Friday, July 22, 2011

Mikhail Bakhtin: "Carnival and Carnivalesque" – summary and review - part 3

Mikhail Bakhtin - "Carnival and Carnivalesque" - summary and review
part 1 - 2 - 3

In "Carnival and Carnivalesque" Mikhail Bakhtin describes how starting from the 17th century the popular carnival life began to disappear. The carnival lost its centrality in people's lives, its forms deteriorated and it lost its authentic meaning of a communal performance in the public square. Still, Bakhtin hold that certain aspects of the carnival persisted and were preserved in modern forms of theatrical and other spectacular performances.

According to Bakhtin, the carnivalesque sense of the world penetrated language and literature and has taking part in shaping their modern forms. The carnivalesque form was manifested in a language of artistic imagery that retained the sensual nature of the carnival. For example, the carnival's familiarity was transformed according to Bakhtin into certain types of prose and is reflected in certain plot structures, situation, narration style and language. During the renaissance the carnivalesque view of the world and its categories of laughter and the symbolic acts of coronation and deposition, of change and ambivalent customs have penetrated and transformed almost all genres of artistic literature. The decline of the carnival in the 17th century caused it to stop being a direct source of carnivalisation in literature and its effects on the genre was diminished. Thus carnivalization and carnivalesque remained only as a literary tradition. Even though the carnival as a specific cultural form no longer exists in modern times, Bakhtin holds that its legacy, tradition and function live on. Cultural researchers such as John Fiske (in "Understanding Popular Culture" have suggested that certain contemporary cultural forms such as TV game-shows retain the nature and function of the medieval carnival as described by Mikhail Bakhtin.


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Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: A Reader (4th Edition)Mikhail BakhtinSubversive Pleasures: Bakhtin, Cultural Criticism, and Film (Parallax: Re-visions of Culture and Society)The Bakhtin Reader: Selected Writings of Bakhtin, Medvedev, Voloshinov (Hodder Arnold Publication)
     
  

Mikhail Bakhtin - "Carnival and Carnivalesque" - summary and review
part 1 - 2 - 3 

Mikhail Bakhtin: "Carnival and Carnivalesque" – summary and review - part 2


Mikhail Bakhtin - "Carnival and Carnivalesque" - summary and review
part 1 - 2 - 3


According to Mikhail Bakhtin in "Carnival and Carnivalesque", the central ritualistic act of the carnival is the false coronation and deposition of the carnival king. In the carnival, the complete opposite of the king – the clown or the slave – is coroneted with all the colors of the ritual, only to be shamefully deposed later. This is the opening act of the carnival and the inception of its reversed world. According to Bakhtin, the core of the carnivalsque sense of the world stands at the base of this act – the pathos of changes and renewal, of death and rebirth. The carnival for Bakhtin is a festival of time which exterminates all and renews all. The coronation and deposition are a dualistic and ambivalent ritual which expresses change the relativity of structure and order and the contingency of authority and hierarchic positions.

For Bakthin carnivalesque imagery is always dualistic and ambivalent. The carnival unites the two poles of change and crisis, birth and death, old and young, down and up, wisdom and stupidity etc. the dualistic imagery is characteristic of the carnival for their contradiction. Things in the carnival are reversed: cloths are worn upside down, household items serve as weapons and the clown is king.

One of the central arguments made by Mikhail Bakthin in "Carnival and Carnivalesque" is that medieval people lived a double life. On the one hand stood the normal, official, serious and gloomy everyday life which were subordinated to strict hierarchic order and full of terror and dogmatism. On the other hand there were the carnivalesque life which were free and unbounded, filled with ambivalent laughter, sacrilegious and the defilement of anything sacred, humiliations and familiar contact with everyone and everything. Both these life forms were legitimate, but they were separated by harsh temporal borders. According to Bakhtin in "Carnival and Carnivalesque", understanding this duality is the key to understanding medieval cultural consciousness.


Mikhail Bakhtin - "Carnival and Carnivalesque" - summary and review
part 1 - 2 - 3

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Mikhail Bakhtin: "Carnival and Carnivalesque" – summary and review


Mikhail Bakhtin - "Carnival and Carnivalesque" - summary and review
part 1 - 2 - 3


Mikhail Bakhtin's famous "Carnival and Carnivalesque" (in: Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: A Reader) deals with the event of the carnival, common throughout European history as a central form of celebration. Bakhtin's opens "Carnival and Carnivalesque" by noting that the carnival is not a performance, and does not differentiate the spectator from the performer. All people who take part in the carnival "live it" but it is not an extension of the "real world" or "real life" but rather, as Bakhtin puts it, "the world standing on its head", the world upside down. The carnival for Bakhtin is an event in which all rules, inhibitions, restrictions and regulations which determine the course of everyday life are suspended, and especially all form of hierarchy in society.

