Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Language and Myth

One day, the literary critic Roland Barthes went into the barber’s and was given a copy of the magazine Paris-Match to read while he waited. It was the 1950s and France was involved in a bitter war of independence with Algeria, a country it had colonized in the 19th century. On the front cover of the magazine was a picture of a young black boy wearing French uniform and making a smart, fierce salute. Barthes found himself profoundly discomforted; he knew he was in the presence of a certain way of reading that was prevalent in society, exploited ruthlessly by the media, but false, unethical and plain wrong. He realized that the magazine was trying to tell him something: that both black and white served equally under the French flag, that the nation was a proud empire, not an oppressive colonizing power, and that the detractors who said so were not to be trusted. Here, in this young boy’s salute, was there not the proof of racial harmony?

So begins a Post by litlove on Tales from the Reading Room. Read the rest HERE

Were I still teaching, I’d give copies of this to my Eng. comp students end of the fall term: final assignment: a paper examining the myth of the American Xmas.

I never fail to be appalled at the infantile images and symbols of the season and what they imply about our notions of childhood–-how the erasure of real memory of what it was like to be a child fosters a need for a mythical substitute, which adults than impose on their children in a form impossible for them to resist. It’s this need to reinforce this erasure that itself underlies and is primary to the more obvious commercial exploitation. A moment’s reflection is enough to recognize the irrational messages in ads, but the sources of the anxiety, the fears, the need these irrational messages exploit is not so easy to unpack. Never just one thing–-loose threads on the knitted hologram. Keep pulling and the whole social, political cultural structure comes tumbling down, exposed for what we have become: poor howling suicidal animals squatting on the garbage heap of history.


  1. Hi Jacob,
    I enjoyed your poetry reading so much that I included you on a "new places to visit" list on my blog. Take care and have a creative day.

  2. Thanks for the link, Princess--glad you enjoyed it. The first of those Poems ("Losing One's Place") was recently published by Pedestal--can read in on line HERE

    "Like Nothing in the World" was in the Winter 2008-9 issue of Philadelphia Stories.