Skip to main content


Showing posts from September 13, 2015

the casualties of utilitarianism

“ I could write the history of every mark and scratch in my room…” Virginia Woolf Both John Stuart Mill and Virginia Woolf were products of families prominent in the history of utilitarianism. In fact, Woolf’s uncle, James Fitzjames Stephen, wrote a book against what he took to be  Mill’s apostosy from utilitarianism, which you can’t be more ultra than that, while her father, Leslie, whose eminence in the Victorian world was as unimpeachable as the Queen's, made time from during his vast labors to write the canonical history of the English utilitarians. Famously, John Stuart Mill, educated according to his father’s, James Mill’s, notions, suffered a great breakdown in his youth, which he attributes, in a way, to the creed in his autobiography: “For though my dejection, honestly looked at, could not be called other than egotistical, produced by the ruin, as I thought, of my fabric of happiness, yet the destiny of mankind in general was ever in my thoughts, and could not be

the politics of the headline: corbyn mythologized

Using Barthes’ sensibility to analyze the myths circulated during the recent Labour leader campaign, I think I can safely say that charting the way Jeremy Corbyn was turned into a threat means understanding the work of one particular tool: the headline. Two days ago, the headline actually burst into the content of the news itself when an editor at the Daily Telegraph, which presents itself as a non-tabloid conservative paper, had to back down over his headline for Corbyn’s appointment of John Mcdonnell to his shadow cabinet: Corbyn has just appointed a nutjob as his shadow chancellor .  Today’s foxhunting set don’t go for that chav stuff, which is so much for the maid, so the editor eventualy changed the headline.   In the process, though, he briefly lit up the politics of headlines. As writers know, and readers, for the most part, don’t, the headline is not composed by the writer of the story or the review or column. Headlines are thus, peculiar things, true relics of, if not

barthes on myth

In “Myth today,” Barthes’ methodological supplement to his series of decoding essays on quotidien life in 1950s France, Barthes tells us that he the “myths” he analyzes are products of language – of what he calls a peculiar “theft” of language – and are not contents. Unlike the usual study of myth, which proceeds from fictions like the God of the Sea or unicorns, Barthes view is that myth names a procedure. “Myth is not defined by the object of its method, but by the fashion with which it offers it.” This linguistic fashion or mode leads Barthes to make some great generalizing remarks, in order to establish the semiotic norm within which myth is found. Myth, according to Barthes, always operates on the level of tokens (valant pour) rather than types. Within the system of tokens, “myth is a particular system in that it constructs itself in deriving itself from a semiological chain that pre-exists it.” To understand how this works, Barthes borrows an example from Paul Valery. Suppose