Pseudo-Carnival Narrative in the Novel as the Form  of Inter-Cultural Dialogue

     Ritualization and carnivalization of the existence is one of the most essential but structurally complicated aspects of the genre of the novel. M. Bakhtin was the first scholar who thoroughly studied the problem of re-accentuation of the carnival from the improvised folk world to the level of literary text.  In his fundamental work “Rabelais and His World”, he raised the question of the coordinating function of the carnival culture and managed to single out the conceptual and structural role of the carnival in Francois Rabelais’ creative works and, moreover, generalized the problem in a convincing way. Bakhtin associated the process of reincarnation of carnival motives in the medieval and Renaissance literature (and the following epochs as well) with the establishment of realistic tendencies and deterioration of manifestations opposing to officials, religious dictates and feudal culture. In his view, carnival revealed in the form of grotesque, humor and laughter not only opposed the undesired regime, but as an alternative, confronted it with the truth. Scientific initiative of the researcher showed precisely the progressive tendency of European philosophic and literary thought to break the frames of the determined, established substance and introduce an alternative way of thinking which contained in itself the potentialities of global transformation.

The theory appeared successful not only on the level of the medieval and Renaissance novel, but generally on the level of novelistic. The carnival and carnival tradition, grown out of the folk culture, took on textual form and turned into that specific “Cosmo reason” (J. Kristeva’s term), which does not recognize substance and causality and exists only in the form of active relations. M. Bakhtin remarks:

In fact, carnival does not know footlights, in the sense that is does not acknowledge any distinction between actors and spectators … Carnival is not a spectacle seen by the people; they live in it, and everyone participates because its very idea embraces all the people. While carnival lasts, there is no other life outside it. During carnival time life is subject only to its law, that is, the laws of its own freedom. It has a universal spirit; it is a special condition of the entire world, of the world’s revival and renewal, in which all take part. Such is the essence of carnival, vividly felt by all its participants. It was most clearly expressed and experienced in the Roman Saturnalias, perceived as a true and full, though temporary return of Saturn’s golden age upon earth. The tradition of the Saturnalias remained unbroken and alive in the medieval carnival, which expresses this universal renewal and was vividly felt as an escape from the usual official way of life … The life itself plays in the carnival… other, free form of life, its revival and renewal on the best bases. [1]

Carnival narrative was defined by such well expressed characteristics as: parody; demonstration of free familiar relations; ambivalent union of ideologically, morally and ethically opposed pairs like: birth/death, youth/old age, high/low, face/back, wisdom/lie, praise/curse; focus on the unconscious instincts – sex, consuming food and drinking, and finally, the establishment of the main motives of renewal and revival. The compositional function of the above mentioned characteristics, expressing contemporary political, social, ethical and spiritual problems, manifested itself in different ways within various aesthetic and literary epochs. From this viewpoint, it is worth of note the novel of the epoch of classical realism (60-70s of the19th century), which critically realized the existence and openly used literature as a mouthpiece for articulation of social and political problems, on the one hand,  and germinated from the depth of the realism and formed in the light and style of High Modernism in the 20-30s of the 20th century novel of Eschatological anti-utopia, on the other hand. Eschatological anti-utopia represented a kind of synthesis of classical anti-utopia (Zamyatin, Huxley) and subjective novel (Joyce, Proust), which had not been completely formed by that time. Eschatological anti-utopia was equally saturated with rebellious philosophy of anti-utopia and profound individualism of the non-conformist hero.

The conceptual and structural models of both above mentioned genres of the novel evidence their openness to the carnival narrative, because textual form of carnival as Bakhtin rightly claims is inevitably bound up with the highlighting of realism as a method. Although, in none of these cases the carnival is revealed in its classical sense, it is modified and mostly overlapped with the pseudo-carnival narrative and specific textual forms, such as: pseudo-parody, pseudo-wisdom, pseudo-love, pseudo-family, pseudo-values, etc. Subsequently, a number of problems are clearly emerged which can be arranged in the following sequence: how the transformation of carnival narrative is realized into the pseudo-carnival one inside the text; what causes the replacement of the carnival narrative with the pseudo-carnival one; what is the dependence of the pseudo-carnival narrative on the context; if its conceptual and structural-compositional function identical to the level of the above mentioned novels.  The answer to these questions will undoubtedly acquire methodological significance.

