- Slides: 14
Plautus and Carnivalesque? Luke Patient LAT 501 10/5/2009
Mikhail Bakhtin (1895 -1975)
The Concept of Carnival is an aspect of Culture (Bakhtin 1968: 3 -6) “folk culture of humor” “culture of folk carnival humor” “peculiar culture of the marketplace” Opposed to “Official Culture” serious vs. comic official culture supports the established hierarchy Carnival is radically democratic Carnivalesque: the artistic expression of Carnival
Carnivalesque Central characteristic: Grotesque Realism Aesthetic Principle Opposed to the “Classical” Aesthetic “Grotesque Body” vs. “Classical Body” (Dentith) Where the body of classical art is an achieved and completed thing—rounded and finished, with the perfection of, say, the Apollo Belvedere—the grotesque body of Rabelais and the kind of art he represents appears unfinished, a thing of buds and sprouts, the orifices through which it sucks in and expels the world. It is a body marked by the evidence of its material origin and destiny.
Classical Body vs. Grotesque Body
Grotesque Realism Essential Principle: “degradation” (Bakhtin 21) All forms of grotesque realism degrade, bring down to earth, turn their subject into flesh. To degrade also means to concern oneself with the lower strata of the body, the life of the belly and the reproductive organs; it therefore relates to acts of defecation and copulation, pregnancy, and birth. Degradation digs a bodily grave for a new birth: it has not only a destructive, negative aspect, but also a regenerating one. Temporal aspect: “as yet unfinished metamorphosis, of birth and death, growth and becoming. ” (Bakhtin 24)
Carnivalesque Grotesque Realism Degradation
Grotesque Realism in Plautus' Amphitruo D. Christenson. 2001. Alcmena: Ideal Matron? Visual elements Jokes regarding pregnancy Sexually insatiable Tragic aria or parodic burlesque? Effect? A play such as Am. that grotesquely caricatures figures of authority who normally command respect in both the human and divine spheres could have served, more generally, to expose these social roles as cultural constructions.
Is Plautus Carnivalesque? Other examples of degradation Lysidamus and Olympio Stratophanes and Strabax Degradation, but Carnivalesque? The missing element: ambivalence (Bakhtin 21) Degradation…has not only a destructive, negative aspect, but also a regenerating one. To degrade an object does not imply merely hurling it into the void of nonexistence, into absolute destruction, but to hurl it down to the reproductive lower stratum, the zone in which conception and new birth take place. Grotesque realism knows no other level; it is the fruitful earth and womb. It is always conceiving.
The "Safety Valve" Theory Just “letting of steam” (Taylor 46) We do these things in jest and not in earnest, as the ancient custom is, so that once a year the foolishness innate in us can come out and evaporate. Don’t wine skins and barrels burst open if the air hole is not opened from time to time? We too are old barrels… But Saturnalia was the perfect Carnival (Bakhtin 7) Carnival is not a spectacle seen by the people; they lived in it, and everyone participates because its very idea embraces all the people… It was most clearly expressed and experienced in the Roman Saturnalia, perceived as a true and full, though temporary, return of Saturn’s golden age upon earth.
The "Safety Valve" Theory The “historical specificity” of Carnival (Dentith 68) Carnival: disputed even at its moment (Dentith 71) The alternative: “Safety Valve” Fabula Palliata (Segal 15 -41) Roman restraint; Roman release (Segal 9)
Parallels in Aristophanes? Bakhtin’s only mention of Plautus (Bakhtin 98) Reactions Carnivalesque must be understood as a “metaphorical application of dialogism” (Platter 208) The essence of carnivalesque is in its politically and socially democratic character (Edwards 27)
Tentative Conclusions The aesthetic of “grotesque realism” is a helpful category for perceiving the unity in comic forms through time. The idea of carnival, however, is difficult to use because of Bakhtin’s insistence on its “ambivalance” (i. e. its positive and regenerative role) Carnivalesque is a very congenial category because it can be leveraged to deconstruct the privileging of “High” over “Low” culture.
Pieter Bruegel the Elder – The Battle Between Carnival and Lent