The blog of author Dennis Cooper

WWE Special: The Undertaker vs. Roland Barthes *

* (restored)

‘Don’t you realize you cannot destroy that which does not wish to perish?’

The Undertaker made his debut as a surprise member of Ted DiBiase’s Survivor Series Team at Survivor Series 1990. Despite rumors, he was not introduced as Kane the Undertaker. He was originally managed by Brother Love but a few months later Paul Bearer became his manager. In his first year in the WWF, he feuded with Randy Savage, the Ultimate Warrior, and Hulk Hogan. At Survivor Series 1991, the Undertaker won his first WWE Championship by beating Hulk Hogan.


Announcement of the 1992 Royal Rumble Match



‘The virtue of all-in wrestling is that it is the spectacle of excess. Here we find a grandiloquence which must have been that of ancient theatres. And in fact wrestling is an open-air spectacle, for what makes the circus or the arena what they are is not the sky (a romantic value suited rather to fashionable occasions), it is the drenching and vertical quality of the flood of light. Even hidden in the most squalid Parisian halls, wrestling partakes of the nature of the great solar spectacles, Greek drama and bullfights: in both, a light without shadow generates an emotion without reserve.’



‘For when you look into the eyes of the Reaper, you will know your time has come.’

In the spring of 1991, Jake Roberts tried to hit Miss Elizabeth with a chair but the Undertaker stopped him. The Undertaker remained a fan favorite for the next seven years. During that era, he fought monsters like Yokozuna, Kamala, and even a fake version of himself. In 1996, Paul Bearer turned on him. When Undertaker regained the WWF title in 1997, Paul Bearer threatened him with a secret from his past. The secret was that Undertaker started a fire that killed his parents and badly burned his brother, Kane.


The Undertaker shows his evil side to Kane



‘The public knows very well the distinction between wrestling and boxing; it knows that boxing is a Jansenist sport, based on a demonstration of excellence. One can bet on the outcome of a boxing-match: with wrestling, it wold make no sense. A boxing-match is a story which is constructed before the eyes of the spectator; in wrestling, on the contrary, it is each moment which is intelligible, not the passage of time. The spectator is not interested in the rise and fall of fortunes; he expects the transient image of certain passions. Wrestling therefore demands an immediate reading of the juxtaposed meanings, so that there is no need to connect them. The logical conclusion of the contest does not interest the wrestling-fan, while on the contrary a boxing-match always implies a science of the future. In other words, wrestling is a sum of spectacles, of which no single one is a function: each moment imposes the total knowledge of a passion which rises erect and alone, without ever extending to the crowning moment of a result.’



‘I like to bleed, it turns me on.’

While the Undertaker was fighting Shawn Michaels in the first-ever Hell in a Cell Match, Kane made his debut and cost his brother the match. Undertaker refused to fight his brother until Kane locked him in a coffin and set him on fire. The two men fought for the first time at WrestleMania XIV. Over the years the men have feuded and befriended each other on countless occasions.



The Undertaker and Kane set William Regal’s office on fire



‘Each sign in wrestling is therefore endowed with an absolute clarity, since one must always understand everything on the spot. As soon as the adversaries are in the ring, the public is overwhelmed with the obviousness of the roles. As in the theatre, each physical type expresses to excess the part which has been assigned to the contestant. Thauvin, a fifty-year-old with an obese and sagging body, whose type of asexual hideousness always inspires feminine nicknames, displays in his flesh the characters of baseness, for his part is to represent what, in the classical concept of the salaud, the ‘bastard’ (the key-concept of any wrestling-match), appears as organically repugnant. The nausea voluntarily provoked by Thauvin shows therefore a very extended use of signs: not only is ugliness used here in order to signify baseness, but in addition ugliness is wholly gathered into a particularly repulsive quality of matter: the pallid collapse of dead flesh (the public calls Thauvin la barbaque, ‘stinking meat’), so that the passionate condemnation of the crowd no longer stems from its judgment, but instead from the very depth of its humours. It will thereafter let itself be frenetically embroiled in an idea of Thauvin which will conform entirely with this physical origin: his actions will perfectly correspond to the essential viscosity of his personage.’



‘There will be no mercy, only slain bodies and taken souls.’

After being a good guy for several years, the Undertaker became a cult leader and started sacrificing wrestlers on his symbol to satisfy the higher power. The person that he went after was Steve Austin and the WWF Championship. At the same time, Undertaker kidnapped Stephanie McMahon and tried to force her to marry him in a dark marriage. It was later revealed that the higher power was Vince McMahon.


