Bakhtin's Carnival Laughter and the Cajun Country Mardi Gras Author(s): Carl Lindahl Reviewed work(s): Source

: Folklore, Vol. 107 (1996), pp. 57-70 Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd. on behalf of Folklore Enterprises, Ltd. Stable URL: . Accessed: 16/01/2013 20:17
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Folklore107 (1996):57-70 RESEARCH ARTICLE

Bakhtin's Carnival Laughter and the Cajun Country Mardi Gras

M.M. Bakhtin'ssocial constructionof Renaissancecarnivals,and his views on carnivalin general,encountertroublewhen tested against a presentdayenactment,the Cajuncountry de Courir MardiGras,a processionalbegging ritual celebratedin southernLouisiana.The festival reveals structuresmissing from Bakhtin'selite sources and consequentlyfrom living his writings:structuresthat articulatethe folk community'sautonomousvalues and cooperativesurvival strategies.As long as literarystudies based on Bakhtinfind in carnivalonly that which opposes elite culture,they will fail to recognise the dimensions of community selfcelebrationand self-definitionessential to many folk festivals. It is not folklorists, but folklore's critical translators who-for better or worse-represent the discipline to a larger community concerned primarily with the role of word as art. Thus Mikhail Bakhtin may well be remembered for writing the most influential folklore study of recent decades. Rabelaisand His World,translated into English in 1968, twenty-eight years after its completion, is the most recent critical classic to examine lore's emergence in literature (Holquist 1981, xxv). It has served-to a greater degree than the earlier works of Jesse Weston (1920) and Daniel Hoffman (1961)--to introduce a particular vision of folklore to a generation of literary scholars. Unlike his predecessors, whose work focused on one specific literary development or period, Bakhtin has brought folklore a broad new audience. By placing carnival laughter at the heart of the novel, Bakhtin pushed folklore to the centre of recent critical pursuits. But he also brought misreadings which could easily subvert the interdisciplinary bond his work has promised to build. Folklorists, remembering the chaos spawned among literary scholars by the works of Weston and Hoffman, owe critics a precise accounting of Bakhtin's failings, as well as of his useful and important insights. Here I take Bakhtin's ideas about carnival and test them against real-life enactments-medieval, Renaissance and modern-to show where Bakhtin follows the festive records closely and where he seems to refashion them to fit his preconceptions. In pointing out the distortions, I do not intend to assail the contributions. It would be difficult to miss so great a target, but far more difficult-and pointless-to attempt to dismantle it. My purpose is to establish that Bakhtin, in setting up folklore as an absolute pole in his dialectic of culture, exaggerates certain aspects of carnival to an extreme seldom, if ever, achieved in its enactment. What Bakhtin says about literature has unquestioned value, but what he says about the folkloric nature of innovation in literature needs modification. I begin with his base conception. To Bakhtin folklore is "popular laughter" (1968, 4-6; 1981, 23), infused with "utopian radicalism" (1981, 186), absolutely free in essence and anti-hierarchical to the core. Its primary mode is parody, its target the ossified culture of the elite. The concept of tradition has little role in this characterisation of folklore. In fact, seen by Bakhtin, tradition, the perspective that tilts toward the past, is the property of elite culture, which seeks to maintain its old ways, old laws, old families in positions of absolute control. The past is the enemy of folklore, which continually ridicules it and its representatives, using carnival as a stage on which to recreate the world after the image of popular freedom (Bakhtin 1968, 5-17; 1981, 81-2). The equation of festive laughter with folklore was to figure largely in Bakhtin's genre criticism, where the lifeless culture of the elite was equated with the epic, and carnivalesque folk freedom was seen as the impulse embodied in the multitude of popular voices that sound in the novel (Bakhtin 1981, 3-40). In a sense, carnival is the "novel"-in the truest meaning of the term. Folklore is not mere tradition, but a constant newness, changing continually to jar the ears and minds of those for whom literature presents a static, monolithic vision of the conservative past (Holquist 1981, xxvii and xxxi-xxxii). Here Bakhtin anticipated some of the most respected statements in the folklore studies of the 1970s, including those of Dan Ben-Amos, who specifically rejects associations between folklore and tradition, and Richard Bauman, who sees the es-

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Carl Lindahl

of the day's proceedings. He and his co-capitaines are the only un~ " .......,------masked riders. The group leaves from a central location in town, moving to its rural outskirts. When , ~i~~ii~oil they reach a farmhouse, the riders begin a cycle that will be repeated fifteen or twenty times before the day is out. The capitaine calls his troupe to a halt on the road before the farmhouse, then rides forward alone to ask the owner's permission to enter the yard. When consent is granted, the leader waves a white flag signalling the riders to engage. They charge the farmhouse, then dismount and begin a begging dance-a performance calculated to coax a live chicken from their host.' When the troupe Figure 1. Unmasked, but wearing capes and cowboy hats, two capitaineslead has grovelled to the farmer's satmasked Maidi Grasridersin a processionalcirclearoundtheir town;ChurchPoint, isfaction, he presents a chickenLouisiana, 1984 (photograph:Carl Lindahl). or two-to the capitaine,who summons the masked men behind an sence of folklore in its newness, its creative and emerimaginary line where they wait to struggle and chase. The capitainethrows the chicken into an open field and gent qualities (Ben-Amos 1971; Bauman 1975). the men run after it. The one who catches it is hailed To Bakhtin, there is no activity more essentially folkas a victor, and the entire troupe celebrates the victory loric than carnival. Under "carnival," he subsumes a with free-form carousing until the capitaine blows a medieval enactnumber of celebrations-including horn to summon them back to the road. This pattern is ments of the Feast of Fools and Lord of Misrule revels-most often observed in the month between Adrepeated at various farmhouses until the Mardi Gras has circled the town, at which time the capitaine leads vent and Epiphany-but the celebration that most thorthe group in a parade back to its centre. The whole oughly embodies the spirit of folk festival is the one town then shares a gumbo (a thick long-seasoned soup) he employs to name them all: the German Fastnacht, cooked from captured chickens and ends the evening the French Mardi Gras, the Spanish Carnaval and Italwith a bal masqud. Next morning is Ash Wednesday, ian Carnevale, celebrated on the eve of the Christian Lenten fast (Bakhtin 1968, 5). day of atonement, beginning of Lent-and, as more than one rider has told me, "Ifyou do Mardi Gras right, We have extensive accounts of late medieval and you'll have enough to atone for when you get up early early Renaissance carnivals, as well as some living exnext morning and go to church."2 amples to work with. One of the most thoroughly docuThere is more than ample evidence that the prestill mented is the Cajun country Courir de Mardi Gras, Lenten feasts of Rabelais's time were performed in in two dozen rural locales on the prairies of practised similar fashion. Roger Vaultier documents performsouthwest Louisiana (Oster and Reed 1960; Oster 1964; ances dating from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuPost 1974; Ancelet and Lindahl 1974-95; Ancelet and ries (Vaultier 1946, 45-59). Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie Ancelet 1980; Gould 1980; Adair 1983; Morgan 1979; Gould and Spitzer 1984; Spitzer 1986; Ancelet 1989; analyses in great detail two celebrations enacted in southern France within twenty-six years of Rabelais's Edwards and Pitre 1991; Lindahl 1992; Mire Ancelet, death (Le Roy Ladurie 1979). Arnold van Gennep traces 1992; Ware 1994). It is this celebration which I will use the historical development and geographic variation as my principal point of comparison, so I now describe of Mardi Gras throughout France, helping us to estabit briefly. lish that such modern enactments as the Cajun Courir share many of the forms and functions of those witA Sketch of Cajun Mardi Gras nessed by Rabelais (van Gennep 1937-8, 868-1148).3 A group of costumed men and boys-ideally, so thorIt does not take long to sketch the skeleton of Mardi costumed that their friends and relations would Gras, but to tell all it does or means would fill many oughly not know them-assemble in the early morning under books. I can emphasise only a few of its signal functhe leadership of the capitaine,a temporary despot who tions, those most important to a constructive critique will play the "most important single role" (Spitzer 1986, of Bakhtin. First, Mardi Gras defines group territory: in the festive drama and stand in full command the riders leave from, and return to, the moyeu, the 455)







