Semiotically, the beach can be read as a text, and by text I mean a signifying construct of potential meanings operating on a number of levels. Like all texts, the beach has an author, not, admittedly a named individual, but a historically determined set of community practices that have produced material objects or signs. By these I mean the beach-side buildings, the changing rooms, the lawns, the esplanades, the vendors' kiosks, the regulatory notices, the steps and benches, the flags and litter binsall these items whose foreground functional dimensions should not blind us to their signifying one. Like all texts, beaches have readers. People use beaches to seek out certain kinds of meaning for themselves, meanings that help them come to terms with their off-beach normal life style. As with other texts, these meanings are determined partly by the structure of the text itself, partly by the social characteristics and discursive practices of the readerdifferent people use the beach differently, that is they find different meanings in it, but there is a core of meanings that all users, from respectable suburban family to long haired dropout surfer, share to a greater or lesser extent.
The beach is an anomalous category between land and sea that is neither one nor the other but has characteristics of both. This means that it has simply too much meaning, an excess of meaning potential, that derives from its status as anomalous. In tribal societies this overflow of meaning on the anomalous is controlled by designating it as sacred or taboo. In our more diverse society the control is exercised less magically, though no less authoritatively.
The beach is the place where we go on holidays (Holy Days), a place and time that is neither home nor work, outside the profane normality, and it occupies a similar, if less intensely felt, place in our society as festivals did in earlier ones.
The geographical opposition between land and sea may not be as important for Australians as it was for the maker of Genesis; for us huddled in the developed, urbanized fringe of the continent it is best articulated as City and Sea, or Culture and Nature. The geographical opposition has no meaning until our ideology imposes one, and then it serves to naturalize the ideological. Lévi-Strauss's work demonstrates how all cultures are concerned to articulate this distinction between nature and culture in one way or another, and thus make meanings in and for the culture. I am concerned with how these meanings are articulated in Australia in general and Perth in particular.
But Lévi-Strauss's work also requires us to define the difference between nature and the natural. Nature is pre-cultural reality. It is the external world before any cultural perception or sense making process has been applied to it. But the natural is what culture makes of nature. In other words, the natural is a cultural product, and nature exists only as a conceptual opposition to culture.
Let us start with the beach as a physically anomalous category between land and sea. Man wishes to mediate this big binary opposition for reasons to do with comfort and the avoidance of terror (motives which gave rise to the creation of Jesus Christ, after all) and so he overlaps the physical structure of Land/Sea with the social structure of Nature/Culture where he can create mediating categories which are both physical and social. The land, then, becomes culture, the city, civilization, the sea becomes nature, untamed, uncivilized, raw. The beach mediates this terrifying boundary. Figure 1 shows diagrammatically how this is achieved. This is a diagrammatic representation of the structure of a particular beach in Perth which I will elaborate and name later: for the moment I wish its anonymity to signal its typicality.
The move from culture, the city, on the right to nature, the sea, on the left is effected through a number of zones. First there is the road, the public site of transition, and the boundary beyond which the car, that crucial cultural motif, cannot pass. Next comes grass, or more typically and significantly, lawn. Lawns invoke the natural, not nature: the grass is controlled, cropped like a carpet: they are anomalous, mediating between indoors and outdoors, so it is appropriate that on them we find 'furniture'benches that are either
painted green to look 'natural' or left as 'natural' wood. The lawn is the most cultured bit of the beach and is typically used by the old who need the security of culture, or by the incorrigibly suburban who import their chairs, tables, rugs, trannies and sometimes even television to make the outdoors as much like indoors as possible For most, however, it is an easy transition towards nature, though we will find the occasional 'sunbaker' here. The edge of the lawn is marked by an esplanade, a concrete flat-topped wall that marks the boundary beyond which the sea is not allowed to come: like all boundaries it is a popular place to walk, a moment of balance in a sacred no-man's land outside profane normality. (Notice how Joggers patrol the edge of the sea or the banks of the riverand no activity is currently more anomalous than joggingsacred to some, totally taboo to others.)
By crossing the esplanade we reach the beach, the anomalous category between land and sea, but on the nature side of the nature/culture oppositionthe fit between the physical and social is good, but significantly not perfect. We need, it would appear, to conceptualize the beach as nearer nature than culture: the beach is natural, whereas the lawn is cultural.
The beach itself tends to be divided by us into significant zones both horizontally and vertically. These zones are vague, the boundaries ill marked, if not unmarked, and consequently the meanings, the categories, leak one into the other. Just under the esplanade is one narrow zone and this provides one set of meanings that serves different functions for at least two very different sorts of people. What they have in common is a negative: they do not see swimming as the main purpose of their visit to the beach (and swimming is the furthest man can penetrate into nature). One group is the dressed mothers and fathers with the undressed childrenthis is really a group most typically found on the lawn, for whom the meaning of the beach is centred on the home and family (ie. culture) rather than in nature. The other group is that of the sunbakers, and their meaning, though articulated differently, is surprisingly similar to the suburban family's.
A tan is an anomalous category between skin (human, culture) and fur (animal, nature). A tanned body is a sign to be read by others, particularly others in the city. It signifies that the wearer, a city dweller, has been into nature and is bringing back both the physical health of the animal, but also the mental health that contact with nature brings into the artificiality of city life.
The first signifying function of the tan is to bring the natural into culture. The natural, we remember, is not nature, but the culture's construction of it, and thus the tan is achieved via a number of cultural commodities, not least of which are barriers, or screens that protect the body from the dangers of the sun, raw nature, in the same way as the esplanade protects the land from the dangers of the sea. This natural meaning of the tan has also, as do all signs of our culture, a class dimension.
The National Times devoted a whole page article to suntanning and sun-screening. Its illustration is significant (Fig. 2). The topless sunbaker is middle classthe hat and the connotations of the style of the drawing are adequate class markers. Her (dark) tan needs to be differentiated from the black servant whose colour by contrast signals the whiteness (racial) of the sunbaker, and whose class also
contrasts with hers. Other signs in the article support the class signification of tansolarium tans cost up to $65 to acquire, natural tans of the required quality take up to 10 hours sunbaking a day, sunscreens cost on average $4. Sunbeds are used by 'busy working ladies with no time to go to the beach,' obviously to signal their desired, if false, membership of the true bourgeoisie, which is a leisured bourgeoisie.
