Carnival and Culture

Carnival and Culture: Sex, Symbol, and Status in Spain

Copyright Date: 1998
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Carnival and Culture
    Book Description:

    Each year in the weeks preceding the deprivations of Lent, the Andalusian region of southern Spain erupts into madcap depravity, during a February carnival of riotous celebration. Carnival features subversive songs, burlesques and skits, transvestite parades, and public persecution of communal offenders, along with mournful elegies and heartfelt panegyrics. In this lively book, anthropologist David D. Gilmore explores the meanings of Andalusian carnival, focusing particular attention on the songs, orcoplas. He offers translations of many of these carnival productions and mines the rich vein of oral literature for a new understanding of the ways in which the Andalusian people interpret and negotiate their world.

    Not only does carnival provide many insights into ritual behavior and folk art in Spain but, Gilmore shows, the festival also offers similar insights into rituals of revelry and disinhibition elsewhere, whether mumming, Mardi Gras, Fasching, or Walpurgisnacht. In a fresh perspective on carnival, he reveals that in Spain the lower classes mix abuse of elites with a surprising degree of respect and even veneration. Gilmore concludes that Andalusian carnival is less about revolution or politics per se than about the inescapable ambivalence of all human feeling.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-14394-2
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    Like nature, society reveals nothing, certainly not its deepest secrets, without ceremonies. This book is about how Spanish society yields up some of its darkest secrets through ceremonies and rituals. The secrets in question are those which affect the people deeply and shape their social relations: secrets about sex, gender, and status. The revelatory ceremonies themselves are diverse and of varying orders of magnitude. They include rituals of the Februarycarnaval:not only the masquerading, burlesques, and song lyrics that are our main focus here but also more mundane events involving table manners, bar etiquette, olive picking, buying a drink,...

  5. 2 Carnival in Spain
    (pp. 9-25)

    Carnival is the popular festival in Catholic countries that takes place in mid-February before the Lenten fast. Widespread geographically, the holiday is known by many names:carnavalis the Spanish and Portuguese variant. French speakers knew it ascarême-prenant, or more commonly today as Mardi Gras (“Fat Tuesday”), owing to the custom of eating up all the fat in the house before fasting. For Italians it iscarnivale, although Pisa has itsCarnelevare, Naples itsCarnolevare, and Sicily itsCarnilivare(Rector 1984:39). Homologues, cognates, and synonyms abound in the other Romance languages (Caro Baroja 1965:27). Latin carnival is equivalent in...

  6. 3 Carnival, Ritual, and the Anthropologists
    (pp. 26-36)

    We are treating carnival in Spain as ritual, consisting of a series of performances or routinized events strung together over time. These events include bardic oral performances, burlesques and farces, aggressive but controlled threats, drunken revelry of a predictable kind, licentious and provocative promenading, spontaneous and sometimes quasi-violent street theater, transvestism, and so on. The first question we must contend with in examining all this is: should a secular (and in fact frankly obscene) celebration like carnival, with its irreligious antics, be called a ritual, in the anthropological sense? After all, the word “ritual” is usually used by anthropologists in...

  7. 4 Woman Degraded: Chirigota Satires
    (pp. 37-56)

    It is noon on a cool overcast day in mid-February in Andalusia, the Saturday before Ash Wednesday. Carnival has arrived! Without any recognizable signal, but by common assent, people pour out of their homes into the village streets. Most of them are in colorful masquerade, both men and women. The mascarones, the male clowns, are all in drag, their faces covered. Their women counterparts, the máscaras, or harlequins, appear as exotic maids and princesses, Hollywood movie stars or Russian ballerinas, their faces like-wise hidden.

    The onlooker, even if motivated to do so, has a hard time distinguishing the masqueraders by...

  8. 5 Woman Redeemed: Estudiantil Laments
    (pp. 57-73)

    In the carnival coplas, the poets deconstruct the image of woman, which they then demonize, degrade, “carnivalize,” and symbolically reconstruct in a form that is more to their liking. The poets break down woman’s presumed haughtiness with the rhetorical solvent of “spicy” eroticism. Their songs are degrading in Bakhtin’s sense of the term: bringing what is “upright down to earth,” portraying woman in the scatological imagery of “the lower stratum of the body” (1984:21). In the carnivalesque inversion of woman, her indignity at the hands of the jesters is only partial; for the very same poets, in a quicksilver transformation...

  9. 6 Macho Man and Matriarch
    (pp. 74-90)

    We saw previously that the carnival vocabulary and its rituals together provide a key to Andalusian men’s ambivalent relationship to women—most important, to the mother. The carnival message was shown to be not only misogynist but also, paradoxically, reverent toward woman. The serious estudiantil genre provides men with a regressive experience and yearns nostalgically toward the lost child-mother symbiosis and an idealization of womanhood.

