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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

the carnival: nothing is forbidden « Previous | |Next »
August 19, 2011

Here is one interpretation of the London riots that makes more sense than the Conservative's 'pure criminality' thesis or Labour's 'the working class are protesting the budget cuts'.

It's the carnivalesque interpretation put forward by Humphreys and Yoriko at Open Democracy. This interpretation is based on the work of Mikhail Bakhtin, who suggested that the carnivalesqueis a social institution. Humphreys and Yoriko say:

The carnival is a moment in which time is suspended. Law is suspended. In a world of increasing pressure, on our time, on our bodies, the carnival allows us to let off steam. It is a moment during which people who are ordinarily subject to extraordinary constraints get to be their own masters, in which the oppressed become free, just for a bit. It is a day on which the violence to which people are daily subjected becomes brutally visible. A visibility that paradoxically requires a mask, allowing each individual to parade their trauma and desire before the community.

Humphreys and Yoriko say that something erupted on the English streets: an irrepressible need for impunity and invisibility, consumption and community. For one riotous moment, an ecstasy of unbridled communication burst through.

The riots were seen as fun, lots of ‘looters’ didn’t seem to want the loot, and the whole thing was held to be a bit of a laugh. In his chapter on the history of laughter in Rabelais and His World Bakhtin advances the notion of its therapeutic and liberating force, arguing that in resisting hypocrisy "laughing truth... degraded power".

Behind the carnival is the way that urban spaces have been organized in England.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 2:57 PM | | Comments (1)


The Telegraph in the UK meditates on the hypocrisy inherent in the upper-class' violent denunciations of rioters:

"...Something has gone horribly wrong in Britain. If we are ever to confront the problems which have been exposed in the past week, it is essential to bear in mind that they do not only exist in inner-city housing estates.

"The culture of greed and impunity we are witnessing on our TV screens stretches right up into corporate boardrooms and the Cabinet. It embraces the police and large parts of our media. It is not just its damaged youth, but Britain itself that needs a moral reformation".

I can't help thinking of Becky Sharp's remark that (from memory) she could have been an honest person if she had five hundred a year. After reading The Telegraph piece, I wonder about that. Maybe she would then have wanted five thousand, or fifty thousand, or...

Eng. Lit. majors might want to comment!