Friday, July 22, 2011

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

suggested reading:
Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: A Reader (4th Edition)The Bakhtin Reader: Selected Writings of Bakhtin, Medvedev, Voloshinov (Hodder Arnold Publication)

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