Film Theory: Barthes, Roland–French Philosopher and Theorist

This is part of a series about Philosophers and Theories that have influenced my work as a film scholar and film critic.

Roland Gérard Barthes (November, 12 1915 – March 26, 1980) was a French literary theorist, philosopher, critic, and semiotician.

Barthes’ ideas explored a diverse range of fields and he influenced the development of many schools of theory, including structuralism, semiotics, social theory, and anthropology.

His book Mythologies examines the specific and empirical ways in which  ideology works.

The book has become the essential text of practicing the ideological-critical approach.

How hegemony works through interactions between  various institutions, such as literature, law, and journalism.

Barthes later replaced mythologies with “discourse,” claiming that literature is not separate from everyday life.  Literature doesn’t just mean the literary canon.

The way discourse  is circulated  through society makes for a particular representation of the world to the point where it seems “natural” and “universal.”  And what’s outside it is perceived as “unnatural,” “perverse,” “exotic,” “abnormal,”and even “stupid.”

For example, judges use terms from literary clichés, and the journalists who report the cases turn them into yet more literature.

In analyzing the ways in which texts are read, Barthes distinguished between the readerly (le lisible) and the writerly (le scriptable).

The writerly defines the reader as an active producer of meanings rather than as a  passive consumer.

Barthes called our attention to the difference between a referential and transparent use of language.