cultivating the carnivalesque

“Laughter showed the world anew in its gayest and most sober aspects. Its external privileges are intimately linked with interior forces; they are a recognition of the rights of those forces. This is why laughter could never become an instrument to oppress and blind the people. It always remained a free weapon in their hands.” – Mikhail Bakhtin (see Three Dialogues).
After detailing the grotesque body via the illustration of “the finger” as an erect penis, but before “c_cks, c_nts, sh_t, p_ss, c_m, s_liva et cetera in [Performance and Public Culture]”, I commented, “I’ve been waiting to blog about this class.” “You haven’t done it yet?” a colleague teased. No. I hadn’t. “I’m finally learning something!” said Spare Man amid the general clamor. I must have been waiting for the professor to perform Jung’s breakthrough (see Footnote #1): balancing on her chair, posing as God on the toilet, dropping a huge turd on her ass-wiping mentee (the world). We laughed hard and often last night.
“I keep trying to figure out what my hesitation is with the blog,” Spare Man confided during break. “It’s not that I don’t trust you to know what is ok to say or not….it’s taking something live out of context and giving it back in alien form.” [Quoted from memory.] We discussed again how whatever I write comes back to those I mention in mediated form – not only via the record of written text in public cyberspace, but also as skewed through my particular lens. I have extracted the live from its performance, selected elements of influence or desire, and packaged them from my peculiar point-of-view.
Here, playing the boundary between the embodied performance and the inscribed record, I laugh: at you, at me, at us. ­čÖé
The carnivelesque was (circa the Middle Ages & Renaissance) a socially sanctioned and structured “safe” space in which humans could not only indulge the pleasures of the body but do so with full knowledge of being seen in so doing. The carnivalesque is public space for the performance of private self. You wanna find ways to transgress? You wanna make a difference? Then stretch the edges of institutionally-constructed roles, rules, procedures, forms, and etiquettes. Hot Stuff raised the question about whether there is any authority left that we respect enough (or revile enough, added another classmate) to want or need to mock so much as to upend social norms and create new paradigms. Those scenes which appear to approximate the carnivalesque (raves, for instance) are colonized by legal structures for the purposes of commodification and profit. (Illegal raves can’t be carnivalesque because they are, by definition, already outside the accepted social structure.)
Part of what used to enable carnivalization to occur, I think, is that it was bounded. The annual season of carnival was preceded and followed by the rigid structures of everyday and official social practices. What carnival allowed was the expression of energy repressed throughout the other months of living within societies’ constraints. It is this energy that, dialogically, opened the potential for new spaces and thus the capacity for lasting social changes. The openness of Bakhtin’s dialogism is the fulcrum of change, not the atmosphere of the carnivalesque. The climate establishes certain necessary conditions (which are not usually available during the everyday – or so we tend to assume). It is the quality of intentionality to act-with-abandon that establishes the collective social relations of trust and respect which then generate momentum toward transformed practices and ways of being with and for each other because of our differences, not in spite of them. This is where a lever to the democratic can be forged.
This I believe: the only transgressive zone in our de-authorized world is personal risk.


Footnote #1:
“When Jung was eleven he suffered another powerful experience which built on these earlier ones and confirmed and extended them. He was in the Cathedral square and was struck by its beauty: “The world is beautiful and the Church is beautiful, and God made all this and sits above it far away in the blue sky on a golden throne and…”(5) And then he felt that some terrible thought was on the verge of breaking through, and that he could not give into it under the pain of committing an unforgivable sin. Finally, after days of torment, he knew he had to think this terrible thought, and he came to the conclusion that God, Himself, had placed him in this predicament and wished to test him in a personal way. Finally, Jung let the thought come: “God sits on His golden throne, high above the world – and from under the throne an enormous turd falls upon the sparkling new roof, shatters it, and breaks the walls of the Cathedral asunder.”(6)
from Individuation.
(5) and (6) from Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Chapter 2

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