Friday, December 21, 2012

Medusa by Roland Barthes

The Doxa is current opinion, meaning repeated as if nothing had happened. It is Medusa: who petrifies those who look at her.  Which means that it is evident.  Is it seen? Not even that: a gelatinous mass which sticks onto the retina. The remedy? As an adolescent I went swimming one day at Malo-les -Bains, in a cold sea infested with the kind of jellyfish we call medusas (what aberration led me to agree to swim there? I was one of a group, which justifies any cowardice); it was so ordinary to come out of the water covered with stings and blisters that the locker-room attendant phlegmatically handed you a bottle of potassium chloride as soon as you left the beach. In the same way, one might conceive of taking a (perverse) pleasure in the endoxal products of mass culture, provided that when you left the immersion of that culture, someone handed you on each occasion, as if nothing had happened, a little detergent discourse.

Queen and sister of the hideous Gorgons, Medusa was of a rare beauty with regard to the luster of her hair.  Neptune having ravished and wed her in the temple of Minerva, the latter rendered her repulsive and transformed her hair into snakes.

(It is true that in Doxa’s discourse there are former beauties sleeping, the memory of a once-sumptuous and fresh wisdom; and it is indeed Athena, the wise deity, who takes her revenge by making the Doxa into a caricature of wisdom.)

Medusa, or the Spider: castration.  Which stuns me, an effect produced by a scene I hear but do not see: my hearing is frustrated of its vision: I remain behind the door.

The Doxa speaks, I hear it, but I am not within its space. A man of paradox, like any writer, I am indeed behind the door; certainly I should like to pass through, certainly I should like to see what is being said, I too participate in the communal scene; I am constantly listening to what I am excluded from;  I am in a stunned state, dazed, cut off from the popularity of language.

The Doxa is, as we know, oppressive.  But can it be repressive? Let us read this terrible phrase from a revolutionary sheet (La Bouch de Fer, 1790): “. . .  above the three powers must be placed a censorial power of surveillance and public opinion which will belong to all, and which all will be able to exercise without representation.”

Barthes; Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes; translated by Richard Howard; Hill and Wang, 1975

No comments:

Post a Comment