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Bakhtin'sCarnival Laughterand the Cajun Country Mardi Gras hub, the centre of their community (Oster 1964, 276). On their ride, they circle their town, marking with horse hoofs the boundaries of their shared interests (see Fig.


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Mardi Gras defines manhood: it is generally an all-male affair, a rite of passage incorporating boys into the adult community and accentuating the skills most prized by male Cajun adults: horseman.. ship, resourceful farming, prow. ..... ess at racing and dancing, hard . .......... work, hard play-all combined (see Figs 2 and 3). The boy who plays well is accepted as a peer, and when he catches his first chicken he becomes a provider in a very real sense, "bringing home the bacon" for the first time, addFigure2. Centralto the CajuncountryMardiGrasis the captureof the chicken.Here two maskers fight for sole possession of the chicken. Basile, Louisiana, 1993 his own chicken to the gumbo ing that will feed the group that night. (photograph:Carl Lindahl). (The cultural traits emphasised in any given celebration will, of course, vary with the occupations and preoccupations of the community of celebrants, for Mardi Gras defines group interests. In Renaissance Paris, for example, the various urban professions and the constant rivalry between clergy and laity were among the principal points of pride and conflict;these aspects of society, rather than horsemanship or agricultural skills, figure most prominently in known to the celebrations Rabelais.4) .... Mardi Gras defines interdependence: anonymous masked men, symbolic of anyone who may be hungry, beg for food and receive chickens, rice and other foodstuffs, given impartially by Figure 3. The old-style CajunMardi Gras are most often all-male affairs in which the farmers. This is, theoretically, men practise their traditionalskills and initiate young men into their ranks. Here, a feast in which everyone gives on a house visit, Mardi Gras revellers dance on the backs of their horses; Mamou, and everyone gets: the hosts sacLouisiana, 1978 (photograph:Ginette Vachon). rifice the chickens they have worked to raise, but only after a fight; the riders beg, sing and Finally, Mardi Gras defines the vitality and promotes struggle with each other to win those chickens. In the the continuity of the group: at the end of the day-long end, at the bal that night, all share the food thus earned, ride, the boys who have become men through their lost, and earned again. In the France, where Rabelais adventures join the older men at the bal. Here, for the died in 1553 and which the Cajuns left for the new first time, the "new" men participate in accepted soworld in 1623, this was the lesson of survival: droughts cial interaction with females, to dance with, court and and crop failures created widespread famine ensuring had less that half the time, more than half the people ultimately marry the girls and women who have witnessed and admired their holiday feats.than enough to eat well (Braudel 1981, 74 ).





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conical hats that parody fashions favoured by refined medieval ladies, mortar boards ridiculing scholars, mitres mocking clerics-all survive in current celebrations. But it is in the most recent additions to the realm of the mocked, in which parody catches up with the present, that we feel a sense of the power such imitations carried in Rabelais's time. In 1977 one of the riders at Church Point wore skin-coloured longjohns, and jockey briefs on top of these, a hard hat on his head, and, covering his face, a Jimmy Carter mask. Throughout the day-and for years to come-spectators would talk about this stunning representation of the newlyelected President: an apparently half-naked man who seems to be Jimmy Carter running insanely over the fields, diving after chickens-to all appearances, willing to kill for chickens-and standing at the end of the day silhouetted against the sky, body covered with mud and blood, holding aloft in one hand a headless chicken, in the other a chicken head. Through it all, he wears Jimmy Carter's enormous, daunting smile-a smile which from that moment would take on a new, perhaps disturbing, meaning every time it appeared on the face of the President (Gould 1980, 117; see Fig. 4). There is in Mardi Gras a great creativity even at the moment of destruction. This festive re-fashioning of the world takes place at almost every turn, on nearly every level. Despite the fact-as even my short summary has indicated-that Mardi Gras is a highly structured event, the opportunity for creativity is built into that structure and continually seized. Long before the festival begins, there is the element of costuming, on which men work in secret for weeks, even months, preparing for one day's play. Even for the farmers, there is the element of caginess-or, rather, its opposite: making their fowl uncatchable. Farmers use various tactics to surprise the beggars: releasing a guinea hen (faster than a chicken on the ground and a far more persuasive flyer), releasing five guineas at once, setting loose a fighting cock or a turkey (both of which pose real physical dangers to those who try to catch them). Among the riders, creativity is sought in the midst of the most formalised moments. At the Ossun Mardi Gras of 1982, a rider on his first Mardi Gras, like so many hunters before him, proclaimed that his best chance for a chicken lay in adopting the attitude of the prey-"poultry consciousness." During the performance of the ritual begging song, he began to dance chicken-style, pigeon-toed, kicking the dirt. This small act of unpremeditated creativity was not only accepted, but also imitated-and varied-by other riders as the day wore on. The freedom of the mask is prodigious: all who wear it are free to create something, no matter how ridiculous, if only in the motion of the moment. Surviving accounts of medieval and Renaissance festivals are replete with the same tendency to generate creativity through parody of society's most sanctified officers, offices, rituals and moments. At enactments of the Feast of Fools, a mock Bishop installed himself in the cathedral chair normally occupied by the real-life bishop. The fool wore ecclesiastical dress, but not ex-

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Figure 4. Mardi Gras parody often embraces presentday politics.Here a revellerwearing a JimmyCartermask,a hard hat, longjohns, and jockey shorts over his longjohns holds up one of the many chickensthathe capturedat ChurchPoint, Louisiana,in 1977 (photograph:James Edmunds).

