Hail the Goddess: Citroen DS Transcends the Boundaries


“I think that cars today are almost the exact equivalent of the great Gothic cathedrals: I mean the supreme creation of an era, conceived with passion by unknown artists, and consumed in image if not in usage by a whole population which appropriates them as a purely magical object.”


“It is obvious that the new Citroen has fallen from the sky inasmuch as it appears at first sight as a superlative object. We must not forget that an object is the best messenger of a world above that of nature: one can easily see in an object at once a perfection and an absence of origin, a closure and a brilliance, a transformation of life into matter (matter is much more magical than life), and in a word a silence which belongs to the realm of fairy-tales.”


“The D.S. – the “Goddess” – has all the features (or at least the public is unanimous in attributing them to it at first sight) of one of those objects from another universe which have supplied fuel for the neomania of the eighteenth century and that of our own science-fiction: the Deesse is first and foremost a new Nautilus.”


“It is well known that smoothness is always an attribute of perfection because its opposite reveals a technical and typically human operation of assembling: Christ’s robe was seamless, just as the airships of science-fiction are made of unbroken metal. The D.S 19 has no pretensions about being as smooth as cake-icing, although its its general shape is very rounded; yet it is the dove-tailing of its sections which interest the public most: one keenly fingers the edges of the windows, one feels along the wide rubber grooves which link the back window to its metal surround.”


“There are in the D.S. the beginnings of a new phenomenology of assembling, as if one progressed from a world where elements are welded to a world where they are juxtaposed and hold together by sole virtue of their wondrous shape, which of course is meant to prepare one for the idea of a more benign Nature.”


“We are therefore dealing here with a humanized art, and it is possible that the Deesse marks a change in the mythology of cars. Until now, the ultimate in cars belonged rather to the bestiary of power; here it becomes at once more spiritual and more object-like, and despite some concessions to neomania (such as the empty steering wheel), it is now more homely, more attuned to this sublimation of the utensil which one also finds in the design of contemporary household equipment.”

“The dashboard looks more like the working surface of a modern kitchen than the control room of a factory; the slim panes of matt fluted metal, the small levers topped by a white ball, the very simple dials, the very discreetness of the nickel-work, all this signifies a kind of control exercised over motion rather than performance. One is obviously turning from an alchemy of speed to a relish in driving.”

“The public, it seems, has admirably divined the novelty of the themes which are suggested to it. Responding at first to the neologism (a whole publicity campaign had kept it on the alert for years), it tries very quickly to fall back on a behaviour which indicates adjustment and a readiness to use (“You’ve got to get used to it “). In the exhibition halls, the car on show is explored with an intense, amorous studiousness: it is the great tactile phase of discovery, the moment when visual wonder is about to receive the reasoned assault of touch (for touch is the most demystifying of all senses, unlike sight, which is the most magical).”

“The bodywork, the lines of union are touched, the upholstery palpated, the seats tried, the doors caressed, the cushions fondled; before the wheel, one pretends to drive with one’s whole body. The object here is totally prostituted, appropriated: originating from the heaven of Metropolis , the Goddess is in a quarter of an hour mediatized, actualizing through this exorcism the very essence of petit-bourgeois advancement.”

©Roland Barthes
Reproduced with permission from
ISBN 0 09 997220 4


25 Responses to “Hail the Goddess: Citroen DS Transcends the Boundaries”

  1. Nick Hopkinson

    I agree with every word.I’ll just go and read that out to the car and see what she thinks. N

  2. Keith Houghton

    They look nice but I had one and it was rubbish. One leaky hydraulic fitting and she lay down in the road in a pool of green blood, refusing to stop, steer or suspend (frequently).
    I had to sleep with my local Citroen specialist to get him to do any work on it and I’m not gay.
    The only time I enjoyed that car was when someone else drove it and I followed in another car.
    Sorry Roland.





  4. Harry Wainwright

    She’s just the most wonderful car ever. Wish I could afford one, but I’ll just have to manage with my Dyane.

  5. ray greenwood

    one of the most supperior cars ever built espesialy the masserati one

  6. rspete

    So, so beautiful. Such a shame that modern Citroen’s show none of the flair or engineering innovation of this car.
    Unfortunately PSA have turned them into another euro box manufacturer with just the odd glimpse of a concept showing there are still some in Citroen who recognise their heritage.

  7. Neal Humphrey

    No other car combines the technology and the beauty in one package…. They designed a car almost completely from scratch, just about the only reference to previous cars was that it had an engine and wheels…they used a clean sheet for everything else.

  8. Bernard May

    The DS is one of my all time favourites-nothing has even come close to it since!

  9. i have worked on ds citroen, they are the most advanced car of today

  10. Andy B

    I road to school, in the 1960’s,very occasionally, with a school friend in a Citroen DS 19 belonging to his Father. The ride was amazing, so much better than the Fords my Father had. The steering wheel was extraordinary; your photos brought it all back! I saw a photo of a DS 23 convertible, that sold for a ridiculous sum of money in a recent auction house sale, something like £250K! We need this sort of ride for our badly pitted roads!

  11. Mike Nobbs

    Loved my DS’s and ID’s but they were utter rot boxes.

    Still keeping faith with CXs + comfort spheres.The last true Cit IMHO – no leaks either with LHM 🙂



  13. James Ross

    We had 6 of them in our family one after the other starting in 1959 and running through until 1975. Fabulously beautiful, fabulously unreliable but fabulous all the same. As a kid I remember the crowds that used to gather around the car whenever we parked it (they were a very rare sight in the UK in 1960). And they were SO French. I now run a C8 and a C2 but they are not the same!

  14. rolf stammeijer

    I have had many citroens over the years(ami8, GS, GSA, 3x BX, XM and a xantia) and am lucky enough to now have a DS23 in my garage!
    It has been utterly reliable (it doesn’t get out much!) keeps up with modern traffic on the motorway cruising around the speed limit with ease. Is very comfortable and turns many heads. Lots of rooms for passengers and luggage and returns 26 mpg. It’s a great classic to run as the support for the model is very good with most parts readily available. Go on, treat yourself!

  15. ichael PenheyM

    I bought my first ID in 1969 second hand [while Armstrong was treading on the moon] and it was so reliable, only useing tyres & oil, for 10 years, that I will only buy Citroen now.
    I used to agree with Mike Nobbs about the CX being the last true Cit,but not anymore, I love my Xantia to bits.

  16. The Goddess is the most beautiful car ever, I WANT ONE. Loved the CS, my Dad had 2 Familiales, I had a Visa, which was far better than it looked, and a Xantia, which was probably the most comfortable car I’ve had. Praise indeed from a Land Rover nut!

  17. Zaoui Djoudi

    Champion in its league – Une merveille. No wonder it was proudly advertised in Louis de Funes French film called “Fontomas” and was the preferred presidential car for many French presidents and in other Fracophone countries.

  18. I have a ’72 Paris built DS and it’s the most wonderful car I’ve ever owned or had the privilage of driving. Nothing looks like or drives like or feel like a DS. It has a unique place in motoring as it is rightly called the propotype of the modern automobile. Check it out at citroen ds hire