(Lidija Haas’s article appeared in the Telegraph, 11/12.)
Born 100 years ago today, Roland Barthes is still uncannily with us. The French critic, a pioneer of the study of symbols and signs, could read anything as a text, from novels, to wrestling, to the striptease. Without necessarily knowing his name, we use Barthes’s methods every day to understand the world around us.
In Mythologies (1957), he skewered the consumer culture that churns out not only products but myths, shoving them at us as if they were real: the harsh detergent that instead evokes gentleness, luxury, and even “a certain spirituality” by conjuring images of “the deep and the foamy”; or the elaborate roast dinner advertised mostly to readers who can’t afford to cook it, photographed from a high angle to appear “at once near and inaccessible”, covered with a “genteel” glaze to disguise “the brutality of meat”, whose “consumption can perfectly well be accomplished simply by looking”.
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