Communication Theory/Semiotics and Myth

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Between Intelligence and Creativity[edit]

Barthes's Life[edit]

"Who does not feel how natural it is, in France, to be Catholic, married, and well qualified academically?"[1] This sentence--found in the book Roland Barthes par Roland Barthes, a collection of Roland Barthes's autobiographical essays--encapsulates his general cynicism about "the natural." This semi-ironic question might have originated from his own unique life; he was a Protestant in a predominantly Catholic nation, an unmarried homosexual, and a professor without a doctoral degree.

In 1948 he returned to the academic field. He held positions at the Institute Francais in Bucharest in 1948 and at the University of Alexandria in Egypt in 1949. There, he learned about structural linguistics from A.J. Gremas, a specialist in semantics, and had his "linguistic initiation"[2]

Writing Degree Zero[edit]

As Todorov[3] writes "It was very difficult to categorize Barthes's texts as belonging to one of the principal types of discourse with which we are familiar, and which our society takes as given," (in D. Knight, p. 124). It is difficult to define the category or categories in which he would fit. First of all, he is frequently seen as a literary critic. Much of his early academic achievement is composed of works of literary criticism written with a semiotic approach. His later work would reflect his reading of Kristeva, Derrida, and others, and reflect more of a post-structural position. The post-structural critiques find his most representative theme, an argument regarding "the death of author".[4] His books On Racine, Critical Essays, and Sade, Fourier, Loyola are works that advance his thought on literature.

To some degree his literary criticism was influenced by Jean-Paul Sartre. The first book that Barthes wrote, translated into English as Writing Degree Zero, is in part a response to Sartre's What is Literature? This is important insofar as it would largely define Barthes's approach not only to literature, but to other media, as well as culture in general.

In brief, in What is Literature Sartre called upon the writer's and reader's commitment to not only their own, but also the human freedom but of others. In Writing Degree Zero Barthes explored this idea of commitment through a concern with form. Barthes's "notion of writing concerns that which is communicated outside or beyond any message or content". [5] For Barthes, writing in its extreme form is "anticommunication."

Barthes was also a cultural theorist. His thoughts are affected by existentialism, Marxism, structuralism and psychoanalysis. He developed these philosophical ideas and theories, and in turn had influence on later theorists. He was impressed in particular by Saussure, Levi-Strauss, Marx, and Jacques Lacan.

As Moriarty (1991) says, the label "theorist" as applied to Barthes is still reductive. With journalistic passion, his activity as a theorist of semiology moves into popular culture. His style as an essayist adopted other forms. He evolved a writing style that adopted both novelistic styles and critical or political discourse. Even if his writings do not resemble a typical novel, they offer everything the reader might desire from a novel. (Moriarty, 1991, p.5)

Barthes did not establish any specific theory, but he can be considered as an important thinker positioned between structuralism and post-structuralism. It is not only because of his multilateral intellectual activities but also his continuous reflexive and critical consciousness about "right here" where he belonged; as a "New Leftist" he said that he was both "Sartrian and Marxist," which means "existential Marxist".[6] He was critical about the platitudinous and depthless criticism against bourgeois literature; as a poststructuralist, he tried to overcome the limitations in structuralism.

Influenced by Saussure and Lévi-Strauss[edit]

Saussure and Barthes[edit]

Like many other structuralist scholars, Barthes was influenced by Saussure's structural linguistics. To Saussure, the linguistic mechanism operates on two levels, the systematic system and the variation by speaking actors. The former is called langue and the latter parole. "Langue is the systematized set of conventions necessary to communication, indifferent to the material of the signal which compose it; as opposed to it, speech (parole) is covers the purely individual part of language" (Barthes, 1967, p.13). Barthes interprets Saussure's linguistic system within the social dimension. The structure level, langue, is the social convention or value shared through a society which is stabilized and standardized. On the contrary, parole is flexible because it is the actual expression at the individual level. However, it is considered 'relatively' flexible due to the fact that speech by an individual cannot be free from the shared convention, the structure.

