BLACK PROPAGANDA

Roland Barthes – Paris Match – Semiotics

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I am at the barber’s, and a copy of Paris-Match is offered to me. On the cover, a young Negro* in a French uniform is saluting, with his eyes uplifted, probably fixed on a fold of the tricolour. All this is themeaning of the picture. But, whether naively or not, I see very well what it signifies to me: that France is a great Empire, that all her sons, without any colour discrimination, faithfully serve under her flag, and that there is no better answer to the detractors of an alleged colonialism than the zeal shown by this Negro* in serving his so-called oppressors. I am therefore again faced with a greater semiological system: there is a signifier, itself already formed with a previous system (a black soldier is giving the French salute); there is a signified (it is here a purposeful mixture of Frenchness and militariness); finally, there is a presence of the signified through the signifier… In myth (and this is the chief peculiarity of the latter), the signifier is already formed by the signs of the language… Myth has in fact a double function: it points out and it notifies, it makes us understand something and it imposes it on us…

One must put the biography of the Negro* in parentheses if one wants to free the picture, and prepare it to receive its signified… The form does not suppress the meaning, it only impoverishes it, it puts it at a distance… It is this constant game of hide-and-seek between the meaning and the form which defines myth. The form of myth is not a symbol: the Negro* who salutes is not the symbol of the French Empire: he has too much presence, he appears as a rich, fully experienced, spontaneous, innocent, indisputableimage. But at the same time this presence is tamed, put at a distance, made almost transparent; it recedes a little, it becomes the accomplice of a concept which comes to it fully armed, French imperiality…

Myth is… defined by its intention… much more than by its literal sense… In spite of this, its intention is somehow frozen, purified, eternalized, made absent by this literal sense (The French Empire? It’s just a fact: look at this good Negro* who salutes like one of our own boys). This constituent ambiguity… has two consequences for the signification, which henceforth appears both like a notification and like a statement of fact… French imperiality condemns the saluting Negro* to be nothing more than an instrumental signifier, the Negro* suddenly hails me in the name of French imperiality; but at the same moment the Negro’s* salute thickens, becomes vitrified, freezes into an eternal reference meant to establish French imperiality…

We reach here the very principle of myth: it transforms history into nature… In the case of the soldier-Negro*… what is got rid of is certainly not French imperiality (on the contrary, since what must be actualized is its presence); it is the contingent, historical, in one word: fabricated, quality of colonialism. Myth does not deny things, on the contrary, its function is to talk about them; simply, it purifies them, it makes them innocent, it gives them a natural and eternal justification, it gives them a clarity which is not that of an explanation but that of a statement of fact. If I state the fact of French imperiality without explaining it, I am very near to finding that it is natural and goes without saying: I am reassured. In passing from history to nature, myth acts economically: it abolishes the complexity of human acts, it gives them the simplicity of essences, it does away with all dialectics, with any going back beyond what is immediately visible, it organizes a world which is without contradictions… Things appear to mean something by themselves…”

*Translator’s term – not the choice of this author

(Barthes 1987)

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Written by blackpropaganda

September 11, 2010 at 17:19

Posted in Uncategorized

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