Carnival: Culture in Action : The Trinidad Experience

Carnival: Culture in Action : The Trinidad Experience

Carnival: Culture in Action : The Trinidad Experience

Carnival: Culture in Action : The Trinidad Experience


This beautifully illustrated volume features work by leading writers and experts on carnival from around the world, and includes two stunning photo essays by acclaimed photographers Pablo Delano and Jeffrey Chock. Editor Milla Cozart Riggio presents a body of work that takes the reader on a fascinating journey exploring the various aspects of carnival - its traditions, its history, its music, its politics - and prefaces each section with an illuminating essay.Traditional carnival theory, based mainly on the work of Mikhail Bakhtin and Victor Turner, has long defined carnival as inversive or subversive. The essays in this groundbreaking anthology collectively reverse that trend, offering a re-definition of 'carnival' that focuses not on the hierarchy it temporarily displaces or negates, but a one that is rooted in the actual festival event. Carnival details its new theory in terms of a carnival that is at once representative and distinctive: The Carnival of Trinidad - the most copied yet least studied major carnival in the world.


Richard Schechner

Bakhtin's notions of carnival are founded on a settled, stratified society - a non-democratic society. In such a setting, authority can be suspended or set aside temporarily, and “the people” given a chance to act out their desires freely if temporarily. But today's world is not that kind of world. In the places where carnival as a formal institution is performed (Trinidad and Tobago, New Orleans Mardi Gras, and Rio de Janeiro, for example), the social “baseline” is democracy or the illusion of democracy. It is not that “the people” really have power on a daily basis or ultimately. But from time to time there are elections in which “the people” are appealed to, their votes sought, bought, and manipulated. This kind of democracy is both dysfunctional (in the US, nearly half the eligible voters do not vote) and illusory. The image-makers provide a daily diet of patriotism linked to democracy. But even if untrue, the “make believe” of democracy depends on the psychosocial phenomenon that “the people” are sovereign. If people believe that they are collectively sovereign, then against whom is carnival staged? From what overall authority is carnival a relief?

There are at least two ways to solve this problem. One is to wonder what the actual power arrangements are in so-called democratic societies; and another is to analyze carnival as an enactment that at one and the same time plays out democratic illusions, giving temporary relief from the authority (if not oppression and downright tyranny) imposed in the name of “democracy.”

Prior to making such an analysis with regard to Trinidad Carnival, I need to say a little about “the people” in Third World societies - cultures that have suffered colonialism and whose current experience is that of postcolonialism and globalization. Such societies are not the same as First World societies - or even Russia (and other nations of the former USSR) - under whose auspices Bakhtin lived, thought, and wrote.

Bakhtin's model of carnival was developed in terms of the medieval European practices as Bakhtin reconfigured them while living in the dangerous, totalitarian world of Stalinism. Bakhtin stressed carnival's rebelliousness as he explained how carni-revellers act out their hatred for official culture. Trinidad Carnival

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