Friday, July 22, 2011

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

suggested reading:
Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: A Reader (4th Edition)Rabelais and His WorldMikhail Bakhtin

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