Mythologies

15 January 2010

I stumbled across this glancing reference to Basque Country in Barthes’ Mythologies last night, one of those times an intimate part of your life suddenly appears, as if foreordained, in a text, and for just that reason the blind chance of it feels significant.

“If I take a walk in Spain, in the Basque country (I say ‘in Spain’ because, in France, petit-bourgeois advancement has caused a whole ‘mythical’ architecture of the Basque chalet to flourish), I may well notice in the houses an architectural unity, a common style, which leads me to acknowledge the Basque house as a definite ethnic product. However, I do not feel personally concerned, nor, so to speak, attacked by this unitary style: I see only too well that it was here before me, without me. It is a complex product which has its determinations at the level of a very wide history: it does not call out to me, it does not provoke me into naming it, except if I think of inserting it into a vast picture of rural habitat. But if I am in the Paris region and I catch a glimpse, at the end of the rue Gambetta or the rue Jean-Jaurés, of a natty white chalet with red tiles, dark brown half-timbering, an asymmetrical roof and a wattle-and-daub front, I feel as if I were personally receiving an imperious injunction to name this object a Basque chalet: or even better, to see it as the very essence of basquity. This is because the concept appaers to me in all its appropriative nature: it comes and seeks me out in order to oblige me to acknowledge the body of intentions which have motivated it and arranged it there as a signal of an individual history, as a confidence and a complicity: it is a real call, which the owners of the chalet send out to me. And this call, in order to be more imperious, has agreed to all manner of impoverishments: all that justified the Basque house on the plane of technology — the barn, the outside stairs, the dove-cote, etc. — has been dropped; there remains only a brief order, not to be disputed. And the adhomination is so frank that I feel this chalet has just been created on the spot, for me, like a magical object springing up in my present life without any trace of the history which has caused it.”

Mythologies, p. 124-25.

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