Rabelais and his World
Rabelais and His World by Mikhail Bakhtin is an investigation into the obscure folk culture of Rabelais writings. The reason modern readers find Rabelais indecipherably cryptic is in large part due to society’s emphasis upon “high culture” rather than lower strata common folk. Furthermore, the upper crest of society is generally marked by illusions of purity and homogeneous commonalities that are the very elements disrupted by the repressed people of a nation. Specifically, it is the mechanism of Socratic dialogue and abject play that opposes official culture; as featured in carnivals. Bakhtin regards this cunning, blasphemous and sordid unofficial side of culture as a revolutionary position.
Carnival festivities mimicked the serious rituals of high society. Fools and clowns parodied everything that was serious. Furthermore, carnivals were events that embraced all people to participate. Carnival time offered a ‘temporary suspension’ of caste and rank. It allowed laughter with indecent, unrefined and grotesque behavior. All these idioms symbolized change and renewal within society. But more than just pointing the way, carnivals were real alternatives to wider society, if only for short periods.
This space of ambivalence was foremost a catalyst for communal regeneration. In contrast to the purely negative cynicism characteristic of modernism was the jovial carnivalesque behavior which liberated others from conventional truths and oppressive establishments.
This carnival spirit offers the chance to have a new outlook on teh world, to realize the relative nature of all that exists, and to enter a completely new order of things (34)