The tan, with its connotations of leisure, money, sophistication, meanings for others, must be significantly distinguished from the colour achieved by the outdoor manual worker, and of course it is, by its smoothness and texture and by its evenness over all (or nearly all) parts of the body. As the National Times puts it, 'It turns out to be all too easy to obtain the uneven coloration deprecatingly termed a "farmer's tan". It takes time and commitment to get the 'all-over allure of a deep and enduring brownness.' The 'naturalness' of tan serves to naturalize class, leisure. and money for it is these that provide access to the natural
Both the suburbanite and the sunbaker are, for different reasons, culture centred, and are thus found either on the lawns or on that part of the beach closest to the security of culture. The language itself is, as always, significant here. The English term 'sunbathe' has
been transformed in Australian English to 'sunbake' This has, a I would expect, roots in both the physicalthe Australian Sun is hotterand the social or cultural. 'Baking' is a cultural process it is a form of cooking, and cooking is, as Lévi-Strauss (1969) has demonstrated, a primary means of turning nature into culture. The sunbaker finds a different meaning in the beach from the bather
(Incidentally, the difference cannot be read back into English, for English does not have access to both words as does Australian: meaning resides in difference, and only Australian English possesses it.)
The central zone of the beach and the strip nearest the sea are where the families, the games players, and those who wish to paddle, swim and jog, tend to congregate, for this eases the transition into the first zone of the seathe shallows where, again, the very young, the parents, adults and the elderly bathers find their meaning of the natural. Beyond this, beyond the breaking waves, is the deep sea, used only by strong swimmers, usually youths, those bet ween childhood and full adulthood. Their meaning is one of leaving culture, of accepting the risk and challenge of nature, of testing their strength against that of the sea.
Let us now identify the actual beach I am considering, and thus take into account those features which are specific to it, but which still have a signifying function that act as examples of specific articulations of the range of meanings we have been looking at. The beach is Cottesloe, and some of its features are added to our basic diagram in Figure 3.
A significant feature is the slab of rock commemorating the landing of the Naturaliste, the first arrival of man on this shore. The start of history, the creation of culture out of nature, is appropriately signalled in this sacred anomalous strip. Only two buildings are allow ed within these lawnsone sells food, the other is the toilets. The coincidence is appropriate, for excreta in the terms of structural anthropology are structurally equivalent to food. Both sully the neatness of the boundary between the body and its environment, between nature and culture. Excreta brims over with taboo meanings in the same way as food does with sacred ones, and both are commonly heavily ritualized. The shower, too, is worth noting, where fresh water (familiar in our taps and reticulation systems) washes off the sand and salt of sea water, and enables us symbolically as well as physically to return from nature to culture. The Genesis opposition of waters of the firmament (fertile, fresh) and waters of the sea (in fertile, salt) provides the meaning underlying an apparently functional act. There used to be a beach pavilion here, currently being renovated, which combined all these functions in one building, toilets, showers, changing rooms, and refreshment sales.
Perhaps the most significant sign on the beach is what I will refer to in this article as the prohibition notice, for it provides the perfect example of culture imposing its laws upon nature: No surfboards, No spear guns, No nude bathing, No animals or pets, No vehicles, No litter.
The first three of these prohibitions are ways of keeping nature at bay. Surfboards, as we shall see later, are a highly meaningful sign in that they violate the boundary between man and fish. Both occupy anomalous categories, but veer to the nature side of the anomaly. Nude bathing similarly takes the undress of the beach too far towards nature and away from culturenudists call themselves naturists and frequently stress how 'natural' their hobby is.
There appear to be two main reasons for prohibiting dogs. One is found in the widespread belief that swimming dogs attract sharks and the other is the threat of their dirtand dirt has a special significance in structural anthropology.
Vehicles and litter are signs of the culture that is being excluded from the meaning of the beach. So this notice establishes the differences, the boundaries between nature and beach, and beach and culture in an arbitrary way that may be specific to this beach, but is typical of the exercise of social control.
Prohibiting anomalous activities is exerting ideological closure by controlling the threat of too much meaning. This beach must not, cannot, be allowed to violate the conceptual categories, to signify too much of both nature and culture simultaneously, for that would open the text to racial and oppositional meanings. Beaches such as Cottesloe are not there to offer alternative meanings to culture, but to naturalize it, and to naturalize not just culture, but the centre of that culture, which, for Perth at least, is a leisured, family-centred bourgeoisie. The security and comfort of the beach is a natural equivalent of the suburb: this reference to the natural is explained by Foucault (1978) as the reference to a masked social norm. The natural is a culture's production or reproduction of nature, and thus what is perceived as a rule or law of nature is only a displaced or misrecognized rule by which to define social normality. The naturalness (as opposed to nature) of the beach defines the normality of the suburb. But the natural for Foucault does more than justify the norm, it also justifies the disciplining by punishment or other forms of 'moral engineering' of those who deviate from it. This notice, with its range of prohibitions, not only provides a negative definition of the normthat which is not deviantbut also provides a positive agency of social control or power that defines the structure of relationships and the meanings that go with them to constitute society as culture. The notice's cultural function of controlling the meanings of the beach merges with its social function of con trolling the definition of the norm: both serve to deny contradictory interests in the service of an exnominated bourgeoisie.
The four cards shown in Fig. 5 a, b, c and d, were bought at Cottesloe, but depict behaviour explicitly banned there. The contradiction is not total, however because what they depict is not topless sunbaking, but a staged performance that is not one of the toplessness, not one of the beach-as-nature, but of the beach-as ideology. Figure 5 (a) produces a meaning of the beach as a site of
male sexuality. The beach is a place for looking, (SUN, SURF, SAND and SEE), for possession of the female by the male look. The girls here are not sunbaking merely to produce a tan to take nature back into the suburbs, nor are they swimming out of culture into nature, but are constituting themselves as bearers of meanings for men.
