Tomorrow, or rather later today, I'll be doing a guest appearance in our research methods course. Just call me our department's theory mercenary. I'm like the grizzled outlaw who sits back in the shadowy back corner of the saloon, the one who's lost a little bit of speed with age, but who knows enough shortcuts to make up for it. My allegiances are hazy, but I'll help our intrepid heroes learn how to fight fire with fire.
I'm mostly kidding. I mention this because I spent the past couple of hours skimming back through Roland Barthes' Mythologies, the assigned reading for tomorrow's class. It put me in mind of a comment Jeff made last week about the importance of RB for electronic theory. Mythologies remains one of my favorite RB books, although I'd be hard pressed to identify which ones aren't my faves. But I would add to Jeff's comment (with which I agree, btw) that RB should be a lot more important for our discipline than he actually is. Outside of a few programs, and outside of a couple of "key" essays, I don't think many of my colleagues really read RB.
And that's a shame. One of the things I'm sure we'll talk about tomorrow is the challenge, in a field increasingly specialized, of integrating an arguably separate field of inquiry (known colloquially by the misnomer Theory) when there's already so much to deal with. One of the things that always appealed to me about RB is that so many of his works occur in the (then) present tense--unlike Derrida (with "deconstruction"), for instance, I don't think that Barthes ever felt obligated to offer extensive corrections of his work. He just moves on to new things. In the version of Mythologies I have, RB writes a preface for the 1970 edition of the book where he explains that he can't write a new series of mythologies, because the form "belongs to the past."
Because RB's always writing in the present, his work provides a pretty good account of the shift from structuralism to post-structuralism. Doesn't mean that they shouldn't read others as well, but RB is one of those writers whose work always has helped me triangulate everything else in my head. In other words, if you're going to be stranded on a theory desert island, you could do worse than to wash up on the shores of RB.
That, among other things, is what I've been mulling over tonight...