Mulan, Textuality, and Barthes

Since the release of Mulan the movie, opinions regarding the story of Mulan have been voiced. Some have called for the ban of the film. In this short essay, I would like to address the film Mulan based on Rolan Barthes’s notion of textuality and interpretation, especially his work titled S/Z.

Textuality and S/Z

The fact that people have different opinions and views regarding the story (text) is that the text itself has — a capacity for plurality of meaning,

For Barthes, there can be no originating anchor of meaning in the possible intentions of the author. He considers what other sources of meaning or significance can be found in the literature.

Barthes concluded that since meaning can’t come from the author, it must be actively created by the reader through a process of textual analysis.

In his S/Z (1970), Barthes applies this notion in an analysis of Sarrasine, a Balzac novella. The end result was a reading that established five major codes for determining various kinds of significance, with numerous lexias throughout the text – a “lexia” here being defined as a unit of the text chosen arbitrarily (to remain methodologically unbiased as possible) for further analysis.

The codes led him to define the story as having a capacity for a plurality of meaning, limited by its dependence upon strictly sequential elements (such as a definite timeline that has to be followed by the reader and thus restricts their freedom of analysis). Yet, constraints are necessary for meaning-making to be in operation.

From this project, Barthes concluded that an ideal text is one that is reversible, or open to the greatest variety of independent interpretations and not restrictive in meaning.

Mulan as the Writerly Text

A text can be reversible by avoiding the restrictive devices that Sarrasine suffered from such as strict timelines and exact definitions of events. He describes this as the difference between the writerly text, in which the reader is active in a creative process, and a readerly text in which they are restricted to just reading. The project helped Barthes identify what it has he sought in literature: an openness for interpretation.

Roland Barthes


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Roland Barthes from Wikipedia

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