Roland Barthes
Roland Barthes

Roland Barthes’ Mythologies: A Well of Literary Wisdom

Por Eduardo Zeind Palafox

A literary personage is neither the psychological outcome of an eery aery fluke, which may be termed “fiction”, nor bread swelled by merely leavening dough with the sour sweat of our foreshadowing brows, which can be named “mimesis”. Writers of the world, we’ve a bunch of easy techniques to hoist plausible personages. In my sight, for instance, Roland Barthes’ Mythologies has been a top-notch well of aesthetic wisdom. Furthermore, it contains, in a buttonholing way, some well wrought literary tricks.

We can get into the public mind, say, by kenning his analysis concerning the myth so-called “Albert Einstein” (1). Why are we tolerating moral, logic, and aesthetic topsy-turviness? Because of the rash proliferation of the Einsteinian word “relativity”. Einstein’s Relativity is a book worth reading, indeed (2). But people don’t read it; the masses have received, or rather perceived such a term with intellectual remissness. Lo, a relativistic novel could snatch millions of shekel from cynic pockets!

Knowledge held by pundits is based on “conviction” (“Überzeugun” and “Überredung” are the German words Kant fists to light the shades ‘twixt the physical and metaphysical fonts of information), and if we will, it may be objectively “communicated” to others of the same intellectual skills. Knowledge gotten by lay audiences is grounded in “persuasion”, which just can be subjectively “communicated” to others (3). The word “relativity”, on average, is a type of warped “eclecticism”. Nowadays it’s the iron shield of every kind of mental imposture.

As Barthes states, “relativity” and “Einstein” are a kind of twofold abracadabra that mixes magic and mechanics at once. The common man cannot prick neither into their formularism nor into their esoterism. He is, by implication, an ever-writing arithmancer (4). The bottom-up Einstein’s life, who was a Jew, and employee, that is, an underling, represents those to whom the search for celestial affairs is more important than that for terrestrial anguishes. The world, Barthes suggests, is something can be caged within Einstein’s brain. If this were so, then our gifted in numbers Jewish sorcerer would be an omnipotent seer who exerts “an independent morality”, as our Frenchman wrote. Fascism, absolutism, in sum, generalities, don’t bother him. He is beyond boons and blights. A character of this tissue, at the end of a novel, of a poem, could ask: “Wherefore didst thou doubt?” (Matthew 14: 31).

As we’ve seen, a stunning literary character is one whose wit doesn’t endure the fire-and-brimstone worldly odds in a neat dialectical wise. He neither is a remorseless villain nor a harmless dove. I’m going to stake Barthes’ beholding with four poignant ensamples. Jesus Christ, who was a lamb who had dinner with strumpets and salivating publicans (5), and Don Quixote, who was an undoer of evils who harassed Sancho for Dulcinea’s sake (a loveless knight is “a tree without leaves and fruit”), are two non-dialectical instances that’ll not pass away.

Above all, such a kind of personage is a ghost, that is, a maverick on the slaving earth, to use the always classic Platonic language. What does this mean? It means he is thinking in spite of the countless ties that are holding him fast. His slogan could be as follows: “It was so… up until now”. Tho this sort of being regularly stands for a from-rags-to-riches story, he isn’t imbrued with shame. His origins are a mystery; but, suddenly, from a remarkable deed onwards, his warp is transmogrified. Finally, this archetype doesn’t bring to light the heathenish vices of his enemies by busting them, but by being smashed by them. He is a pashed soul that indicates the quarter whereunto things are being broomed. Jesus Christ, as well as Don Quixote, dealt with berserk atmospheres being ambiguous humble ghosts capable of dooming the world with their oxymoronic ruthless weakness.

