Critical Writing

Nowadays our life depends much on different products of chemical industry. Artificial materials and various types of chemical substances make our everyday life easier. Due to detergents and soap powders we spend less time on household duties while such materials as plastic are used in the manufacturing of living essentials. Covering urgent topics in his book Mythologies, Roland Bathes, touches upon the place of chemical substances in our life. In the paper two of his articles, “Plastic” and “Soap-powders and Detergents”, will be considered.

The article “Plastic” is devoted to the role of plastic in life of people. Roland Barthes describes the process of making different objects from plastic and the impression caused on people. He describes plastic as a magic substance, which can be in absolutely different forms. The very process of transformation of plastic into an object is presented by the author as a mystic and imperceptible process. “An ideally-shaped machines, tabulated and oblong (a shape well suited to suggest the secret of an itinerary) effortlessly draws, out of a heap of greenish crystals, shiny and fluted dressing-room tidies.”[1]

Describing the process of making different objects, the author highlights not only the mystery of this process but also its influence on people. In his opinion this easiness of changes gives people the feeling of freedom and power. “And this amazement is a pleasurable one, since the scope of the transformations gives man the measure of his power, and since the very itinerary of plastic gives him the euphoria of a prestigious free-wheeling through Nature.”[2]

Moreover, Roland Barthes compares the role of plastic in the life of people with the role of other artificial materials.

He notices that while all artificial materials, which have been known since the rise of capitalism, are used only in order to replace expensive and rare substances, plastic has become an essential material in everyday life.  “It is the first magical substance which consents to be prosaic”¦for the first time, artifice aims at something common, not rare.”[3]

At the end of the article, the author claims the plastic to be the most necessary and powerful substance in the world, saying that “the whole world can be plasticized.”[4]

The second article under consideration “Soap-powders and detergents” in contrast to the previous one does not examine the role of these substances but investigates the method of psychological influence on consumers while advertising these products. The author compares the imagery of different types of substances. Thus, the detergent liquids are thought to destroy the bacteria, while soap powders are seen as substances that remove the dirt from the objects. Consequently, the perception of these substances is different. “The chemical fluid is an extension of the washerwoman’s movements when she beats the clothes, while powders rather replace those of the housewife pressing and rolling the washing against a sloping board.” [5]

The author considers another aspect of psychological influence on people ”“ the image of foam, used in order to create the atmosphere of lightness and easiness. While the product is a detergent, due to the foam it is presented as harmless and tender. “What matters is the art of having disguised the abrasive function of the detergent under the delicious image of a substance at once deep and airy which can govern the molecular order of the material without damaging it.” [6]

To make a conclusion, summarizing these two readings, we can see that Ronald Barthes analyzes the role of chemicals in our life, their place in our everyday household duties. Speaking about plastic, Barthes endows this substance with almost magic qualities. The significance of this material is highlighted by its extensive usage in all spheres of our life. Describing the nature of purifying fluids, soap-powders and detergents, the author attracts our attention to the way they are presented and to the image that is created.

[1]  Roland Barthes, “Plastic”. In Mythologies (1957),97. Translated by Annette Lavers. (New York: Hill and Wang, 1972).

[2] Ibid., 97-98

[3] Ibid., 98

[4] Ibid., 99

[5] Roland Barthes. “Soap Powders and Detergents.” In Mythologies (1957), 36. Translated by Annette Lavers. (New York: Hill and Wang, 1972)

[6] Ibid., 38

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