Bakhtin Testedin Living Festive Contexts
I now elaborate on what Bakhtin makes of carnival and gauge the extent to which folklorists can do the same. I concentrate on Mardi Gras as a social form; thus Bakhtin's brilliant and more specific discussion of carnival imagery (such as the "material bodily image" and "the language of the marketplace") will not figure here.6 The Russian critic's sense of carnival can be reduced, somewhat simplistically, to four basic precepts. I will measure the aptness of each. First, Mardi Gras is ambivalent-both purely creative and destructive, at once approving and critical (Bakhtin 1968, 11-12). Here there is no question. Cajun country Mardi Gras is made for irreverent reconstruction: it destroys, but always and immediately replaces what it has ruined with something that bears an uncanny and unflattering resemblance to the order thus temporarily supplanted. Those most ridiculed have traditionally been those most powerful. Even in the twentieth-century costuming of Cajun Louisiana, we still find reflections of the power structure of Rabelais's world:

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and MardiGras Bakhtin's Carnival Laughter the CajunCountry


actly as the bishop would: the cleric's holy britches became the fool's hat. At prescribed moments during the mass that day, the normally prescribed hymns were replaced by a panegyric for the ass that carried Joseph and Mary into Egypt; and instead of ZI ; incense, dung was burnt in the censers (Bakhtin 1968, 147; Lindahl 1985). The re-creative nature of carnival shows itself precisely at the time of destruction: Bakhtin's observations on the nature of festive parody are validated wherever Mardi Gras is practised. Yet there is one significant way in which Bakhtin's image of creative destruction differs from that observed by folklorists and an- Figure 5. The Mardi Gras transformsall in its path into more Mardi Gras. Here a Basile reveller has seized photographerHelena Putnam and is threateningto drop thropologists of recent decades. In Bakhtin, the target of destruc- her on a fire ant hill; Basile, Louisiana,1992 (photograph:Carl Lindahl). tion is the culture of the rulers, against whom the carnival "folk" singlemindedly unite they form a line behind the capitaine.But as unmasked (Bakhtin 1968, 196-213). Recent studies show a greater strangers appear in its path, the procession becomes a ambivalence than even Bakhtin projected. Firestone, blob that engulfs them. Clowns ride out to seize and Szwed, Abrahams, and Abrahams and Bauman find scare watching children. The masked men force men that the mask does much more than simply divide the and women to dance, lift them off the ground (see Fig. elite from the folk: in even the most socially cohesive 5), abduct them for a few moments, or set them on the and non-stratified communities, carnival provides a backs of skittish horses. The Mardi Gras transforms means of expressing tensions simmering within the everything and everyone it touches into more Mardi group itself (Firestone 1969; Szwed 1969;Abrahams and Gras. Even the farmers partake, using poultry as their Bauman 1978; Abrahams 1983, 108). The revellers not masks to force the outrage of impossible tasks upon only buck against their role of social subservience, but the would-be outrageous. also resist their roles of interdependence. The cat-andNevertheless, the unmasked can never share commouse games played by the farmers and the riders, as pletely the freedom of the mask: all may be Mardi Gras, well as the elaborate, ritualised struggle among the rid- but there is an important internal distinction between ers for the chicken, are little wars in which playful ag- actor and acted-upon. Riders have in the past used their gression serves to express and work out some very real temporary anonymity to level scores, to return abuses intra-group tensions (a point to which I shall return in dealt out by unfriendly neighbours during the previdiscussing Bakhtin's fourth carnival precept; cf. Szwed ous year (Ancelet and Morgan 1979). Even those who have no score to settle take advantage of the possibility 1969, 112-18). Bakhtin's second point has to do with the tendency of that their audience may feel someone is out to get them. Mardi Gras to embrace, then engulf, everything in its path: At Church Point in 1978, one Cajun was watching the riders assemble when he was approached by an old Carnivaldoes not know footlights, in the sense that it friend-now unknowable behind his mask-who does not acknowledge any distinction between actors threatened in a disguised voice: C'est dur Ca, quand le and spectators.Footlightswould destroy a carnival,as MardiGrasconnaittoi, maistu connaispas le MardiGras the absence of footlights would destroy a theatrical ("It's tough, isn't it, when the Mardi Gras knows you, performance.Carnival is not a spectacle seen by the but you don't know the Mardi Gras"). Even as the people; they live in it, and everyone participatesbeMardi Gras engages its audience, it revels in its differcause its very idea embraces all the people (Bakhtin ence from them. This is true especially on the Mamou 1968, 7). ride, which carries an audience with it. A group of women and girls walks behind the mounted guisers: While carnival lasts, there is no life outside it. For the greater part, Bakhtin's formulation holds. In the females' role is simply to watch, except at those Louisiana, the all-embracing nature of the feast is physi- designated times (after the chicken chase and before cally apparent in the configurations of riders on the returning to the road) when they are invited by the road. Theoretically, as they move from house to house, capitaine to dance with the masked men. The distinc-


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Carl Lindahl dom, celebrating "temporary liberation from the prevailing truth and from the established order"; "carni. ~ val is the people's second life, organized on the basis of s laughter" (Bakhtin 1968, 10 and 8). Here he is half-cor~_?;?~ The freedom rect, but half-and essentially-wrong. --?r;~~~a~--?;?-????;? of Mardi Gras, like the freedom of yoga, is rooted in order; in both, the degree of liberation is proportionate :~~D" to the intensity of the discipline imposed. Even on its I most superficial level, Mardi Gras imposes enormous a i restraints. The Louisiana ride could not take place at all without the irrevocable authority of the capitaine. No farmer would allow a host of wild masked men into his yard without prior assurance that they were I led by one man, unmasked and in complete control (Oster 1964, 275; Adair 1983, 10; cf. Spitzer 1986, 422~ " 7). The riders feel this control to the marrow of their souls. At Mamou, one of the many ironclad rules is, ????????????????????????????~ "Don't pass the capitaine during the procession." In 1976, one rider broke this rule unwittingly as his horse grew skittish and raced past the lead: "Whatyou doing?"yelled the capitaine. The rider reined his horse and, in his words, "I was ashamed. I wanted to beg the capitaine's forgiveness. I was heartily sorry and hurt by what I'd done."

