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Venice IncognitoMasks in the Serene Republic$
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James Johnson

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780520267718

Published to California Scholarship Online: March 2012

DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520267718.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM CALIFORNIA SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.california.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright University of California Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in CALSO for personal use.date: 24 September 2021

Carnival Tales

Carnival Tales

(p.181) CHAPTER 18 Carnival Tales
Venice Incognito

James H. Johnson

University of California Press

This chapter discusses carnivalesque and carnival tales. For many theorists and writers, the Venetian carnival represented many seasons in Venice society. For the Russian critic Mikhail Bakhtin, the carnival was a glimpse of authentic human freedom, a utopia still recoverable whenever carnival laughter united the powerful in mockery and defiance. Others such as Frazer saw the carnival as a monument of fruitless ingenuity, of waster labor, and of blighted hopes. Carnivalesque denoted humor that deflated pretense, embraced community, and celebrated life in its highest and lowest impulses. For Bakhtin laughter gave power to the powerless and challenged impregnable institutions. Masks served to convey that ranks were arbitrary and status was only skin deep. Masks also deviated the wearers from conformity and blurred the line between reality and make-believe. To consider the moments of the Venetian carnival is to be reminded of the sheer variety of the seasons. The carnival may be spontaneous or scripted, harmless or explosive, disruptively seditious or decorously ferocious. The carnival may stay within the limits or violate them, and its transgressions may be authorized or not. It may be used by the powerless to challenge the authority or by authorities to divide the populace. And it may offer an occasion to deny roots or to affirm one’s roots.

Keywords:   carnivalesque, carnival tales, Venetian carnival, Mikhail Bakhtin, masks, carnival

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