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Published by Windu W. Jusuf

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Published by: Windu W. Jusuf on Feb 07, 2013
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Becoming Carnival:Performing a PostmodernIdentity
Ted Hiebert 
Performance Research 8(3), pp.113–125 © Taylor & Francis Ltd 2003
Dawn breaks over the stage ofthe 21st-centurycarnival.A stage already set,and a set alreadystaged – the two-fold sign ofa heteroglossic multi-plicity that contextualizes the contemporary self.An age ofimitative being and possessed role-play.The well-charted collapse ofmeaning,and its con-sequences in the loss ofidentity are misread underthe sign ofthe meaningless,however.
And what ismissing here is the awareness that with the collapseofmeaning comes also the collapse ofits opposite.For with the collapse ofthe meaningless comes,inevitably,a mandate for play – but a mandate thatis performative (as opposed to prescriptive).Astate ofselfalready in play,waiting simply to benoticed,theorized and played with.A 21st-centuryfeast offools,which negotiates its culture oboredom by carnivalizing the stage ofitsappearance.And with this,a 21st-century carnival.Not thecarnival as it has progressed,developed andgrown,but as it re-emerges under a sign of Bakhtinian influence.Which is to say therendering ofthe carnival as a performativestrategy in order to recontextualize Bakhtin interms ofa contemporary thinking.For ourequivalent to the hierarchical (medieval) society inwhich Bakhtin’s carnival is played out is a societyofrevolt against the self;no longer a subversion of aristocracy,but rather a nihilistic subversion of identity itself.And as a consequence ofthis,identity becomes carnivalesque,performance of the selfbecomes its method,and Bakhtin’sheteroglossia becomes first a xenoglossia,andthen a gestural glossalalia.And the project at hand holds as its aim a recon-textualization ofthis sort – in the attempt to showhow carnival attitude can be used strategically as amethod ofdealing with the contemporary nihilismofthe self.A recombinant carnival that draws onconcepts,reappropriates and recontextualizesthem,in terms ofpossibilities rather than meaning.An ambivalence then towards the theoretical andhistorical contexts in which such discoursegenerally proceeds,not in order to deny meaning,but rather simply to acknowledge from the start aheteroglossic understanding ofthe world.And notjust the world,but the selftoo.A textual alchemy of sorts that seeks a performative counterpart in thefree-play ofthe self.And to think the selfcarnivally is to chart itstransformation from a static state ofidentity (con-structed or otherwise) to the fluctuating state ofitsperpetual becomings.
The carnival,not as a license tobe free,but rather now as a free license to become.
And to begin,a look at Bakhtin’s carnival.Not thecarnival as it actually is or was,however (i.e.not anattempt to recapitulate or reconstitute the carnivalunder the sign ofhistoric truth),but the carnival asconstituted by Bakhtin,used to recontextualize thepossibilities ofa contemporary identity.In this way,
H  i  eb  ert  
a look at the carnival as both the subject and themethod ofstudy.And above all,it is a carnival spirit that isimportant here.For the carnival was a celebratoryevent in medieval times,one taken up to relieve thepressures ofofficial life,and official rules.Amocking and a subversion ofthese rules instead,but one that rejuvenated while degrading (Bakhtin1984:90).And in this formulation what seems likean overt paradox (between mocking and renewing)must be asserted as not paradoxical at all,but rathersimply the way in which the carnival (and carnivallaughter in specific) was conceived ofduringmedieval times.
As opposed to the official feast,one might say thatcarnival celebrated temporary liberation from the prevail-ing truth and from the established order;it marked thesuspension of all hierarchical rank,privileges,norms,and prohibitions.Carnival was the true feast of time,thefeast of becoming,change,and renewal.It was hostile toall that was immortalized and completed.(Bakhtin 1984:10)
In other words,the carnival was a period ofsanc-tioned play,in which the official truths ofthe socialworld could be replaced by the unofficial truths ofafestive subversion.Thus a truly ambivalentcelebration – one that did not respect officialboundaries and instead played with all that wasofficial and serious.The carnival was ‘life itself,butshaped according to a certain pattern of play’(Bakhtin 1984:7).Or perhaps this can be taken further still,forBakhtin emphasizes the self-reflexive nature of carnival celebration – as an ambivalent critique,butone also that always includes itselfin its subver-sions.A critique then that is always,at least in part,aimed at oneselfand one’s participation in socialinstitutions and official ideologies.In other words,though the carnival does subvert a social hierarchy,it also functions as the simultaneous subversion of one’s own place in these structures.And it is in thisway that the carnival allows for the ambivalent sub-version ofoneself.Not a stepping out ofthe rolesone normally plays,but a stepping intoa role thatmocks the limitations normally imposed upononeself,limitations that one both upholds andsubverts in carnival participation.It is a necessarilyparticipatory attitude that thus accompanies thecarnival,at least in the sense that one alwaysperforms both the subject and object ofa carnivalcritique:‘ the people’s festive laughter is alsodirected at those who laugh’(Bakhtin 1984:12).And one might consequently suggest that onedoes an injustice to the concept ofthe carnival if one seeks to remain outside ofit in analysis.Adangerous suggestion perhaps for a paper ofthissort,for the task becomes one not only ofanengaged analysis,but ofan analysis according to theterms ofthat which is under scrutiny.Not the jux-taposition ofan outside logic onto the concept of the carnival,but a carnival thinking that is itself carnivalesque.