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The farmers, too, are limited in the strategies they may pursue to frustrate the masked men. There is an invisible line in the proceedings past which Mardi Gras becomes, in the eyes of even its wildest participants, a tasteless parody of itself. The farmers are supposed to 6. Participantsoften say that a true Mardi Gras will throw out anything they can for the riders to chase-or Figure always catch his chicken, no matter how difficult the task almost anything. Poultry is the bottom line. I was proves to be. Here,two men climba treein pursuitof a guinea present once at a house in Church Point where the hen while dozens of their comradeswait expectantlybelow; farmer set loose a greased pig. I thought this fine, inChurchPoint, Louisiana, 1984 (photograph:Carl Lindahl). ventive. I was wrong. Only a handful of the riders bothered to pursue the pig-and they did so half-heartedly, tion between the guisers and the watchers is observed while the others stood watching, wearing expressions formally in several ways: the masked ones are given of disgust. I asked them why. One of the riders spoke the right to ride horses and the Mardi Gras wagons, up, "This is a joke. This is stupid. Feathers. We'll chase free food and beer, and cheers-while those unmasked anything with feathers. Nothing else." are not. Even the lightest moments of Mardi Gras come atAt the Romans Mardi Gras of 1579, the same dis- tached to unbreakable codes, behavioural precepts as tinction between masked and unmasked obtained. The binding as any written rule. These often unstated laws main participants, extravagantly costumed, paraded are sometimes observed and enforced by the riders before an unmasked crowd. The watchers were par- themselves with no coercion or encouragement from ticipant-observers, who were no doubt absorbed in the the capitaine.At the same house where the pig had been proceedings, but who served primarily to witness and released, the farmer offered a guinea hen, and this aniencourage the focal performance of the guisers. In this mal was pursued, by everyone. The hen flew to a tree masked parade, "everything was done for pleasure and branch forty feet above the ground. But one of the abto give pleasure to the audience. The streets were lined solutes of Mardi Gras is that the festival cannot prowith gaping delighted spectators" (Le Roy Ladurie ceed without the captured bird. So several men climbed 1979, 193). The Mardi Gras of Renaissance Paris ob- after the guinea to force it down, while as many as a served the same separation, the same tension between hundred waited bellowing on the ground (see Fig. 6). actors and watchers. The unmasked often suffered cruel As one of the climbers began to shin along the branch tricks at the hands of the guisers (van Gennep 1937-8, toward the perched hen, it flew into another tree, soon 894; cf. Bernstein 1986, 114). Yet Bakhtin's second pre- scaled by another contingent of climbers. After twenty cept conveys substantive truth, even if he carries it to a minutes, the guinea was forced from its last perch and not entirely workable extreme. sailed into the midst of the mob on the ground, who inThird, for Bakhtin, Mardi Gras is a paradigm of free- stantly rendered it unrecognisable. Mardi Gras is ex-

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Bakhtin'sCarnival Laughterand the Cajun Country Mardi Gras


tremely creative and free, but it is so precisely at those moments when it is most ordered and constrained. In Rabelais's France carnival participants were subjected to contests far more formalised and rigorous than the chicken chases of rural Louisiana. At Romans, as elsewhere, races for roosters, chickens, and sometimes goats and sheep were held (Le Roy Ladurie 1979, 177, 181 and 184).7 Among the pre-Mardi Gras festivities were shooting matches; preparations for this contest were so ritually rigorous that a dissident leader in Romans was able to field and train a revolutionary militia behind the mask of revelry (ibid., 96-101). In all these events, play was bounded by strict rules uses force of will and whip to and roles: the various trades and Figure 7. In any successful MardiGras,the capitaine Hoover Landreneauprepares to order on the celebration.Here Capitaine factions had their own carnival so- impose cieties (similar to the "krewes" of use his buggy whip on an errantreveller;Basile,Louisiana,1991(photograph:Carl present-day New Orleans) and Lindahl). identified themselves with identical costumes; furthermore, they normally carried the tools On the contrary, Mardi Gras is absolutely hierarchical of their trades in their processions through the city streets in structure. Its great strength as a popular festival de(ibid., 178, 190, 192 and 209-10). And, as in presentday rives from the fact that it inverts, but does not subvert, Louisiana, Mardi Gras protocol possessed its bounda- the power structure that it mocks (cf. Le Roy Ladurie 1979, 190). While the lowly may move forward and ries-past which, celebration was seen as desecration. Renaissance Mardi Gras was often celebrated with stand exalted for a day, they do so within a framework clearly prescribed laughter, distinctively bridled gai- presenting a paradigm of inequality. Everywhere within the celebration, this fact is apety. Though the festival introduced-and to some extent legitimised-some revolutionary social ideals parent, even in the midst of French Louisiana, as non(Davis 1971; 1978), the rigid form of the event served hierarchical a traditional society as can be found in the as a check on dissent. At Romans in 1580, the festival United States (Dormon 1983, 61-3). There is, most conking, costumed as a bear, entered the town hall and spicuously, the absolute despotism of the capitaine,who took a seat higher than that dictated by custom for the controls his lieutenants; these men in turn pass down festive ruler; the city fathers looked upon this gesture unbreakable rules to the riders (see Fig. 7). But even in as an act of open revolt (Le Roy Ladurie 1979, 175-6). less obviously structured situations, a pecking order is Though the constraints placed upon the players have quickly established. Among the anonymous and prebeen exaggerated by many (cf. Eco 1984 and the nega- sumably egalitarian riders, those who catch the most tive response of Abrahams 1986), to view carnival in chickens are known as grands Mardi Gras. (It is interestisolation from its "frames of comic 'freedom"' (Eco 1986, ing to note here, that "Mardi Gras," the term that des1) is to see no more than half the festival. Bakhtin errs ignates, first, the entire celebration and, second, the in ignoring the absolutistic shell that shapes carnival entire masked group, is employed in a third sense to reward distinction within the group.) The superiority licence (Bernstein 1986). Fourth, finally, and perhaps most important to of certain riders is officially recognised by awards given out at the evening bal. Bakhtin's conception, is the tenet that "the suspension In Rabelais's time, the winners of such competitions time was of all hierarchical precedence during carnival In the passage below, for were often crowned kings (Le Roy Ladurie 1979, 96of particular significance." example, Bakhtin contrasts Mardi Gras with the festi- 101; Vaultier 1946, 54-5). There is also a hierarchy of vals of the upper classes: disguise, further sanctioned by awards for best costumes. And-as previously mentioned-as Mardi Gras Rankwas especially evident during officialfeasts;eveis, among many other things, a rite of passage for boys, ryone was expected to appear in the full regalia of his there is a hierarchy of manhood on the ride as well. calling, rank, and merits and to take the place correOlder riders demand, and are accorded, greater respect sponding to his position. It was a consecrationof inthan their fellows. They also have the unofficial right the contrary,all were considered equal equality. On to inspire or cajol the younger participants. If they percarnival(Bakhtin1968, 10). during