The Ministry of Darkness vs. The Corporation



‘It is obvious that at such a pitch, it no longer matters whether the passion is genuine or not. What the public wants is the image of passion, not passion itself. There is no more a problem of truth in wrestling than in the theatre. In both, what is expected is the intelligible representation of moral situations which are usually private.’



‘You know my name, as the LORD of DARKNESS.’

The Undertaker had another transformation a few years later. By 2001, he was a motorcycle rider and had cut his hair. He carried on with this gimmick for a few years. His biggest feud during this era was with Brock Lesnar. At Survivor Series 2003, Vince McMahon beat Undertaker in a Buried Alive match when Kane turned on his brother once again. When he returned at WrestleMania XX, he came back with his “dead man“ gimmick and reunited with Paul Bearer.


25 Years of the Undertaker Montage



‘But what wrestling is above all meant to portray is a purely moral concept: that of justice. The idea of ‘paying’ is essential to wrestling, and the crowd’s ‘Give it to him’ means above all else ‘Make him pay.’ This is therefore, needless to say, an immanent justice. The baser the action of the ‘bastard,’ the more delighted the public is by the blow which he justly receives in return. If the villain – who is of course a coward – takes refuge behind the ropes, claiming unfairly to have a right to do so by a brazen mimicry, he is inexorably pursued there and caught, and the crowd is jubilant at seeing the rules broken for the sake of a deserved punishment. [. . .] Naturally, it is the pattern of Justice which matters here, much more than its content: wrestling is above all a quantitative sequence of compensations (an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth). This explains why sudden changes of circumstances have in the eyes of wrestling habitueés a sort of moral beauty; they enjoy them as they would enjoy an inspired episode in a novel.’



‘Until nothing do us part.’

The reunification with Paul Bearer did not last long. Undertaker saw his friendship with him could be exploited as a weakness. Paul was kidnapped and trapped in a concrete crypt. Instead of saving Paul when he had a chance, he decided to bury his manager alive. Despite this vile action, wrestling fans still cheered him. In 2005, he had a bloody series of battles with Randy Orton.


The Undertaker attacks Paul Bearer



‘Wrestlers, who are very experienced, know perfectly how to direct the spontaneous episodes of the fight so as to make them conform to the image which the public has of the great legendary themes of its mythology. A wrestler can irritate or disgust, he never disappoints, for he always accomplishes completely, by a progressive solidification of signs, what the public expects of him. In wrestling, nothing exists except in the absolute, there is no symbol, no allusion, everything is presented exhaustively. Leaving nothing in the shade, each action discards all parasitic meanings and ceremonially offers to the public a pure and full signification, rounded like Nature. This grandiloquence is nothing but the popular and age-old image of the perfect intelligibility of reality. What is portrayed by wrestling is therefore an ideal understanding of things; it is the euphoria of men raised for a while above the constitutive ambiguity of everyday situations and placed before the panoramic view of a universal Nature, in which signs at last correspond to causes, without obstacle, without evasion, without contradiction.’



‘I may not dress like Satan anymore, but I’m still down with the Devil, and I will go medieval on your ass.’

In 2007, the Undertaker won the Royal Rumble for the first time. That victory gave him the opportunity to battle Batista for the World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania 23. Of all the records that Undertaker has, the most prestigious is his undefeated WrestleMania record. Undertaker won that match to claim his first World Heavyweight Championship.


