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  • Lillian Liu

Book Review: Empire of Signs and Barthes



"Empire of Signs" is the confluence between reality and Barthes’s invention. He captures the essence of Japan and challenges readers' perception of reality in one book. Through the unreal mirages produced by him, the audience revisit mundane objects and topics that constitute the daily lives in Japan with newfound awareness.


Barthes not only describes these objects with his unique lens, but also explores what each objects entails beyond their superficial exterior. Hidden beneath the grace and beauty is an even more earnest way of life.



The theme of "emptiness" is seen throughout the book. Though the explored object is often shrouded in mystery, he defines the centre of the object by emptiness, a key element of Zen.

The world described under his pen shatters the norm of human society western audience is accustomed to. He continually juxtaposes the western conventions with their Japanese counterparts. Such incredible paradox further reveals the otherworld nature of Japan.


Through his imagination, he captures the artistic nature of how Japanese conduct their daily lives. From the traditional Japanese theatre of Noh to the backstreets of Tokyo, he highlights the existence of grace in every facets of Japanese lifestyle.


Because Barthes foretells his audience the visionary nature of his book, he lets loose his imagination, and free his writing from the rigidity of reality. The end product is a shockingly dreamlike womb of his creation.