ENG | S Carnivalesque. For the literary theorist and philosopher. Mikhail Bakhtin. 1. The carnival was not only liberating because. – for that short period. Bakhtin’s concept of carnival laughter can be read as a subversive attack on In other words, in the carnivalesque game of inverting official values he sees the. “Bakhtin’s carnival, surely the most productive concept in this book, is not only not an . “The miracle and morality plays acquired a carnivalesque nature” (15).

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Our civilization is built upon both high and low culture and we need tools to understand the link between these two notions.

Bakhtinwriter or Rabelais and his World was interested in the transgressive qualities of carnival and the grotesque, including a critical utopia. This text has in our post-modern society offers a new insight. But some limits will be envisaged like the issues commodification or spectacle, before wondering if it is still possible nowadays to make a distinction between high and low culture.

A typology of the carnival and the grotesque will help the reader to be more familiar with these notions. It used to challenge the Church morale. The traditional carnival has inspired through time and spaces different variations. For instance, in some areas of France, one hundred days before the A Level, pupils wear fancy dresses and do the mess in the high school.

The grotesque refers to the use of bizarre, absurd, irony, laughter and excess, dealing with the dichotomy life and death.

Bakhtin’s carnival applied to contemporary culture

This art is characterized by the mixture of parts of humans and animals, the presentation of defecation and vomit, which has to be considered as a whole celebration of the body. Carnival and the grotesque question the notions of utopia and dystopia. Irrupting into the everyday life, the carnival is a period where hierarchies are temporally lifted although narrative disappointments are experienced by some people. Some traces of the carnival and the grotesque can be found in our culture, in reaction to the process of repression.

We live in an atomized society of abundance, of accumulation, which tends to obscenity, in Latin, ob scene, behind the scene. Therefore, the carnival can be seen as a collective response to challenge power such as capitalism, bureaucracy or gender issues.

Bakhtin’s carnival applied to contemporary culture | Communication interne

The gay pride is the same concept: Bennett takes the examples of Blackpool teh the seaside, which he considers as an unregulated land, site of carnival praxis. If language is an interesting aspect to consider, the body carnivalrsque even more. Since the modernity, we tend to hide the body functions. People refuse the identity proposed by the dominant ideology and bakbtin the body as a material against morality, discipline and control.

Orlan playing with her body material or modern primitives reconsidering their skin as a semantic field express that they owe their body. Carnival and the grotesque are anti-hegemonic strategies to escape the hierarchy, the church, or other power like capitalism. They are a temporally and spatially determined transgressions followed by the restoration of the carnivqlesque order. These notions are tainted with Marxist theories, with the idea of challenging the power, like in The Island of Slaves Mariveaux,a play about servants and masters, on a desert island where a group of slaves decide to take the power.


The carnival is the dream of a free world where people would not miss anything.

It is exactly what De Certeau argues in his book The Practice of Everyday life when he explains that the everyday man uses tactics such as urban nomadism, poaching or bricolage to subvert the state power imposed upon him. If the State tries to control the people whenever and wherever, each individual has his own micro possibilities of resistance. For Gardiner in Crossley and Robertsp.

Pregnancy, aging or obesity can be used to lead the people think about the boundaries marking high culture and organized society.

But some critics of the carnival can be made: Current carnival and notions of the grotesque can as well be subject of some critics. It can be wondered if Bakhtin is out of context because his theories have their own limits.

Humphrey in Brandist, C and Tihanov, G eds. To understand correctly these issues, we need to consider the notions of commodification, class struggle and gender struggle. Now, the upper-class, which is associated with the high culture, is also the producer of the low culture. Little Britain may be a grotesque show but the purpose for BBC is at the end to earn money. Likewise, the social aim of the carnival has disappeared and his purpose is most of the time commercial, like the Venetian Carnival can be.

The case of Blackpool analyzed by Bennett mentioned earlier is criticized by Webb On the opposite, mass culture — popular culture — is associated femininity, consumption, leisure, emotion, passivity, reading.