Floyd Mayweather is a too applauded even too hated boxer who may be considered a stonehenge in the public mind. He is, first of all, a “negative boxer”, that is, one who doesn’t make a great use of his accurate knuckles. He seemingly isn’t engaged at all in the fray of the dialectic ring. Within the ring he isn’t a machine, but a thinking being. Even tho he is willing to triumph, his witticism is focused on avoiding hits. This turns him into a soul. Mayweather belongs to the fundamental semantics of the contemporary heinous political correctness. This negative soul stands for the n-word, that is, people expect, alas, he will do his best to get rid of such an archetype (6). In regard to this, he does not do something; he is amoral. The glory that assuages his heart isn’t begotten by his scanty keen blows, which are like miracles, but by the flaws of his opponents. Every opponent jab and uppercut erred is a vote for his fame over there, upon the sweated ring, and overseas. This miraculous amoral negative soul, from Portland to Portland, can be classified amongst the hallowed icons; and this is enough to deserve to be pondered by literature.

Another stern icon is the linguist Noam Chomsky, who is kind of a sort of a new Guevara or Einstein. In the political arena he neither struggles in a dialectical manner nor thrives his tongue to bewilder his foes. He has an ambiguous set of ways to upbraid exploitation, bureaucracy, concentrated power, and so on. The method he uses to do it may be called “political antinomization”. He perfectly kens the wormy human heartbeat; he brandishes what Dilthey calls… “der wissenschaftlichen Erkenntnis der Einzelpersonen” (7). In short, he fingers that words like “democrat”, “republican”, “left”, “right”, are mere names that veil the private interest of the biggest investors, who are the real dominant class in the ahungered and athirst modern society.

The described breathtaking personages, which at any moment can become an imp or can become a cherub, have their opposites. Satan, Sherlock Holmes, Christopher Hitchens, and Julio César Chávez, are dialectical characters of easy recognition before the eye of rustic theatergoers, filmgoers, and the like. In contrast to the manured eye, the evil eye of one who goes to the cinema seeking a good deal of fun, but not clear depictions of complex situations (yonder, as in times of yore, there’re human experiences science cannot catch; “die ausserhalb der Wissenschaft liegen”, in Gadamer’s terms) (8), wants to easily recognize amongst the motley personages he is relishing those who are the bad guys and those who are the good ones. In his view, each offbeat figure is something of an outlandish shadow.

In order to put the “consumer”, as it were, on the right track, that is, on that of gurgling Manichean childish plots, every personage must bear traits whose referents are part of the very impoverished pop culture. From a literary standpoint, Satan is a somber being with a graving voice (his horns are symbols of dehumanized instincts); Holmes is a reasoning just smoking brain fraying athwart iniquity (his smoky streaks are as inferences); Hitchens, the renowned atheist newspaperman, is a “Weinsäufer” whose liberal tongue is unlashed by sips of whiskey (his jokes are like syllogisms fed by common sense); Chávez, the legendary Mexican warrior, is a couple of boxing gloves handled by a bleeding sweating pride (his knockouts are blind providential feats).

Don Quixote and Chomsky, who belong to the former category of characters, are trap-and-ambush-like flexible exemplarities who can fight in variegated circumstances; Holmes and Hitchens, who come from the latter category of figures, are hard cartoons who can fight only against well-settled fearful valleys of fallacies or politicized religious bigots.-


(1) Mythologies, Chapter 1, “The Brain of Einstein”.

(2) Einstein, in the preface of his relativistic book, with threadbareness says: “The present book is intended, as far as possible, to give an exact insight into the theory of Relativity to those readers who, from a general scientific and philosophical point of view, are interested in the theory, but who are not conversant with the mathematical apparatus of theoretical physics”.

(3) Kritik der reinen Vernunft (B 848), Methodenlehre: Der Kanon der reinen Vernunft, “Vom Meinen, Wissen und Glauben”.

(4) One who joins arithmetic and sorcery is an “arithmancer”, as I learnt from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

(5) Jesus Christ, as Fray Luis de León points out (De los nombres de Cristo), had several symbolic names, such as “Pimpollo”, “Camino”, “Fazes de Dios”, “Pastor”, “Monte”, “Padre del siglo futuro”. Such a sweet hill-sized shepherd easily can say this: “For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11: 30).

(6) Hughes’ Acceptance forthwith uproots the “colonial spirit”, to use an expression of H. L. Mencken, of our dark brethren; its lines run thus: “God in his infinite wisdom/ did not make very wise./ So, when my actions are stupid, they hardly take God by surprise”.

(7) Die Entstehung der Hermeneutik.

(8) Wahrheit und Methode, "Einleitung".

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