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The Politics and Poetics of Transgression, Allon White & Peter Stallybrass

Chapter Five: Bourgeois Hysteria and the Carnivalesque
In order to conceptualise the notion of ‘carnivalesque’ in a modern day capacity, I began my research by reading Chapter Five from Stallybrass and White’s book, the Politics and Poetics of Transgression.The chapter discusses the concept of carnivals in a very general way and discusses how carnivals were typically associated with different social classes, which could be related to the work of Pierre Bourdieu and the work he produced on the distinction of social classes. Immediately at the start of the chapter it is mentioned that those who associated themselves as middle-class rejected the notion of the carnival and this was caused by the implementation of ethnographic material such as masks, rituals and symbol. Perhaps the reason for the rejection of the carnival was that it was becoming too much of a spectacle for individuals liking, due to the extravagance of the carnival.

The next key point that seemed of significance to me was a point made regarding Sigmund Freud’s ‘Studies on Hysteria’. It is stated that “the ritualistic and symbolic material of carnival suggests new ways of interpreting the hostility, the felt incompatibility, of rational knowledge to ritual behaviour” (1986:174) Thus, the symbols that are associated with carnivals provide new ways of interpreting and understanding the behaviour associated with and towards carnivals. Relating to ‘Studies on Hysteria’, conducted by Freud, it is stated that individuals reproduced their distress through “pastiche and parody” (1986:174), in order to semiotically show how they felt.

Although earlier in the chapter it was said that carnivals were rejected by certain social classes, it is also revealed and highlighted that eventually they became incorporated into society. In Germany, following the after-math of the Franco-Prussian war, “traditional processions and festivities were rapidly militarised and incorporated into the symbolism and ‘classical body’ of the State”. (1986:177) Therefore, when accepted by a State, the entirety of society feels the need to accept it, especially when incorporated into modern day culture. In today’s society, carnivals are a form of celebration and are annual occurrences within different countries. Whether individuals love or loathe them is irrelevant as they are a dominant pleasure throughout society. As White (1982) states “the forms, symbols, rituals and structures of carnival are among the fundamental aesthetics of modernism” (1986:177)

As well as detailing the transgression of the carnival, Stallybrass and White also state how by the establishment of the carnival as a social practice; its displacement into other discourses has not been acknowledged, hence a simple conclusion regarding the elimination of the carnivalesque being reached. Stallybrass and White state that there were four stages to the break-up of the carnivalesque and they were: fragmentation, marginalization, sublimation and repression.

In the concluding part of the chapter it is discussed how the carnival as a social practice focuses upon inversion. Basically, how everything that is normal and accepted within society becomes the opposite. For example, good becomes bad, the rich become poor, etc. Stallybrass and White effectively define inversion as “the reversible world which encodes ways that carnival inverts the everyday hierarchies, structures, rules and customs of its social formation” (1986:183) An example would be how, typically, it is the norm to walk in the streets appropriately and acceptably clothed. However, in the season of the carnival, it is normal to walk down the street in an extravagant mask and robe and alien to be appropriately dressed.

Overall, the chapter was intense, tough and mind-bending. I’m hoping that when I visit the Carnevale Venezia that I will be a lot more familiar with terms that Stallybrass and White mention and apply; ideally I want to be able to intrinsically and succinctly apply aspects of their work to my own experience of the carnival. The chapter did highlight key points, such as the grotesque body. This will be of great relation to hexis, I imagine, due to hexis being the physical embodiment of a place and the grotesque body being the physical way in which a carnival is experience. Also, the notion of ‘bourgeois’ is referenced heavily throughout the chapter. Therefore, it is quite clear that the term is of extreme relevance to the carnival and carnivalesque and the above mentioned will need to be researched and developed further, before being applied to the experience of the Carnevale Venezia.



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