Thursday, December 4, 2008



In the paper, I would like to propose that how we can understand the myth and mythical discourses or narratives and how we can arrive the real meaning of myths actually. Other important point, why are myths used by people? And why do people need to believe them? This is very important topics for the paper. I will display some exact point of myths and I will argue them according to Barthes’s evaluations. I will look some conditions of people’s collective memory and its perception about the myths. I will emphasize the form of myths, decoding process, signification and sings. How can we separate the meaning and relation between the sign, signifier and signified when the process of mythical meaning? I will give some examples with some schemas about these. And I would like to take up concept of “semiology” and language in order to understand myths and its discourses deeply. We will see the political approaches of myths and its communication role among the society and the management process of cultural dynamics. Thus, I am thinking arrive to my subjectivist approach about the myths and its apparatuses. Therefore, I would like to start on this paper with mythical communication and its messages.

According to my some reading and courses especially my culture language and meaning lecture, myth can be a system of communication which embraces a message for its audiences. With reference to this sentence, myth cannot be an object, a concept, or an idea; it is a mode of signification, a form. (Barthes,1957). Herewith, in my estimation the nature of myth cannot be transformation from one idea to other ideas. Forwhy, myth can re-organize and re-fresh itself, but it cannot change its structure in the real meaning and daily usage of society. However, it can be stand for one mythical discourse in order to support other myths or other mythical applications. This situation needs myth that must be a type of speech and supported by official or nonofficial discourses in order to perform its validity. Thereby, myth cannot be defined by the object of its message, it may be designed by only its messages itself and place of validity. I can say that for validity, it is limit of myths. According to this, Barthes has noted about;

Ancient or not, mythology can only have an historical foundation, for myth is a type of speech chosen by history: it cannot possibly evolve from the nature of things. (Barthes, p:110)

With the direction of this quotation, the history of people is one the most important indicator of the myths in the type of speech process. Because, myths can be constantly designed or created by people invariably both structural and meaning, but they think only with their memory which come from their identity or society, (shaped by their homeland) and what belongs to that time. In this stage, we should ask these in order to understand of myth deeply, “How can be myth defined by people?” “What is the point of references?”
Generally, myths can be defined by people as a story about their life and past which come from their reference points, events and narratives. The reference points consist of some events, especially regional events, such as; independence or peace day and national agreements etc. The past of society can be active or static, but this condition is not important in reality. Wherefore, collective memory works always in order to protect people ideas (ancestral) of their identity, even in the situation of unconscious. Therefore, we need to take up one definition about myth in deeply in order to understand basic directive role of myths on people behaviors.
"A myth, in its simplest definition, is a story with a meaning attached to it other than it seems to have at first; and the fact that it has such a meaning is generally marked by some of its circumstances being extraordinary, or, in the common use of the word, unnatural." (John Ruskin, 1869 in The Queen of the Air)

Accordingly, myths have been consisting of a lot of basic words which are about in the common usage in daily life of people, which comes from past and reference points. Essentially, it is taken a more powerful meaning by this condition and usage in its refreshing process. Thereby, people cannot interrogate to reality of the myths in their life and usage. Moreover, this is directly related with message and its modes of writing or its representation. Generally, the message consists of modes of writing or representations in the some concepts about social context, for example; cinema, sports, shows, publicity, photography and written discourse. Actually, all these could serve to support on mythical speech. However, myth’s definition is actually related with its meaning signs on the society and speech. Barthes has noted about;

Myth can be defined neither by its object nor by its material, for any material can arbitrarily be endowed with meaning: the arrow which is brought in order to signify a challenge is also a kind of speech. ( Barthes, p:110)

According to Barthes, myth and mythical narratives could not be related with some its objects and its material. Its definition is creating by diffusion process in order to signification of speech. In my estimation, myth and mythical narratives can be related with “cultural territory”. Wherefore, myth belongs to its territory and it is created or shaped by own territorial culture. This is generally put down to religion of society and condition of people life. However, I cannot say that about myth is pure. There is a connection with other cultures and its myths. But, we need some general likeness between these cultures which in question. In the same way, belonging of myths is other important point for the general perspective of science.
Barthes has emphasized like this in fact;
Myth in fact belongs to the province of a general science, coextensive with linguistics, which is semiology. (Barthes, p:111)

As can be seen, we can say that myth can refresh itself coextensive with regional languages and of its signs. This is very important in order to ascertain of mythical narratives’ validity on the social context. In my opinion, myths seem like a part of “language of place”. Thence, myth can realize its permanency in the culture. All changing in culture reflects on myth in order to accept of people as indifferent of reality coextensively. In a sense, this can change from one culture to other culture according to cultural dynamics and exchanges. Therefore, continuous acceptance is one of the most important points in order to interrogate of mythical narratives in the society. Generally, this continuous acceptance is realized by language-semiology and its effective apparatuses in social life. In my estimation, we need to study on Barthes’ definition of semiology in this step;

Semiology is a science of forms, since it studies significations from their content. I should like to say one word about the necessity and the limits of such a formal science. The necessity is that which applies in the case of any exact language. (Barthes, p:111)

