Roland Barthes opens S/Z by distinguishing structural analysis from textual analysis. 'Structural analysis' refers to an activity that equalizes all texts by reducing them to the same underlying universal system. This is the type of activity Barthes practised in the 1960s, culminating in his famous essay 'Introduction to the Structural Analysis of Narratives' (Barthes 1994:95-135). The primary aim of structural analysis - practised not only by Barthes but also by other formalists and structuralists such as Vladimir Propp, Claude Lévi-Strauss, and A.J. Greimas - was to seek a universal narrative grammar. (Structural analysis is outlined in Chapter 2 above.) In the context of S/Z, 'textual analysis' refers to the posi-structural activity that conceives the 'text' as a term that names a process or activity, rather than an object. From the perspective of post-structural theory, 'text' is no longer understood as a finished, inert object to be examined and dissected by the analyst (the structuralist conception of the text). Instead, the text is seen to be produced in the activity of reading. Moreover, the text's meaning is not produced in a uniform way (by tracing it back to the same underlying universal system, as the structuralists did). Instead, it is produced from the specific interaction of the text's multiple signifiers. A text's meaning is then produced by the multiple relations the text's signifiers enter into on the surface. However, the structuralists and post-structuralists also have a different conception of the term 'meaning': for the structuralists, meaning can be fixed, and is stable, for it can be anchored in the underlying universal system; for the post-structuralists, meaning is plural and transitory, for the text is a space where multiple and contradictory codes intersect and overlap at the same time. The post-structuralists also changed the meaning of the term 'interpretation', as Barthes explains:
To interpret a text is not to give it a (more or less justified, more or less free) meaning, but on the contrary to appreciate what plural constitutes it. Let us first posit the image of a triumphant plural, unimpoverished by any constraint of representation (of imitation). In this ideal text, the networks are many and interact, without any one of them being able to surpass the rest; this text is a galaxy of signifiers, not a structure of signifieds; it has no beginning; it is reversible; we gain access to it by several entrances, none of which can be authoritatively declared to be the main one; the codes it mobilizes extend as far as. the eye can reach, they are indeterminable (meaning here is never subject to a principle of determination, unless by throwing dice); the systems of meaning can take over this absolutely plural text, but their number is never closed, based as it is on the infinity of language.
Post-structuralists privilege modernist writers such as James Joyce and Lautréamont because they do not suppress the textual nature of the text, but foreground it (perhaps epitomized in Joyce's Finnegans Wake). Barthes calls these modernist texts 'writerly', and opposes them to classical 'readerly' texts. The defining characteristic of the writerly text for Barthes is that it makes the reader an active contributor to the text's meaning, rather than a mere consumer of a pre-existent meaning. The readerly text 'plunges the reader into idleness, whose only "work" is to accept or reject the text (reading becomes a referendum)' (Barthes 1974:4). This is because a single meaning is privileged and overdetermined, offering little leeway for multiple meanings. The writerly text, by contrast, has plural meanings, and '[t]he more plural the text, the less it is written before I read it' (Barthes 1974:10). However, Barthes also emphasizes that the distinction between readerly and writerly texts is not absolute. A readerly text also displays a limited amount of play - of ambiguity and connotation. A readerly text becomes (moderately) writerly through analysis, not only through reading, as is the case with the writerly text. To read Finnegans Wake is to experience thé polysémie nature of the writerly text. But the writerly nature of Balzac's classically written (hence readerly) story 'Sarrasine' becomes evident by fragmenting the text, interrupting its flow by naming the codes at work in the resulting fragments.
However, Barthes only employs the distinction between readerly and writerly to print media - specifically, in terms of the distinction between classic realist texts (the readerly) and modernist reflexive texts (the writerly). From the context of electronic media such as hypertext, if is now possible to argue that Barthes uses the term 'writerly' in a metaphorical sense. When applied to hypertexts, the modernist label becomes irrelevant, although the reader as producer becomes a reality rather than a mere metaphor. (We shall explore this rereading of S/Z in section 5.4.)
The most notable - and notorious - aspect of S/Z is the five codes that Barthes identifies as he analyses the whole of Balzac's story 'Sarrasine'. These codes are: the proairetic, the hermeneutic, the semic, the symbolic, and the cultural/referential. We shall discuss each in turn.
The proairetic code, which refers to the sequence of actions in a narrative, is already developed (but simply called the 'level of actions') in Barthes's structural analysis. Structural analysis (beginning with Propp) produced an underlying grammar of narrative, the fundamental roles that characters play and the actions they perform. In his essay 'The Sequence of Actions' Barthes notes that this sequence of actions performed by characters creates the readability of a text, a coherent logic that creates the appearance of narrative rationality ('The Sequence of Actions', in Barthes 1994:138). Barthes calls this the 'proairetic code' because proairesis is the Greek term used by Aristotle to name the planning of a course of action: '[proairesis names] the human faculty of deliberating in advance the result of an action, of choosing (this is its etymological meaning) between the two terms of an alternative the one which will be realized' (p. 139). The opening phrase of'Sarrasine' - 'I was deep in one of those daydreams' - employs the proairetic code, namely, the narrator's action of daydreaming. In the rhetorical terms used in Chapter 1 above, the proairetic code structures the dispositio, or composition, of the narrative - its linear, temporal and irreversible order.
