Barthes, "The World of Wrestling": Some Passages

        Barthes here creates perhaps a more complete analysis of a semiotic system, like the kind we want you to produce.  The wrestling matches are decoded into their participants (its vocabulary of "nouns," if you will), the actions (the "verbs"), the emotional responses intended (characteristic "clauses") and the underlying rules of "justice" and "injustice" which govern their application (the "rhetoric").  The thoroughness of his analysis of the parts also does not prevent him from arriving at syntheses in which he announces theses about what the whole system means to its participants and to the culture.

Synthesis example: "...wrestling is an open-air spectacle [which] partakes of the nature of the great solar spectacles, Greek drama, and bullfight: in both, a light without shadow generates an emotion without reserve" (Barthes 15).  " The public [at a wrestling match] abandons itself to the primary virtue of the spectacle, which is to abolish all motives and all consequences: what matters is not what it thinks but what it sees.


"Each sign in wrestling is . . . endowed with an absolute clarity, since one must always understand everything on the spot" (Barthes 16).

"Basic sign": "the body of the wrestler "constitutes a basic sign" (Barthes 17).  On this body are inscribed the facial contortions, bodily displays, etc. which communicate to the audience what emotions they should be feeling.  In the body, "each physical type expresses the part which has been assigned to the contestant" (Barthes 17).  (e.g., salaud or "bastard," "passivity," "grotesque conceit," and salope or "bitch," Barthes 17-18)

"Wrestling is like a diacritic writing: above the fundamental meaning of his body, the wrestler arranges comments which are episodic but always opportune, and constantly help the reading of the fight by means of gestures, attitudes and mimicry which make the intention utterly obvious" (Barthes 18).

"What the public wants is the image of passion, not passion itself.   [ . . . ] This emptying out of interiority to the benefit of its exterior signs, this exhaustion of content by the form, is the very principle of triumphant classical art" (Barthes 18).

"What is thus displayed for the public is the great spectacle of Suffering, Defeat, and Justice" (Barthes 19)  NB: these are the "bundles of . . . relations" which Levi-Strauss discussed (175).

Click here for help adapting Barthes' method and choosing a cultural system to analyze.