Referring back to Bakhtin’s theory, central characteristics of the carnival reality – renewal and revival – are never realized on the level of the concrete carnival individual, but they are typical features of people, as a whole monolithic organism and are inevitably associated with the notion of death. The death of the carnival individual is just a small fragment in people’s life, a blink which is essential for the renewal and perfection of the same people. Such understanding of the themes of death and renewal is termed as “requiem for the individual body” by some Bakhtinologists (M. Ryklin, N. Glazener) and took as infiltration of collective pathos of Stalin’s regime in Bathtin’s theoretical thinking. We consider such view wrong and ephemeral. Bakhtin’s philosophic and literary works are usually filled with pathos of individuality and personality, but in the case of the carnival narrative he holds a position according to which carnival is thought of as non-personal phenomenon. We suppose, it is just non-personal paradigm of the carnival, collectivity, as a peculiarity that becomes the basis for the establishment of pseudo-carnival motif in the text, the major motivating model which is introduced in the text and towards which the protagonist defines his relation. He/she is either in conformist consent with the pseudo-carnival narrative, or actively opposes it from the position of the non-conformist.

Confrontation of the pseudo-carnival narrative with the carnival one is implemented by means of conceptual opposition “eternal/temporary”. “Temporality” distinguishes carnival from the “endless” and “uninterrupted” pseudo-carnival. Carnival festivals, which precisely described real and ideological values of humanity, were always in good relations with the phenomenon of time. M. Bakhtin writes: “The feast is always essentially related to time, either to the recurrence of an event in the natural (cosmic) cycle, or to biological or historic timeliness. … They were the second life of the people, who for a time entered the utopian realm of community, freedom, equality, and abundance”. [2] Pseudo-carnival atmosphere threw back the “temporality” as a distinguishing feature of the carnival and made emphasis on an “uninterrupted eternity”. The concept of a carnival “temporality” is relevant to the “temporal idyll”, of that “temporal right” with the help of which a person temporarily liberates oneself from the prevailing truth and establishes orders and satisfies one’s thirst for eternal freedom. The “eternity” of the pseudo-carnival, on the contrary, neither creates “second life” nor releases the person from the existing world order – as a slowed down sample of reality and ruling ideology, it sanctions the existing pattern of things and reinforces it. The pathos of “collectivity”, peculiar for the carnival narrative, is actively realized in the context of pseudo-carnival “endlessness” which is the carrier of the permanent pseudo-festival coloring in the text. Pseudo–ritual events, peculiar for the carnival, create the pseudo-festival mood. These events include provocation of familiar relations between the different social spheres, demonstration of drinking and eating and sex intercourse and, of course, engrossing the plot with the motives of parody.

Proceeding from the above mentioned, we can conclude that the replacement of the carnival narrative with the pseudo-carnival one in the text is motivated by the desire to stress the brutal reality and clearly fix the protagonist’s attitude towards it. In its turn, the protagonist’s attitude towards the pseudo-carnival narrative is constantly ruled by the context; otherwise, it is defined by the literary principles, in the depth of which pseudo-carnival narrative emerges. German literary critic B. Toiber remarks that the primary task of the contemporary philology is the search for the ambivalence of reason in each cultural model, or awareness of that tragic mask of myth which represents “Dionysian charm of carnival”. In the context of this conceptual ambivalence, general trends of development of literature as the most important form of culture are considered by P. Vail and A. Genis. Literature, in their view, represents the unity of two streams, “two literatures” where the “first” had in its basis the principle – a person is shaped by the society – and created conception of a person as of “Homo socialis”, and the second – simply of “Homo”. [3] If in the first type of literature “conflict is caused by the concrete historical environment and the analysis of society is inevitably connected with the analysis of a person”, in the second type of literature

a person is represented as a being, who is distinguished by the genetically inherited individual characteristics (probably – those gained from God. It depends upon the author’s view).  Society, in this case, is the field of battle, arena, where the will of each separate individual opposes randomly (or in an organized way) acquired social etiquette. Natural being or artificial structure – which of them is going to win? [4]