The hermeneutic code, like the proairetic code, also structures a text's linear, temporal, and irreversible order. It names 'all the units [in a text] whose function it is to articulate in various ways a question, its response, and the variety of chance events which can either formulate the question or delay its answer; or even, constitute an enigma and lead to its solution' (Barthes 1974:17). More specifically, the hermeneutic code consists of several stages:
• a formulation of the enigma
• several types of delay
The 'theme' names the subject or object of the hermeneutic code. The 'formulation' and 'proposal' work together to construct an enigma around the theme. The answer to these enigmas is inevitably delayed in order to maintain the reader's interest in the story by creating suspense and expectations. Barthes lists specific strategies of delay:
... the snare (a kind of deliberate evasion of the truth), the equivocation (a mixture of truth and snare which frequently, while focusing on the enigma, helps to thicken it), the partial answer (which only exacerbates the expectation of the truth), the suspended answer (an aphasic stoppage of the discourse), and jamming (acknowledgment of insolubility).
(Barthes 1974: 75-6)
Finally, the formulated and proposed enigmas are disclosed, and others are established or, if there are no more enigmas to be resolved, then the story ends.
One of the primary enigmas in 'Sarrasine' is the identity of the old man seen at a party held by the Lanty family. The old man is therefore the 'theme' of the enigma. This enigma is formulated and proposed in the form of the question: Who is the old man? The Marquise de Rochefide, who is at the party, poses this enigma to the anonymous narrator, who knows the old man's identity and agrees to tell her. But, of course, he.does not reveal the identity of the old man straightaway, he establishes a setting and narrates to the Marquise the story of the sculptor Sarrasine, particularly his sheltered upbringing, his education, and his visit to Italy, where he dramatically and fatefully falls in love with the beautiful Italian singer La Zambinella. Only towards the end of the story does the narrator divulge that La Zambinella is not a woman but a castrato, and that Sarrasine did not realize this either, which eventually leads to the latter's death. The narrator then reveals to the Marquise that the old 'man' is La Zambinella. The narrator's telling of the story is littered with delays, particularly equivocation (for much of the story the reader is under the impression that the old man may be the sculptor Sarrasine), while, within the story told, Sarrasine deliberately ignores hints and suggestions that La Zambinella may be a castrato (Barthes argues that Sarrasine continually snares himself).
The final three codes do not function to structure the text in the same way as the first two. Whereas the proairetic and hermeneutic codes structure the text into a broad linear flow (complete with delays and interruptions), the other codes constitute the details of the text - the objects, settings, character traits, common opinions, received ideas, special knowledge, and so on.
The seme is the code of connotation that confers upon the persons, places, and objects of a story an attribute, or associated meaning, which can be named in one word. In his analysis of 'Sarrasine' Barthes focuses on the semes that create character traits: 'If we set aside the semes of objects or atmospheres, actually rather rare (here [in 'Sarrasine'], at least), what is constant is that the seme is linked to an ideology of the person ...: the person is no more than a collection of semes. Thus... [the character] Sarrasine is the sum, the point of convergence, of: turbulence, artistic gift, independence, excess, femininity, ugliness, composite nature, impiety, love of whittling, will, etc.)' (Barthes 1974: 191). Similarly, La Zambinella is described by means of the stereotypical semes of femininity (slender, delicate, beautiful); but, of course, the castrato is manipulating these semes to create the illusion of femininity. Within readeriy texts, therefore, semes cluster around and attach themselves to characters, conferring upon them the illusion of a three-dimensional, well-rounded existence. That is, the readeriy text creates the illusion that it is merely reproducing a pre-existing reality, whereas in fact it is constructing a fictional reality.
The symbolic code refers to the basic, general, abstract categories in which a culture or civilization organizes experience. A text can be read as a particular manifestation of these basic codes. The opening of 'Sarrasine' manifests several types of symbolic code, from the straightforward opposition between inside and outside (the narrator is seated in a window recess, and contrasts the cold night outside the window with the party taking place inside the Lanty mansion) to the more fundamental and general opposition between life and death (the old man symbolizes death, while the Marquise symbolizes life, especially when they are standing together at the party). Moreover, the enigma of the story 'Sarrasine' is based around the fundamental opposition between male and female, and the place of La Zambinella in that opposition. The symbolic code therefore operates at several levels of generality.
Finally, the cultural (or referential) code names the text's reference to common opinions, received ideas, and special knowledge: 'the numerous codes of knowledge or wisdom to which the text continually refers... we shall call... in a very general way cultural codes (even though, of course, all codes are cultural), or rather, since they afford the discourse a basis in scientific or moral authority, we shall call them reference codes' (Barthes 1974: 18). As a 'realist' readeriy text, 'Sarrasine' makes numerous references to Parisian and Italian culture, art, social behaviour, and so on.
For Barthes, the whole of Balzac's story has been 'braided' together using these five codes. In untangling these codes, Barthes aims not to reconstitute them as a system, but simply to leave them unwound from one another: 'if we make no effort to structure each code, or the five codes among themselves, we do so deliberately, in order to assume the multivalence of the text, its partial reversibility. We are, in fact, concerned not to manifest a structure but to produce a structuration' (p. 20). However, it is common to group the codes (as we have already done) into those that construct (and are therefore tied to) the text's linear, temporal progression (the hermeneutic and the proairetic) and those that construct the thematic and referential.details of the text (the semic, the cultural, and the symbolic). Furthermore, the proairetic and the hermeneutic are necessarily linked, in that the first structures the sequence of actions and the second creates enigmas and discloses information about those actions, and the characters that perform them.
Was this article helpful?