FULL MATCH – Undertaker vs. Undertaker: SummerSlam 1994




p.s. Hey. ** Dominik, Hi, D! Strangely they didn’t end up announcing the new restrictions yesterday after all. I don’t know if that’s a good or bad sign. I’ll see if flixtor.to is available here. I’ve never tried it. Thanks! Hope your laptop arrives ASAP, or has it? Is the course a Zoom class-type thing or a sending instructions/ results back and forth one-on-one type of thing? Yesterday Zac and I met with Gisele. We’re turning the doomed TV project into a possible feature film. Zac and I had rewritten/ consolidated/ changed the original script into a film script, and we were waiting to see if Gisele, who would direct the film, liked it, and she loves it, so now she’ll try to get a producer on board to help her make the film. So that’s what we met about. It’s nice to feel excited about that project again and have it under our total control after years of nothing but hellishness trying to please ARTE. Today I’m going to show my friend OB De Alessi the gallery show where my gif works are and then talk with her about her new film. She sent me a rough cut, and it’s great, so I look forward to all of that. Did today surprise you at all and how? Or, if not, was its expectedness a goodie? I saw France’s biggest twink porn star Jerome James on the metro yesterday and his 3 dimensionality was not a disappointment love, Dennis. ** Corey Heiferman, Hi, Corey. Cool. About the post, etc. Frans Brüggen, no, I haven’t. I haven’t had a single experience or even thought about recorder playing since I ceased playing one in my teens. Our recorder consort, ‘Tag Rag’, consisted of my late boyfriend, me, and a high school friend (can’t remember her name). We mostly formed to play at the local Renaissance Faire (my boyfriend was a ‘gentle hippie’ type into that kind of stuff even though he looked remarkably like the young Mick Jagger), and we did, and we were pretty terrible — even the gentle hippie crowd seemed to think so — and that was the end of that. Anyway, I’ll use those links to check out that dude’s stuff. Oh, you’re in the States! I was wondering how you were dealing with the lockdown, and you’re dealing with it by escaping. Good move. All best wishes for your dad. And of course for your test’s outcome. Can’t even imagine being in the States right now, yeah. A USA-shaped waking nightmare. My projects go well, I think. I just told Dominick about the film script thing. And things look very hopeful for Zac’s and my next film. And other stuff. Some theater stuff is starting up here again, and I think I’ll see my first on Monday. Gaspar Noe’s new film ‘Lux Aeterna’ opens net week, and Paul Hameline, who was one of our stars in ‘Like Cattle Towards Glow’ is in it, and I’m curious. And Le Manoir de Paris has just reopened to do a big Halloween haunted house attraction, and I’m probably most excited about that. Anything cool going on in your temporary neck of the ‘woods’? ** Bill, Very happy to hear that the air is transparent again. Marseille is very interesting. Definitely the most non-characteristic French city I’ve ever been in. It just got hit hard by new COVID restrictions, which doesn’t surprise me because, when we were there, the social distancing thing was really not happening at all. No, I don’t think I know R.W. Spryszak. Huh, very interesting. I’m on it. Thanks a lot, Bill. Did today pony up with anything both doable and loveable? ** Steve Erickson, Hi. I like the track too. Kudos. How interesting to have interviewed Haneke. Yeah, I read several interviews with him when I was making the post, and he did seem not into interpreting his stuff. I wish I had the gumption to do that when I’m interviewed sometimes, I must admit. The new McQueen sounds like it might incorporate some of the qualities that he normally puts into his video/ installation work. I really prefer his videos, so I’m curious to see that. ** politekid, Hi, pk! Ah, right, using COVID as a ‘golden’ excuse to downsize their shops, the bastards. In the States public opinion has about a three day lifespan, but you guys are smarter, I think, so … Well, I’ll keep my fingers crossed, but, yeah, I hear you. I just don’t see how academia could reject such an obviously stellar proposal, but I am so not an academic, although some of them like what I do, so perhaps my enthusiasm means something. Surely they’ll jump. Surely. It doesn’t seem totally implausible that one could travel to the UK from France by then. I don’t know what all the Brexit shenanigans will do. And at least you’ll hopefully get the work online. I think I’m anti-precious. Not anti-anal, but anti-precious, yes. Oh, in fact that Weymouth Timewalk does excite me. I am putty in the hands of themed attractions across the board pretty much. I’ll go tour the evidence of the thing. Thank you for that, big O. ** Sypha, Shorter than my short? Wow, respect. My upcoming one is very short. A little bigger than ‘Period’, but not by much. Fuck your readers’ presets. You’ll show them. You’ll expand them. End of story. ** Okay. Here’s a curious restored post from sometime long ago that I thought I would foist on you today. See you tomorrow.

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  1. I love this post; it made me feel nostalgic in the best way possible. As a kid I used to play WWE on Sega a lot. I always picked Yokozuna, and my brother picked the Undertaker and I mostly won. Later on when I started watching WWE as a teen with my father, we were both fascinated by the Undertaker. I had no idea that he started a fire that killed his parents and disfigured his brother… I hope this is a rumour… Anyway, the juxtaposition is just genius. I love the quotes about wrestling from Barthes. Does he have an essay on wrestling? I love this idea that the public wants ‘the image of passion’ rather than passion itself. I’ll be thinking about this (and my childhood) a lot today. Thank you!

