For my last post, I decided to do something a little different and share this old essay by Roland Barthes that provides a different perspective on how stories function at a very basic structural level. Here, Barthes describes this professional wrestling circuit in his native France, but what he’s really talking about is how symbols work within narratives. In wrestling, and storytelling in general, there are archetypes. The hero, the villain (or “the bastard” in Barthes vocabulary) and these roles come prepackaged with a set of signs that the reader expects to digest. Barthes uses the example of wrestling because the signs are very clear and very physical. The actions of “The Bastard” cause us to be repulsed, and so we root for the hero, and so on and so on. The physical performance of wrestling involves a multitude of signs that signal specific reactions from the viewer.
I bring this essay up because, at least for me, its helpful to reexamine the very essential objects that constitute how information is relayed in a narrative through a series of symbols. As writers, we exist at the forefront of a very long tradition, and it can be easy to get lost and lose track of the basic symbolic structures of a story. It is important to remember that while characters and plots are in a sense “people” and “actions”, by being written down they become, first and foremost, signs. That which refers to something else. All these details and lies we invent for our stories serve this purpose of being read and hopefully interpreted as one or more intended things. Barthes essay provides what I think is a very useful structural perspective on just how even the more vulgar aspects of culture take part in these practices of narrative weaving.