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Carl Lindahl

tire company Carnival embraces a decided tension between hierarchy and freedom, but in every'celebration that .. . does not become a riot, hierarchy is the ultimate victor (see Fig. 8). It ..... ... . is true that, even as they struggle .. ... and contend with other guisers, the riders form a ritual bond uniting aa them against outsiders. Yet this bond must not supersede their subservience to the capitaine. At Mamou in 1978, a motorist drove X~ : into the masked parade, his car grazing the legs of two horses. Immediately and instinctively, the masked group took off after the car. The frightened driver steered his car into a ditch, where his wheels were soon caught in the mud. He Figure8. Although MardiGraspresentsa tension of orderand disorder,the ordering left the car at a run, pursued by and controlof the capitaine his status at the top of the festive hierarchyare among the nearly two dozen angry riders, conHoover Landreneauand one of his most common traits of the festival; Capitaine verging on him in two waves, half masked "sauvages,"Basile, Louisiana, 1992 (photograph:Carl Lindahl). from the front and half from the back. The lead horseman, riding at ceive that the young are not playing hard enough, the full gallop as he reached the runner, thrust out his leg elders egg them on: Viens,Mardi Gras! Sois un vrai Mardi and banged a wooden stirrup against the man's head, Gras! ("Come on, Mardi Gras; be a real Mardi Gras!") knocking him half-conscious to the ground. The secThe young are tested. They must fight the older and ond rider on the site was the capitaine, who surveyed stronger ones to get their chickens-and it is only after the damage, then shouted, ,a, c'est assez, garcons, allons the young player has shown his expertise in riding, ("that's enough, boys; let's go")-at which point the drinking and taking teasing, that he merges with the mob of seemingly uncontrollable riders became a flock of docile followers queuing up behind the capitaine to group (Spitzer 1986, 427). Mardi Gras is most free when it is most hierarchical. return to the road and re-engage the feast. Mardi Gras This precept is reflected in an episode from the Ossun sometimes strains against its hierarchical shell, butride of 1984. When (as often happens with one hun- in the eyes of its most seasoned participants-no real dred men in competition for a single chicken) the vic- celebration will violate its contract with the capitaine. tim was so thoroughly mauled it could not conceivThough Cajun Mardi Gras, like the carnivals of the have found its way into the gumbo, the riders who West Indies, seems to "give disorder its own day" ably held the remnants came to the capitaineand asked that (Abrahams and Bauman 1978, 205) and attracts the parthe chicken be given a proper Christian burial. So the ticipation of society's most potentially dangerous memride stopped, a rude cross was quickly fashioned, and bers, the "cowboy machismo" (Spitzer 1986, 417) of the at the side of a shallow grave, dug in close proximity riders and the manly skills they practise are among the to, and in alignment with, the supine body of a rider most respected traits in day-to-day Cajun culture who had passed out from the effects of drink and (Dormon 1983, 56-60). Mardi Gras presents an ideal chicken chasing, the capitaineintoned the chicken's last format for socialisation, allowing young men to channel their disorderly behaviour toward serving the comrites. The symbolism of the impromptu ritual would not be lost on students of Victor Turner: the proxemics munal good. The boy who catches the most chickens of victor and victim, the levelled nature of both, the may be potentially the group's most dangerous delininevitable corollary question, "Who really won?" This quent, but Mardi Gras diverts his energies toward makservice was a highly creative act of communal compo- ing him the best provider, and at the end of the day he sition in which every aspect of the environment was is rewarded with a trophy acknowledging that he has contributed the most to the gumbo. Another way in manipulated to fashion a symbolic story. It possesses all the hallmarks of what is most characteristic of Mardi which order asserts its primacy is in the capitaine's choice of lieutenants. As one leader told me, "Any Gras: play, parody, an almost desperate creativity-but is invoked, in the capitaineworth his title will deputise the meanest man. most especially hierarchy-which person of the capitaine, playing the role of that other That guarantees his control." By selecting the most danhierarchical figure, the priest-and doing so with the gerous individuals for the most responsible roles, and consent-indeed, in response to the pleas-of the en- through other means, Cajun carnival presents young

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Bakhtin'sCarnival Laughterand the Cajun Country Mardi Gras men with a model for using culturally significant skills to practise non-destructive, even authoritarian alternatives to disorder and violence. At the same time the lieutenants and riders show their skills at playing hard, they are working hard to do the farmer's bidding and act as model guests while on his land, begging for his chickens (cf. Abrahams and Bauman 1978, 205). Under the guidance of the capitaine,the young Mardi Gras revellers work to socialise themselves. When one moves from Cajun country Mardi Gras to the carnivals Rabelais witnessed and Bakhtin researched, the hierarchical structure of the proceedings grows even more pronounced. Carnival did not destroy hierarchy, but simply rearranged its contents. This inversion was, as Bakhtin has stated, "a second life for the people," but its basic structure was all too familiar. At the Feast of Fools, when a poor man-often chosen by virtue of his ugliness-was elevated to the Bishop's post, he began an absolute, if brief and playful, reign of his own (Chambers 1903, 1:274-335). At the Boy Bishop ceremony the bishop-for-a-day, a child, led the congregation in singing deposuitpotentes ["He has overthrown the mighty"]; at the moment the real-life bishop was deposed-a new bishop, the boy bishop, granted the full rank and privilege of the real cleric, assumed the Bishop's seat (Chambers 1903, 1:354-8). Not for one second during such enactments was the official social structure dismantled, even in the context of play. The same rules obtained during the French Mardi Gras of the sixteenth century. The entire social structure was duplicated. In urban centres such as Romans, not one, but several carnival hierarchies were established to reflect a multivocal community. The various trades and the civil and ecclesiastical power structures were all represented in the carnival parody. A King of Youth was chosen to reign over the young men, and a Bear King and a Rooster King ruled briefly at various times during the pre-Lenten holidays. The kings were attended by special retinues of holiday officers who also possessed special privileges commensurate with their de play ranks. A special play fraternity-L'Abbai Bongovert, alias Malgovert-with both "farcical and official" powers was guided by several officers whose play status duplicated the official status of various civil and ecclesiastical authorities (Le Roy Ladurie 1979, 967, 100, 190 and 209-10). Hierarchy was thus supplanted but not subverted. And, as recent researches of Renaissance Carnival (Davis 1971; 1978) and its modern analogues (Abrahams and Bauman 1978; Abrahams 1983), have continually found, there have been two sides to this brief rule by the underprivileged. On the darker side, the lower classes-in duplicating the power structure of their leaders-simply reaffirmed their submission to the social order. There is nothing in the records to support Bakhtin's contention that "all were considered equal during Carnival," and little to establish that the upper classes were cowed by their brief festive downfall. On the contrary, the elite remained generally unthreatened