The beach with its structure of the natural legitimizes this sexual display and look: the body is permitted a visibility within this anomalous strip that is denied it in more culturally central environments, and the body, of course, is where we are closest to nature. Sexuality may be 'natural' in its origins, but the forms by which it is expressed are specifically cultural, however much this may be disguised. This disguise is, however, stripped away in the parodies of middle class leisure in (b) and (c). In (b) 'I wonder what the poor people are doing, ' gender dominance is associated with class dominance, and both are naturalized by the iconography of physical (ie. natural) sex. The connotations of a Roman orgy and/or Sultan's Harem add a historical cross-cultural legitimization, so that the card invites the structural association of male with the dominant class, with the Emperor/Sultan, and of female with the subordinate class, with slave. (c) continues this structure of values. Here the quotation refers to a remark made by Malcolm Fraser that life wasn't meant to be easy. The key words here are 'easy' and 'hard'. 'Easy' has to be understood in the context of the protestant work ethicby which leisure (when we take it easy) is earned by hard work. This is the middle class, positively connoted meaning. The meaning attributed to the working class by the middle class is of unearned ease, of
'bludging'. Malcolm Fraser's words are exclusively middle class: there is no possible proletarian meaning of 'easy'. 'Hard' belongs simultaneously to two paradigmsthe first is the same verbal one as 'easy', the other is that of the sexuality of the body, that of the visual signs in the card. Card (d) again merges class and gender in the pun on 'bums' which inevitably positions the reader as middle class male: the knowing laugh both constitutes and masks the ideological placement. The male voyeur is even more explicit here than in the word 'SEE' in (a). The class factor is present in one of the meanings of the word 'Bums' (bludgers) but in the cartoon representation of the reader/voyeur it is displaced into signs of Australiannessthongs, shorts, beer belly and sun hat. Australia is, in its own imagining, a classless (ie. middle class) society. In all the cards the naturalness of physical sexuality guarantees and legitimates a class centred meaning system and provides, like the 'prohibition' notice, a 'natural' justification for a masked social norm. Pornography, however soft, is a way of exerting social control over the body, which, being physically part of nature, is thus potentially beyond culture's reach. The beach and the body are naturalized in to the bourgeois.
A holiday ad in TAA's in-flight consumer goodies magazine 'Gallimaufry' (and what could be more bourgeois than that) lists the ingredients that go to make up 'The Beach' (sic) as 'spectacular surf swimming, fast sun tanning and some very strenuous eye exercise' (Gallimaufry 1983). The coyness of the final phrase cannot disguise its identical ideological work with that of the Cottesloe cards work identified by graffiti noted by Noel Sanders (1982) on the main steps of Bondi beach:
O baby, what a place to be, In the service of the bourgeoisie. (the words are those of Iggy Pop 's 1979 song 'The Endless Sea ')
TAA's ad and Bondi's graffiti confirm Cottesloe: the cards contradict it only in so far as they show breasts; in all other respects they support perfectly Cottesloe's appropriation of the beach into bourgeois chauvinism. They not only turn nature into culture, they define by exnomination a particular class and gender as the culture, the site of an ideologically constructed unity of interest that denies the subordinate class/gender a position or interests of their own.
This urbanized culture seeks to extend its control over the meaning of the beach into the sea itself. The groyne, the pillar that used to support a shark net, the tower from which the life guards watch over the safety of the beachgoers and the paddling pool prohibit waves, sharks and danger: they prohibit the unwelcome extremes of nature in the same way as the notice prohibits those of culture.
But Cottesloe beach is not a complete text on its own, it is rather a quotation from the syntagmatic string of beaches that constitute 'The Beach' for this area of Perth. Extending the text to include the relations of Cottesloe beach with its neighbours to the north reveals
a similar set of signifying categories or zones operating vertically rather than horizontally (See Fig. 6).
Here, to put it simply, we find the same physical and conceptual movement from culture to nature, only this time in a south to north direction.
Cottesloe, the family, suburban beach, gives way to North Cottesloe, where surfboards and scuba diving are allowed, but dogs are not. The surf is not particularly good here, so the surfers are the young apprentices. Here also, the lawn is reduced to a narrow strip at the top of the cliff, and there is no esplanade. North Cottesloe is more natural than Cottesloe. Further north, by the rocks that mark the boundary between North Cottesloe and south Swanbourne is a hundred or so metres of beach where younger women go topless and older ones walk their dogs. (Notice that this 'scandalous' behaviour occurs on a boundary between named beaches).
There is, however, another beach just south of Cottesloe (Leighton) where dogs and topless sunbaking are both permitted (see Fig. 7). The relaxation of cultural control that results in dogs and breasts walking the beach together is worth investigation. The core lies, I think, in the only linguistic category that includes two such apparently disparate natural objects, that is the category 'dirty'.
Edmund Leach (1976:62) (quoted by Hartley 1983) has shown how dirt is a condition of boundaries. This derives from excreta which in a precise physical sense crosses the boundary from man to
not-man: excreta are man becoming nature, just as food, ingested, is nature becoming man. Dirty, then, is another characteristic of the anomalous, so dirt has the power and the threat of too much meaning.
Mary Douglas makes a similar point when she argues that dirt is matter out of place, and that 'eliminating it is a positive effort to organize the environment' (1966:2). Dirt is anomalous, 'a residual category, rejected from our normal scheme of classifications' (1966:36). The anomalous is seen by her as the threatening, the dangerous, and 'attributing danger ... helps to enforce conformity.' (1966:36) The category dirt invites social control because of its danger. Dogs are dangerous because they attract not only sharks, but also disease; breasts because they threaten conventional morality.
On this level, dogs are dirty physically, breasts morally. But in structuralist terms both are dirty because both patrol the conceptual boundary between man and nature. Dogs cross the boundary between man and beasts, breasts, too, signify the boundary between nakednessthe body in natureand clothes, the body culturized, given meanings. Dress and undress are ways of signifying man's difference from the similarity to the rest of the animal kingdom. The naked body is naturewhat man shares with animalsthe clothed body is culture. But my point here is that as dogs cross and dirty the physical boundary between man and beasts, so breasts cross and dirty the conceptual one. Both are therefore appropriately banned or permitted together.
I must return from this dirty digression to the beach, and our northward trip up it.
Next is a brief reversion to a family type beach (No dogs or topless sunbaking) but surfboards and scuba are allowed. Beyond this is North Swanbourne, which is where nudist (or naturist) bathing is allowed. Significantly the road and city veer away from the beach here leaving a large expanse of sand dune, partially covered with wild grassnature's equivalent of the lawnto mediate between city and sea. The city is physically and conceptually further from the beach here, the beach is therefore closer to nature, and the meaning of the beach is appropriately articulated in nudity.
This double articulation of the conceptual shift between culture and nature means that, on this section of the coastline, at least, culture is located at the bottom right of Figure 6, that is the lawn at Cottesloe, and nature at top leftthe deep sea at Swanbourne.
