Mythologies of Tragedy: Recovering Meaning through Barthes
In dialogue with Roland Barthes’ Mythologies (1957) and Le degré zéro de l’écriture (1953), this article traces a connection between Barthes’ conception of mythologies and contemporary understanding of literature through genre. The author applies Barthes’ theories to dominant understandings of the genre of tragedy as it has been influentially argued by critics in order to understand what tragedy actually is, emphasizing the problem of its classification among genres.
In 1971, George Steiner declared that tragedy died in the 17th century: the so-called tragic novelists of the 19th century did nothing more than refer to a lost mythology in the hopes of invoking its former power symbolically. Barthes offered a radically different perspective when he observed that “l’écriture porte à la fois l’aliénation de l’Histoire et le rêve de l’Histoire.” Ultimately, this work discusses to what extent proclaiming a death of tragedy draws out a distinction in one’s understanding of myth and the construction of the literary genre of tragedy itself as myth.
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