by carnival, and may have benefited from, and rejoiced in, their temporary displacement. The lower classes' day of play power was just enough to keep resentment containable. Medieval and Renaissance records bolster Tzvetan Todorov's conclusion that the "freedom" extolled by Bakhtin was often an illusion, a safety valve through which the poor, in releasing their frustrations, were simply rendered more docile (Todorov 1984, 7980). Holiday licence helped the rulers enforce the dayto-day subservience of the commoners. Furthermore, the upper classes often punished the poor within the context of carnival, using the various races and games to foster competition and bloody fights among those who otherwise might be disposed to unite and turn on them. As evidenced in Le Roy Ladurie's brilliant analysis of a Renaissance carnival, the festival often took on the function of inducing half the working class to attack the other. Medieval carnival flowed from the premiss that the upper and lower classes can, and should, be distinguished. Without this paradigm, there would be no carnival. Spitzer states that "the rural creole Mardi Gras is not ... 'a powerful denial of the social order"' (Spitzer 1986, 437, responding to Duvignaud 1976, 19). And it is in testimony to this fundamental festive fact that, even in the twentieth century, carnival remains the most hierarchical moment in Cajun society. Though Bakhtin has flatly denied the presence of hierarchy in carnival celebration, literary critics have found inescapable evidence of its presence, and have used this information as a wedge to divide the Russian critic's literary theory from his social theory (Todorov 1984, 78-82; Bernstein 1986, 106 and 118). Yet there is a second, more affirmative side to folk rule. As my earlier discussion of the Cajun celebration has shown, the highest values of the lower classes are represented holistically, in dramatic form, in the playing out of carnival. The capitaine leads the riders, not (as their real-life leaders would) into another day of servile drudgery, but on a quest of communal self-affirmation. The special values and rules of the day-to be a good horseman, a good provider, a good young man, a good player, a good dancer, a person who will share with neighbours in time of need-are not all-important in the official scheme of things, the larger social, economic, political and religious forces which largely determine how the Cajuns are rewarded for what they do. The skills and precepts demonstrated by the riders are, however, precisely those which are cherished unofficially in the Cajun community, and the opportunity to create an ephemeral world in which these values predominate reaffirms their importance for all riders and watchers. These aspects of self-celebration are not merely isolated elements forced into a setting of unpatterned discord, but are themselves stitched into a coherent fabric of native values. The very route of the ride reconstitutes the community's sense of loyalty. As the riders circle the town, moving from farm to farm, they ignore corporate limits and other official loci of power to cre-

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66 ate a living map that illustrates their own sense of bonds and boundaries. Within the circle of their ride, they create a hierarchy governed by their own values, in which average farmers become the centre of power and where boys who will become farmers struggle to show their competence as providers. In the end, the temporary discord of the ride is subordinated to the need of the entire group, for all the riders, winners and losers alike-as well as their opponents (the farmers) and audience (the women)-participate in the gumbo dinner and the bal. This reconstructed hierarchy of folk the most joyous and life-affirming values-perhaps of carnival-is neglected in Rabelais and His aspect World, and this fact has led to negative consequences for literary critics who have relied upon that book for a sense of the nature of folk festival. Bringing Folklore to Bear on Bakhtin What does all this say about Bakhtin, who dedicated much of his career to the premiss that carnival is free? As I have noted, not only his work on Rabelais, but his concepts of heteroglosia and dialogism owe much to this premiss. In the broadest context of Bakhtin's work, the absolute licence of carnival behaviour becomes a metaphor for the liberating force that folklore exerts on literature. Carnival and the folk voices of the novel have the same roots-in "popular laughter." In carnival, folk parody shatters the shell of authoritarian restraint, symbolically killing the old order and replacing it with an image of rebirth created from the timeless, utopian laughter of the people (Bakhtin 1968, 205). Similarly, in the novel, "language ... strives to overcome the superficial 'literariness' of moribund, outmoded styles [and] strives to renew itself by drawing on the fundamental elements of folk language" (Bakhtin 1981, 448). The epic and other, older, "single-voiced" literary forms, like the elite society that is the target of carnival, are shattered by a "popular-festive universalism" (Bakhtin 1968, 448). Just as the carnival parodies hierarchy,creating a king of fools or a President Carter dancing half-naked under a hard hat, the novel introduces "lower genres," folk-spawned parodies of official culture, that kill and then rejuvenate decaying elitist forms. Here I am not arguing with Bakhtin's terminology: for him, as in carnival, "low" becomes paradoxically higher than high-and Don Quixote and Gargantuaare among the works, which, penetrated with "low" language, far surpass the expressive power of blite discourse (Bakhtin 1981, 384-6). In all his works-on Rabelais, on Dostoyevsky, on the evolution of the novel-Bakhtin develops this image of folklore to serve a specific critical stance. Ilite literature and folklore stand in polar opposition. The former is whole, selfcontained, static, outdated; folklore questions wholeness, opens closed systems, promotes equality, projects newness, transcends time. The real problem with Bakhtin's conception of folklore is that-in order to fit his polar model-he limits it

Carl Lindahl to two social functions, both of which are soundly deduced, but which, even taken together, merely begin to tell the story of lore's nature and its role in literature. First, folklore's role is to ridicule and metaphorically destroy the established order. The hundreds of carnival activities Bakhtin cites, and the dozens I have reported here, affirm the truth of this formulation; but, I stress, the parodic is merely one of many modes through which festival represents folk culture. The non-parodic dramas of group interdependence and intra-group conflict are also essential to carnival, but Bakhtin ignores them. As Bakhtin's influence persists in the critical world, readers unaware of carnival's positive social selfportraits are coming more and more to interpret carnival as the folk's desperate attempt to ridicule forces beyond their control (Eco 1984; Todorov 1984;Bernstein 1986). A second problem is Bakhtin's insistence that folklore is a timeless antidote to time, an ahistorical, even anti-historical, worldview continually projecting dreams of equality, perfect harmony, eternal rebirth. Certainly there is a utopian fantasy embedded in carnival, a "what if" quality, a camaraderie, which is perhaps most clearly conveyed in the communal meal shared at the end of the celebration. The farmers, who have surrendered their chickens, the riders who have fought for them, and those who previously merely witnessed these struggles and exchanges-all sit down together to consume the communal gumbo. But Bakhtin carries the image of timeless laughing far too far as he asserts that the lore known to Rabelais had a character that transcended particular times and specific manifestations; "the immeasurable depth and breadth of folk universalism" (Bakhtin 1968, 437-8) is a construct the critic invokes continually. His carnival is the product of "a culture of folk humor developed during thousands of years; a culture that reflected the struggle against cosmic terror and created the image of the gay material body cosmos every-growing and self-renewing" (ibid., 340; cf. 208 and 211). "For thousands of years folk culture strove at every stage of its development to overcome by laughter ... all the contradictory images and symbols of official culture" (ibid., 394). Applying the lore of carnival to the study of literature is "significant for understanding the prehistoric roots of prose thought, for grasping its links with folklore" (Bakhtin 1981, 406). Bakhtin's arguments for timelessness revive the oldest nemesis of folklorists, whose discipline is rooted in the works of those-like the Grimms, Frazer, Gummere, Raglan-who believed that folklore's greatest value lay in its presumed capacity to recover aspects of prehistoric mentality. Though folklorists have been striving for decades to shake off this notion of a simple, unchanging "peasant mind," folklore's critical translators, trained in the study of literature, have repeatedly guided readers back to this archaic notion. To Bakhtin, history and specific social settings are something that Rabelais adds to folklore, not something that the folk

