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“How Roland Barthes Gave Us the TV Recap”

from Sam Anderson, “How Roland Barthes Gave Us the TV Recap,” NY Times (May 25, 2012):

“The most reliable and user-friendly source of Barthes’s special variety of fun — the bouillon cube, if you will, of his critical flavor — is his early book “Mythologies,” originally published in 1957. In it, Barthes basically invented what we think of as cultural criticism: he was the first really first-rate intellectual to tell us what our most mundane pop culture actually means. For decades, however, only part of “Mythologies” was available in English. Its recent rerelease in a new and (for the first time) complete translation gives us an excuse not only to reread the book but also to consider some of the larger questions it raises, nearly 60 years later, for those of us still swimming through pop culture, and in particular for those of us who consider ourselves critics of that culture, which, these days, seems to be just about everyone.”

[continue reading on NY Times website]


Preparatory work for semiotic analysis

Audio file: preparing to write the semiotic analysis

You might also want to listen to some of the BBC’s radio series, 21C Mythologies, though you won’t be doing extensive historical research on your topic.

Semiotic analysis assignment

Due in your TA’s mailbox by 4:00pm on Friday, October 27
Length: 500 words
–> Please provide visual documentation of your chosen subject/object. This does not need to be a high-quality scan; a basic screen capture will suffice. If you are worried about using toner, include a URL for your image instead. (Don’t forget!)

For this assignment you will write a short essay in the mode of Roland Barthes’ Mythologies. In the preface to the collection, he notes that his essays were inspired by current events in the two-year period of 1954-1956 and his examples drawn from heterogeneous media (“a newspaper article, a photograph in a weekly, a film, a show, an exhibition”). I have reproduced the table of contents below so you can get a sense of the range of his material. You should similarly feel free to write about any social phenomena or document that interests you; it need not be “literature.” Indeed one of the arguments Barthes makes is that “mythologies”—by which he means a social reality that is taken to be natural or “what-goes-without-saying”—is equally deserving, if not more so, of semiotic analysis because of the potential for “ideological abuse” that is hidden in plain sight.

–> All quotations drawn from Roland Barthes, Mythologies, trans. Annette Lavers (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1972).
–> Apart from study of your chosen myth, you will not do any external research for this assignment. It asks for your analysis only.


“College Advice I Wish I’d Taken”

Susan Shapiro, writing for the New York Times (October 17, 2017):

“I enjoyed going to college at the University of Michigan, an hour from home, but my secret humiliation is: I was the type of mediocre student I now disdain. As a freshman, I cared about my friends, my boyfriend and my poetry. Or, I cared about what my boyfriend thought of my friends, what my friends thought of him, and what they thought of my poetry about him. Here’s what I wish I’d known and done differently: [continue reading on Times website]”

Track listing for Girl Talk, “Oh No” (All Day)

Screen shot 2015-10-12 at 8.40.37 PM


Reading & detection

This is a follow-up to the second lecture on House of Leaves.

Close reading assignment (House of Leaves)

// This video repeats some of the points I made in lecture.

Assignment: 500-word close reading of some aspect of House of Leaves

Due: No later than Friday, October 13, in your TA’s mailbox in the English department (3rd floor of South Hall, in the tower). No emailed papers!

Steps: (1) Choose a passage, theme or motif, word, question, reference, or formal device, the analysis of which will tell us something about the text as a whole; (2) Locate two short commentaries on the same; (3) Write 500 words about your chosen subject that also engages with the two analyses.

“To annotate” first officially recorded in English in Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language (c. 1755). Annotate = “comment”

Citations should be footnotes or endnotes as follows:
Author (if given), “Title of post/essay,” Source title (date of post/essay), URL.

hello?, “The Obvious,” House of Leaves Forum (September 24, 2001),

You may if you wish copy and paste a line or two from your source texts before you start your own analysis, but this is not required.

XKCD’s 14-foot-wide CLICK AND DRAG map

“[THIS XKCD STRIP is] a tribute to House of Leaves, and it treats the punchline as a window to a ginormous, explorable world that you can see by clicking and dragging. Dan Catt puts the artwork at 46 feet wide, assuming it is printed at 300dpi. It’s full of Munrovian sly humor and sight gags, and has its own underground civilization…”

from Boing Boing (September 19, 2012)


House of Pancakes (xkcd)

The blue house…

From “How Blue Screens Work“:

“the illusion is created by a special effects technique known as traveling matte or blue screen. This technique allows actors and scale models to find themselves in totally imaginary situations — in space ships, dangling from rope bridges over gorges, flying through the air (a la Superman) — and have it look completely real in the theater. The technique is used so often now that you don’t even realize it. News reporters are made to look like they are on location when they are not, and complete segments in TV shows can be created this way to make it look like the segment was filmed on location when, in fact, no one left Los Angeles.”

So consider further: why is house necessarily in blue each time it appears in the text?