  2. Barthes essay on wrestling (from “Mythologies”) is one of the first pieces by him I ever read. It’s especially amusing when supplemented and illustrated as it is here. The wrestler from my childhood that I remember ms is Haystacks Calhoun — a phenomenally overweigh behemoth who had merely to threaten his opponents to “win” matches. His opponents were sometimes teams of midget wrestlers that he would toss off of him as if the were flies. Haystacks also had an acting role I George Pal’s “Atlantis The Lost Continent” that greatly impressed all the kids in my neighborhood.

    Please write me at Cellar47@yahoo.com about my sale items.

  3. I never appreciated the pageantry of WWE. I just noticed on my first night in USA that WWE-style wrestling was playing on at least four low-numbered basic cable channels , one of which featured bikini-clad women.

    The strangest thing I’ve seen on TV so far was a super kinky and commercialised variant of ‘The Newlywed Game’. The husbands were standing next to the host while the wives were suspended prone from the ceiling wearing jumpsuits and goggles. One of the husbands placed a bet on how many flavors of La Croix sparkling water his wife could name in a few seconds.

    Your recorder group sounds adorable. The story reminds me of when I barged in on a bluegrass jam session with an Appalachian dulcimer I didn’t really know how to play. All these supposedly chill musicians started giving me dirty looks for playing off key.

    Checked out OB De Alessi’s work. I loved the drawings.

    @politekid Have you read The Public Domain Review? They publish lots of fascinating articles by academics that don’t quite fit into academia. Obviously it’s no substitute for a thesis but it could be worth checking out.


    It sucks that you couldn’t make your project as TV but I’m looking forward to seeing how it turns out with Gisele directing.

    The most exciting things here in hotel quarantine are absolute silence and the opportunity to order in American takeout foods I’ve been craving.

    It was great to see my parents briefly yesterday. My mom drove me for a corona test and then for a quick hello with my dad. I stood on the lawn, he came out onto the porch, and we shouted greetings at each other through masks. If all goes according to plan I should start my visit with them Sunday at the latest.

    To keep going with the acoustic music recommendations here’s steel string guitarist Robbie Basho.

    “Basho saw the steel string guitar as a concert instrument, and wanted to create a raga system for America. During a radio interview in 1974, promoting his album Zarthus, Basho discussed his music in detail. He described how he had gone through a number of “periods” related to philosophy and music, including Japanese, Hindu, Iranian and Native American. Zarthus represented the culmination of his “Persian period”. Basho asserted his wish, along with John Fahey and Leo Kottke, to raise the steel-string guitar to the level of a concert instrument. He acknowledged that the nylon-string guitar was suitable for “love songs”, but its steel counterpart could communicate “fire”.”



    Enjoy your weekend. The blog’s a big boon in these troubled times.

    • hi corey — i had no idea about the public domain review! i’ll give it a thorough delve soon but just glancing through the essays now and wow it looks fantastic. thank you!

      also great rec re: Basho. “Rocky Mountain Raga” kills me every time

  4. Dennis, Taker!

    Yeah, I remember early on, I’d always check out the escorts deets, and I remember thinking, “So they all have XL and XXL cocks. Interesting.” Not anymore, haha.

    Kayla was fine by the next day. She still doesn’t know what hit her. It wasn’t the food. She finished the leftovers the next day and was fine. Who knows what it was?

    Wow, really sad story about that recorder. Well, also kind of inspiring too. I can see why you wouldn’t touch it or play it. Makes sense.

    What I’m finding really interesting is how many popular songs use the same chords and notes to start but in different schemes or organization. Had no idea. I’m learning stuff I never expected to learn.

    Sunday, I’m going to see a friend’s daughter sing at a little event in Solomons, MD. She’s a fantastic singer, just like my friend. We have this joke that she’s my secret daughter. When we worked together years ago and my friend got pregnant, we told everybody there she was my kid. The daughter is even in on the joke and calls herself my secret daughter. Funnily, her father thinks it’s hilarious too.

    Have a stellar weekend.

  5. I remember we were all given Barthes’ Mythologies at art school in Leeds back in the day, so this must be the first bit of art theory I ever read. It’s still the most fun, and the Undertaker juxtaposition makes it even more so.

    Leeds has just been issued with a local lockdown, no surprise there. Anything that stops folk congregating en mass down the local Wetherspoons pub will surely help stop the spread. Whether it can be enforced is another question. I just selfishly hope tomorrow’s Leeds United game goes ahead!