A language is therefore, ­a social institution and a system of values. It is the social part of language, it is essentially a collective contract which one must accept in its entirety if one wishes to communicate. It is because a language is a system of contractual values that it resists the modifications coming from a single individual and is consequently a social institution. In contrast to language, which is both institution and system, speech is essentially an individual act of selection and actualization. The speaking subject can use the code of the language with a view to expressing his personal thought. It is because speech is essentially a combinative activity that it corresponds to and individual act and not to a pure creation. (Barthes, 1967, pp. 14-15)

Focusing on the systematic level, Sausurre distinguishes the language system into two parts, the signified and the signifier. The signified is a concept or meaning which is expressed through the form. The form is called the signifier, which is the external part of language. For example, both the word 'dog' in English or 'gae' in Korean are the external forms expressing the actual animal dog. Here, the actual animal, the concept in question, becomes the signified. "I propose to retain the word sign (signe) to designate the whole and to replace concept and sound-image respectively by signified (signifié) and signifier (significant); the last two terms have the advantage of indicating the opposition that separates them from each other and from the whole of which they are parts" (Saussure, 1959, in R. Innis (ed.), p. 37).

The correspondence of the concept/meaning to the external form is not in the destined relation, but rather, in the arbitrary relation. It is not the inevitable internal relation but the difference between the signs that operates the signifying system. Saussure (1960) argues that "language does not reflect a pre-existent and external reality of independent objects, but constructs meaning from within itself through a series of conceptual and phonic differences".[7]

According to Saussure, "meaning is produced through a process of selection and combination of signs along two axes, the syntagmatic (e.g. a sentence) and the paradigmatic (e.g., synonyms), organized into a signifying system" (Barker, 2002, p. 29). As a grammatical set of signs or the underlying systematic order, the syntagmatic comprises a sentence, and the paradigmatic means a field of possible signs that can be replaced with one another. Despite various possibilities in selecting the signs within the same paradigmatic, the selection is also regulated by the consensus of linguistic community members. For an example of the syntagmatic and the paradigmatic, let's consider the following sentence: "I went to a theater with my girlfriend." This sentence is established through the linear combination of signs. The signs within the example, such as I theater, my, and girlfriend can be substituted for by other signs in the paradigmatic, such as "She went to a restaurant with her mother." Through the syntagmatic and the paradigmatic, Saussure tells us that signs are operated only when they are related to each other. "Crucially, signs do not make sense by virtue of reference to entities in an independent object world; rather, they generate meaning by reference to each other. Thus, meaning is understood as a social convention organized through the relations between signs" (Barker, C., 2002, p. 29).

"It is central to Saussure's argument that red is meaningful in relation to the difference between red, green, amber, etc. These signs are then organized into a sequence which generates meaning through the cultural conventions of their usage within a particular context. Thus, traffic lights deploy 'red' to signify 'stop,' and 'green' to signify 'go.' This is the cultural code of traffic systems which temporally fixes the relationship between colours and meanings. Signs become naturalized codes. The apparent transparency of meaning (we know when to stop or go) is an outcome of cultural habituation, the effect of which is to conceal the practices of cultural coding".[8] As Barker explains, even though there might be infinite possibilities to change the relation between the signified and the signifier due to its arbitrariness, this relationship is limited and stabilized through consensus within the particular social and historical contexts. Even though Saussure's study itself is limited to linguistics, it suggests the possibility of the study of culture as signs. Barthes is one of the most popular scholars who expanded Saussure's concepts to interpreting cultural phenomenon as "codes."

Lévi-Strauss[edit]

Lévi-Strauss is another structuralist who influenced Barthes. Lévi-Strauss was an anthropologist who applied Saussure's theory to anthropological areas of study, such as kinship. "Although they belong to another order of reality, kinship phenomena are of the same type as linguistic phenomena" (Lévi-Struass, 1963, in R. Innis, p.113). Lévi-Strauss accepted Saussure's idea that "Language (langue), on the contrary to speech (language), is a self-contained whole and a principle of classification. As soon as we give language first place among the facts of speech, we introduce a natural order into a mass that lends itself to no other classification the norm of all other manifestations of speech" (Saussure, 1959, in R. Innis (ed.), p.29). He went further, however, by conceptualizing language itself as the production of its society.

