Nouvelles Mythologies :: ed Jérôme Garcin :: Seuil :: France :: 2007
Originally a column in the weekly Nouvelle Observateur magazine, the book groups together 57 articles on vasty diverging topics. Each writer uncovers signs, finds meaning, like a contemporary Roland Barthes, in society as it presents itself to us today. Nostalgics of Barthes’ original Mythologies series will find the Smart, Google, the Euro, the 4WD and the Polish plumber discussed here with poise and lyricism.
Naturally, not every article has the same power, just like not every subject captures your imagination, but the editor has managed to create a feeling of whole, a blend, which gives the ensemble a specific flavour. It encourages you to view the world with the eyes of a child and the mind of a poet. It helps to know France somewhat, but if you do not, the book could also be considered as an escapade into the psyche of the contemporary man, even if the views are not always universally shared.
What is perhaps surprising, is that although the book is not even two years old, many articles already seem dated. A cynical article about the merits of speed dating seems a world away since online dating websites, such as Meetic, have now been stock quoted for several years. And the death of prose with the onslaught on mobile text messaging sounds overly pessimistic when most people now think the popularity of email has saved writing from a death by telephone. And a beautiful article about the silent photo consumer icon Kate Moss which depends on her silence… but it is not true – she is not silent. At least not anymore. It is there that we notice the difference between an article in a magazine and a book, where the former can reside unabashed in the present, the latter has the pretension to span through time. After all, we would not bundle daily stock quotes or celebrity gossip into books to arrange them between our collected works of Dickens and the Lonely Planet.
But not all the articles are time-stamped like bananas on a kitchen counter. As we are taken to an article about the Nespresso capsule, we are confronted with a remarkable marketing analysis, with the capsule as the emblem of right wing economics. The analysis of the nicotine patch is touching, with the author laying a parallel between the poison which bonds us together in happiness and the solitary sadness of the requirements of health to wash it away again. And the effect of the 2006 purchase of the European steel giant Arcelor by the Indian heavy-weight Mittal on the French psyche, as a confrontation of the history of industrial France with the globalized economy.
The articles are as varied as they are insightful and funny. When Frédèric Beigbeder writes about the GPS, he notes: “Every time someone switches on his mobile phone or his GPS, he can no longer hide: we can send him missiles, the police, or his wife.” Of course we should ask him who the “we” is that he thinks can read his GPS, but the joke remains for the consciously paranoid. Or when Jacqueline Remy dryly describes the development in women’s handbags: ”Its size has grown with women’s rights. Sometimes it’s heavy.” There is much to think along with and much to laugh about in this eclectic study of the world around us. A world so close it is often overlooked. Do not miss out.
NB Translations are my own.