Cinema and the Carnivalesque—2011 SCMS Panel in New Orleans (03/10-03/13)

full name / name of organization: 
Maggie Hennefeld / Brown University

"Carnival is the place for working out, in a concretely sensuous, half-real and half-play-acted form, a new mode of interrelationship between individuals, counterposed to the all-powerful social-hierarchical relationships of everyday life" (Mikhail Bakhtin in Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics).

The comedic and socially transgressive mode that Mikhail Bakhtin defines as "carnivalesque" primarily concerns literary forms of representation. This panel poses the question: what would it mean for the cinematic medium to be carnivalesque?

Bakhtin emphasizes the following key criteria for the carnivalesque: the replacement of order with chaos; temporary reversals of social hierarchies (crownings and decrownings); aesthetic defamiliarization through parodic or grotesque modes; and dialogical forms of communication that efface any dominant, authorial voice and that seek to negotiate more democratic relationships between "reader" and "text."

Possible topics:

How does cinema mediate the carnivalesque? What would be the key stylistic components of a carnivalesque narrative film? How do carnivalesque strategies differ between genres, production modes, geopolitical regions, and historical periods?

Do experimental and avant-garde films employ carnivalesque strategies in order to critique mainstream cinema? How does the carnivalesque enable cinema to transgress its own censorship (either governmental or self-regulatory)? Are carnivalesque films generally meta-cinematic and self-referential? Can they be realist? Do they depend on problematizing the "sovereign" position of their spectator?

How do carnivalesque films imagine their relationships with governmental and state politics? (For Bakhtin, the carnivalesque paradoxically both suspends and preserves the orders imposed by state sovereignty.) Can the carnivalesque film ever be merely aesthetic, or does it always assert an external political critique?

How do carnivalesque films initiate dialogue with embodied performances, such as global political protests, street theater, and celebratory festivals like Mardi Gras?

What are the boundaries of the carnivalesque? Where does it blur with parody, satire, and other humorous forms? Is there a dialogue between the carnivalesque's mediation of comedy and its political engagement of social realities?

Bakhtin argues that the carnivalesque negotiates between old and new political orders. How does the carnivalesque interact with cinema's uncanniness as a medium—the way that it projects the illusory movement of static and mummified images? What are the spectral politics of the carnivalesque in cinema and how do they respond to questions of social and political change?

What is the historical impact of carnivalesque cinema? How has it participated in propagandizing or condemning war and state violence? How do carnivalesque films dictate or substantially impact the way that we narrativize national and cultural histories?

Is carnivalesque cinema now in decline? If so, is this because its function has been displaced by other mediums such as television and the Internet? If not, where would we locate the carnivalesque both stylistically and geopolitically in contemporary cinema?

How does the carnivalesque mediate between different technological forms? Are there overlaps between the carnivalesque's technological intermediation and global politics of the international system? How does the carnivalesque's technological and stylistic hybridity interact with global, exilic, and diasporic politics of identity?

What political and theoretical methods—such as psychoanalysis, Marxism, queer theory, biopolitics, and political theories of state sovereignty—does the concept of the carnivalesque instantiate across and between its different cinematic examples?

When and where do carnivalesque films participate in challenging and redefining notions of media citizenship? Do these films expand norms for media citizenship when they subvert their own modes of address? Can the carnivalesque practice of media citizenship impact the governance of political citizenship? In other words, does it help drive "the conditions of equality, citizenship, and survival in the United States and around the world?"

Any other topics relevant to the question of cinema and the carnivalesque are welcome.

Some carnivalesque films to consider (please feel free to propose others):
The Great Dictator
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
Team America: World Police
Buddha Bless America
Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
Chronicle of a Disappearance (and other films by Elia Suleiman)
La chinoise
Good Bye, Lenin!
Fellini's Satyricon
The Garage (and other Soviet satires by Eldar Ryazanov)

Please send a 250-300 word abstract as a Word attachment to no later than August 15th.