Semiology in “Myth Today” by Roland Barthes Essay
Updated: Nov 27th, 2020
The article under review is adapted from Mythologies written by Roland Barthes and translated by Annette Lavers, Hill and Wang. Barthes begins his analysis of the Myth by stating that in its simplistic form a myth is a type of speech. However, he states that speech must contain particular features to qualify as a myth. It is however, the way he tries to link the flow of factors that degenerate the myth into becoming a type of speech that raises certain questions.
The article notes that it is imperative from the start to comprehend the myth as a way of communication. The brevity of it is that myth is a message and its definition does not lie in the content it intends to convey but by the means with which it is conveyed. This makes it a form. The question that lingers at this moment is whether the myth qualifies to be a type of speech based on certain conditions or it is a form of speech on its own. The latter could as well be interpreted to mean a medium of speech.
Roland Barthes fails to clearly identify from the onset the specific differences in his two proposals. He indicates that the myth has no substantial proofs instead, it can be defined using formal limits that degenerate to state that everything could be myth for as long as a discourse is used to convey them. Humanity has the greatest freedom to express what they feel about anything. The difference is in the way of expression. Barthes quotes this as the reason he thinks the content of the myth may not necessarily be used in defining what it is but the way the desired information is delivered. To him myth is a descendant of history.
Viewing it from this perspective, it could be passed that testing the reality of the content in the myth is not practical since myth is history in itself. It is reality that was converted into history by history. What if it is presupposed that what Barthes should have done was to define myth from the perspective of whether it is relevant or not? Confining the definition of myth to history, locks out the procedure of understanding the myth from the relevance angle because it throws into the dust bin the content carried by the myth.
Considering the myth from a semiological perspective
Barthes states that semiology in itself is not in existence yet mythology which is the study of various types of speech is part of semiology. This could be said to be his other way of stating that the concept of semiology that was postulated by Saussure now exists because he was already discussing its branch. The article closely draws relations between semiology and myth by highlighting the definition of semiology.
It concentrates on the importance of form as it drifts the focus from the otherwise common content. It is worthwhile to see the link when Barthes insists on the significance of defining myths from the importance of the way it is conveyed rather than its content. No wonder he quotes the example of people expressing their views on anything. Several people would give their opinion over an object but the difference will emanate from the way the opinion was conveyed. Studying myths from a semiological perspective shields it from changing its historical significance.
Barthes insists that analysis of myths should be handled from the angle that there is a signifier and the signified. To him, these two are not one and the same instead they are related. This means that one thing leads to the next, in terms of analysis therefore, it has to be done exclusively with comparison. Important elements of study are the correlations which to him are the signifier, the signified and the sign. Barthes holds that the sign is what links the other two.
He quotes the use of roses to signify passion to illustrate his concept. To emphasise his words, Barthes takes on Saussure’s explanation. These two agree that the signified is the concept, the signifier is mental and hence it qualifies to be the acoustic image and the sign completes the link between the two therefore, it is the relation.
The sign is also the concrete entity. If his example of the rose flower to represent passion is taken, the intention to use the flower for passion becomes the signifier, the signified is the passion and the flower is the sign. Saussure’s imagery representation is clear and the demonstration easy to pick its content. The problem is Barthes’ adoption of the example to explain that a myth is well understood when its analysis is made from the perspective of the medium.
We can ask if the flower that is used in place of passion is more relevant than passion itself. If love was to be evaluated, giving the flower to signify passion, then love would be strengthened not because of the rose flower but the internalization that the flower represented the passion. The concept will be the driving force behind the strengthening of love. I hold that Barthes misses the direction when in this situation; he would value the flower more because it is concrete. I would put it that Barthes ought to have analyzed the myth using any other demonstration rather than using Saussure’s concept to his rose flower. A lot of gaps still remain clarification if the example is used.
Analysis of form and concept
The article by Roland Barthes identifies the signifier out of the three correlated parts of the myth as being somehow double-faced. According to the article, the signifier is both the form in one perspective and at the same time the concept which is the meaning in another perspective. Observing the signifier and decode some information or allowing it to form a particular pattern makes a meaning as far as Barthes is concerned.
He uses this to emphasise that the value of the myth is its history. The history carries knowledge, has ordered facts and ideas that are comparative and full of memory. The contradiction strikes, according to Barthes, when the myth becomes form. The value it carried disappears. The rich history evaporates and immediately the myth becomes an empty shell. This happens in the process of the myth transforming itself into form.
We need to ask a question on how this happens because even Barthes calls it a paradox. The initial reference of the myth as being a reality turned into history by history gets sense here when since it is history, it remains to be just that history. Having identified the concept as less important compared to the medium of conveying the content, the myth becomes irrelevant.
Barthes rounds up the analysis of concept by reiterating that form cannot kill the meaning in a myth. It can only make it poor so that it takes more effort to identify it. What Barthes called a paradox is what I would call his point of digression. I am convinced that after confusing his acts during his analysis, he tries to retrace the right route by asserting that the value that was lost during the change from meaning to form is recovered by the concept.
It is important to note here that, what Barthes uses to recover his missteps, is what he had insisted that should not be considered during his definition of the myth. This is the reason why I mentioned from the top that it was not wise for Barthes to assume the value of the concept in the definition and place emphasis on the channels of passing the message. The article claims that the concept cannot last because history is powerful and renders it obsolete with time.
It however, insists that the mechanism through which the myth is conveyed is history and remains for long. I clearly see that Barthes is signing off by justifying his statements at the begging that myth. He stated that reality is turned into history by history and that is why the content of the myth is not as important compared to the ways through which the myth is conveyed.
The sign is concrete making it more important than both the signifier and the signified. It provides an opportunity for the parties to show what is mental or in mind. Using the case of the flower to demonstrate passion, passion itself is intangible and the intent cannot be seen or felt. Therefore, the flower represents a chance for showcasing the intention of passion and passion itself. This is why according to Barthes, the flower has more relevance. The myth is actually the sign because both the content and the reason for the myth no longer exist. What is concrete is the myth hence it is the signification. The myth is a double system. Form and meaning are the two extremes that can bring irrelevance if not properly analyzed. The value of the myth disappears when the meaning changes into form.
The article as written by Roland Barthes, tries to explain the myth from all perspectives. His effort in this analysis is good as he combines ideas from various scholars to convey his message. Some of the illustrations quoted from other scholars such as Saussure serve as good examples. Precisely, defining the myth into the signifier, the signified and the sign are worth reading and analysing. However, the way Barthes links his relations have parts that I question.
The paradoxical change of the myth from meaning to the form is not clearly elaborated. Value is lost without clear explanations. It is difficult to buy Barthes ideology that the concept that he neglected and advised against adapting comes around to resurrect his value in the myth that disappears during the transformation. He further complicates his analysis by stating that though the myth has two extremes sides, form cannot kill the meaning. We could finally conclude that Barthes attempts to circumvent issues to come back to his initial statements of history swallowing reality to make the history.
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Updated: Nov 27th, 2020 Definition The article under review is adapted from Mythologies written by Roland Barthes and translated by Annette Lavers, Hill and Wang. Barthes begins his analysis of […]