Like Saussure, Lévi-Strauss focused on the structure of language, and sought to find the hidden structures that he believed to exist in archetypes. Based on the laws of language underlying speech, he specifically tried to uncover the underlying substructure of various cultural phenomena such as customs, rites, habits, and gestures - "phenomena which themselves said to be intrinsic to the creation of language" (Kurzweil, 1982, p. 64). He also examined the underlying structure of the myth. "Its substance does not lie in its style, its original music, or its syntax, but in the story which it tells. Myth is language, functioning on an especially high level where meaning succeeds practically at 'taking off' from the linguistic ground on which it keeps on rolling" (Lévi-Strauss, 1955, in H. Adams & L. Searle (Eds.), p. 811).

Kurzweil (1982) indicates that Barthes questioned why the dimensions of time often become irrelevant for creative writers. This question is very similar to that of Lévi-Strauss, who wrote, "With myth, everything becomes possible. But on the other hand, this apparent arbitrariness is belied by the astounding similarity between myths collected in widely different regions." Lévi-Strauss (1955) explains this problem, "Therefore the problem: If the content of a myth is contingent, how are we going to explain the fact that myths throughout the world are so similar?" (p. 810). It seems natural that Barthes was attracted to Lévi-Strauss's findings of the similarities between tribal myths in discrete cultures, as well as between structural elements in the lives and tales of diverse tribes.

Through his work, Lévi-Strauss believed that there would be one universal system connecting all myths and all societies. Barthes, despite not being a Marxist, but working as a scholar who wanted to reveal the false notions in petite-bourgeois ideology, adopted Levi-Strauss's systemic approach (Kurzweil, E., 1982, p. 64-69). He expected to analyze all past and future creative acts and works through the language their authors used, and argued that these authors were no more than expressions of their times and societies (Kurzweil, E., 1982, pp. 64-69).

Barthes goes further[edit]

Barthes was able to expand upon the work of these scholars. His classified concepts, such as Language and Speech, Signified and Signifier, Syntagm and System, Denotation and Connotation (Barthes, 1968, trans. Cape, J., p. 12) expanded on Saussure's work. For example, he added the concept of "the motivated" as the middle concept between "the icon" as only one functional meaning and "the arbitrary" as infinite possible meanings. "The motivated is carefully defined by accepted conventions; national flags or uniforms are begin to merge into the motivated when they give rise to the wearing of civilian clothes that have a complex but nevertheless very clear set of associations in the particular society in which they have grown up." [9]

Also, while Lévi-Strauss sought for the universality throughout all different kinds of myths, Barthes emphasized on the potential of difference as a role of language, especially in his later thought. Barthes thus becomes a link between structuralism and post-structuralism.

Barthes and mass communication[edit]

In Communication Studies, the reason Roland Barthes can be considered an important scholar is that he applied linguistic rules to general cultural codes, from a magazine "text" to an "image" in advertisements. His approach to cultural products becomes a good example in today's Cultural Studies, Critical Communication and various semiotic analyses of media programs or in Visual Communication field.

Books most related to media culture among Barthes's writings are Elements of Semiology (1964), the Fashion System (1967) and Mythologies (1957). These are perhaps the most "structuralistic" of his works.

Elements of Semiology[edit]

Elements of Semiology does not analyze popular culture directly. Rather, Barthes shows his critical interest in mass culture, writing about the value of semiological analyses of mass cultural products in an era of mass communication. "The development of mass communications confers particular relevance today upon the vast field of signifying media, just when the success of disciplines such as linguistics, information theory, formal logic and structural anthropology provide semantic analysis with new instruments" (Barthes, 1964, p. 9).

With Elements of Semiology, Barthes introduced four classifications of the elements that create the process of semiological analysis. These classifications are borrowed from structural linguistics, and consist of the categories of language and speech, signified and signifier, syntagm and system, and denotation and connotation (Barthes, 1964).