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Bakhtin'sCarnival Laughterand the Cajun Country Mardi Gras create themselves (Bakhtin 1968, 207-8, 211-12 and 4378). This view, like the earlier criticism of Weston and Hoffman, ignores folklore's adaptive functions and denies folk culture the power to present its own values-especially its own ideas on time, livelihood, specific points of pride. Some critics have shown understandable discomfort with the simplistic nature of Bakhtin's "carnival laughter." Justifiably, they reject this construct, but in so doing they produce readings which show only the frustration and social impotence of the carnival players. So, regardless of its heuristic value, Bakhtin's characterisation lacks a social base. It is not enough to say that carnival is "a respite from the closed and rigid historical patterns that dominant ideologies imposed on time's flux" (Clark and Holquist 1984, 302), because such ideologies provide the structuring principle of carnival. Bakhtin has isolated and amplified a certain, very real, attitude embedded in carnival and by synecdoche made it all of carnival. My reading of the place of carnival in history and literature is more concrete and less polarised than Bakhtin's. Carnival is not a culture extreme so much as a dialectical synthesis of the incontrovertible thesis that the rules rule and the wishful antithesis that they should not. Carnival may give "disorder its own day" (Abrahams and Bauman 1978, 205), but it does so within a framework that allows for the construction of an alternative, folk-centred sense of order. Mardi Gras is not a declaration of freedom, but a controlled tension between the poles of rule and riot. As a social phenomenon, it relies upon a ruling class for its structures, its rules, even the core of its humour-as well as for a matrix on to which the revellers can project their own, often very serious, alternative vision of society. In contrast, the freedom of Rabelais's prose is based only partly on his isolation of some elements of carnival. As Sam Kinser has brilliantly argued, Bakhtin misread Rabelais by assuming that the Renaissance master had based his humour exclusively upon carnival laughter. Yet as often as Rabelais turns to certain elements of folk culture, he also relies heavily upon classical humanism and official Christian culture in fashioning his matrix of Gargantuan humour. Bakhtin ignored Rabelais's other sources largely because the Russian critic was so monolithically committed to a universalist reading of the folk and their laughter. According to Kinser, Rabelais's depiction of carnival is in fact more complex and multivocal than Bakhtin's (Kinser 1990, 249-53). A more apt rendering of folkloric laughter into literature would engage and depict more formal restraints than Bakhtin-or, for that matter, Rabelais-cares to acknowledge. Only an author who captures the revellers' own values and self-imposed restraints can depict carnival freedom; only such an insider's perspective will reveal the extent to which carnival readers speak not only against authority, but--equally importantly-for themselves (Bourdieu 1979; Justice 1994).


Artists who describe, not only the laughter, but also the context from which that laughter flows, reveal more than Rabelais does about how folklore emerges in literature. In The CanterburyTales,for example, Chaucer presents not only a rebellion among the lower classes, but also the social rules and values that guide their patterned dissent. Studies of Chaucer's art (David 1976, 90-107; Lindahl 1985; Lindahl 1987; Ganim 1987; Ganim 1991; Lindahl 1995), heavily inspired by Bakhtin, nevertheless extend and correct his arguments by portraying both the folk's festive rules and the relative freedom emerging from them. Such works and readings come closer to depicting the nature of carnival than either Rabelais or Bakhtin. The study of folklore in literature requires the critic's sensitivity to the fact that folk culture is something much more than parodic imitation. Unless folklorists qualify Bakhtin and demonstrate that entire self-created, self-defined, self-perpetuated systems of folk culture exist both in society and in literature, the end of the twentieth century will mark just one more era in which folklore's literary interpreters have elevated canonised writers at the expense of the complex social artistry of folklore. As a way of reading literature, Bakhtin's dialogism poses some important insights, but as a way of reading the role of folklore in society, it simply distorts. Departmentof English University of Houston, USA Notes ' In reality,the capitaine gratefully accepts anything the farmermay offer.Farmers--especiallythose whose yards are too small to accommodate a spirited charge and chicken chase--sometimes give the MardiGrasrice,or even moneywhatever may contributeto the making of the gumbo that evening. But, in the eyes of revellersand watchersalike, the focal point of the day's celebrationin many of these communities is the chicken-and the struggle to catch it. As riders dismount and begin their begging dance, they often make chicken sounds or chant in unison, Ayoih poule (Where's la the chicken),ayozila poule,ayohi poule? la 2 There are significant variations in Mardi Gras celebrations among the seventeen differentlocales that I have studied most intensively, and a few of these communities-for example, GrandMaraisand Lacassine-would be forced to fit the model offeredhere.In my compositedescriptionI have tried to emphasise only those elements sharedby the majority of festivals, but I have used Mamou as my main model. Mamouand those communitieswhose MardiGras Therefore, most resemble it-i.e., Church Point (pre-1987)and Ossun (pre-1986)--arethe sources of almost all the examples employed here. In all three,horsebackridersdominate,cowboy machismoreigns, and chasing the chickenis at the very core of the celebration. Twoof the threeareall-malerunsthatshow a clear dominationof the capitaine over the masked males. I must stress, however, that the paradigmof MardiGraspresented here is a conservativeone. For example, many of the celebrations have replaced horses with tractor- or truck-

