, both the newly available and the others, that many customs accepted as a matter of course are in fact narratives that disclose their meaning under close analysis. He considers, among other subjects, professional wrestling, maintaining that each gesture has its place in a story. Likewise, why do astrology columns offer advice on particular subjects (this is one of the newly available essays)? What is the significance of Greta Garbo's face? The book has a political dimension; one of Barthes's principal targets is the petit-bourgeois movement of Pierre Poujade. Many essays concentrate on aspects of French life in the 1950s. Aside from these, the book includes a long theoretical section, still in the original English translation by Annette Lavers, in which Barthes explains his approach to myth, stressing the affinities of myth and language. VERDICT Barthes was one of the major French critics of the 20th century, and this fuller translation will be of interest to English-speaking students of French and comparative literature as well as to cultural anthropologists. [See Prepub Alert, 9/22/11.]—David Gordon, Bowling Green State Univ., OH
Library Journal
This new publication of French literary critic/philosopher Barthes's 1957 classic replaces the incomplete 1972 translation with a full-scale, authoritative rendering from Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, critic, and translator Richard Howard. Not for every public library but a key work in a half-century of intellectual discussion—and, hey, Goodreads has over 2000 ratings, averaging 4.1 out of five stars.
Kirkus Reviews
A new edition of landmark work. As this new translation and expansion of a seminal work by the French semiotician and philosopher demonstrates, Barthes (Mourning Diary, 2010, etc.) remains ahead of his time, and our time, more than 30 years after his death. His impact extends well beyond those who actually read his work (as the pivotal role his ideas hold in the latest Jeffrey Eugenides novel, The Marriage Plot, makes plain). His third book, published in 1957, provides a key to that influence, though early translations included around half or less of the 53 essays here (one of them, "Astrology," receiving its first English translation for American publication). The book has two parts. The first comprises the short essays, translated by Richard Howard, that show the philosopher-critic illuminating the mythic in everyday manifestations of culture ranging from striptease to pro wrestling to red wine to children's toys ("usually toys of imitation, meant to make child users, not creative children"). Where those pieces can occasionally read like journalism (on a very high intellectual level), the second part, "Myth Today," which retains the 1972 translation, provides the philosophical underpinnings of meaning as a social construct and myth as man-made, fluid rather than fixed ("there is no fixity in mythical concepts: they can come into being, alter, disintegrate, disappear completely"). For Barthes, so much of what is accepted as reality is simply perception, shaped and even distorted by the social constructs of language, myth and meaning. Amid the high-powered theorizing, some of his pronouncements require no academic explanation: "If God is really speaking through Dr. [Billy] Graham's mouth, it must be acknowledged that God is quite stupid: the Message stuns us by its platitude, its childishness." It's remarkable that essays written more than a half-century ago, on another continent, should seem not merely pertinent but prescient in regard to the course of contemporary American culture.
From the Publisher
"[Mythologies] illustrates the beautiful generosity of Barthes's progressive interest in the meaning (his word is signification) of practically everything around him." —-Edward W. Said
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780374532345
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 3/13/2012
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 5.64 (w) x 8.32 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Roland Barthes was born in 1915. A French literary theorist, philosopher, and critic, he influenced the development of various schools of theory, including structuralism, semiotics, existentialism, social theory, Marxism, and post-structuralism. He died in 1980.

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Table of Contents

Translator's Note Richard Howard vii

Preface to the 1970 Edition ix

Preface to the 1957 Edition xi

Part I Mythologies 1

In the Ring 3

The Harcourt Actor 15

Romans in the Movies 19

The Writer on Vacation 22

The "Blue Blood" Cruise 26

Criticism Blind and Dumb 29

Saponids and Detergents 32

The Poor and the Proletariat 35

Martians 38

Operation Astra 41

Conjugals 44

Dominici, or the Triumph of Literature 48

Iconography of Abbé Pierre 53

Novels and Children 56

Toys 59

Paris Not Flooded 62

Bichon Among the Blacks 66

A Sympathetic Worker 70

Garbo's Face 73

Power and "Cool" 76

Wine and Milk 79

Steak-Frites 83

The Nautilus and the Bateau ivre 86

Depth Advertising 89

A Few Words from Monsieur Poujade 92

Adamov and Language 96

Einstein's Brain 100

The Jet-Man 103

Racine Is Racine 106

Billy Graham at the Vel' d'Hiv' 109

The Dupriez Trial 113

Shock Photos 116

Two Myths of the New Theater 119

The Tour de France as Epic 122

The Blue Guide 134

Agony Columns 138

Ornamental Cuisine 142

The Batory Cruise 145

The Man in the Street on Strike 149

African Grammar 153

Neither/Nor Criticism 161

Striptease 165

The New Citroën 169

Literature According to Minou Drouet 172

Electoral Photogeny 181

Lost Continent 184

Astrology 187

The Bourgeois Art of Song 190

Plastic 193

The Great Family of Man 196

At the Music Hall 200

The Lady of the Camellias 203

Poujade and the Intellectuals 206

Part II Myth Today 215

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