Language and Speech 
Barthes (1964) applied the concepts of language, or the part of the semiological system which is agreed upon by society, and speech, or the individual selection of symbols, to semiological systems. The application of these concepts can be applied to the semiological study of the food system. According to Barthes (1964), a person is free to create their own menu, using personal variations in food combinations, and this will become their speech or message. This is done with the overall national, regional, and social structures of the language of food in mind (Barthes, 1964). Barthes (1964) then expanded on Saussure’s terms, by explaining that language is not really socially determined by the masses, but is sometimes determined by a small group of individuals, somewhat changing the relationship of language and speech. Barthes (1964) claims that a semiological system can essentially exist in which there is language, but little or no speech. In this case, Barthes (1964) believes that a third element called matter, which would provide signification, would need to be added to the language/speech system.
Signifier and Signified 
For Saussure (1959), the signified was a representation of a concept, while the signifier was used to represent the sound-image of that concept. Barthes (1964) points out that the importance of both the signified and the signifier is the relationship between them; it is within this relationship that meaning is created. “…that the words in the field derive their meaning only from their opposition to one another (usually in pairs), and that if these oppositions are preserved, the meaning is unambiguous” (Barthes, 1964, p. 38). Out of this relationship, the sign is created. Saussure (1959) considered the sign to be arbitrary in nature, based primarily on the relationship between the signified and the signifier. Barthes (1964) explained that the sign can no longer be arbitrary when semiological systems are considered. Instead, Barthes shows that once a sign takes on a function or use, it will gain its own meaning in the process. “…as soon as there is a society, every usage is converted into a sign of itself” (Barthes, 1964, p. 41). The sign can actually lose its arbitrary nature and become motivated (Barthes, 1964).
Syntagm and System 
Barthes (1964) defines the syntagm as a linear combination of signs. Within semantic analyses, this would be something like a sentence, where each term is related to the other terms within the phrase (Barthes, 1964). The syntagm is compared to the system, which explains associations on the same level, such as how certain words relate to the meaning of other words within our minds, as in the case of the relations between “education” and “training” (Barthes, 1964, p. 58). Barthes expands upon these ideas by applying them semiologically to various systems, including food. With food, the systematic level becomes the various dishes within a particular category (i.e. types of desserts), whereas the syntagmatic level becomes the menu choices selected for a full meal (Barthes, 1964).
Denotation and Connotation 
The terms denotation and connotation were used by Barthes for examining the relationships between systems. Each semiological system can be thought of as consisting of an expression, a plane of content, and a relation between the two (Barthes, 1964). A connotation then examines how one system can act as a signifier of this first relation, specifically how it represents the expression within the first system (Barthes, 1964). These elements were particularly useful for examining relations between systems of symbols, rather than just relations between elements.

Despite the theoretical discussion, Elements of Semiology offers Barthes's own interpretation about the political or existential conditions. He recommends a "total ideological description" (Barthes, 1964, p. 46) of the culture to "rediscover the articulations which men impose on reality" (Barthes, 1964, p.57). "Semiology will describe how reality is divided up, given meaning and then 'naturalized' (Barthes, pp. 63-4), as if culture were nature itself." (Rylance, 1994, p. 38)

The Fashion System[edit]

Barthes most bitterly denounces consumerism in the Fashion System. "In the Fashion System, he asked how the fashion model projects what clothes are to be worn (and bought); what effect (of luxury and availability to all) the expensive production of the magazines themselves produces on readers; how color, texture, belts, or hats, depending upon their combination, transmit messages in relation to morning or evening activities; and how we thereby learn that there are rules of dress for every occasion-rules that parallel the transformations and oppositions we know in language. Barthes expected to reconstruct all the social implications, codes, and messages hidden in the literature on fashion" (Kurzweil, E., 1982, p. 72).

Although this work is worthwhile in that the fashion magazine of mass culture can be analyzed with the same method as the so-called high culture is, Barthes failed to distinguish the commercial and the popular. Kurzweil (1982) indicates that Barthes also failed to distinguish between what is just sold and what people actually do with it, i.e., what people do with consumer goods, apart from buying them.(p.75) This negative attitude toward mass culture and consumerism was a common tendency of leftist intellectuals in Europe at that time. It also helps explain why intellectuals at that time called cultural products mass culture, and not popular culture.

Mythologies[edit]

Mythologies is a compilation of a series of articles, which were originally published in the magazine Les Lettre Nouvelles between 1953 and 1956. Even if it is not a theoretical work, it is perhaps the most influential of all Barthes's writings, particularly in relation to Communication Studies. Barthes's biographer even suggests that in France, Mythologies influenced not just journalists and critics, but novelists and the film-makers of the "New Wave," especially Godard (Rylance, R., 1994, p.43).

