Posted by The Happy Tutor
Reading Bakhtin is like reading a friend and continuing a late night conversation to dawn. He was apparently self-educated, wrote his best work in exile under Stalin, lost a leg to an amputation, and when times were hard, used his own manuscripts to roll cigarettes. A true Dumpster Dweller, he was, and wrote right under the nose of Stalin theories of literature that are to this day a clarion call to resistance against bad art, whether US, Fascist or Stalinist, whether market-based propaganda, false science, the thinking of perjured think tank thinkers, or the bland homogeneity of the evening news. He teaches here in Wealth Bondage about heteroglossia - our many yammering voices - about carnival, and satire, and about intellectual freedom under the eyes of the KVD, Corporate Surveillance, or the NSA. I read him as a role model, one who like Diogenes, survived as a truth-teller in a world full of lies backed by force ("ordered liberty"), only to die peacefully in old age, his PhD dissertation finished at last. Here is Bakhtin writing about the Middle Ages, as if the Middle Ages or the Dark Ages were not with us always.
It could be said (with certain reservations, of course) that a person of the Middle Ages lived, as it were, two lives: one that was the official life, monolithically serious and gloomy, subjugated to a strict hierarchical order, full of terror, dogmatism, reverence and piety; the other was the life of the carnival square, free and unrestricted, full of ambivalent laughter, blasphemy, the profanation of everything sacred, full of debasing and obscenities, familiar contact with everyone and everything. Both these lives were legitimate, but separated by strict temporal boundaries.
Elsewhere Bakhtin suggests that various literary modes come to Carnival from the top down, through a deviation from a "high class" norm, from an accepted form of propriety, merely dipping into the Carnivalesque stream, while remaining proper. (Sitcoms, Saturday Night Live, The Colbert Report, The Daily Show, The Simpsons, or MTV, and now rap music) all dip into Carnival without jeopardizing the frame, which is made of ads per a profitable business model. The funnies take place inside a very controlled space, where men and women in suits watch the applause meters and discuss market share in hushed voices. Such controlled Carnival is another theme park, though the exhibits can be instructive and can retain some of the heat of real thought and fury.) In other more truly subversive genres, the Carnivalesque with no business model but moral outrage and desire for freedom and the sheer pleasure of collective creativity reaches up from out of the street or the Dumpster to wreak havoc upon the plain or middle style, or the high poetic style or the frame that surrounds the sound-stage. Carnival is a Sitcom without footlights, without sound-stage, in which we wander up to the famous actors and make sport until they chase us around like Keystone Cops after the hero. Real satire contests the frame of propriety, and even profitability, and job descriptions and org charts, and leaves it all in wreckage. The frame can be reassembled, but never again do the joints fit right; ever afterward it seems rickety, and open to demolition, or to inadvertent collapse. Thus, at Gifthub and WB the "preconditions" are the same, proper and improper discourse set against each other, but the direction is is different. What must in either case be stressed to breaking is the hold that the "proper way of writing," or "good manners," or "good taste," or "what everyone knows" has on our thinking, our feelings and our sociability. Phil at Gifthub, or The Deputy Editor here or at The World We Want, enforcing norms of propriety have their place - to open a space like a cul de sac for our quarry. We can't run off the clientele prior to their complimentary spanking. Yet, still, the goal or hope is to survive to old age without having to ask our friends to intercede on our behalf with Alberto Gonzalez, Captain Blowtorch, or Candidia Cruikshanks. Thus, with Bakhtin we might want to become scholars of some arcane area, like ancient Roman novels, or contemporary philanthropy. As the editor of Gifthub likes to say, "It is all good." As the Deputy Editor would add, "Do any of you assholes have a problem with that?" To which I answer, "No, Sir, no problem at all, Sir. Philanthropy suits me fine. I am a giver myself. Never have charged for a beating. You can get yours gratis. In fact you can have two. Just kidding, Boss. Come let us drink!"