The beach, then, is an anomalous category, overflowing with meaning because it is neither land nor sea, neither nature nor culture but partakes of both. It is therefore the appropriate place for anomalous behaviour, behaviour which is highly significant because it pushes the cultural as far as it can go to Nature: it explores the boundary of what it is to be social, to be cultured, that is the non physical part of the human condition. The anomalies of this behaviour can be summarized so far in a diagram:
Cottesloe may be the perfect suburban beach for some, safe and culturally controlled. But for others the meaning of the beach must move further away from culture, closer to nature. Craig McGregor's ideal is 'a beach with no houses, no tents, no sandmining, no road and no way in except in bare feet, or maybe in thongs, bikini and sunvisor...You can swim naked there. Only albino sand crabs and, occasionally, a gaggle of surfboard riders keep you company' (National Times 9-15.1.83). His list of prohibitions are diametrically opposed to Cottesloe's, but his dream of the ideal beach is what nonetheless, gives Cottesloe its final appeal. The safe suburban beach has some symbolic connection with the ideal, isolated beach of nature: both inhabit the same anomalous category and the explicitness and vehemence of Cottesloe's prohibitions signal how close the disruptive force of Nature actually is. I suspect, too, that in our
dreams most of us share McGregor's ideal of the beach, but actually go to Cottesloe.
Jo Kennedy, the rock singer, was cast away with Michael Willesee and two others on a tropical island for a TV programme on survival. Standing on a huge, deserted beach she complained 'I miss the beachthe proper beach with sun tan oil and towels' (Survival 25.7.83). The wild beach and the suburban beach are opposite faces of the same myth. The appeal of the suburbanized beach depends crucially on the fact that the suburbanization is not complete: echoes of that which resists incorporation into the culture still exist to pro vide a frisson of the freedom, the danger and the potentially subversive challenge that nature mounts against culture. And it is this end of the spectrum of potential meanings that the young tow-haired surfers mobilize to help them establish their position within our culture. For culture is not best understood by a consensus model in which the values at the centre are agreed and can thus provide the yardstick by which to measure degrees of centrality/deviance Rather these values are constantly being contested and are having to defend their centrality, their dominance. So culture is not a relatively harmonious and stable continuum from dominant to deviant, but a contestation between groups occupying different, sometimes opposing positions in the map of social relations, and the process of making meanings (which is, after all, the process of culture) is a social struggle, as different groups struggle to establish meanings that serve their interests.
The meanings of the beach that serve the family are contested by sub-cultures such as youth in general and surfers in particular. It is significant how the beach plays an important part in youth culture, because youth, too, is an anomalous category, the one between child and adult. Much of youth centre around the beach, sometimes concerned with acquiring the anomalous tan, frequently associated with that anomalous surfboard, and also with the panel van, that anomalous vehicle, with features of both car and truck, of indoors and outdoors, so it is appropriate that this accumulation of meanings of beach, youth surfboard, panel van, should have elements of the sacred for its initiates and of the taboo for the rest.
The panel van is ambivalent in that it has got the form of a truck for work, but it is used more like a car for leisure and for other social/sexual purposes. It is mass produced, and yet highly individualized as if to deny its mass production. But the individualization is conventional. The differences between panel vans are differences of the signifier only. All vans share the same signified, that of youth defining its meaning as neither child nor adult. The owners have to have reached a certain age to own one, to be able to afford one and to be allowed to drive one legally. They are defining themselves as not children. Yet they are also not adult; the customizing is expensive and conspicuously wasteful, which defines them against the young adult who is typically saving up money to be mar tied, or to put the deposit down on a house, or a mortgage. The conspicuous consumption cuts off the panel van, both from the younger and from the older.
Further, even though panel vans can be works of art, they are significantly differentiated from the traditional role of art in the capitalist society, which, as Bourdieu (1968) has shown, serves social status and class differentiation, as well as economic capital. Panel van art certainly has the status and class functions, though they serve the deviant, not the dominant, but where panel van art differs from fine art is in its investment role. Panel vans are essentially disposable art, the appropriate form for an oppositional youth subculture. In fact, as Enzensberger (1972) has argued about the electronic media, the impermanency itself provides not just an alternative to the bourgeoisie, but a threat:
The media produce no objects that can be hoarded and auction ed. They do away completely with 'intellectual property' and liquidate the 'heritage', that is to say, the class-specific handling of non-material capital (Quoted by Hartley, 1983).
The panel van is also anomalous between indoors and outdoors. It is furnished like a house with carpets, decorations, hi-fi systems, mattresses, cushions, and yet is outdoors as well. Its furnishings are used typically for sexual promiscuity which again is part of the deviance of youth, between the non-sexual child and the married, sexually bonded adult. There is a strong association between panel vans and drive-ins. A drive-in, too, is anomalous between indoors and outdoors, so the two fit well together. And when a panel van is in a drive-in, the owners have to signify their difference from the straight family viewer by reversing it so that the panel vans are all parked oppositionally to the family cars. Now we know there is a function for this, in that it enables sex and cinema to be enjoyed at the same time. But the functional dimension is never the only one in social behaviourthere is always a signifying one: in this case of establishing difference from the family, composed of adults and children. So the cultural connections, the signifying similarities, bet ween panel vans and beach and youth, are not coincidental. They are all part of a way that a culture, its various manifestations and formal institutions, fit together in the sort of ideological system that Althusser (1971) called 'overdetermination'.
On top of the panel van, as it is driven to Scarborough Beach, is typically a surfboard. The surfboard is perhaps the perfect example of a category anomalous between nature and culture. It is carefully designed with a scientific approach to the placement of fins and shape of the hull, yet it is also the most minimal object that enables man to float on the sea. The skill and art of the surfer resemble more the way a dolphin interacts with the sea or a bird with the air than man's more normal technological imposition of his will and needs upon nature, typified by the modern giant ships. As befits its anomalous status, the surfboard is both sacred and taboo. To
the surfie it is an object of near worship: and there are strong taboos that prevent girls, or the too young or the too old from riding it.
We are not interested here in a Freudian reading of the surfboard with male sexuality, but it is worth remarking on the sexist nature of most youth subcultures, where male and female behaviour is clearly distinguished, and where males are active and dominant, and females passive and subordinate. Panel vans, motor bikes, surfboards are conventionally driven/ridden by males and the size, skill, decoration involved is part of the male status order. Females are passengers spectators, there to be won, possessed, flaunted by the male. Surfers' writing mingles accounts of mastering waves with ones of easy mastery of girls. They have an exclusive language for each, language that signals subcultural membership and excludes outsiders, language that performs the vital function of distinguishing them from us. In this language waves are tubes, rip curls, double ender pintails, females are bushies, garudas and groupies. But the key term is hunting which applies equally to waves and females. 'They were sworn to the cry of "Hunt it in the day, hunt it in the dark". And brave boys keep their promises' (Australian Surfing World (hereafter ASW) 190, 1983). Hunting is where man first denotes his mastery over nature: it is the prerequisite of cooking which, in turn, becomes the resonant metaphor for the process of culturizing nature. And consequently it is seen as a natural activityman hunting for food, hunting for females, hunting for waves is man behaving 'naturally' because he is acting according to his bodily needs.