In Mythologies, inconsistent subjects, such as wrestling, photographs, film or wine are all treated as myth. These diverse subjects can be bound together, as Barthes did not intend to talk about the subjects themselves, but to show how their underlying messages can be circulated and naturalized. The subjects treated in Mythologies share a similar circulation process within mass culture.

For example, professional wrestling carries two messages, "wrestling as sport" and "wrestling as spectacle".[9] Barthes compares professional wrestling with Greek theater to demonstrate that audiences are not so much interested in athletic contests as they are in a cathartic, Manichean performance. These double messages are shared by the audience as well. Audiences are not only accustomed to the conventions of wrestling but also take pleasure out of the double nature of wrestling. Barthes reflects that a wrestling match is not merely an aesthetic act but has ideological significance as well, just as is the case with the realistic art enjoyed by the petit-bourgeois.

In the case of wine, he argues that the wine is signified as of Frenchness or of virility in French culture but in fact, the image of wine is a mystification. Knowledge about types of wine obscures the fact that wine is not so different from other commodities produced under capitalism, and lands in North Africa and Muslim laborers, neither of which are of Frenchness, are exploited in its production.

Barthes (1972) also examplified the advertisement of soap in order to show such mystification The advertisement compares two brands with each other and sheds light on the issue of selection between two brands as a matter of importance. It blurs the fact that both brands are actually produced by the same multinational company. Through these examples in mass culture, he suggests the consistent argument that "a message is read into some substance, custom or attitude that seemed to carry its own justification in terms purely of practical use. The message thus revealed turns out to be concealing the operation of socio-economic structures that require to be denounced, both because they are concealing their identity and because that identity is inherently exploitative" (Mortiary, 1991, p. 21).

"Myth Today" in Mythologies[edit]

As the concluding chapter in Mythologies, "Myth Today" combines the various cases into a unified theoretical idea. Here, Barthes conceptualizes myth as "a system of communication, that it is a message cannot be possibly be an object, a concept, or an idea; it is a mode of signification, a form" (Barthes, 1972, p. 109) Also, he analyzes the process of myth concretely, presenting specific examples.

Based on Saussure's definitions, Barthes argues that signification can be separated into denotation and connotation. "Denotation is the descriptive and literal level of meaning shared by most of members within a culture; connotation, on the other hand, is the meaning generated by connecting signifiers to the wider cultural concerns, such as the beliefs, attitudes, frameworks and ideologies of a social formation."[10]

Myth is the signification in connotative level. "Where connotation has become naturalized as hegemonic, that is, accepted as normal and natural, is acts as conceptual maps of meaning by which to make sense of the world. These are myth." [10] If a certain sign is adopted repetitiously in the syntagmatical dimension, this particular adoption is seen as more suitable than applications of other alternatives in the paradigmatic. Then, the connotation of the sign becomes naturalized and normalized. Naturalization of myth is nothing but a cultural construct.

Myth is "a second-order semiological system. That which is a sign in the first system (namely the associative total of a concept and an image) becomes a mere signifier in the second" (Barthes, 1972, p. 114) Barthes defines the sign in the first-order system, or language, as the language-object, and the myth as metalanguage.

In order to advance his argument, he uses two examples, that of a sentence in Latin grammar textbook and a photograph of a black soldier. The signified of the sentence and the photograph in the first-order system disappears when the sign becomes the form for the concept in the second-order system. The sentence loses its own story and becomes just a grammatical example. The factual discourse about the young black soldier is also obscured by the lack of context concerning French imperialism. According to Barthes's table (Barthes, 1972, trans. A. Leavers, p. 115), the examples can be drawn like below.

table 1. Barthes's model
Language 1.signifier 2.signified
3. sign
MYTH SIGNIFIER (FORM) SIGNIFIED(CONCEPT)
SIGN (SIGNIFICATION)


table 2. example 1: Latin grammar "quia ego nominor leo"
Language 1. signified 2. signified
(quia ego nominor leo) (because my name is lion)
3. sign
MYTH SIGNIFIER (FORM) SIGNIFIED (CONCEPT)
(because my name is lion) (I am a grammatical example)
SIGN (SIGNIFICATION)


table 3. example: photograph
Language 1. signifier 2. signified
(photograph of black
soldier saluting)
(A black soldier is
giving the French salute)
3. sign
MYTH SIGNIFIER (FORM) SIGNIFIED (CONCEPT)
(A black soldier is
giving the French salute)
(Great French empire,
all her sons equal, etc.)
SIGN (SIGNIFICATION)

