Context

(Student Guide to World Philosophy)

This classic of semiotics is composed of discrete essays written one a month for about two years (from 1954 to 1956) on diverse topics suggested by French daily life. It shows how heterogeneous phenomena can be interpreted as myth or metalanguage because they are cultural moments and constitute their own language. Philosopher Ferdinand de Saussure’s distinction between language and discourse generated Roland Barthes’s investigation of mundane mythologies as active language. Barthes did not consider semiology a grid but an imaginative play with signs, very much like Gaston Bachelard’s phenomenology. Barthes’s tactic of codifying or classifying phenomena flies in the face of philosophers who consider systems to be absurd, including Søren Kierkegaard, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Ludwig Wittgenstein. It makes for antilinear discourse, and the style permits philosophy to become a performance with multiple meanings.

Mythologies is divided into two sections. The first is a series of short essays on diverse subjects of French bourgeois life; the second is a philosophical essay on myth. The book is a set of commentaries in the form of short semiological investigations of the operations of myth on the daily sensibilities of social human beings and of the bourgeoisie (the class that assigns value to things).