  6. D., I posted a reply super late yesterday and think I just missed you. Reposting it below! Also lol @ this post… reminds me of that Henri Bergson one of yours, but taken to a delightful extreme.

    “The Golden Fruits” is actually the exact Sarraute book I’ve been re-reading. I had read a library copy initially, and have found every other copy surprisingly expensive until I found a like, $7 one in a bookstore randomly. So no surprise that the net is a totally dry well, unfortunately. Do you still have your copy of it, from whenever you first read it?
    Yikes about the broken toe + covid restrictions. I hope adapting to the circumstances isn’t proving too torturous.
    Bard campus is quite dreamy actually! And its been cold here lately, so the fall vibes are a welcome shift. Hopefully the halloween here is something slightly more than nothing, since we’re all in this relatively closed community. Do you have any plans for it this year, despite the circumstances?
    Thank you about the Baumer collection. I’m copy editing the first half of the book right now. I hadn’t read his work until Rebecca had told me about this project, and when I heard Blake was editing it, I jumped on the opportunity to help out. I feel like Baumer’s work is this totally exceptional mix of non-sequitur, which I guess was somewhat common amongst that scene, with a sort of political conscience and visionary sensibility that makes him totally stand out, to my mind.
    Oh wow… your novels 1-year-til-publication date is fast approaching! Soho press is awesome tho, super exciting

  7. Hi!!

    Welcome back!!

    How are you after these few stressful days? Any news about the promised (and not really awaited) restrictions?

    We’re still where we were last week. Football matches are allowed, concerts aren’t. The numbers are rising. We’ll see.

    My laptop finally arrived and I started the first course yesterday and ah, it’s so GREAT! I enjoy it tremendously. I’m smiling as I’m writing this.

    And it was so great to read about the fabulous revival of the TV project! I’m really happy to hear all the work and effort you put into it didn’t just go down the drain, and now something might finally be born out of it all – something you can feel great and excited about again.

    Do you have any special plans for today?

    Haha, your last love is hard to match! Jerome James always seems so hyper-eager and twitchy in his films. I can never decide if I like it or not but I’ve seen a fair amount of his stuff so… Cody Fern in ridiculously short shorts love, D.!

  8. Dennis!!!!!

  9. Wow, the blog is back! I’m relieved it was only down for a few days!

    Here is my article on the NYFF: https://www.gaycitynews.com/does-cinema-need-communal-viewing-to-thrive/

    I’ve been making my way through the HBO docu-series about the NXVIM cult, THE VOW. It’s not particularly impressive filmmaking, but it does a slow, sobering job of showing how smart but insecure people (especially actors) could become seduced by a cult and gradually wind up forced to undergo a starvation diet and get branded on their vaginas in the name of liberation. The series consists of 10 hour-long episodes, and they’re halfway through airing it now. I can tell that this might have made an equally strong 2-hour documentary, but the chance to spend an extended amount of time with its subjects also works in its favor.

    Speaking of TV documentaries, A WILDERNESS OF ERROR – based on Errol Morris’ book and featuring him onscreen as a talking head but not directed by him – premieres on the 25th. And his documentary about Timothy Leary has been finished.

  10. Welcome back Dennis! I can’t say I’m a big WWE fan (physical or virtual), but I would totally pay to see Barthes go in the ring.

    You probably know this already, but there’s a pro basketball player named Jerome James, totally not twink-like.

    The SF MOMA is opening next week! And Amoeba Music is also open for in-person shopping. We’re easily excitable these days.


  11. Hi ! I’m so glad the blog is back ! ouf The past few days I’ve been wondering how to ask you this. I have your e-mail but I think it’s better to do it here, since this is the place where I’ve learned so many things about contemporary art. I’m starting a little podcast. The topic will be : “your personal history of (contemporary) art”. On your blog I discovered artists such as Kai Althoff, Ryan Trecartin, Joe Brainard and, recently, Torbjorn Vejvi (I have trouble finding earlier works by him on the internet….). You “discovered” some of these people, you wrote “opening” columns about them in Artforum. So the podcast will also be (a little) about writing about art, the relationship between writing and visual arts. Oh, that’s maybe a little ambitious… The project title is : “Antimusée” but I’m not sure yet. Other people I want to interview : Benjamin Thorel from After8 Books, and, maybe, Jean-Charles de Quillacq, an artist.
    I know you’re really busy… It would be a one hour / and a half max thing, whenever you want, wherever you want in Paris (I live in the suburbs – Cachan).
    Thank you for the blog.

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