On myths and fashion: Barthes and cultural studies
Roland Barthes’s work has confronted contemporary culture with the question of what happens when an object turns into language. This question allowed Barthes to “construct” well known cultural objects — from novels to music, from images to classical rhetoric, from love to theatre — in an unthought way, and to create new, even more unknown ones — from contemporary myth to fashion, from Japan to food culture. In this paper, Barthes’s cultural criticism is considered alongside with the issues raised by Cultural Studies. More specifically, Barthes’s constant reflection on the myth undoubtedly entitles us to connect his cultural criticism to the work that, in those same years, was being produced by the English forge of Cultural Studies, namely the so-called “Birmingham school”. Even today, Barthes’s work makes it possible for semiotics to be, to use his expressions, both “the science of every imagined universe”, and a mathesis singularis, rather than universalis, that is to say a systematic way to approach the singularity of the objects of knowledge. On the basis of this “transcendental reduction”, we can therefore wish for a “second birth” and a transvaluation of linguistics and of semiotics, both to be applied through varied and disseminated forms of intellectual activism.