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Barthes, Roland

Jay David Bolter


Roland Barthes (1915–1980) was a French philosopher, semiotician, and literary and media theorist. Over three decades, he produced articles and monographs concerned with the general problem of how different systems of communication operate. His activity spanned the periods in which authors who are identified with structuralism, and then those identified with poststructuralist and postmodernist theory, dominated critical debates in France and elsewhere. Barthes joined in these debates, often critiquing prevailing intellectual views on one hand and contemporary popular culture on the other. Barthes's first major work was Writing degree zero (1st pub. 1953), in which he took part in the discussion on existentialism and Marxism that marked French intellectual life in the early 1950s. Barthes's turn toward →  structuralism produced a series of short essays, eventually published as Mythologies in 1957: these were semiotic analyses of diverse cultural forms and everyday artifacts, such as detergents, wine and milk, wrestling, and popular entertainment. In the programmatic essay “Myth today,” Barthes defined “myth” not in traditional literary terms, but instead as a second-level semiological system, or meta-language, extending the linguistics of Saussure, and facilitating the examination of tensions between the uncoded (or denotative) and the coded (or connotative) levels of signification ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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