Friday, February 14, 2014


This Lens op-ed by C.W. Cannon captures what I believe to be the indispensable essence of Carnival.
Russian literary critic Mikhail Bakhtin, in a book about folk culture influences on the great Renaissance French writer Rabelais, outlined a theory of Carnival based on ancient and medieval traditions. Centuries later, it’s remarkable to witness how the “carnivalesque” spirit he details lives on so palpably on the other side of the world. A few of the key attributes Bakhtin ascribes to Carnival are a satirical impulse of a bawdy kind that he calls “grotesque realism,” the inversion of normal prevailing social hierarchies, and mass participation.

In light of principles like these, it’s a no-brainer that the latest city ordinance supports, rather than inhibits, the ancient foundations of Carnival tradition. Even here in New Orleans, one of the prevailing social strictures upended by Carnival has been segregation in public settings. Blocking off and segregating swaths of the public space for members-only parties doesn’t jibe with the carnivalesque injunction to cast off social distinctions and rub shoulders with strangers for a limited period of time.
I agree with Cannon's aspiration for the new ordinances, of course.  I've been banging away at the anti-social nature of space-hogging on the parade routes for years.  However I expect the new laws are going to do more harm than good. For example, I don't see how the ideal of "groteseque realism" is aided by the banning of snap-pops and Tucks TP rolls but OK. Let's see what happens.

In the meantime, I'm suddenly in the mood for a little upending of the prevailing social strictures.  Anything to combat this nonsense is welcome anyway. As it happens, we've got just the right nonsense to meet it with.

1 comment:

hopitoulas said...

Completely agree with your take. Would only add a comment vis-à-vis our unique feature of "throws" which I recently heard Arthur Hardy describe as a manifestation of most people's desire (at least in our culture, in my opinion) to play Santa Claus on some level. I think that, while it may sort of be obvious, it not only is true but an admirable and precious feature of our character.