And this is opening up my main thesis about the meaning of surfing. For the moment, let me claim that the meaning is to be found in the body, in physical sensation, and that the following mini structure then obtains:
Physical Sensation: Conceptual Construction
The language of surfing is sensational: it works through and on the senses, the body (See Fig. 8). It centres life on nouns and adjectives, the immediate perceptions of the world that relate to the body. Verbs with their implications of purposeful actions, of structuring time into tenses and modalities, of relating subject and object into the culturally valued world of logic, verbs that so crucially perform the conceptual structuring of culture, are minimized. The short sentences, the disjointed syntax produce a world that is a mosaic Of physical sensation, of bodily freedom. The body's (or nature's) life of sensation breaks free from the control of culture, it momentarily disrupts and fractures the seamless world of sense (not, not, not sensation) that is the hallmark and raison d'etre of culture. Breaking sentence order, producing sentences without the controlling presence of a verb is breaking the shackles of your primary school English teacher, herself a metonym for the conflation of linguistic and social control. As Barthes says 'The sentence is hierarchical: it implies subjections, subordinations, internal reactions ... any completed utterance runs the risk of being ideological' (1975:50). Opposing the control of the sentence is a way of achieving 'pleasure' in the sense that Barthes (1975:23) uses it. He writes of pleasure as 'something both revolutionary and social . . . it cannot be taken over by any collectivity, any mentality, any ideolect.' This resistance of pleasure to ideological control lies at the heart of that paradoxical phrase 'the politics of pleasure'.
Barthes's move away from his early party political phase to one in which the concept of pleasure takes over from the concept of ideology as the most important one in his thinking, is accompanied by his concern with the body of the reader, reading with the body, not the mind. 'The pleasure of the text is that moment when my body pursues its own ideasfor my body does not have the same ideas I do' (1975:17). When Barthes talks about his body responding to a work of literature, what he is getting at is that there is a part of his response which is natural, not cultural. It is not part of the language system, the cultural experience that he has had, but it is much closer to direct physical sensation which is part of the body. The mind is cultural, culturally determined, the body is natural, physiologically, genetically determined, and Barthes is significantly talking about responding with the body, or reading with the body, to describe that part of the pleasure of reading which he sees as natural or universal. This pleasure (or bliss) of reading he describes by the word jouissance, which means both bliss or ecstasy and sexual orgasm. When the body is thus the site of the pleasure of the text, then aesthetics merges into eroticism.
Traditional aesthetics seeks the universal or 'natural' in the text itself. Barthes is looking to the body and sensation of the reader to find a non-cultural dimension to the process of making meaning. This ties in closely with another aspect of Barthes' later work, his Insistence that the pleasure derived from reading, like the pleasure
derived from sex, comes from the interplay of signifiers. 'That is the pleasure of the text: value shifted to the sumptuous rank of the signifier' (1979:65). And this links closely with the surf where the language and the activity foregrounds the signifiers over the signifier' (1979:65). And this links closely with the surf where the sound right: 'Indigenous night boys in tight fitting fashion hung out of the stereo stalls, pirate sounds destroying what little solstice remained in the streets.' The solstice is the moment when day and night are equal: it sounds right, though the signified is wrong. The signifier actually works quite well. Breaking the relationship between signifier and signified is another fracture of social control, for it disrupts the sign, and the sign is culture, the signified is its sense for this is what culture makes, it makes sense literally and figuratively. The signified is culture, but the signifier is nature, the senses Barthes' shift of focus from the signified in Mythologies to the signifier in Pleasure of the Text is a shift from culture to nature which involves a shift in the definition of politicsa shift from the politics of ideology to the politics of pleasure. The insistence of surf writing on the senses, on the signifier rather than the signified, is a linguistic device that pushes the meaning of surfing closer to nature and further from culture. For the signifier is not a meaning, but a means to a meaning: it is embryonic culture crying for a signified: resisting this cry is a political resistance because it is resistance against control.
We can now extend our mini-structure into something more comprehensive:
Physical Sensation: Conceptual Construction
Linguistic Disorder:Linguistic Order
This opposition between freedom and control, between the signifier and the signified, the body and the mind is an articulation of the struggle to exert power and to resist it. Foucault talks of the 'claims and affirmations . . . of one's own body against power, of health against the economic system, of pleasure against the moral norms of sexuality, marriage, decency' (1980:56). He goes on to describe the response of socially constituted power to the body's resistance to social control as 'an economic (and perhaps also ideological) exploitation of eroticism, from sun-tan products to pornographic films. Responding precisely to the revolt of the body, we find a new mode of investment which presents itself no longer in the form of control by repression but that of control by stimulation. "Get undressedbut be slim, good-looking, tanned!" ' (1980:57). Cottesloe's cards and the National Times's advice on sun tanning are equally the culture's attempt to exert control over the The Beach in Oz Popular Culture
body, its incorporation (pardon the pun) of the potentially subversive. White (1979:106-7) explains how Foucault (1979) sees a prison as a metonym for society because both are agencies of control:
In the totally ordered, hierocratized space of the nineteenth century prison, the prisoner is put under constant surveillance, discipline. and education in order to transform him into what power as now organized in society demands that everyone become: docile, productive, hard-working, self-regulating, conscience ridden, in a word, 'normal' in every way . . . (This power as now organized in society) . . . as sovereign in practice as any
absolute monarch claimed to be in theory, seeks to make society into an extended prison, in which discipline becomes an end in itself; and conformity to a norm which governs every aspect of life, and especially desire, becomes the only principle both of law, and morality.
Pleasure, which affords the escape from this power, the escape from the norm, becomes an agent of subversion because it creates a privatized domain beyond the scope of a power whose essence lies in its omnipotence, its omnipresence. Showing that life is livable out side it denies it.
It cannot be coincidence that the Foucauldian concepts of society as an extended prison, and of pleasure, the satisfaction of desire the only escape from it, are all present in this ad for surf suits (Fig 9).
In the bottom right, the actual prison, its gates labelled No Entry, is contrasted with the laughing (pleasuring) surfies: in the top the signifiers of gates and notice have changed, the signifies remain the same though more explicitly extended metonymically into a Foucauldian notion of society-as-prison. Here the gate is slightly open and one of the surfers is symbolically (if illogically) escaping over it. Also in the top left hand corner, almost invisible, almost subliminal, because outside the apparent structure of the ad, out side the photographs, are the words 'Shut The Gate.' The words and images of fun (Pleasure), escape and surf reveal themselves so clearly in the ad as to deny the need for any analysis of latent structures.
