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Bakhtin at The Seaside Utopia, Modernity and The Carnivalesque – Darren Webb

This article explains and conceptualises the terms ‘carnival’ and ‘carnivalesque’ outlined by Mikhail Bakhtin. The concept of the ‘carnivalesque’ is discussed, “utopian possibilities are read into situations where there are none, while on the other, alternative utopian possibilities are overlooked in the scramble to locate and eulogize the carnival spirit.” (Webb, D  121), suggesting that the concept has been ‘over-utilised’ comparing the notions of the carnival in relation to a celebration of freedom and a holiday as such, which is considered against an alternative view of the carnival as meaningless fun; ‘carnival spirit’.
The article applies the concepts to the English seaside resort, suggesting that the notion of the seaside resort acts as a way in which to maintain the traditional values of a specific culture, an area in which ‘utopian’ values are kept alive. This notion is then considered with the rise of modernity and the implications that this has for English resorts and the way in which they function within the growing ‘leisure industry’ which inevitably makes their faction and values invalid.
The section within the article titled: The Utopian Radicalism of the Carnival Experience, proves to be very informative of Bakhtin’s theoretical structure within the concept of the ‘carnivalesque’ and analyses in relation to the notion of utopian possibilities that the ‘carnival’ tends to represent. In early renaissance times the carnival posed to provide a ‘second-life’ where people could be free of attachments: “the peoples second life, organized on the basis of laughter’, during which ‘people were, so to speak, reborn for new, purely human relations’ (Bakhtin, 1984a: 8,10)
Webb goes onto list the human relations that define the ‘carnivalesque’ experience each of which has different features in regards to the personal mind and body experience, as listed in the article I have listed these features below that are different quotations of Bakhtin and have much relevance to the Venice Carnival:
§  ‘during the carnival there is a temporary suspension of all hierarchic distinctions and barriers’ so that ‘all were considered equal’ (Bakhtin, 1984a: 15, 10);
§  during carnival the ‘norms and prohibitions of usual life’ are suspended so that an ‘atmosphere of freedom, frankness and familiarity’ reigns (Bakhtin, 1984a: 15-16). On this basis ‘an ideal and at the same time real type of communication, impossible in ordinary life, is established’ (Bakhtin, 1984a: 92)
§  during carnival the official ordering of space and time is suspended and the people become ‘organized in their own way, the way of the people. It is outside of and contrary to all existing forms of the coercive socio-economic and political organization, which is suspended for the time of the festivity’ (Bakhtin, 1984a: 255)
§  during carnival all official truths become relative: ‘carnival celebrated temporary liberation from the prevailing truth and from the established order’, and was ‘opposed to all that was ready-made and completed, to all pretence at immutability’ (Bakhtin, 1984a: 10-11)
§  during carnival the individual self is dissolved: ‘The individual feels that he is an indissoluble part of the collectively, a member of the peoples mass body’ (Bakhtin, 1984a: 255)
The features that have been listed above give a clear and detailed summary of the concept of ‘carnivalesque’ in relation to the uses and gratifications that people attach to it in the words of Bakhtin, providing a basis to further analyse the role of the carnival within Venice.
Bakhtin’s work goes on to build an ideology that the real meaning and notion of the carnival experiences expressed through his concept has been lost and is now seen as merely a holiday experience. It can be argued that the spirit is still applicable today yet it has lost its original values and meanings and no longer represents celebration of individuality and freedom.
The studies on UK seaside resort Blackpool by Bennett highlight the essential contributions that were paramount in regards to the growth and development of Blackpool and which in effect supported the modernisation and consumerist resort, explaining the financial support provided by tourists and the people within the local community in ensuring that the resort thrived economically. Webb highlights the growth in class distinction within the resort, the ‘organised and scheduled’ holiday experience which appears to be as routine as being at home, which made visible the class distinctions between working and middle classes. This was in fact a aspect that the success of the resort as a holiday destination was founded upon.
Webb goes on to examine the typical tourist attractions and how they were built and produced, attractions such as: the Blackpool Tower, and highlights the connotative values attached to the structure which is then related to the Eiffel Tower.
Relating the English holiday resort back to the concept of ‘Carnivalesque’ the routine and the entertainments that enhanced the holiday experience within the area, were founded upon over exaggerated and hyper real situations, it is this aspect that has much relevance to the concept here as the resort provided a ‘holiday’ for all, yet the experience had no meaning. The traditional values had been lost through the commercialisation of the area, the experience promote class divisions and routine and this goes against all the features that under pin the notion of the Carnival in the sense that it did not allow people to be free and promote an experience that was almost ‘out of the body’ yet it did the opposing which kept the experience very much grounded.
The final and key point that must be considered is found within the concluding section of this article where Webb highlights that it is no use looking within present ‘Blackpool’ to study the role and meaning of the ‘pre-modern carnivalesque heritage’, to really understand the values and meanings of the current we must seek the locals, and “ask what Blackpool meant to them in their youth” for the values that they attach are the ones which have not been tainted by capitalism.


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