The “Carnival Season” is a holiday period during the two weeks before the traditional Christian fast of Lent. The word has a Latin origin and literally means "to remove the meat" or "stop eating meat". But carnival and the “carnivalesque” are not limited to this period of the year; it refers to the varied popular festive life of the Middle-Age and the Renaissance . Besides carnivals proper, they were plenty of other feasts (for instance the “feast of the fools”, or the “feast of the ass”), and the carnival atmosphere also pervaded some agricultural festivities. If today carnival festivities have lost some of their importance, they and the comic spectacles and rituals connected with them had a very important place in the life of medieval men. Carnival and “carnivalesque” are connected with folk culture and folk humour, and everyone in the community would get involved. They existed in all the countries of medieval Europe. Large medieval cities devoted an average of three months a year to theses festivities. All these forms of ritual were based on laughter, on the comic and the grotesque. They were strongly separated from the official sphere, “(…) sharply distinct from the serious, official, ecclesiastical, feudal, and political cult forms and ceremonial” .
[...] First of all, the positive effects that Bakhtin attributes to carnival are fragile. In deed, he acknowledges himself that to be politically effective, popular carnival must “enter the institution of literature”. Carnival festivities themselves do not have long term effects and can not change the society. So in a way, they threaten society with the perpetuation of the established order. In Rabelais and his world, he argues that it is only in literature that popular festive forms can achieve the “self awareness” necessary for effective protest. [...]
[...] We could quote, for instance, Rabelais' work, on which Bakhtin focuses, but also Dante, Cervantes, and a lot of others writers. Thus, it is not a natural, intrinsic element of carnival which contributes, in the long term perspective, to question and threaten the established order, but its utilisation. Direct carnival effects are only temporary. Moreover, this characteristic of temporality is also experienced in the fact that the alignment between popular-festive forms and a critical anti- authoritarian spirit was, according to some authors, the product of a historical conjuncture. [...]
[...] Bakhtin himself acknowledges this, and says that, to do so, carnival and the carnivalesque must “enter the literature”. Furthermore, according to some authors, this phenomenon corresponds to a specific period of History, and the positive effects that the “carnivalesque” (contained in festivities or in books) is supposed to have, corresponded to a particular conjuncture, and can not be encountered anymore. Thus, nowadays, the modern forms of carnivalesque festivities (gay prides, Rio's carnival, and so should not be able to have any significant effect on the society. [...]
[...] The spiritual power is also concerned: carnival was also a means for medieval people to free themselves from the austerity of the Church. These festivities were in total contradiction with the ecclesiastic dogmatism, far from all mysticism and piety. It was the occasion of all the excesses imaginable. The means of this detachment with the temporal and spiritual power were the laugh, the degradation, the mockery, and the utilisation of what Bakhtin calls the “grotesque body”. The laughter is totally absent of the official sphere, which is concerned with violence, prohibitions, limitation, and always linked with fear and intimidation. [...]
[...] According to Bakhtin (Rabelais and his world), carnival has a positive energy and is used by people to free themselves from the established order. What effect does carnival have on its participants, its audience and on the larger society in which it takes place? According to Bakhtin, how could carnival succeed in undermining the established order? Does carnival really have the virtues he proclaims? Could Bakhtin's thought about carnival be seen as utopian, and do we not have reason to be sceptical towards it? [...]
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