Mythologies Essay - Critical Essays

Roland Barthes

A System of Cultural Criticism

(Student Guide to World Philosophy)

Mythologies is widely known in the West as a seminal work by a French critic who popularized cultural criticism. The book is an example of structural method and semiological analysis, for it considers phenomena as systems. This concept of system is justified on a methodological level beyond the result of any particular configuration.

Mythologies demonstrates a short, summative, expository style that is, as Susan Sontag claims, recognizably French, for it stems from “the idiosyncratic essays published between the two world wars in the Nouvelle Revue Française.” Barthes’s theory has influenced every philosopher-critic (from Claude Lévi-Strauss to Susan Sontag) who seeks an eccentric discourse on form, for the essays reconstitute the structure of phenomena while formulating their meaning. The disposition to codify or classify phenomena is exercised by semiology’s famous triad of signified, signifier, and sign without appearing to be a static taxonomy. Mythologies helped Barthes and his successors explore the language-systems of many other phenomena, such as photography, Japanese culture, Nazi ideology, and eroticism, before Barthes went on to his great project of the reading of the self.