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The Spirit of Carnival

The Spirit of Carnival: Magical Realism and the Grotesque

David K. Danow
Copyright Date: 1995
Edition: 1
Pages: 192
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  • Book Info
    The Spirit of Carnival
    Book Description:

    The world of literature responds to the "spirit of carnival" in ways that are both social and cultural, mythological and archetypal. Literature provides a mirror in which carnival is reflected and refracted through the multifarious perspectives of verbal art. In his original, wide-ranging book, David K. Danow catches the various reflections in that mirror, from the bright, life-affirming magical side of carnival, as revealed in the literature of Latin American writers, to its dark, grotesque, death-embracing aspect as illustrated in numerous novels depicting the dire experience of the Second World War.

    The remarkable meshing of these two diametrically opposed yet inextricably intertwined facets of literature (and of life) makes for an intriguing sphere of investigation, for the carnival spirit is animated by a human need to dissolve borders and eliminate boundaries -- including, symbolically, those between life and death -- in an ongoing effort to merge opposing forces into new configurations of truth and meaning.

    Expanding upon the seminal ideas of Mikhail Bakhtin, carnival, argues Danow, is designed to allow one extreme to flow into another, to provide for one polarity (official culture) to confront its opposite (unofficial culture), much as individuals engage in dialogue. In this case the result is "dialogized carnival" or "carnivalized dialogue." In their artmaking, Danow claims, human beings are animated by a periodic predisposition toward the bright side of carnival, matched by an equally strong, far darker predilection. Carnival forms of thinking are firmly embedded within the human psyche as archetypal patterns.

    In this engaging exploratory book, we are shown the distinctive imprint of these primordial structures within a multitude of seemingly disparate literary works.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4894-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [v]-[vi])
  3. 1 Literary Manifestations
    (pp. 1-32)

    From one important perspective that draws upon the positive attributes of carnival, it may be justly argued that this book is appropriately titled. There is indeed a life-affirming and life-enhancing “spirit” that pertains to carnival in its varied and numerous manifestations. But from an equally significant although principally negative standpoint, the present study might also have borne an opposite designation that likely would not be perceived or interpreted as innocuous. For the spirit hovering over the spectacle of carnival shares the stage with a lurking, less than benevolent, even demonic twin, which, in a sometimes flirtatious manner that can have...

  4. 2 The Carnivalesque-Grotesque
    (pp. 33-64)

    In his study of Rabelais and medieval folk culture, Bakhtin argues that the “carnival-grotesque form” exercises a particular function that may be expressed from a series of related views: “to consecrate inventive freedom, to permit the combination of a variety of different elements and their rapprochement, to liberate from the prevailing point of view of the world, from conventions and established truths, from cliches, from all that is humdrum and universally accepted. This carnival spirit offers the chance to have a new outlook on the world, to realize the relative nature of all that exists, and to enter a completely...

  5. 3 Magical Realism
    (pp. 65-102)

    In a single representative work of what has come to be known and appreciated worldwide as Latin American “magical realism,” the following details, among numerous like pieces of information, are all presented in precise factual manner as basic reportage.

    In the country, houses were carried off by the downpour, and in one town on the coast it rained fish. [Allende 1989:24]

    Books, quiet during the day, opened by night so their characters could come out and wander through the rooms and live their adventures. [25]

    Eggs for the nation’s breakfasts arrived daily by plane, producing enormous omelets on the burning...

  6. 4 Grotesque Realism
    (pp. 103-136)

    Vargas Llosa’sThe Storytellertells of an indigenous Peruvian tribe that periodically picks up its meager belongings and begins to migrate, with no special destination or goal, other than to prevent the sun from falling from the sky. In Appelfeld’s To the Land of the Cattails, a woman makes her way home, after many travails, only to be shipped off immediately on a transport to the concentration camps and death. Perhaps the road and its mystique are all that these two works have in common.¹ However, the motif of the road plays a significant role in the literary representation of...

  7. 5 Archetypal Aspects
    (pp. 137-154)

    In concluding, I return to a problem raised at the start. For in our considerations of the carnivalesque, an underlying question remains: are we treating a continuum that is in some sense representative of what might be viewed as an anthropological constant? That is, an “anthropologically motivated postulate” (Mukarovsky 1978:56), rooted in a certain reiterative human tendency or impulse that makes its appearance in various guises in virtually all cultures? One might make such an argument, as I have shown previously, on the basis that “there are certain constitutive characteristics of the human species that dispose us to regard the...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 155-174)
  9. Works Cited
    (pp. 175-180)
  10. Index
    (pp. 181-183)