But escape into the surf, into the threat of nature, can mean escape into sharks. Sharks are a motif that merges nature, the body and physical sensation with a reversal of the hunter:hunted relationship. To us, the culture, they are nature at its most oppositional and one only has to appear off a beach to empty it immediately. But if the relationship of the culture to sharks is one of fear and opposition, we would expect that of the surfie to be different, and so it is. The surfie stays in the water, not without fear, not without danger, but with the sort of recognition that the danger of the shark, the danger of the wave are part of the politics of pleasure. Escaping the control of culture is a risky enterprise, and if culture means security, then nature means risk.
The big wave, the shark, the potential of death is as far as we can get from the safety of culture. The groyne and the shark net at Cottesloe are on the side of life. The surfie risks death. Death, the one element of nature that culture can never overcome, though it is not for lack of trying.
So death is the triumph, the challenge, the threat of nature. But in Lacanian terms, of course, death is more than the threat of nature. As Kirsner (1983) says: 'Analysis for Lacan is not do with solving interpersonal problems, but to look at the way we live with death.' Death for Lacan ranges through concepts of 'the empty grave', 'The empty set', 'The signifier.' The relationship of the signifier with
death has caused problems for better men than I, but possibly the association is made via the chain of signifier-sensation-body-nature death in opposition to signified-sense-mind-culture-life.
The surfie is anti-culture and pro-nature in more specific ways than his dicing with death. Our culturethat of competitive capitalism _ is individualistic: the surfie is not. They are known and reported by their nicknames, G.D., Crammy, Ricko, G'Day and Pipeline H, and a nickname signals group identity at least as much as, if not more than, it identifies the individual. Names are not just of people, but for people. The talk is constantly of 'the community of surfers'community with themselves and community with nature. And typical surfing photos work the same waytime and again they are of huge waves and surf with the surfie de-individualized in to a little speck. It may be argued that this is a function of the technical problems of photographing surfers, but it is not, for close ups are possible.
The table below gives the results of a content analysis of 148 photographs in a surfing journal.
The pattern is clear: the largest category is that of de-individualized surfers; the next largest is photos with no surfers in them at all, usually of waves, nature or natives. Even in the close-ups the surfer is not individualized, but becomes almost an abstract statement of man's closeness to nature. The individual is a cultural product nature is interested only in species, and these photos are photos of species - the surfie, ecologically located in his habitat.
Where the table shows the minimization of the individual most clearly is in the comparison of ads and editorial photos in the same journal. In the ads, 50 photographs show surfers, but 34 of them are individualized and only 16 not. Ads, of course, are culture trying to claw back the deviants from the anarchy of nature into commercial, cultural sense. Individualism is the equivalent in the consumer to choice in the product: each arbitrary cultural production gives meaning to others, and it is interesting to note how surfies are, apparently all too easily, clawed back into cultural centrality once business makes a bid to colonize their meaning. The superficial, artificial differences in these surfboards (Fig. 11) are there simply to enable the consumer, in making a choice, to construct an individuality.
The transformation of surfie into consumer is complete, even if masked by the stylishness of the differentiating decorations. At the same time, of course, the surfboard is transformed into a commodity. A popular culture, with moments of real resistance to the
dominant one, is transformed into a mass culture with its commodities, its advertisements and its centrally created style that can be made instantly obsolete to boost next year's sales. The surfer, who potentially and sometimes actually contradicts beaches such as Cottesloe, is being drawn back into the dominant culture by the very journals, competitions and manufacturers that apparently serve his interests, but in fact serve those of others whose gain grows as his resistance is diminished.
Voloshinov (1973) demands that we rewrite Saussure in order to locate the sign beyond the signifying system as a site of ideological struggle. Meanings always function within the social system and as such are subject to the same struggle for possession as any other locus of power. Signs, through their multi-accentuality, are capable of different meanings for different people, and the struggle for dominance is as much a part of the signifying domain as it is of the political and economic. Thus we can see instance after instance of the signifying institutions of our culture attempting to deny the radicalism of the surfie. When TV news reports their competitions, it draws them back into cultural centrality. Of course, by organising and participating in national or international competitions, the surfies themselves have set up the contradiction that TV and commerce is all too quick to exploit. Here, notice the difference between a surfie journal's account of the competition and TV news's.
Crammy and Tom were the form surfers in Bali. Tom 's finesse at Ulu was highlighted by his flashing roundhouse slashes, and Richard destroyed every wave, allegedly pulling cutback loops at Kuta. Yet if the latter fellow had pulled the first such manoeuvre in an IPS event, ie., the OM Bali Pro, he could have still scored meagre points due to a trial judging system based on several categories. Many surfers fell victim to this system, notably Nick Carroll with his series of backhand hooks from the Outside Corner. He failed to do any tricks, and steered clear of the smaller waves on the inside (tubes). For my money, Gary Green stole the show on one wave, with respect to Richo's masterful four tubes on one ride. Greeny had inside position against Richo in the quarters. He took a perfect first wave and blew it on the first section. Richo picking it off on the shoulder and scoring max points. Stickm'n had made his first mistake and after his opponent's reaction, the Newport crew wrote him off. Another wave came down to the corner and Greeny took off like a match-stick, straight up and down, reaching the bottom then stalling into a classic soularch, letting the lip pitch over him in the same motion. Three seconds later the Stickm'n emerged, in the same position. With the pressure on, that remains the coolest move in years. (ASW 190).
CHANNEL SEVEN NEWS
Voice over shots of surfers: 'In the final heats of the junior competition surfed in consistent 2m waves at Southpoint, W.A. 's John Schwendenberg gave an outstanding showing against the heavily favoured riders from the East. His surfing today was par excellence and he's given the home state an unexpected but welcome boost. The best W.A. prospects for a national title are in the cadets class where 14 year old Jeff Brown from City Beach and Paul Schneer from Sorrento take on Mickey Brown and Brian Taylor. The West is also waving the flag at the other end of the age scale...'
Commentator to camera: 'At 38 W.A. 's Murray Smith is living proof that there's a lot more to surfing than meets the eye. ...' Then follows an interview with Murray Smith in close-up in which his face and history are individualized (Channel 7, Perth 5.5.1983).
