During the last 300 years circus clowns have emerged as powerful cultural icons. This is the first semiotic analysis of the range of make-up and costumes through which the clowns' performing identities have been established and go on developing. It also examines what Bouissac terms 'micronarratives' - narrative meanings that clowns generate through their acts, dialogues and gestures.
Putting a repertory of clown performances under the semiotic microscope leads to the conclusion that the performances are all interconnected and come from what might be termed a 'mythical matrix'. These micronarratives replicate in context-sensitive forms a master narrative whose general theme refers to the emergence of cultures and constraints that they place upon instinctual behaviour.
From this vantage point, each performance can be considered as a ritual which re-enacts the primitive violence inherent in all cultures and the temporary resolutions which must be negotiated as the outcome. Why do these acts of transgression and re-integration then trigger laughter and wonder? What kind of mirror does this put up to society? In a masterful semiotic analysis, Bouissac delves into decades of research to answer these questions.
Paul Bouissac is Professor Emeritus at the University of Toronto (Victoria College), Canada. He is a world renowned figure in semiotics and a pioneer of circus studies. He runs the SemiotiX Bulletin [www.semioticon.com/semiotix] which has a global readership.
Introduction 1. The Faces of the Clown Appearance and identity The making of a face Kinds and scales of facial transformations in clowns The crafting of a clown's make-up The face of dominance Interpreting the face of a clown The modern face of the clown When clowns go post-modern 2. The Costumes of the Clowns The clowns' trunks Splendor and sophistication of the whiteface The auguste's misfits and tatters Sociosemiotics and biosemiotics of clown costumes Clowns in drag: cross-dressing and transvestism 3. The Clown's Workshop The semiotics of artifacts A visit to Charlie Cairoli's workshop When clowns play magic Clowns as craftsmen and engineers The clown's barnyard 4. The Semiotics of Gags What is a gag? Gags in context Rob Torres: a solo clown act in New York The semiotic anatomy of gags The physics of gags 5. The Game of the Rules The language of clowning The straight, the tight, and the loose Identity: one in two, two in one 6. Clown and Trickster Master of tricks Too good to be true Transgression and consequences Master of fire The trickster and his avatars Understanding tricksters and clowns Peering in the cultural past: a reasoned speculation 7. Clowns and Gender Play: Politics and Economy of Sex Beyond sex and gender Images of desire An odd couple A "normal" couple A bird tale Gender play 8. Clowns, Death, and Laughter Death at the circus Death of the auguste Realm of the macabre: ghosts, corpses, and skeletons Clowns and death in the arts: laughter at the edge 9. Profaning the Sacred The avatars of Clown A grand narrative and its fractal performances The sacred and the profane Putting things inside out and upside down 10. Clowns without Borders Mapping clowns on the world Clowns without borders? Clowning beyond the cultural fences Clowning in Java The gentrification of clowns Clowns with a mission Conclusion: Contribution to the Theory of Laughter What is laughter? The meaning of laughter Senseless laughing Laughter as addiction: a hypothesis and an agenda References