Barthes and Myth

This post isn’t finished yet – I’m just putting it up because I’m hoping it’ll help me get over some writer’s block.

I’m rereading a few of the essays in Mythologies at the moment, the ones where he deals with manufactured physical objects: “Soap-powders and Detergents”; “Toys”; “Ornamental Cookery”; “The New Citroen”; “Plastic.” Barthes tends to use a sort of alchemical langauge to describe these objects; just as water, for Aristotle, was essentially cold and wet, so metal, for Barthes, has an essential “flat hardness.” The substances that form the basis of this alchemy come from the world of sense, but not necessarily the world of nature; we also have “civilised” categories of substance like finished wood, rubber, plastic, paper, varnishes and glazes.

The interesting thing about Barthes’s alchemy is that he sometimes stands outside it to criticise the beliefs that arise from it, but he also sometimes seems to have become trapped within these beliefs himself. In the essay on soap powders, for instance, he is clear that the properties attributed to cleaning products by their manufacturers are mythical, but

Barthes does not like plastic, and I suspect this is for two main reasons.

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Published in: on March 7, 2010 at 1:05 pm  Leave a Comment  

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