The obvious differences are the namingthe surfie journal uses the 'tribal' nickname: TV the full given surnames with place of origin. The surfie journal refuses to focus on one: the TV finally pulls one surfer, the oldest, out of the water to individualize him. The day before, TV had done exactly the same with the 'captain' of the NSW teamnot only individualizing him, but giving him a rank in a hierarchy and identifying a community other than a surfing one to which he belonged. The TV concentrates on socially constructed individuals in competition with each other: the journal emphasizes the surfie-wave relationship. TV has colonized the meaning, has tamed the untamed continent and civilized it (cf. the notice on Cottesloe Beach). Surfers are now constructed as individuals competing in the capitalist rat race just like the rest of us, and surfing becomes not the threat of man's re-entry into nature, but a sport in which the points awarded by judges become the missing signifieds: they complete the sign and allow culture to extend its control over sensation and the signifier.
The same sort of struggle for meaning surfaces in the behaviour of surfies themselves. The professional is drawn into the international jet set of airports, hotels and money that sets up a crippling contradiction with the world of tubes and double enders:
Word spread to Durban, where a dinner party prior to the Mainstay Magnum focussed on the off-beat relationship of Norm's bladder and the carpet of the hotel's disco (ASW 192).
The collision of carpet and bladder, of culture and nature, occurs within the ideological contradiction that makes the struggle for meaning so crucial. This contradiction occurs, naturally enough, within the ads that are an essential part of the contradictory fringe of small and big businesses that surround the core of surfing.
The ad for Fox Wetsuits seems particularly significant (Fig. 12).
The name itself is crucial. Leach (1972) reminds us that a fox in our structure of animal relationships occupies the same point as does the criminal or deviant in human relationships.
Criminals and deviants occupy the anomalous category between our tribe and their tribethey are of us, but are hostile or threatening like them. Similarly the fox occupies an anomalous category between the domesticated animals, and the wild alien ones. Hence, according to Leach, the killing of foxes is heavily ritualized and they are consistently portrayed as criminals in folk tales and legends. l he anomalous deviant meaning of the fox makes it a structurally, if not semantically, appropriate name for a surfie's wetsuit. The first paragraph acknowledges this in the punning use of the word undergroundsignificantly and explicitly opposed to commercial.
The denial of the desire to create 'images' is denied by the opening word, for 'difference' operates only to create meaning within the system, to provide the illusion of freedom of choice within a deter mined economic and social relationship, and thus to feed the equally capitalist illusion of the individuality of the consumer. This contradiction continues in the second paragraph where the pun of 'established' brings the deviant back towards the establishment, but by the end of the paragraph the struggle has been lost: 'Australia's first full on custom retail wholesale promotional surfsuit.'
The heavy use of adjectives in abnormal relationship is a robbery of the deviant surfie syntax, and the stolen form is filled with the content of capitalism. The struggle has been lost, the meaning colonized. Feeble echoes of the contradiction surface laterthey 'deal direct to the surfing community', and the deal is conceptualized as '100% customer manufacturer relationship'.
Many of the ads stress the craft nature of the industryto try to disguise the difference between the producer and consumer by stressing their smallness, the way that their boards are designed or used by the professional surfer who thus becomes a metonym of both producer and consumer and thus masks the industrial process.
The industry itself is aware of the struggle for the meaning of the surf, and to effect its colonization as easily as possible presents itself as non-capitalist, or pre-capitalist, and thus enables itself to misrepresent its interests as identical with those of the surfers, the colonized a not uncommon practice in the history of the colonization
I would be more optimistic about surfing's ability to resist this clawback, this colonization of meaning, if it didn't offer in its own internal contradictions so many easy purchases for the claws to grab It was not difficult for TV to relocate surfing within the familiar ideology of sport and thereby to defuse any subversive effect it might have, for this was facilitated by the surfers themselves.
The same sort of weakening contradictions occur within the surfies' own construction of gender relationships. The crucial concepts of body, pleasure, the signifier, nature obviously relate as easily to sex as they do to surf.
From the top lines from the Cape ended thousands of nautical miles in a shuddering climax. An incredible impression cascaded in my brain. Never to be razed. Folds of shimmering glass broke like Harriers in formation clusters, wrapping from a magical point, six in a line. For three weeks I was to be further from the vibe of professional ego-tripping than ever before. A recluse. Windless days and a six feet tall swell sculptured the sea-floor in fine detail. As the tide came in, walls improved set by set until it was dark. And so after 3 hours I was stoked to be buggered having caught the fourth day of a ten day swell. Sanur had bettered it, bettered it, but J-Bay could only match it. Incessant perfection; freedom to let loose. At the time, the future was masked in gold. (ASW 190)
Barthes's use of the word jouissance (19~9) to describe the highest type of pleasure (bliss) in reading the text is relevant here, for it is also the word for the ecstasy of sexual orgasm. The description of the surfie-surf sensation is orgasmicsurfing, reading and orgasm merge in the pleasure of the signifier. Interestingly, too, this quote reveals the contradiction between this pleasure and that of the professional which is clearly identified as individualistic 'ego-tripping'; the ego, we remember, is where reason exerts its control over the libido, the source of desire, and professionalism is where society establishes power over the surfer.
The desires and pleasures of the bodysurfing, sex, drugs, alcoholare where the subversive meanings of the surf are potentially located. But contradictions occur in the unproblematic conflation of surf with sex in its structure. The subversion of surfing lies in its apparent escape from the control of the signified, from social powerthe waves, alcohol and drugs are easily constructed in this way, but sexuality, though it could be, is not. The surfie's sexuality is one of blatant male chauvinism: bushies, garudas and so on are there for male power and pleasure. Nowhere do I find any awareness of the difference between a wave and a garuda, of the fact that social relations are denied in one but affirmed in the other. And the women consent willingly to this male hegemony, not only in sexual activity but also in surfing. Puberty Blues caught the male chauvinism perfectly with, in the book if not the movie, a welcome tone of feminine resistance to it. No such resistance surfaces in the surfies' own writings; the contradictions are unexplored, unrecognized. This enables passages like this to appear unproblematically in the surfing literature. It demonstrates clearly the normalization of the surf into a comfortable reproduction of a modern marriage where the educated woman is a domestic manager in a cozy partnership:
'Sponsorship for Glen has had its ups and downs, even with his impressive contest record. His girlfriend Michelle travels everywhere with him, they drive to all the contests in Australia in an old EH Holden wagon. This way they can keep costs down. She has a Bachelor of Commerce degree and majored in Economics at the University of NSW. Michelle sees her role in their scheme of things as follows: 'I try to help with the practical things so that Glen can surf when he wants to, he believes in heaps of practice. We get along well together because I love the lifestyle, especially travelling. Also I love to watch Glen surf and I've always liked to be near the ocean. I write the letters for Glen and do the initial negotiations with any deals that may be offered. Sometimes people try to bypass me, but Glen and I make the decisions together' (ASW 190).
