27 May 2012

speaking of Roland Barthes's "Mythologies"


two passages taken from this New York Times article by Sam Anderson

Many of Barthes’s insights apply just as powerfully to contemporary culture as they did to postwar France. Here he is, for instance, analyzing the species of campaign photo — still popular today — in which politicians stare off into the distance: “The gaze is lost nobly in the future, it does not confront, it soars and fertilizes some other domain, which is chastely left undefined. Almost all three-quarter-face photos are ascensional, the face is lifted toward a supernatural light, which draws it up and elevates it to the realm of a higher humanity; the candidate reaches the Olympus of elevated feelings, where all political contradictions are solved.” I find this impossible to read without thinking of Obama, Romney, Palin, Sarkozy, Che Guevara and, of course, Stephen Colbert.

and . . .

“Mythologies” is often an angry book, and what angered Barthes more than anything was “common sense,” which he identified as the philosophy of the bourgeoisie, a mode of thought that systematically pretends that complex things are simple, that puzzling things are obvious, that local things are universal — in short, that cultural fantasies shaped by all the dirty contingencies of power and money and history are in fact just the natural order of the universe. The critic’s job, in Barthes’s view, was not to revel in these common-sensical myths but to expose them as fraudulent. The critic had to side with history, not with culture. And history, Barthes insisted, “is not a good bourgeois.”

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