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Mythologies Paperback – January 1, 1972

38 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0374521509 ISBN-10: 0374521506

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Paperback, January 1, 1972
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Editorial Reviews


Teacher, man of letters, moralist, philospher of culture, connoisseur of strong ideas, protean autobiographer . . . of all the intellectual notables who have emerged since World War II in France, Roland Barthes is the one whose work I am most certain will endure (Susan Sontag)

One of the great public teachers of our time, someone who thought out, argued for, and made available serveral steps in a penetrating reflection on language sign systems, texts --and what they have to tell us about the concept of being human. (Peter Brooks)

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. (Publishers Weekly)

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. (Library Journal)

A new edition of landmark work. As this new translation and expansion of a seminal work by the French semiotician and philosopher demonstrates, Barthes 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. (Kirkus Reviews)

Language Notes

Text: English, French (translation) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (January 1, 1972)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374521506
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374521509
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.4 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #93,762 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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34 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Dr. G on February 26, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In Mythologies, Barthes offers a series of snapshots with titles such as "Plastic," "Striptease," "Toys," "The World of Wrestling," and "Operation Margarine." His aim is to reveal the ideological abuse hidden in these myths, which are manufactured to read as reality.

Though complex, Barthes essays are accessible, charming, and funny. I have taught Mythologies to first-year college students, because it does not require its reader to have read volumes of theory to engage in Barthes' clever reflections.

My favorite essay might be "Toys," which demystifies modern (1954-56) French toys as designed to produce consumers ("users") rather than creators. "Toys" exemplifies how, 50 years later, Barthes' myths are still alive and worth reading.
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45 of 51 people found the following review helpful By TammyJo Eckhart VINE VOICE on May 23, 2001
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
As scholars of folklore and mythology were looking at their own past as well as currently to explore the narratives of the past and of "primative" peoples, Roland Barthes was looking at the world around him in France in the 1950s to the early 1970s. Why are human beings drawn to folktales, fairy tales, mythic figures? Barthes discovers that this draw surrounds us everyday, used both commerically and unconsciously from the personas of professional wrestlers (who resemble those seen on American television today) to our discussions of public figures. Mythology, Barthes argues, is a vital and living part of our society but it is also one used without real understanding because it is so deeply ingrained in the human mind and heart. The essays are light so that the non-specialist can enjoy but deep enough that the scholar can see and understand the theory underneath.
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36 of 41 people found the following review helpful By frumiousb VINE VOICE on November 29, 2003
Format: Paperback
When I finished this latest re-read of Mythologies I was initially struck by how funny it was. This was something of a big realization for me, stemming from a memory of burning brain cells with a furrowed brow, trying to understand what he was saying and being almost afraid to enjoy it. So there's one of the consolations for growing older for you-- I'm getting confident enough to really enjoy Barthes.

I'm not saying that I fully understand him yet. I'm not sure that I ever will. I think that "Myth Today"(the book's final and most central essay) still remains fairly firmly out of reach. But it's true that each time I re-read Barthes, I get something more out of it-- I manage to scale heights that I didn't think I would ever get to the last time around.

Isn't it the mark of a brilliant book that it grows with you?

Particularly recommended this time are the essays "Soap Powders and Detergents" and "Operation Margarine".
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Percival L. Bright on August 9, 2006
Format: Paperback
I was assigned this text as the final leg of a Greek and Roman Mythology course. Having no idea what to expect, I easily read through the collection of short essays and was thoroughly entertained. Even in translation, Barthes is graceful, lighthearted, and humorous in telling of the modern myths surrounding him in 1950s France. A very well-educated philologist, lexicologist, and sociologist, it wasn't until after writing the short essays here compiled that he rigorously developed his semiological/structuralist theories. Those with knowledge of structural linguistics and semiology and those without such a background alike will certainly enjoy every essay of this brief collection.

Furthermore, the longer essay, "Myth Today," which follows the shorter essays published originally in the 50s is replete with extremely interesting, albeit dense, critical theory. While someone with little knowledge of structural linguistics or semiology will have some difficulty with this final essay, it is certainly worth the struggle.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Kirsti K. Simonsuuri on September 28, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Roland Barthes' MYTHOLOGIES is central to a reader trying to understand the philosophy of everyday life and the problem of signification in our society. Barthes draws from the inexhaustible source of mythology and the ancient meanings of myth, and demystifies whatever he touches. Barthes as a cultural critic creates something new out of the stories about familiar objects and icons, such as Greta Garbo's face, toys, soap powder or Citroën. The book (2012) is a new translation of the 1957 work and it completes the previously untranslated essays to fifty-four, as in the original. The book shows that Barthes' work has stood the test of time very well. And though his comments hardly shock any longer, his thinking is as lucid as it must have been to the first readers when the essays were published in Lettres Nouvelles.
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 16, 1999
Format: Paperback
I'm French, and I read it in French. This book is an absolute must for any who wants to understand our Society. Although it's been written 45 years ago, it's more than ever actual, just like if that guy, as a clairvoyant, had been able to decode our present society (and all its incredible deviante face )half a century before. I must say I'll never see the world and medias like before again. More than a book, this is an enthralling weapon against mass passivity.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Vinay Varma on September 24, 2005
Format: Paperback
This thin book is a collection of Roland Barthes' short pieces on culture. The style of much of the book is journalistic and easy-to-read.

In this book, Barthes tries to uncover the mythmaking latent in advertising, films, media articles, exhibitions etc. The selection spawns across diverse subjects to explain why and how Romans are defined as Romans in films (with a fringe cut as a standardized technique), mythmaking inherent in celebration of the mystique of Greta Garbo's face, the use of language to dominate and condemn the illiterate, the rhetoric of advertising margaraine, the meaning and rhetoric of plastic, striptease and wrestling as spectacles etc.

At the end of the book, Barthes explains his concept and theory of myth as a sign that has become a signifier for another signified. This portion is of special relevance to those wanting to be initiated into semiology.
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