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  • Mythologies at 50: Barthes and Popular Culture
  • Katja Haustein
Mythologies at 50: Barthes and Popular Culture. Edited by Douglas Smith. (Special issue of Nottingham French Studies, 47.2 (2008)). Nottingham: University of Nottingham, 2008. iv + 88 pp. Pb £20.00; $40.00.

Despite his obvious talent for self-stylization Roland Barthes never wanted to be turned into a monument. And he was wary about the monumental success of his most popular work, Mythologies of 1957. Based on an anniversary symposium in 2007, [End Page 369] this special issue of Nottingham French Studies convincingly sidesteps the trap of contributing further to the mythology of the mythologist Barthes warns against in the opening remarks of his work. Exposing the widespread ‘accessorization’ (p. 4) of Mythologies as intellectual fashion item, the present collection of essays aims to reflect critically on the ‘pertinence and impertinence’ (p. 1) of Barthes’s book, both in relation to its own time and in terms of its resonance today. This is a far-reaching task and one wishes that the Introduction had defined a more specific set of questions for the authors to reflect on in their individual contributions. And, given the symposium context, the volume might also have benefited from the inclusion of some documentation of the open dialogue between the contributors in order to compensate for the heterogeneity, and at times highly specialized nature, of the topics. The contributions range from an analysis of Barthes’s deployment of dialectics and his relationship to Marxism (Andy Stafford), to a very inspiring discussion of the relevance of Mythologies for contemporary ‘thing-theory’ (Edward Welch), and to an interesting — yet, within the context of the book, seemingly less relevant — debate on why Barthes’s essays exclude the bande dessinée (Laurence Grove). In addition, we find a suggestive interrogation of Barthes’s eclectic methodology through the theme of food (Douglas Smith), followed by Paul Hegarty’s refreshingly uncompromising discussion of the plural temporalities of Mythologies and the often dubious commemorative strategies that have marked its reception. Finally, Martine Joly positions Barthes’s study within 1950s French research on myth and reflects on recent and, she argues, futile attempts to repeat its success, while Graham Allen discusses Mythologies with regard to the development of Cultural Studies and contemporary university micromanagement. In the same way as the object of its inquiry, this collection of essays remains openly inconclusive. And yet, given the transnational nature and the worldwide impact of Barthes’s approach to the analysis of everyday myths in France, one would have wanted to read more about its relation to international research in the field (most recently, Herfried Münkler on Die Deutschen und ihre Mythen (2009)). Nevertheless, for anyone interested in Roland Barthes, in popular culture, and in mythology, the essays here, many of the highest quality, make an insightful and thought-provoking read.

Katja Haustein
Churchill College, Cambridge


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pp. 369-370
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