Bakhtin offers four categories of what he calls the "carnivalistic sense of the world: 1. Free and familiar interaction between people: in the carnival normally separated people can interact and freely express themselves to one another. 2. Eccentric behavior: behavior that was otherwise unacceptable is legitimate in carnival, and human nature's hidden sides are revealed. 3.carnivalistic misalliances: the free and familiar attitude of the carnival enables everything which is normally separated to connect – the sacred with the profane, the new and old, the high and low etc. 4. Sacrilegious: the carnival for Bakhtin is a site of ungodliness, of blasphemy, profanity and parodies on things that are sacred. For Bakhtin, these categories are abstract notions of freedom and equality, but rather a lived experience of the world manifested in sensual forms of ritualistic acts that are played out as if they were a part of life itself.

Bakhtin notes that the carnival was confined in time, not in space. It penetrated the house as well and did not exist just in the public sphere or town square. But the town square and its adjacent streets were the central site of the carnival, for they embodied and symbolized the carnivalesque idea of being universal and belonging to all people.


Mikhail Bakhtin - "Carnival and Carnivalesque" - summary and review
part 1 - 2 - 3

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Stuart Hall: "Notes on Deconstructing 'The Popular'" –summary


The first part of Stuart Hall's "Notes on Deconstructing 'The Popular'" is an historical account of the development of British popular culture in late 19th and early 20th centuries. This period, according to Stuart Hall, saw some deep cultural changes in urban working classes with the appearance of cultural industries products and technologies. Hall holds that this period is characterized by questions which remain relevant to this day regarding the relation between corporate produced culture and the image of popular culture as belonging to the masses.  

In the main part of "Notes on Deconstructing 'The Popular'" Hall is discussing the problematic meaning of the word "popular" in "popular culture". Hall analyzes two common understandings of this concept. The first meaning of "popular" is the one of wide circulation and commerciality. Subscribers of this view often tie popular culture with manipulative consumerism and regard it as falsification and even degradation of authentic working class cultural content and tradition. Stuart Hall only partially accepts this view for on the one hand it views working class members as easily manipulated passive consumers while on the other hand seeking an "authentic" or "original" working class culture which does not really exist. Hall prefers a more dynamic and changing description of popular content and forms.

The second definition of popular culture scrutinized by Hall is the one which views popular culture as all the cultural activities of "the people". This definition is in fact a massive inventory list of various cultural and leisure activities. Hall is critical of this perspective as well for its essentialist view and it being based on the binary distinction between "the people" and the "elite".

Towards the end of "Notes on Deconstructing 'The Popular'" Stuart Hall offers another definition of popular culture which stresses its dynamic nature and constant tension and struggle. Hall understands popular culture as an ongoing process, similar the concept of Hegemony offered by Gramsci, is which relations of control and subordination are constantly shifting and certain cultural forms gain and lose support from institutions. Preferred of marginalized cultural content and forms are not fixed, according to Hall there is a constant movement and interchange between them as a result of shifting power relations, the assimilation of poplar content into "high culture" and vice versa. What Stuart Hall is essentially offering in "Notes on Deconstructing 'The Popular'" is a neo-Gramscian view of the power relation between high and popular culture, with a more mutual perspective of the assimilatory take originally offered by Gramsci who thought the high hegemonic culture assimilates and sterilizes popular culture. 


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Stuart Hall: "Notes on Deconstructing 'The Popular'" –review

Stuart Hall's "Notes on Deconstructing 'The Popular'" initially appeared in "People's History and Socialist Theory" (1981) – a collection of essays concerned with socialism in its British contexts. Therefore Hall's "Notes on Deconstructing 'The Popular'" relies on British popular culture and its significance to the lower working class. But since Hall is attempting to deconstruct stereotypical connections between popular culture and the working class, "Notes on Deconstructing 'The Popular'" has theoretical value in relation to the understanding of popular culture as a modern phenomenon in industrialized countries.

Stuart Hall's "Notes on Deconstructing 'The Popular'" works within the tension between the perception of popular culture as something that emanates from the working class and therefore has something authentic about it, and the understanding of popular culture as an exploitative, commercial and mass communication based ally of modern capitalism. Hall's Notes on Deconstructing 'The Popular'" criticizes views that regard popular culture as an authentic expression of the working class and as a site for cultural resistance. Hall favors a more dynamic approach which views popular culture as changing field and as a site for struggle between different social forces over the meaning and value ascribed to popular culture.

"Notes on Deconstructing 'The Popular'" opens with an historical account of the development of British Popular culture. Stuart Hall then proceeds to discuss the meaning of the term "popular" in the phrase "popular culture". Hall is offering three different definitions of "popular" in relation to culture, and his main point in "Notes on Deconstructing 'The Popular'" is to try and point to the complexity of the relation between cultural products and content associated with "the common people" and the products and content of the culture industry. Hall points to the power relation that determine both high culture and popular culture as opposed concepts, while criticizing any attempt for an essentialist view of culture in general and popular culture in particular, and any steady association of content and cultural products with a specific social class.

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