Mythologies- Barthes on… the writer on holiday

The main goal in this essay is to present the idea that social conventions can be constructed and used to sell an idea. This idea can the altered to fit the needs of the person using the image of the idea. The social convention he chooses to look at is that of the holiday. The idea he looks at is that of the author on holiday.

Firstly, he unpacks the idea of the holiday. We are to recognise that the holiday is a very new thing. It was created by the bourgeoise, and marketed to the proletarian. The choice to take a holiday has the underlying assumption that one has worked hard, and therefore needs time to recuperate. One has earned the time to be at leisure and enjoy valued time away from one’s everyday life. The bourgeoise, in creating the convention of the holiday, are putting out the gesture of acknowledging the hard work the proletarian has done. We can argue over whether this act is symbolic or honest, but that is beside the point here, it merely is the fact that the gesture has been made.

The writer, in taking a holiday, is telling us two things. Firstly, the writer is making known that writing is hard work from which one needs to recover, just as with the plight of the proletarian. Secondly, the writer is assuming a position within the working class. In assuming the same mode and reasons of recuperation, the writer assumes the same identity, for the duration of the holiday at least.

Barthes argues that both of these things are false truths, symbolic at best. That writing is a labour in league with care work, operating machines, and so forth, seems immediately disingenuous in nature. It would take a stretch of one’s imagination to wonder why the writer would wish us to think this. Is it so that we can justify their position in society? He tells us that writing is false work- when the writer goes on holiday, they take their typewriter and notebook with them and make use of the time, not to get away from writing, but to spend more time writing. The writer has a ‘writer’s essence’, which never leaves the writer, “Louis XIV was king, even on the commode”!

The idea is presented that the writer is allowed to go on holiday because the image of the writer is a useful one to manipulate by journalists, advertisers and so forth. The writer is iconic. In reducing the writer to the level of the everyman, aspects of the writer’s life can become relatable aspects of the readers’ lives. If the writer says he likes white wine, people will want to drink white wine. If the writer likes rare steak, then the public like rare steak. The writer becomes a marketing tool without ceasing to be the writer. By reducing their nature to the prosaic, they are bestowed with the ability to choose which aspects of the writer to make ‘interesting’.

However, there is one way in which the writer is like the worker, or is in fact a worker. The writer never stops producing. They may try to relax, but something in their unconscious pushes them to find material in life- they are slave to the writer’s mind. There is a truth in the writer identifying with the proletarian in that whilst the proletarian is subservient to their manager, the writer is subservient to their ‘writer’s essence’. I am not equating the labour of one to the labour of the other, merely that they both do share in having a higher ‘other’ to which they are enslaved. This is the belief of Barthes.

What we see here is that lifestyle choices can be commodified, and their exterior symbols manipulated for the purpose of parsimonious gain. The writer wishes merely to be a writer, but in choosing to make a choice of holidaying with the everyman, they are making a symbolic action. In fact, we see that any action we take can produce symbols which represent us in a new direction. What is important to draw from this is that the main issue isn’t that we create a symbolic truth in acting, but that that symbolic truth can be used to represent or create a new ideal, for example, as a marketing tool.

This post is in series. To read the others CLICK HERE.

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