Mythologies in the 21st Century (NeMLA 2021)
Mythologies (1957), Roland Barthes’s seminal work of social criticism, is a collection of 53 essays written between 1954 and 1956, which were originally published in the French literary magazine, Les lettres nouvelles. Whether he is deriding the psychological tactics of advertisements or the mythological virtues of wine, Barthes’s Mythologies presents an incisive, semiological analysis of the language of French mass culture while offering a powerfully subjective, Marxist critique of that language. Within the essays that comprise Mythologies, Barthes describes myth as a type of speech as he attempts to expose the hidden realities within petit-bourgeois society at a time of growing middle-class affluence, conflicting overseas tensions in North Africa and Southeast Asia, and increasing political unrest in France (Roth, “Roland Barthes: Myths We Don’t Outgrow”). Amidst this culturally shifting landscape, Mythologies provides its readers with astonishing insight into various random “myths” of daily French life in the 1950s. Although Mythologies was published in France in 1957, English-speaking readers can find numerous similarities between Barthes’s text and American culture in the 21st century. In light of Barthes’s essays, this panel therefore seeks to draw parallels between Mythologies and other American or Anglophone texts. How and why is Barthes’s text still relevant today? And how can we use Mythologies to study other contemporary works of literature, philosophy, or social criticism?
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