Project Myth is a type of speech

This project called for me to read (several times) Roland Barthes essay Myth Today  and to consider a number of questions:

  • Who was Minou Drouet and why does Barthes cite her?
  • Consider Barthes reference to a bunch of roses and a black pebble and find other examples of elements signifying passion, emotions,or other objects or events from images I know.
  • Myth changes the real into the ideological. Find an example of an image which exemplifies this.
  • Consider carefully the passage on meaning and form “The meaning is always their to present the form; the form is always there to outdistance the meaning’. Annotate and artwork to illustrate my thoughts on this passage.

Minou Drouet was a child prodigy who published a book of poems Arbre Mon Ami (Tree my friend) in 1957 – the year Barthes published Mythologies. There was much controversy at the time as to whether Drouet wrote the poems herself or whether she was assisted by her parents. I suspect that Barthes refers to her because her poetry transformed real objects into myths. Trees took on a meaning beyond that of the tree. I also wonder if Barthes considered Drouet herself to be a myth, signifying the idea of the child genius. It is also clear that the Drouet affair was a major news item at the time Barthes was producing his work and this may have been a current affairs issue which intrigued him.

When considering how elements within an image can signify passion, emotions etc I thought about the way in which portrait painters have incorporated elements within their works to present a broader picture of their subjects. Holbein’s The Ambassadors is an excellent example of this.

The Ambassadors by Holbein

This image incorporates a multiplicity of references. The globe signifies the international nature of the role of the subjects, the lute and the books testifies to the fact that they are cultured men and the skull signifies the inevitability of death. It is a memento mori (Holbein has disguised this such that when the painting is viewed from the front it appears as a slash across the mid bottom of the frame, but from the side it is revealed as a skull).

Magnum photographer Rene Burri’s iconic photograph of Che Guevara has come to stand for so much more that just a ‘Cuban with a cigar’. It signifies revolution and opposition to western capitalist imperialism. It is now a strong idealogical statement.

Che Guevara by Rene Burri

To understand what Barthes means by “The meaning is always their to present the form; the form is always there to outdistance the meaning” one needs first to understand the terms he is using. He defines ‘meaning’ to be a sign which has become the signifier in a myth and ‘form’ to be the signified. So in the case of the above photograph this means that the ‘Cuban with a cigar’ becomes the ‘meaning’ within the myth and the ideological concept of opposition to western capialist imperialism is the ‘form’. The combination of the two Barthes called the ‘signification’. When Barthes refers to ‘The meaning is always there to present the form’ he is stating that the ‘Cuban with a cigar’ is a signifier in a myth. By ‘the form is there to outdistance the meaning’ he is saying that the ‘form’ takes on a meaning beyond the original concept of the ‘meaning’. In other words the ‘form’ in the myth goes beyond ‘Cuban with a cigar’ to stand for the idealogical concept of opposition to western capitalist imperialism.

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