Adam's Reviews > Barthes: A Very Short Introduction

Barthes by Jonathan Culler
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's review
May 07, 2012

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bookshelves: lefty, essays-and-criticism
Read in April, 2012

Barthes seduced me in a college with his “Mythologies.” I was thrilled by the possibilities of reading culture’s signs and finding the hidden meanings within. Barthes fit alongside my anthropology readings, which also set out to expose beliefs and practices supposed to be “natural” as in fact cultural, and therefore, contestable.

It’s funny; reading this neat little introduction to Barthes life and work shows that his ideas are so fundamental that it seems at first unnecessary to read him. While his thinking is integrated in a range of fields of study, his deft and witty wordplay make him a unique writer and a pleasure to read.

This book discusses Barthes many roles, and the Barthes as writer section increased my appreciation for him. Barthes as literary critic was less interesting, in part because I am unfamiliar with French literary canon he engaged with. And I found his reflections on reading and writing to be tedious and baffling: “‘Boredom is not far from ecstasy,’ he suggests, ‘it is ecstasy viewed from the shores of pleasure’” (82).

It is Barthes as semiologist that remains for me insightful and playful: “Fashion obeys the laws of myth in its attempt to present its conventions as natural facts. This summer dresses will be of silk, the caption tells us, as if announcing an inevitable natural occurrence” (62).

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