- Paperback: 288 pages
- Publisher: Hill and Wang; 2 edition (March 12, 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0809071940
- ISBN-13: 978-0809071944
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 7.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 71 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #34,021 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Mythologies: The Complete Edition, in a New Translation 2nd Edition
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“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
“With so much new material now included, this volume is not an unabridged reissue so much as a celebration anew.” ―Publishers Weekly
“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
“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.... 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
About 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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While Barthes wrote this book in the 1950s, the messages apply even more today. In our post-truth society, it's easier now more than ever to buy into fake or misleading information; satire and conspiracy can so easily spread virally via social media, even fooling journalists who should be more discerning about the information they share. Reading this books enlightens the reader to processes that continue to take place, helping reveal the need for personal critical thinking skills in a time when false information seems to largely go unchecked and is so easily accepted as true. With Barthes' help, we can challenge culture and the mythologies it tends to create.
I first read this book in French more than 35 years ago, in my 20s. My French wasn't so good, and my progress was slow, but the book nonetheless struck me as funny and wonderfully off-kilter. The prose style was playful, but also clear. It didn't hurt that the historical era Barthes was talking about wasn't so far removed from my own awareness (I was born during the period when the articles were written). His way of looking at everything precisely, but from an unorthodox perspective and with a sense of ironic humor, had a deep influence on my own writing when I started writing a magazine column a few decades later. More recently, it's also influenced my teaching.
I came to this translation thinking of assigning some essays as reading for college students in a business program. It didn't take long to ditch that idea: this translation would make it too tough for most of them to share my enthusiasm. The historical distance of the subject matter wasn't the problem -- some annotations and illustrations could help with that. In fact, one of the benefits of this edition is a small insert of illustrations to help the 21st Century reader visualize what Barthes was writing about. Many essays also have a short introductory footnote on their first page, providing historical context. The real problem is with the tone of the translation -- it makes Barthes sound insufferably pretentious and fussy. If you've ever been to a university party where some middle-aged professor is getting carried away with the sound of his own voice, it's a bit like that. If I'd begun with this version instead of the original, I'm sure I'd have gotten impatient with it about a third of the way through.
Given how shaky my French was when I read the book the first time, I wondered whether maybe this translation captured the essence of Barthes, to which I'd been insensitive earlier. I've read a lot more French since then, including some dull and pretentious stuff. But when I checked now, Barthes still isn't that. Despite occasional flourishes (but precise ones), his vocabulary is mostly pretty clear -- which is how I managed to make it all the way through so many years ago. His sentences are long and full of clauses, but they have a rhythm lacking here.
One particular issue I noticed from a random comparison is that the translators often distort the syntax that gave structure and poise to the French original. Here is an example from one of the more political essays, "The Cruise of the 'Batory'," contrasting the magazine Le Figaro's coverage of a 1955 French cruise taking tourists to visit the USSR with that of the refusal of some French soldiers to fight in Algeria. According to the magazine, the cruise had given the Russians a glimpse of a sort of cheerful anarchy and individualism among the disorderly French. Barthes's original essay ends as follows:
« Lorsque quatre cents rappelés de l’armée de l’Air ont refusé, un dimanche, de partir pour l’Afrique de Nord, _Le Figaro_ n’ a plus parlé d’anarchie sympathique et d’individualisme enviable : comme il ne s’agissait plus ici de musée ou de métro, mais bien de gros sous coloniaux, le “désordre” n’était plus, tout d’un coup, le fait d’une glorieuse vertu gauloise, mais le produit artificiel de quelques “meneurs” ; ile n’était plus prestigieux mais _lamentable_, et la _monumentale indiscipline_ des Français, louée tout a l’heure de clins d’oeil loustics et vaniteux, est devenue sur la route d’Algerie, trahison honteuse. _Le Figaro_ connait bien sa bourgeoisie: la liberté en vitrine, à titre décoratif, mais l’Ordre chex soi, à titre constitutif. »
Here is the translation in this edition:
“When four hundred Air Force veterans, called up for North African service, refused to serve one Sunday, _Le Figaro_ no longer spoke of the sympathetic anarchy and enviable individualism of the French: no longer any question here of museum or metro, but rather of colonial investments and big money; whereupon ‘disorder’ was no longer the phenomenon of a glorious Gallic virtue but the artificial product of a few ‘agents’; it was no longer glamorous but _lamentable_ and the _monumental lack of discipline_ of the French, formerly praised with so many waggish and self-satisfied winks, has become, on the road to Algeria, a shameful treason. _Le Figaro_ knows its bourgeoisie: freedom out front, on display, but Order back home, a constitutive necessity.” (@148)
A few observations about this translation:
(a) In the first sentence of the passage Barthes strings together three sentences into one - but each clause is a complete sentence. One translation strategy might have been to punctuate the passage differently as two or three distinct sentences. Instead H&L retain the one-sentence structure but make the flow choppier by subdividing into into four chained clauses, including two sentence fragments (“no longer any question here …” and “whereupon…”). In doing so, they also make it hard for the reader to see the causal relationship between the topics of those two fragments. Compare a translation of Barthes’s middle clause roughly as follows: “as it was no longer a matter of museum or metro, but of big colonial bucks, ‘disorder’ suddenly wasn’t the result of a glorious Gallic virtue but the manufactured product of a few ‘agents’”.
(b) H&L insert formal and lengthy words where they weren’t present in the original: e.g., “whereupon” rather than “suddenly” for ‘tout a l’heure,’ “a constitutive necessity” for the adjective ‘constitutif,’ “phenomenon” rather than “result” for ‘fait,’ and “colonial investments and big money” for the intentionally coarse ‘gros sous coloniaux’ (as in “big colonial bucks,” “colonial big money” or something similar).
(c) In the last sentence, H&L erase Barthes’s balanced contrast of freedom and order as reflected in the parallel syntax of the concluding clauses. They also downplay his irony by omitting the adverb “bien” (‘well’), and ignoring the bourgeois resonances of “vitrine,” connoting a shop window. Something closer to the sense of Barthes’s last sentence might be: “_Le Figaro_ knows its bourgeoisie well: freedom on display in the shop window, as decoration, but Order at home, as foundation.”
All in all, the translators’ choices make Barthes seem much more pompous and distant from the reader than he really was; and in passages like the one just quoted, they also downplay his political engagement.
Many reviewers here on Amazon managed to enjoy this book despite the problems I've described. If you don't read French, don't let my review discourage you from picking up this book. But if you get frustrated with it, please remember that in the original it's a much more elegant, humorous and brilliant read than comes across from this version.
The second part is The Secret Rose (1897), 9 legends that are perhaps my favorite section of this book, with stories like The Wisdom of the King, of a lonely hero who as a baby was given a "grey as the mist" drop of hawk crone blood, and whose hair was mixed with feathers.
Stories of Red Hanrahan (1897 and rewritten in 1907), is the life and death of a wandering poet, "the learned man and the great songmaker", which includes a number of poems.
Rosa Alchemica, Tables of the Law, and The Adoration of the Magi (1897) are on esoteric mysticism; glimpses into heaven and hell.
The final part is Per Amica Silentia Lunae (1917), essays on spiritualism, Christianity, poetry and its writers, and more.
Written with much beauty by the man many consider to be Ireland's greatest poet (and Nobel Prize for Literature in 1923), this unique collection of tales will enchant anyone interested in Irish history and its legends; legends which will, like the little creatures, last "until God shall burn up the world with a kiss".