But another thing can be pointed out: The Carnival of Rio may be a popular event but it is a show where casual people do not participate. Mass people are only the viewers who watch that in the television. Similarly, Big Brother is the screen materialization of a fake show where the participants gazed leave their boring life in front of a camera: The spectator who wants to become spectacle will try to mimic what he sees in the Medias, by using the same postures, clothes or expressions than his pathetic idols.

Our life is influenced by all the images that we continuously see from the television to the cinema, from the porn movies to the freak shows. In our society influenced by a bourgeois sensibility, the woman of the porn industry is slim, she has no hair, no periods, and sometimes it is even hard to guess if her body produces cyprine.

It can be seen as an infantilization of the body. This taboo is present as well in advertisement: An other taboo is talking about diseases because it reminds us that we will die one day. It is not a mere decoration added to the real world. In all of its particular manifestations — news, propaganda, advertising, entertainment — the spectacle represents the dominant model of life.

It is the omnipresent affirmation of the choices that have already been made in the sphere of production and in the consumption implied by that production. In both form and content the spectacle serves as a total justification of the conditions and goals of the existing system.

But the spectacle is not the life, it is his inversion. The mass-entertainment industry allows us to escape the world for a few hours. Nothing changes and at the end, when people leave Disneyland, the pumpkin is not a coach anymore. However, the problem has to be rethought in context, which means that we need to take in consideration the fact that we live in a post-modern world. In our post-modern society, it can be asked what the meaning of what we see in the Medias is and if even it means anything.


It is more complex than literature, painting and sculpture versus popular music, tattoo art and pornography. The post-modern pieces of art use intertextuality and the frontier between high and low tends to disappear.

Exhibitions in the streets, happenings, art in situ are evidence that it is harder and harder to consider that a work belongs to this or that category. If an extract of a symphony is used in an advertisement, this tune will be tarnished and although it used to be considered as related to high culture, the masterpiece will probably loss a bit of its symbolical value.

Moreover, it can be wondered if carnival and the grotesque are really achievable today because we live in an individualistic society where the idea of community is not really present.

Carnival was the idea of lots of different people going all together in the street and it was not a compilation of individual isolated actions. In our society, carnival and the grotesque do not have the same meaning than they used to have but still, these concept help us to understand what is problematic in our culture. These concepts still exist in our society, in a fragmented and localised form.

The aim is still the same than in the past id est it is a way to challenge the power. But in the capitalist society, carnival and the grotesque can be used by some people for the only purpose of making money. Sometimes, the social aim disappears so class and gender struggle are still present. More than an event where everybody can participate, carnival and the grotesque are now most of the time a voyeuristic show where the scopic pulsion of the spectator is satisfied.

Moreover, it is much more complicated to inverse the notions of high and low currently because they tend to disappear with postmodernism. The analyse of Bakhtin is thus still interesting in the contemporary culture but we need to bear in mind that things have changed and a recontixtualisation including politic, economic and social issues is necessary.

Bennett, T et al. Popular Culture and Social Relations. Brandist, C and Tihanov, G eds. The Bakhtin Circle and Social Theory.

Writing on the Body: Female Embodiment and Feminist theory. Crossley, N and Roberts J.

New Perspectives on the Public Sphere. Cultures of Consumption and the Contemporary Aesthetic of Obscenity. Volume 18, Numero 4. Bakhtin at the Seaside: Utopia Modernity and the Carnivalesque. Volume 22, Numero 3. Big Bellies and Bad Language: Carnivalesque in The Sopranos. Rabelais and his World.

Midland Books, Indiana University Press. The Practice of Everyday Life. University of California Press: The Society of the Bakgtin. Zone Books Fiske, J. The Birth of the Prison. An Introduction to Theories of Popular Culture. Share on Facebook Share. Share on Twitter Tweet. Share on Pinterest Share. Share on LinkedIn Share.

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