Barthes’ writing pushed our group to look deeper into the meaning of things such as holidays, wine, striptease and travel and the myths that surround them. The first essay we discussed was “The Writer on Holiday” and determined that the myth was that the writer can really never be on holiday; this notion is seen clearly when Barthes states, “Writers are on holiday, but their Muse is awake and gives birth non-stop” (30). We found this interesting because this would be true for all artists (photographer, painter, musician etc.) who are constantly inspired by their surroundings and can do their work creating art wherever and whenever. We talked about the writer on holiday as bridging the gap between the proletariat and bourgeoisie because he/she is both a divine thinker (elitist) and at the same time on “holiday” alongside people of the working world.
The next essay we discussed was “Wine and Milk” which examines the importance of wine in French culture. Much of what we discussed about this essay revolved around Barthes statement that, “Other countries drink to get drunk, and this is accepted by everyone; in France, drunkenness is a consequence, never and intention” (59). Although, it is hard to admit, there is a lot of truth to this, especially when looking at the role alcohol plays at SLU. We talked about how we rarely think to have drink to relax because we equate having a drink with getting drunk. We also discussed the opposing relationships of wine and milk. We found it interesting that French culture places so much importance on wine which Barthes describes as mutilating and surgical in comparison to milk which is associated with purity, calming and strength and concluded that this is in large part a consequence of capitalism and the advantages the French ruling class gains from high consumption of wine.
Another essay we looked at was “Striptease”. Our discussion focused heavily on Barthes’ thought that, “Woman is desexualized at the very moment when she is stripped naked”(84). We were all in agreement that our first reaction to reading this was that a naked body would be more sexual than a clothed one but Barthes’ quickly persuaded us otherwise, that the act of stripping is in fact more sexual. Barthes depicts the barriers of clothing and dancing which make a myth of the striptease; they allow the woman to become an object and work of art rather that is unreal and “withdrawn by its very extravagance from human use” (85). We found it very interesting that the absence of skillful dancing and fancy furs and feathers make the amateur dancer more erotic and less mythical as her awkwardness and imperfections make her appear more like a real woman.
The final essay we discussed was “The Lost Continent”. We focused on the idea of the other and the skewed perception that Westerners have of the East. Barthes describes the explorers saying, “Our studio anthropologists will have no trouble in postulating an Orient which is exotic in form, while being in reality profoundly similar to the Occident” (94). The myth in this essay is one that so many Westerners hold true that Asian and African nations are somehow profoundly different and exotic, and fail to recognize their history and similarities. Being from Zambia, Sharon could relate to this, she had talked to a number of Americans who only wish to see African counties as exotic, primitive nations when even a minimal amount of research would reveal similarities between the cultures.