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“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 history, 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.
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 pens es 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.