According to this information, semiology is related with social sciences, especially as a new branch of social psychology and the idea of new social science perspective. Furthermore, I think it is connection with structuralists approach. Wherefore, semiology is designed by social structure itself. Hence, the limits of formal science are also created by apparatuses of language which depends on cultural structures of society such as traditions. We could not say, there is a direct contrary about this relation. Because, people can deal with each other to support with their language, on this ground signs of language has become a primary marked in social sciences and social interaction limits in short time. And emotions of people can develop through of common language in order to display its effect and performance in daily life. In this stage, I would like to take up this example in order to understand of meaning creating process by the language and signs.
For example; take a bunch of roses; I use it to signify my passion. Do we have here, then, only a signifier and a signified, the roses and my passion? Not even that: to put it accurately, there are here only ‘passionified’ roses. (Barthes, p:113)

All of us know that rose is one of the most important signifiers of our passion on the other persons especially their partners and loves. In this sense, people use roses in order to signification of their emotions and affections. Consequently, I would like to emphasize the “sign”, “signifier” and “signified” notions in order to understand of usage by people. Barthes has noted about these notions like this;
Naturally, there are between the signifier, the signified and the sign; functional implications (such as that of the part to the whole) which are so close that to analyses them may seem futile; but we shall see in a moment that this distinction has a capital importance for the study of myth as semiological schema. (Barthes, p:113)
In other words, this tridimensional organization is necessary in order to reading, deciphering and explaining of myths in the process of people acceptance. In total, we consider some important scholar’s evaluations. In Sartrean criticism, signified is only constituted by the original crisis in the subject.( Barthes, p:114, 1957) Actually, I agree concerning with this evaluation mainly. But, I do not understand “what is the original of this constitutions?” and “who is assign?”. In my opinion, it depends on again cultural dynamics and regional peculiarities. Because, we know that, all behaviors of people are formatting or shaping by cultural indicators and regional rules such as “traditions”. Hence, people can learn to evaluate the social life and they adopt in social structure or “their habitus”. Thereto, as I mentioned before language is important apparatus in this socialization process. When we look at the text, Barthes has noted about this tridimensional pattern;

In myth, we find again the tri-dimensional pattern which I have just described: the signifier, the signified and the sign. But myth is a peculiar system, in that it is constructed from a semiological chain which existed before it: it is a second-order semiological system. That which is a sign (namely the associative total of a concept and an image) in the first system, a mere signifier in the second. (Barthes, p:114)

As matter of fact, myth finds itself in the applications area such as; photography, language, rituals, idiom and especially proverb etc. I think myth is very complex system when people apply it. Because, people cannot tell fable about myth and they have to be organize in order to inhabit of it. Thereto, there are two semiological systems in order to build of mythical discourses. First is “language-object” and second is “metalanguage”. Language-object is a language which myth gets hold of in order to build its own system. Another, metalanguage is a second language which one speaks about the first. In my opinion, generally all these are supporting the mythical discourse in order to refresh where place in collective memory and reaccept by people. And then, the form of myth and its concept are directly related with “validity of myths” and “collective perception of society”. However, the form of myths is generally ambiguous and not formal. It protects itself in this way and it takes shape of ambiguity in order to continue of its validity and exactness. And myth is looked by people as innocently and spontaneously. Barthes has emphasized about this in his example;
The form of myth is not a symbol: the Negro who salutes is not a symbol of the French Empire: he has too much presence, he appears as a rich, full experienced, spontaneous, innocent, indisputable image. (Barthes, p:118)

I would like to say about that the nature of myths, it has not got one visible marker, I think it has only invisible reminder in order to accept by people. Therefore, myths have become innocent, spontaneous and whole real dynamic in the social and cultural context. We cannot see it in its form however we know that it is there with its invisible reminder. I dare say, myth is created itself by people beliefs and biases. Wherefore, these apparatuses can be used by mythical discourses in the process of its refreshing and reaccepting. Thence, myth has proof its reality in the form and abstract concept. Barthes has emphasized this situation as way;
Unlike the form, the concept is no way abstract: it is filled with a situation. Through the concept, it is a whole new history which is implanted in the myth. (Barthes, p:119)

I agree concerning with this citation, I support that “yes, myth is filled with a situation” and this condition make new myths variably depend on history or past. We can put down to role of history in order to accept the importance of past on the collective memory even it be static. In my estimation, when people or society looks at myths or other mythical discourse, they can see an illusion which it belongs to myth. We can accept this, myth has an illusion because, it is created or designed by people themselves with their behaviors and approaches. In other words, myth assigns its value and truth with people behaviors. We can say that it is “validity of myth”. Barthes has noted this,

Myth is a value, truth is no guarantee for it; nothing prevents it from being perpetual alibi: it is enough that its signifier has two sides for it always to have an ‘elsewhere’ at its disposal. The meaning is always there no present the form: the form is always there to outdistance the meaning. (Barthes, p:123)

