Bakhtinian Notion of the Carnivalesque

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In the present day, the Carnivalesque is a mode of public relations communicated via visual representations that extends far beyond hegemonic policies. Master-narratives of culture and religion, as will be illustrated in the following argument, prove to have each a different relationship with the elements of the carnivalesque. Consequently, the dialogic interaction within the framework of popular culture between the religious and the cultural reinforces the import of the Carnivalesque. Medieval carnival was a scheduled social feast and its permissive character was widely celebrated. In the modern world, the boundaries between work and leisure as well as the spheres of sacrum and profanum have been so overwhelmingly relativised that there is no more room for firm distinctions.

For example, Leonardo da Vinci’s anatomical drawings exhibit the allegedly biological intricacies of a heterosexual intercourse. While the male body is usually shown in the fullness of its socio-biological relationships, the female body is reduced to a set of deshaped sex organs. In his analysis of the picture, Freud reflected upon a number of cultural facts that might have influenced da Vinci’s attitude toward sexuality which, basically, appears to oscillate between instinctive repression and scientific precision. Psychoanalytic scrutiny performed by Freud proves that the painter’s consciousness was under strong constraints of religion; in other words, da Vinci’s artistic creations, if they contained an erotic overtone, were always subjected to utilitarian justifications. Mainly, since Leonardo rejected sexual acts as hideous and unnatural and, simultaneously, he aspired to a detailed description of human body then, paradoxically, he must have found an alternative discourse and vision of eroticism. Even though the particular drawing is far from obscene it corresponds to the one below in a number of respects.

Some drawings by a contemporary Polish artist, Dobkowski, allude to an orgiastic experience taking place within an eternal metamorphosis. The artist underlines the ritual aspect of sexuality and corporacy, as well as the cyclicity of human body (female, especially). The mood is highly emotional, if slightly sarcastic, and it reminds of leisure. The similarity between the two pictures invites comparison, especially because they can be adjoined to the same logic of the body as carnivalesque. The liberation of the body arises immediate consequences in parallel to the behaviour of masses participating in carnival.

In conclusion, Bakhtin’s observations as to the treatment of religion during carnival seem to hold even for the modern times. The aspect of sensuality presented also in trans-gender codes, as well as the multiplicity of meanings now carried by objects and ideas of well-worn definitions in every day reality bring about a shift in western ideology. Consequently, it is easy to notice that ‘the carnivalesque’ is present in a number of fields and not just carnival feasts. It may appear in the context of media and gender studies, to name just a few. The carnivalesque technique of representation and construction of meaning is a also a widespread tool of the advertising industry. It helps to deconstruct and redefine the long-established notions of identity, sexuality and order. Oscillating between the sacred and the profane it comes to decentralise the fixed meanings that are based on inclusions. The carnivalesque imagery re-invents the cultural identification of societies by presenting positive visions of what is, normally, considered to be negative. Since the carnival is an integral part of the western culture it presents itself as an alternative reality where there are new meanings and identities available.


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