the book (is an extension of the eye) — Jen Mazza

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the book (is an extension of the eye), 2012 by Jen Mazza (b. 1972)

Umberto Eco’s Semiotic Schema for the Word “Neanderthal”

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(From The Role of the Reader by Umberto Eco) 

Wherever He Goes, He Provokes the Terrified Dismay of the Guardians of Order

From Roland Barthes’ “Life of Sade,” a short biography of The Marquis de Sade. Translated from the French by Richard Miller.  Read the entire essay at Supervert (or here over the next few days, parceled out over 22 sections)—

7. The Lady President of Montreuil was objectively responsible for her son-in-law’s persecutions during the entire first years of his life (perhaps she loved him? One day, someone told the Marquise that the Lady President “loved M. de Sade to distraction”). The impression we have of her character, however, is one of continual fear: fear of scandal, of “difficulties.” Sade seems to have been a triumphant, troublesome victim; like a spoiled child, he is continually “teasing” (teasing is a sadistic passion) his respectable and conformist relations; wherever he goes, he provokes the terrified dismay of the guardians of order: everyone responsible for his confinement at the fort of Miolans (the King of Sardinia, the minister, the ambassador, the governor) is obsessed by the possibility of his escape — which does not fail to occur. The couple he forms with his persecutors is an aesthetic one: it is the malicious spectacle of a lively, elegant animal, both obsessed and inventive, mobile and tenacious, continually escaping and continually returning to the same area, while the giant mannequins, stiff, timorous, pompous, quite simply attempt to contain him (not punish him: this will only come later).

Mythologies–Roland Barthes

“Myth is a language”–Roland Barthes

Everyone should own a copy of Roland BarthesMythologies. Published over 50 years ago, the book seems more relevant than ever. Barthes wields his sense of ironic humor like a scalpel, dissecting the ideological abuse of the post-war spectacle society. In this collection of short essays, Barthes examines the ways in which societies create, use and mediate myths–particularly the way that the “elite,” monied crust of society create new myths–whole systems of myths, really–to control cultural perceptions of “reality.” Barthes uses the language and tools of linguistics in his meditations to examine the malleable space between the signifier and the signified.  Barthes analyzes a range of disparate topics: amateur wrestling, plastic, advertisements for milk and wine, the face of Greta Garbo, children’s toys, and modern film’s conception of the ancient Roman haircut are all considered in relation to how these “everyday” things support the dominant cultural/economic ideology. The methods put forth in  Mythologies are certainly a precursor to what we now call popular culture studies; Barthes is certainly one of the first writers I can think of to dissect mass-mediated, popular culture. And even though it was published half a century ago, Barthes’ keenly ironic style and short-essay format comes across as thoroughly contemporary.

In the final essay of the collection, “Myth Today,” Barthes warns us that the myths we uphold to protect our culture can ultimately destroy the culture. What are the contemporary myth-systems of the United States? What ideology do these myths uphold? Do these myths hold the potential to harm the culture of our great country?