The signification of myth deletes the history or narrative of the sign and fills up the empty space with the intentioned new meaning. "Myth is thus not just a message, but a message that is political by depoliticizing. It turns history into essence, culture into Nature, and obscures the role of human beings in producing the structures they inhabit and thus their capacity to change them" (Moriarty, 1991, p. 28)

Rhetoric of the Image[edit]

As Barthes says in Mythologies, "We must here recall that the materials of mythical speech (the language itself, photography, painting, posters, rituals, objects, etc.), however different at the start, are reduced to a pure signifying function as soon as they are caught by myth" (Barthes, 1972, p. 114). He applies his semiological analysis into other visual materials. For instance, in the Panzani advertisement analyzed in "Rhetoric of the Image," he analyzes three kinds of message: a linguistic message, a coded iconic message, and a non-coded iconic message (the cultural message). He also reflects about the relationship between linguistic message and image. He devised the concepts of "anchorage" which is the faculty for the linguistic message to control the meaning of the image, and "relay," the supportive relationship of text and image. Anchorage and relay are useful conceptual tools in analyzing media products such as news, advertisements, or soap operas.

"Lived in the plural"[edit]

Shift to post-structuralism[edit]

According to many commentators, by the end of the 1960s, Barthes's work shifted from structuralism to post-structuralism. Although it can be valued in that it turns theoretical reorientation from the value of the individual unit towards system, function and structure, structuralism has been criticized due to its methodological limitations. Two of the main problems of structuralism were that the overemphasis on how to function results in the negligence of reflection on history or value-judgment, and also that it ignores the individual agency-parole, pragmatic etc., focusing too much on structure or system-langue, syntagmatic. As a result, the post-structuralism school began to challenge the "objectivity" which was assumed in language as "a reliable yardstick for the measurement of other signifying system," even though they agreed with the argument of structuralism that "analysis of language is central to any modern intellectual project" (Rylance, 1994, p. 66)

As Rylance (1994) says, "Barthes's structuralism, as well as resuming earlier themes, contains a number of his later anti-structuralist positions."(p.32) For example, "despite his agreement with Saussure's concepts, 'langue' and 'parole' in Elements of Semiology (1964), Barthes casts doubt on their limitation; he realizes that it also downgrades individual language use and the model is undeviatingly controlling which langue controls parole, asking 'if everything in langue is so rigid, how does change or new work come about?'" (Rylance, 1991, p. 40). Barthes was consistently aware of problems of structuralism and eventually gave up parts of it in his later works.

"Instead of having one stable denotive meaning, signs are said by the later Barthes to be polysemic, that is, they carry many potential meanings."[11] In his later days, Barthes difinitely emphasized in the difference rather than focusing on repetition. He focuses more on the text, aware of the cleavage between writer and writing.

His shift can be understood as a rethinking of the biased preposition of the language systems. "Despite his anti-idealist view of the subject as a product of cultural forces rather than an origin, his hedonistic idea of the body in Pleasure of the Text (1975) re-centers the self as a transhistorical source of meaning." (Haney, 1989, in Semiotica, p. 313) This admits the relative autonomy of the parole from the langue. At the same time, it opens the plurality of meaning. This is revealed in his discussion about writing and reading.

Writing and Reading[edit]

Barthes argues that writing lies in between the historical and the personal. The text is thus the interplay between the writer's freedom and society. "A language and a style are data prior to all problematic of language; but the formal identity of the writer is truly established only outside of permanence of grammatical norms and stylistic constraints. It thus commits the writer to manifest and communicate a state of happiness or malaise, and links the form of his utterance, which is at once normal and singular, to the vast History of the Others" (Barthes, 1968, p.14; Haney, W. 1989, p. 319)

His thought about reading further expands the potential of meaning. He separates reading into two categories, the "writerly/scriptable" and the "readerly/legible." The writerly reading means that a reader participates actively in producing meanings as if he/she re-writes the text. "The text which makes this activity possible resists being appropriated by paraphrase or critical commentary because it escapes conventional categories of genre, and hence cannot be read as a representation, cannot even be reduced to a structure." (Moriarty, 1991, p. 118) A reader finds pleasure from reading the writerly text. The readerly text is opposite to the writerly, which makes the reader passive in interpreting the text.