This is, significantly, in a section of the magazine devoted to individualizing the surfers, giving them the treatment normally accord ed to stars (the photographs in this section are placed on a background design of stars). All this cannot be coincidental, nor more unfortunate for the subversive potential of the surf.
What the culture is trying to do to the surf is to defuse its potential radicalism. By incorporating it into TV sports, news, into the advertising of banks, or soft drinks, or electronic hardware, it is pulling the surfie back from the brink of becoming Nature into the comfortable security of the natural. The conventional, comfortable signifieds that surfing is given not only deradicalize it, but use its potential radicalism (ie. its closeness to nature, now misrepresented as the natural) to naturalize the central institutions and meaning systems of the culture. Its meaning is colonized into the service of those who should be most threatened by it. The beach and the surf are worked on by the culture so that their overflowing meanings are controlled and legitimized. The beach, physically and conceptually
closer to the city, is completely colonized. The surf still shows elements of resistance to this imposition of meaning by a culturally dominant class in their own interests. The potential for subversion is still there, because physically and conceptually, the surf is nearer nature, further from the city. The potentially subversive meaning of the surf derives from this chain of conceptsthe body, nature, the signifier, pleasure and therefore desire seen as articulating an alternative, threatening way of making sense to the one proposed by the official culture. The subversion lies in the denial of control or power as socially constituted. In attempting to analyse this resistance, we necessarily engage in the political struggle for the meaning of the word 'popular'. In the discourse of mass culture it refers to the appeal to large numbers of people, normally, if not inevitably, via a text centrally produced for widespread consumption. A text becomes a commodity for mass marketing, its preferred values are the dominant ones and it is therefore part of the process of social control. Cottesloe beach is 'popular' culture in this 'mass' sense of the word. Nominating the surf, however, as popular culture requires us to redefine popular as 'emerging from the people', and the people here are an identifiable subculture. 'Popular', when it has been won for this use, refers to a resistance to the centralized, commodified meaning of the word. O'Sullivan et al. (1983) identify what they call its 'ambiguities' (though I would prefer Voloshinov's (1973) 'multiaccentuality') when they write:
First, there is ambiguity about the extent to which popular culture is imposed on people in general (by media corporations or state agencies), or derived from their own experiences, tastes, habits and so on. Second, there is ambiguity about the extent to which popular culture is merely the expression of a powerless and subordinate class position, or an autonomous or potentially liberating source of alternative ways of seeing and doing that can be opposed to dominant or official culture.
"Popular" in the surf, is a signifier of resistance, is an articulation of pleasure: "popular" in the beach is a signified of acceptance, conformity to the social control of meaning.
Barthes has a number of terms through which he addresses this problem of the relationship of signifier and signified, of pleasure and meaning. At times he talks of figuration and representation, when figuration refers to the erotic pleasure of the signifier, while representation is that figuration 'encumbered with meanings other than desire' (1975); at other times he distinguishes between signifiance and signification. Significance is the productivity of the signifier, the constant 'process' in which the reading subject, freed from the logic of reason 'struggles with meaning and is deconstructed...it puts the writing or reading subject into the text, not as a projection, not even a fantasmatic one, but as a
"loss"... whence its identification with jouissance: it is through the concept of 'significance' that the text becomes erotic (and for that t does not have to represent any erotic "scenes")' (1981). The productivity of significance, by which the reading subject escapes the control of signification by becoming part of his/her meaning of the text is too fruitful a concept to be confined to literature. The surfie on/in the wave is a subject lost in the signifiercultural identity deconstructed by the bliss of reading/surfing in the same way as sexual orgasm is the ultimate moment of deconstruction: the limit of sexual politics.
The wave is that text of bliss to the surfie, escape from the signified, potential re-entry into nature, constantly shifting, needing rereading for each loss of subjectivity. It contradicts, defines momentarily, the ideological subjectivity through which discourses exert their control. The beach, however, is a text of mundane pleasure, not sacred bliss. It is laden with signifieds, it controls the desire for freedom and threat of nature by transposing it into the natural. It is pornography rather than eroticism, desire institutionalized, given a social location subject to the power of the other who produces its signification, its meaning.
Foucault's notions of power controlling desire in society seem to be exploring on the social level in a similar set of relationships to Freud's on the psychological. Both are concerned with the way that potentially disruptive forces are controlled in the name of a so call ed higher good that is self-created and self-justifying. Lacan insists that institutionalized Freudianism, particularly its commercial clinical branch, has perverted Freud and turned his work into a technique for maintaining and naturalizing the norms of a capitalist bourgeois society. As Kirsner (1983) writes:
He (ie. Lacan) advocated a return to the subversive meaning of Freud which he asserted had nothing to do with normalization but on the contrary demanded the realization of one's desire. But this desire, according to Lacan, emanated from the other within us. Official Freudian analysis had generally attempted to put our unconscious in the hands of our consciousness whereas Lacan advocated the reverse.
The implicit distrust of the conscious will that underlies most of the surfie writing occasionally surfaces and becomes explicit: 'The subconscious is dominant . . . To surf well you have to develop the ability to shut off conscious thought and rely on your instincts, your subconscious' (ASW 192).
The promotion of the unconscious (nature) over the ego (culture) in the struggle for control of the self is structurally equivalent to the promotion of the body over the mind, the signifier over the signified and pleasure over control, or desire over power. Thus Barthes's formulation of an aesthetics of pleasure sited in the body rather than an aesthetics of beauty sited in the text and the consequent foregrounding of the signifier is a strategy for shifting the site of
the control of meaning away from a class structured society and towards the universality of nature.
So the body and its desire must be the Achilles heel of cultural hegemony. The proletariat has not proved the site of revolution that Marx hoped it would: it has not emerged as site of 'true' or valid consciousness of ideology. Neither has science proved adequate as a definer of nature or truth from which to oppose ideology: in fact science has progressively been understood as more and more an ideological force, not just given meaning and function by the bourgeoisie, but as an integral part of their ideology.
So Marxists, structural linguists, semioticians, psycho-analysts are all shifting their attention towards this matrix of conceptsthe body, pleasure, desire, the signifier, natureas providing the only chance of finding somewhere to stand outside the empire of ideology of the sense made by culture. For only from a locus outside ideology, outside sense, outside control, can we formulate what possible alter natives might look like. The politics of pleasure may be our only means to build a culture that is in harmony with instead of in opposition to nature.
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