catacomber (catacomber) wrote,

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Roland Barthes, Myth Today

I think of the video game Age of Empires as a good analogy to the postmodern condition. The first principle of the game is economy. The second, and it's a close second, is time. We watch the little people run around on a landsape and tell them to perform the functions necessary to build our empire and keep it from being destroyed by the enemy empires. We time go by in an accelerated progression; technologies are developed and our coy little workers farm or fight or chop wood, live and die to no avail except for the cause of the empire. It may be an obvious point to make, and I don't want to take away from the enjoyment of the game (after all, what's more enjoyable than deific power?), but I think it serves as an interesting index of the view we harbor of ourselves. In a sense, the world has been emptied of its origins, of its physicalities.

But there are two things about this as they relate both to Barthes and to Baudrillard. One is that physicalities may only be a function of distance, perhaps of internalization versus exteriorization. By physicality here, I am referring to the original subjects that both Barthes and Baudrillard refer to with their different systems of analysis, although they use these physicalties in different contexts.

The video game serves as a tangible example of how substance becomes mythic throught the emptying of signs. If you have sympathy for the little guys cutting wood, and just send them out wandering, you lose the game. You get wiped out by the enemy. I don't want to spend too much time on it, but there is a clue here about what loss of original substance really implies. I don't think "reality" has changed much, just our positioning, a stance that, yes includes us within its view, but also includes us from a vantage point that at times seems a stellar distance.

Regarding distance and substance, I think that Barthes might accuse Baudrillard of lacking poetry. Sure, they are both cynic; but they are both embittered by different kinds of losses. Barthes is embittered by the loss of joie de vivre he sees disappearing from his grasp, Baudrillard sees the world disappearing from everyone else's grasp.

But Baudrillard fails to observe something that I think brings an almost salvationary light to Barthes writing: the concept of poetry and the autopoiec nature of language. On page 134 of Mythologies (Myth Today chpt.) he says that poets "are the only ones who believe that the meaning of the words is only a form". This forgiveness for a lack of signal stability is a monumentous redemption, although I don't get the impression Barthes realizes the implications of it.

And I think the implications are very encouraging. Because it demonstrates, even if inadvertently, that there is a potential aesthetic to this systemic treatment of value and meaning. Perhaps this is a way of giving back to the poets this old romantic idea of a prophetic gift. Perhaps this is where the resonance between the psychic and the drug user and the sci-fi writer was positioned for philip k dick. Perhaps the autopoiesis of lingual systems is the very way in which prophecy or psychic possibility can operate.

Kooky? sure. You won't be getting this past the editor's desktops of many academic journals. But that's not long-lived. Remember, a common problem with intellectual property and patent rights is checking those notary dates: so many inventors (geniuses if you want to hold on to that idea) trying to get their desserts before the other inventors (geniuses) do, and with the same invention!
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