cover image The Semiotic Challenge

The Semiotic Challenge

Roland Barthes. Hill & Wang, $12.95 (293pp) ISBN 978-0-8090-1538-2

For Barthes, the 20th century is a civilization of double messages, connotations and propaganda. An ad, a newspaper headline, a movie, a car, a dish of foodall are signs, complexes of meaning that constantly elude us because we reflexively accept man-made culture as if it were nature. In these difficult and sometimes obscure essays, written mostly between 1963 and 1973, the late French thinker wields the theory of signs or semiotics in deciphering urban spaces, medical symptoms, advertising and literature. Defining the art of narrative as the unforeseen expansion of signifiers, Barthes unravels narrative structure in novels, myths, folktales, the biblical account of Jacob wrestling with the angel and a story by Poe. He includes a mini-manual of rhetoric and traces the decline of this ancient and instructional art to its present status as ghost in the machine of mass culture. (March)