Camera Lucida[edit]

The pleasure of interpretation by the interplay between langue and parole or the history and the individual creation is also applied to his speculation about photography. Camera Lucida a meditation on the photographic, was to be his last work. In this Barthes examined two elements that for him comprised the meaning of image, the studium and the punctum. The studium of a photograph presents meanings which are culturally coded, and corresponds to the photograph's symbolic meaning. The punctum, on the other hand, disturbs the obvious meaning in photographs. It "puntuates" the meaning of the photograph. For example, in a Lewis Hine photo, Barthes points to a girl's bandaged finger, and a boy's collar. The problem, as Barthes was aware, is that when Barthes points out these details, they move from the status of punctum to that of studium.[12]

As the writerly reading touches the creative participation of readers in interpreting the text, the image also can be the writerly text which arouses the pleasure of interpretation of appreciator thanks to puctum. According to Barthes, studium is always coded, while punctum is not.

Even though they retain their heterogeneity to each other, they are not opposed to each other. The "subtle beyond" of the punctum, the uncoded beyond, exists with the "always coded" of the stadium. (Derrida, 1981, in Knight, 2000, pp. 130-131)

Conclusion[edit]

Roland Barthes had lived with his mother for much of his life. After her death in 1977 he reflected, "From now on I could do no more than await my total, undialectical death" (cited in Allen, 2003, 134). In March of 1980 he was struck by a laundry truck, and died after a month in hospital.

Barthes's thought is inter-related with the arguments of other post-structuralists. Later in his career Barthes sought to define langue and parole as discrete but intermingled entities. The interplay of the contradictory elements happens between writer and history, text and audience, or the structured and the abrupt widens the horizon of meaning.

Barthes is enigmatic in that both the focus of his work and writing style are hard to concretely define. He "lived in the plural" (Derrida, 1981, in D. Knight, (ed.), p. 132) As Todorov (1981) commented, "No one would ever again think of Barthes as a semiologist, a sociologist, a linguist, even though he might have lent his voice to each of those figures in succession; nor would they think of him as philosopher or a 'theorist'" (in D. Knight (ed.) p. 125). Barthes nonetheless was a semiologist, sociologist, linguist and a theorist.

Barthes is important to the field of Critical Communication in that he applied a semiological approach to media culture. His thought can also be regarded as a foundation for empirical research about the relationship between messages and audiences, in that he argued for the plurality of the message meaning produced through the interwork of structure and agency.

References[edit]

  1. Thody, P. (1977). Roland Barthes: A conservative estimate.. London: Trowbridge & Esher.. pp. 5. 
  2. Wasserman, G.R. (1981). Roland Barthes. New York: G. K. Hall & Co.. pp. 16. 
  3. Todorov, T. (1981). "Late Barthes". in in D. Knight (ed.). Critical Essays on Roland Barthes. New York: G. K. Hall & Co.. pp. 123-128. 
  4. Barthes, R. (1977) [1964]. S. Health (trans.). ed. Rhetoric of the Image, in Image, Music, Text,. New York: Noonday Press.. pp. 32-51. 
  5. Allen, G. (2003). Roland Barthes. New York: Routledge. pp. 16. 
  6. Wasserman, G.R. (1981). Roland Barthes. New York: G. K. Hall & Co.. pp. 17. 
  7. Barker, C. (2000). Cultural studies: Theory and practice. London: Sage. pp. 67. 
  8. Barker, C. (2000). Cultural studies: Theory and practice. London: Sage. pp. 68. 
  9. a b Thody, P. (1997). Introducing Barthes. New York: Totem Books. pp. 37. 
  10. a b Barker, C. (2000). Cultural studies: Theory and practice. London: Sage. pp. 69. 
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