    Perhaps understandably, most studies of Mediterranean codes of masculinity ignore all evidence of pre-oedipal fixations in men and take the grown man and his adult heterosexuality as the starting point (see, for example, Chodorow 1994)....

  10. 7 Who Wears the Pants?
    (pp. 91-106)

    Carnival exalts the poor man, glorifies the child hidden within the adult, rescues the henpecked husband, uplifts the downtrodden and the oppressed. Carnival degrades women, as we saw in the first chapter, although the coplas also, and with great ambivalence, express veneration of the split-off “good woman,” personified by the sacrificing mother and the martyred innocent girl. This good side of woman, with its own internal contradictions, thus isolated from the bad, can then be appropriated, or at least controlled, through men’s psychic identification with women in carnival lyrics. The “lowering” or debasing of the negative female image as an...

  11. 8 Up and Down: The Geometry of Sex
    (pp. 107-123)

    Reversing the positions of man and woman, carnival plays with stature, bringing down the high and mighty and raising up the lowly. But what do “high” and “low” really mean in this context? Aside from the obvious allusion to bodies and altitude in space, what does it mean to say that some people are “higher up” than others, or “lower down”? Why do people phrase ideas about better and worse, which are after all moral or conceptual values, in what amounts to aspatiallanguage of up and down, higher and lower? This geometric phraseology or analogue is of course...

  12. 9 Here and There: The Geography of Sex
    (pp. 124-138)

    So men are up, women down. That way men can have the “upper hand,” at least in their mind’s eye. This third dimension, sex, is indeed an invented landscape of the mind: conceptual, imaginary, a figment of male reverie, a vision of how things should be. In reality, of course, no one is really encima, above, or on top of, anyone else in real physical space, except maybe during the sex act or in physical combat. But the second dimension of reality, that of flat geography, where people are on the ground, is divided equally into male and female domains,...

  13. 10 The Mayete as Carnival Caricature
    (pp. 139-154)

    We now turn to politics, by which I mean struggles over power and privilege in the public, or male, realm. A prime target for carnival verse is themayete, a fixture of rural society in western Andalusia with deep roots in folklore. The wordmayeteis the colloquialism that people use to describe the middle-class farmer that Marx called the petty-commodity producer, in other words, the rural bourgeois. In Spain, the mayete is not much more than a middling peasant, really — not rich, but not poor either, certainly not dirt poor like the vast majority of landless farm workers,...

  14. 11 Copla Politics: Ideology and Counterpoint
    (pp. 155-171)

    The carnival songs deriding mayetes are a leading form of political theater — they literally number in the hundreds. Instead of “inverting” the class hierarchy, they pull out its center, causing the entire structure to implode and conflating its two extremes. Carnival is always political; even its sexuality is political, because it has to do with power relations and status, not to mention “who’s on top.” But carnival in Spain is political in specifically Spanish terms. These are nothing if not ambivalent, as poetic justice is meted out through the agency of the rich duke and his minions, the bullies...

  15. 12 Bars, Bards, and Bawds
    (pp. 172-188)

    Carnival discourse celebrates a Spanish code of manhood and a corollary model of social equality. It unites these Platonic ideals through the community of song, laughter, and above all, good fellowship and drink. Alcohol is itself a commodity honored during carnival. The village makes an “offering” to the Muse, for instance, through invitations to the already tipsy poets to take acopita, “a cup of cheer”; and of course alcoholic overindulgence is the chief lubricant for the merriment itself, as well as the primary means of keeping warm on cold February days. Drink and bars figure inseparably, for people do...

  16. 13 Carnival Evolving
    (pp. 189-204)

    Politically, Spain has changed greatly since the 19705, the time when I collected most of the songs presented here. The older songs, those my sources could recite from memory, date mainly from the period between the Civil War and the 1970s. Only a few are from earlier periods. Most of the lyrics in this book are therefore reflective of life during the Franco dictatorship, which lasted until 1975. But even before Franco, Spain was never a real democracy except during the brief interlude of the Second Republic (1931–1939). The country had suffered through the somewhat more benign Primo de...

  17. 14 Conclusions: Meanings of Carnival, Carnivals of Meaning
    (pp. 205-214)

    In the previous chapters we looked at carnival rituals both as self-contained events and as festival expressions that deform, deconstruct, and reinterpret the world as it is—that is to say, the noncarnival world—in various ways. Throughout, we have used carnival lyrics as a lens through which to view Andalusian culture in context, with all its inconsistencies and contradictions. Now that we have seen how the coplas “work,” both in and outside carnival, and how carnival antitheses are repeated and sublimated in the rituals and routines of everyday life, it is time to take stock of the meanings of...

  18. Notes
    (pp. 215-224)
  19. Bibliography
    (pp. 225-240)
  20. Index
    (pp. 241-244)