Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Bakhtin, Mikail. Rabelais and his World.

Bakhtin, Mikail. Rabelais and his World. Trans. Helene Iswolsky. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1984.

For Bakhtin, the carnival, or the “carnivalesque,” was a comic state of being that functioned during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance as a respite from official order and the everyday repression of the lower classes: a site of festivity and liberation wherein boundaries and hierarchies were inverted or overcome, rationalism and fear were revoked and seriousness was repealed, if only briefly (3-52). In the carnival there is no distinction between actors and spectators (7). The clowns are not actors playing a part, they inhabit the borderline between life and art (8).While it was not official, the festive aspect of life was tolerated, even legalised (9) because it could not be completely shut down. The carnival is liberation from the prevailing truth and established order and an entry into “truly human relations” (10).

Though not all interpretations of humour as subversion evoke the spirit of the carnival, insofar as the carnival represents the ability of (folk) humour to challenge authority and realise the contingent nature of existing structures of power, the notion of the carnival can serve as a useful metonym for the constellation of theoretical approaches that locate in humour an innate capacity for subversion.

Bhaktin argues that Carnival was so important in this earlier moment, because the official culture of the medieval was without laughter (73) therefore ‘vents’ needed to be created (75). Medieval laughter “was absolutely unofficial but nevertheless legalised” because the rite of the ‘fool’s cap’ was inviolable (89). For the brief time of the festival, life leaves it strictures (89) Carnival is freedom from class status and therefore fear (90). But humour was not just to escape repression, it being laughter in and of itself was crucial to liberate and enliven the people (94). However a love of laughter is not always resistance or opposition, laughter can respect what it parodies (95).

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