Carnival Imitation – BecomingHeteroglossic
And this,ofcourse,is merely the suggestion ofacontextual analysis.A suggestion that finds itsreferent in Bakhtin’s notion ofheteroglossia – aprinciple that privileges above all,a contextualplacement ofmeaning,and an acknowledgement of meaning ascontextual.
At any given time,in any given place,there will be a set ofconditions – social,historical,meteorological,physio-logical – that will insure that a word uttered in that placeand at that time will have a meaning different than itwould have under other conditions.(Bakhtin 1981:428)
And ifBakhtin could avoid thinking the carnivalfrom a carnivalesque standpoint,it is only becausehe chose to place it historically,as an analyticconcept rather than as a way ofbeing.An object ostudy,necessary in order to understand the ambiva-lence ofhumour in Rabelais,but itselfreally ahistorically contextualized interpretive filter.Amodel to be placed into the lexicon ofhis study.Butwhat happens when this model is invoked as thesubject ofits own analysis? No longer the Bakhtinianplacement ofcarnival as a medieval phenomenon,
         B      e      c      o      m         i      n      g         C      a      r      n         i      v      a         l
but a placement ofthe concept ofcarnival in termsofits performative consequences,which is to say anevent that can not only be analytically invok-ed,butalso one that can be re-placed in terms ofitspotential strategic and political possibilities.Nolonger simply a medieval subversion ofeverydaysocial life,the carnival can now be seen as a modelfor the (parodic) performance ofidentity itself.And parody itself,not then as a cynical critiqueofmeaning,but a playful subversion ofthe con-ditions upon which a social meaning is grounded.A convoluted position to be sure,for as the parodyenacts the inverse roles ofthe social self,so too doesit reinforce precisely the collapse ofmeaning whichrenders the selfa function ofits social roles.And if the carnival can subvert,revive or renew theparticipation ofa selfin a social world,it is onlybecause it makes apparent the transparency of social meaning to begin with.For it is not just thecarnival that imitates,but the study ofthe carnivalitselfthat sets its method as that ofremainingwithin the confines ofa carnival thinking.In otherwords a study that necessarily aims to imitate itself,to double back on its own criticisms and to enactthe assertions it seeks to make.And a redefinition ofcarnival imitation then,wherein its process becomes inherently heteroglos-sic.And not just Bakhtin’s textual heteroglossia,but a performed heteroglossia for a carnivalesqueparticipation that seeks to remove the conditions of structural and textualized meaning.For it is ulti-mately these forms ofmeaning that cause the socialstasis that makes the carnival necessary.And theassertion then that ifone can take on various iden-tities,including those taken up both within andoutside ofparticipation in the carnival,the state of identity is no less contextual than the state of meaning itself.A simple reformulation ofBakhtin’sdefinition really,in that now:
 At any given time,inany given place,there will be a set ofconditions that will insure that a selfacting (participating) in that  place and at that time will have an identity different than it would have under other conditions.
And all ofthis simply to suggest that the carnivalis necessarily ambivalent and inclusive.Not merelyan analytic model,but a performative positioning.For as carnival laughter is both mocking andrenewing,it is also not devoid ofits own truth.Rather,and this perhaps must be emphasized,
thecarnival laughs seriously
.In other words,one mustavoid the tendency to be too serious (or to read tooseriously) when speaking ofcarnival,lest one beaccused ofmisunderstanding the concepts oneinvokes.An ambivalent role-play then,one that is,ofcourse,more play than role,but neither to theexclusion ofits opposite,the ‘real’being – orperhaps better stated the
real becoming
Becoming Animal
And ifthe carnival selfis one that is ambivalent inits participation,it is precisely because ofitstwofold relationship to laughter and seriousness.An attitude that bears strong affinity with Deleuzeand Guattari’s notion ofbecoming.A becomingthat is not precisely a becoming somethingdifferent,but rather an ambivalent becoming of sorts.A liberation from a
role that necess-arily entails the embracing,not ofa
role,but ofthe
 space between roles
.And as the carnival isresistant to the static and complete,so too abecoming selfworks in the spaces between com-pletion:‘the selfis only a threshold,a door,abecoming between two multiplicities’(Deleuze andGuattari 1987:249).And the becoming-animal is ofspecial import-ance here simply because ofthe recontextualizationofthe carnival as a self-reflexive performance.Asubversion ofthe roles embraced in day-to-day life.And a contemporary becoming that strugglesagainst the self,subverting the constraints ofthehuman by becoming animal.
Do not imitate a dog,but make your organism enter intocomposition with
something else 
in such a way that theparticles emitted from the aggregate thus composed willbe canine as a function of the relation of movement andrest,or of molecular proximity,into which they enter.(Deleuze and Guattari 1987:274)
And so,to subvert the static nature ofa self-as-human,what better way than the enacting (the

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