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drawn wagons (Basile, Tee Mamou), brought female and male riders together (Basile, Lacassine, Ossun, Ville Platte) or initiated exclusively female runs (Tee Mamou). The most comprehensive views of how Mardi Gras has changed in recent years are presented by Mire (1993) and Ware(1994). The horseback, all-male Mardi Gras described here best accords with the descriptions of Oster and Reed (1960), Oster (1964), Post (1974), Ancelet (1982; 1989) and Adair (1983). Spitzer (1986) has produced one of the two most detailed country Mardi Gras studies to date, and I often draw upon his well-tuned observations, but as his primary interest is the rural Creole (black French-speaking) celebrations, my references to Spitzer are limited to those statements that, to my mind, correctly characterise both the Creole and Cajun enactments. As Spitzer cautions, "Although the overall order of events and structure of the Cajun and black Creole Mardi Gras celebration are similar, they have a variety of differences in style and content of enactment that correlate with differences in values and ethnicity between the groups" (Spitzer 1986, 422). The other most detailed treatment of Mardi Gras, by Ware (1994), focuses on the role of women in Cajun Mardi Gras, and therefore concentrates on the women's runs in Basile and Tee Mamou, which differ substantially from the conservative, horseback, all-male pattern discussed here.
3Although it is not my intention to claim that current Cajun festivals are identical in structure and function to those that Rabelais witnessed, I find it significant to note that many aspects of the twentieth-century rural Louisiana Mardi Gras possess interesting, and often close, parallels in medieval and Renaissance carnivals. The most pertinent Renaissance analogues are the 1579 and 1580 enactments in Romans, celebrated shortly after Rabelais's death and elaborately document by Le Roy Ladurie. Among the parallels are the leadership of a captain and his lieutenants, represented in Romans by a king and his council; the costuming of the participants; the door-to-door begging ritual; the "run for the rooster"; the all-male nature of the contests; the group feasts and dancing following the competitions (Le Roy Ladurie 1979, 190, 192, 181, 181-2, 186-7 and 186 respectively). Romans also provides a powerful example of Renaissance concepts of the limits of carnival freedom: several of the most venerable rules of Mardi Gras were broken there, and the resultant violence between participants reveals much about the more restrained nature of carnival as it is more characteristically practised. The richness and relevant date of the Romans records cause me to cite them far more often than the other, older accounts that Bakhtin tends to employ, although many of the Romans traits are documented in the work of Gaignebet (1974) and Gaignebet and Lajoux (1985). Yet, even with all the supporting evidence from Rabelais's time, it is necessary to devote the bulk of this study to an explanation of Renaissance carnival in terms of its fullest and most relevant twentieth-century analogues. It is my contention that Bakhtin erred in isolating certain aspects of carnival, that (in part because of the fragmentary nature of his sources) he failed to represent carnival in its full social dimension. A verifiable, holistic reading of Mardi Gras can be attained only through modern accounts. Once the functions and interactions of the modern Mardi Gras are clearly established, they can be tested against earlier records, for these two historically related events, possessing demonstrable parallels in structure and social context, often possess similar ritual functions. Close attention to current enactments, as anachronistic as it may seem, remains

Carl Lindahl
the best way of beginning to look for evidence that may fill in the gaps in the historical record. Steven Justice's masterful reconstruction of medieval English Rogation Day festivals (Justice 1994) provides the sort of model that will, I hope, increasingly illumine old records and test earlier (and often far too simplistic) critical readings of festive events.
4 Rabelais and Bakhtin draw upon medieval urban carnivals; I use a present-day rural celebration for most of my historical corroboration. This methodology requires a brief explanation. Again, I stress that I am not trying to establish an equivalence between the Cajun and Renaissance celebrations. For one thing, as far back in time as they can be traced, the rural and urban Mardi Gras have differed in some details. Urban feasts have generally been more hierarchical and factional: various trade groups and festive social clubs (similar to the "krewes" of present-day New Orleans) have divided their duties, each group assuming control of a different portion of the festive whole. The urban celebrations may have several leaders, rather than one; the urban audience is far larger and a bit less likely than its rural counterpart to be fully engaged as supporting players. The centre of the rural celebrations is the invasion of neighbours' farms, the centre of the urban enactments a stream of parades. Above, I occasionally note important differences between Rabelais's Carnival and the rural Cajun Mardi Gras (see, for example, the parenthetical information embedded in the discussion of Mardi Gras and manhood). Nevertheless, in some respects, modern rural celebrations may offer closer parallels to medieval urban Mardi Gras than do current urban celebrations. Vaultier (1946, 54-7) and van Gennep (1937-8, 894-6) hold that the urban Mardi Gras has changed substantially since its Renaissance enactments. However, the differences between the present rural and medieval urban celebrations seem to remain relatively slight (Gaignebet and Lajoux 1985).

5 In addition to the methodological explanations presented in notes 3 and 4, I wish to point out here that the Cajuns' long isolation from mainstream French culture has helped maintain some of the older traits of their Mardi Gras. Certain cultural practices--especially when appropriated as "memory culture, " to help provide a sense of identity in new surroundings as well as a link to lost homelands--often survive longest and undergo the least change when practised by groups separated from the parent culture (cf. Krohn 1971, 68-70). The Cajuns who left France within eighty years of Rabelais's death were among the most cohesive social groups to come to the New World (Dormon 1983, 61-3, 73, 77-9 and 88-90; Brasseaux 1987). Although the Cajuns created a multifaceted and diversified culture in Louisiana (Brasseaux 1987; 1992), the close resemblances shared by Canadian (Acadien) and Louisiana (Cajun) dialect, folktales and folksongs attest to a great deal of cultural continuity. It is not surprising that no twentieth-century French celebration of Mardi Gras resembles Renaissance carnival more closely than does the Cajun


I should note in passing, however, that Bakhtin's brilliant observations on carnival imagery are as pertinent to twentieth-century Louisiana as to sixteenth-century France. A joyful obsession with the "material bodily lower stratum" (Bakhtin 1968, 18-23 and 368-436), especially with sexual and scatological images, pervades Cajun Mardi Gras, though these images are a bit less explicit than their medieval counterparts. Riders often wear underpants on top of their longjohns (as

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Bakhtin'sCarnival Laughterand the Cajun Country Mardi Gras
in Fig. 4), and clowns often pull down their underwear to of course, nothing but more shock the audience-though, underwear is revealed when they do this. At Church Point in 1986, a rider in a Ronald Reagan mask and a red sports coat paraded around wearing the nude lower half of a female mannequin as a yoke, its legs thrust into the air on either side of his neck and its crotch tucked under his chin. Urination and defecation also figure openly in the celebration. Many of the riders, bladders full of beer, take to urinating publicly, sometimes as they stand on the carnival wagons. Others periodically open the doors of the portable toilets drawn behind the wagons, and display the excretory activities of the more modest Mardi Gras. Excrement sometimes figures as an element of costuming, as in Ossun in 1982, when one rider wore a hat that featured the hindquarters of a defecating pig. 7The nature of the "race for the Rooster" is unclear. The rooster was invoked as a fertility symbol and figured in several sorts of celebrations in medieval and Renaissance France. Medieval and twentieth-century accounts record that boys matched fighting cocks; he whose rooster fought best was named Le Roi des Coqs(van Gennep 1937-8, 890; Vaultier 1946, 56-7). The festival in Romans, however, featured an event title "running the cocks" [courirles coqs].Le Roy Ladurie infers from the records that the contest was a foot race, the winner of which was awarded a rooster (Le Roy Ladurie 1979, 96). However, when the older records mention the phrases courircarnevalor courirles coqs,they often refer to a chase after cocks, sometimes followed by the killing of the fowl (van Gennep 1937-8, 89091 and 959-61). On the basis of the information presented by Le Roy Ladurie, Barry Ancelet and I have concluded that the Romans race of 1580 was more likely a chicken chase similar to those of rural Louisiana, where the phrase courirles poules is still used to describe the chase. Platte, among other locales. 1974-95. -


and Elemore Morgan. "Cajun Country Mardi Gras." Booklet and slide presentation. Lafayette: Center for Louisiana Studies, 1979.

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