Accordingly, myth is a value which is the roots put down to past. Actually, the truth of myth must be guarantee, because people cannot interrogate the power of myths. They believe purely on them how to be explained. I think, the power of myths is the most important factor in this step. Forwhy, myth always protect its validity and reliability on the society with again people believes. The meaning of myth is not rejected by society or who live there. They keep the narratives about myth in their mind or collective which comes from their past. In my opinion, it is directly related with mythical character. Barthes has explained this;

Myth has an imperative, buttonholing character: stemming from an historical concept, directly springing from contingency (a Latin class, a threatened Empire), it is I whom it has come to seek. It is turned towards me, I am subjected to its intentional force, it summons me to receive its expansive ambiguity. (Barthes, p:124) What is characteristic of myth? To transform a meaning into form! In other words, myth is always a language-robbery. (Barthes, p:131)

In this same way, the character of myth can be creates or designed by contingency. This changes from place to place, time to time and finally myth to myth. Fundamentally, history of place, history of land or history of society is the primary marker in the mythical discourse in order to constant its refresh and its reaccept (maybe in process) by people. In this stage, we can find and access how history can be produced by myths. Wherefore, we know that the power of myth can change the history in reality and its meaning, and it reshape them easily. Myth uses language in order to accept of people. And it is related with analogy. Barthes has explained this way;

The language can produce a whole fragment of the sign by analogy with other signs (for instance one says aimable in French, and not amable, by analogy with aime). The mythical signification, on the other hand, is never arbitrary; it is always in part motivated, and unavoidable contains some analogy. (Barthes, p:126)

Up to now, we must accept that myth and its language use the signs with other signs in order to take a meaning in the society. Therefore, analogy is the most important supported factor in order to realize the mythical sameness. Thereby, it can be complete for the mythical significations. Actually, the mythical significations are directly related with policy and ideology. Therefore, we can say that it is pure ideographic system. Thence, myth can display itself as innocent and spontaneous narratives.
As to say that, the representation of myth can be correlation or analogy of signs with other signs in application process and when people believe it. So, we cannot divide from political discourse and especially official political narratives. Already, Barthes has emphasized deeply;

The nature of the mythical signification can in fact be well conveyed by one particular simile: it is neither more nor less arbitrary than ideograph. Myth is a pure ideographic system, where the forms are still motivated by the concept which they represent while not yet, by a long way, covering the sum of its possibilities for representation. (Barthes, p:127)

In other words, political discourse is one of the most important indicators in order to decoding of myth and meaning. Therefore, we should follow these types in the case of decoding process. I think decoding of myth is directly related with social and cultural dynamics of society. Wherefore, we can understand the society with their components and apparatuses. Therefore, sign, signifier and signified are the most important marker of the social and cultural dynamics in order to understand as foreign people or researcher. Why is important decoding of myths for me or all of us? In my estimation, myth can support us in order to evaluate of our cultural components and our social dynamics in the real world. Thus, we can access with our development level and our humanities. Barthes has displayed us about the decoding types this way;
There are made three different types of reading of myths in the decoding process.
I- If I focus on an empty signifier,
II- If I focus on a full signifier,
III- If I focus on the mythical signifier as on an inextricable whole made of meaning and form. (Barthes, p:128)

Firstly, If we interest with an empty signifier, actually we can reach why this is not used by people. I can say that “the uses cause of this signifier”. I think, this is very strategic approach. Forwhy, we use our language in the social life and if people use one term, we can understand this, people has reject the term, and we can think about the term that it is bad, other and nothing for the culture. Another, If we interest with a full signifier, we can reach the poly-meaning of the term. Thus, maybe we can find how people use this term much more than other terms. I agree with this approach basically. Finally, If we interest with a mythical discourse, we can arrive that whole made of meaning and form of mythical discourse. Consequently, I support these ideas about the decoding process. Wherefore, we would like to understand the culture with its all apparatuses. Our purpose is not only deciphering of the culture, we would like to understand of cultural pattern and social behaviors. In my estimation, we can find the solutions in order to resolve of cultural issues or problems with these people approaches. Therefore myth is one of the most important data for us in order to evaluate of culture and society in this time and always.
As a conclusion of this paper, I found that myth is a creator of social life, sometimes assigner, sometimes producer and it always has a role of direction on the society and cultural dynamics. However, it is a very invisible character. It has not visible components, but we know that it is there with its role of invisible reminder. Myth always reflects on some events and social activities. And it supports with history, religion and invisible character. I think, myth is a myth like events of “eggs-chicken” or “chicken-eggs” we do not decide this topic. And myth uses this condition for its benefits and its reliability or validity. After that, I have accepted it is very normal and so natural “it is no need of demystifying”. In the reminder of this essay, we can find the role of myths on the society and cultural dynamics. Because, I think the contingency can be understood by social scientist anymore.


Photo Credit: LIFE

• Barthes, Roland. Myth Today in Mythologies, 1957.
• Moriarty, Michael. Roland Barthes, Stanford University Press, 1991
• Zizek, Slovaj. For They Know Not What They Do. Verso, London, 2008

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