Roland Barthes sardonically described the Mankiewicz film of Julius Caesar as portraying ‘a universe without duplicity, where Romans are Romans thanks to the most legible of signs: hair on the forehead’.2 The film’s use of hair fringes to signify Roman identity and its use of sweat to signify thought were to Barthes examples of ‘degraded spectacle’, for according to his professed ‘ethic of signs’, ‘it is both reprehensible and deceitful to confuse the sign with what is signified’ (p. 28). Barthes approves those signs which are, ‘openly intellectual and so remote that they are reduced to an algebra’ and those which are ‘deeply rooted, invented, so to speak, on each occasion, revealing an internal, a hidden facet, and indicative of a moment in time, no longer of a concept’. He objects to ‘hybrid’ (p. 28) forms — those which are intentionally presented as naturalistic.
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