For reasons that my own approach will already have suggested, Barthes has not so far always had a very enthusiastic reception in England. One of the self-evident truths which it is difficult to eliminate from minds brought up upon Hume, Russell or Ayer is the view that language which sets out to communicate ideas should first of all try to be clear. Similarly, the aesthetic ideas set out in Critique et Vérité obviously run counter to what Bernard Bergonzi described in Encounter in July 1975 as the English desire for poems to ‘mean something, whatever the attractions of the symbolist claim that “‘a poem should not mean but be” ’.1 Yet while Bergonzi’s article stands in a way as the epitome of English critical reactions to Barthes, it is far less hostile than the article which F. W. Bateson published in The New Review under the title Is your Structuralism really necessary?2 It is certainly a question that comes irresistibly to mind when one reads Système de la Mode. For instead of presenting what the admirer of Mythologies might have expected—the hilarious spectacle of Barthes on the rag trade—the book opens with two hundred pages of head-splitting analysis of the vocabulary used in Le Jardin des Modes, Elle, L’Echo de la Mode and Vogue during the six-month period in the late 1950s. It is only in the second part of the book, ‘Le système rhétorique’, that Système de la Mode suddenly leaps to life and that the Barthes of Mythologies emerges from behind the austere manipulator of semiological jargon.
KeywordsEnglish Reader Arbitrary Nature Technical Jargon Fashion Magazine Bourgeois Society
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