Such direction of the theoretical analysis enables us to distinguish between conceptual and structural-compositional functions of the pseudo-carnival narrative on the level of different cultural and literary contexts. If the novel of the epoch of classical realism (60-70s of the 19th century) can be regarded as the first type of literature, eschatological anti-utopia formed within the scope of high modernism belongs to the second type of literature. Their conceptual relation towards the pseudo-carnival narrative, as a model of brutal reality, is equally negative, but structural-compositional ways of solving the problems are fundamentally different which is primarily expressed by the system of personages: proceeding the relevant historical, social and cultural contexts different models of social imagology are created. They can be regarded as social stereotypes peculiar for the concrete context, qualitative non-homogeneity of which is revealed from the viewpoint of the opposition conformist/non-conformist.

If the main hero of a novel of classical realism, actively involved in the pseudo- carnival’s pseudo-festival, is a voluntary conformist, typical captive of real circumstances, who tries to keep the harmonic relations with it, the hero of the eschatological anti-utopia is a rebellious non-conformist, intellectual, conflicting with the reality, lost in the maze of pseudo-carnival against his will and tries to escape from it. If the personages of the first type of novels resemble many “others”, their contemporaries, and are comfortably staying beyond the boundaries of the pseudo-carnival, the heroes of the second type of a novel, differ from “others” as by external as well as by internal characteristics and are searching for the way out, mostly through the “self”, to escape from the pseudo-carnival reality. The personages of the first type of novels are criticized by the realistic authors; opposite to them, the characters of the second type of novels are favorites of their authors and can count on the author’s support.  The existence of such literary and epochal stereotypes in the sphere of social imagology is proved by the comparative analysis made in the intercultural aspect.

For the illustration, we will rely on the four different texts: “Is He Human, This Man?!” (I. Chavchavadze), “Oblomov” (I. Goncharov), “Jaqo's Dispossessed” (M. Javakhishvili) and “Invitation to the Beheading” (V. Nabokov). The following pairs are singled out by the similar literary-aesthetic contexts: “Is He Human, This Man?!/“Oblomov”; “Jaqo's Dispossessed”/“Invitation to the Beheading”. If the first pair belongs to the epoch of classical realism, the reading of the second pair enables us to regard them as eschatological anti-utopias. In spite of the fact that those texts belong to the different cultural models, they are open to the pseudo-carnival narrative, which enables us to presume that the pseudo-carnival text is a form of an inter-literary and inter-cultural dialogue.  The dialogue is harmonic on the level of identical literary-aesthetic context and contradictory – on the level of different literary-aesthetic context, because the structural-compositional relation of the pairs towards the pseudo-carnival text is different: the first pair subordinates the principles of the novel of classical realism, while the second pair – the principles of the high modernism.

The author of the novel “Is He Human, This Man?!” is the 19th-century Georgian classic writer Ilia Chavchavadze. The protagonist of the novel is an impoverished young Georgian nobleman – Luarsab Tatkaridze, an introvert person surrounded by the illusion of the pseudo-happiness. His daily routine is completely static: consuming food, sleeping, sitting on the balcony, having absurd discussions with his wife about the food or anti-Christ, then again eating, sleeping, lying under the tree, again eating and sleeping. Luarsab has lost vital moral and spiritual values, although he cannot realize the absurdity of his existence and is drowned in complacency. The main personage of the novel of Russian classic writer Ivan Goncharov - “Oblomov” resembles Luarsab Tatkaridze. Oblomov is a feeble young man, who is unable to make any decisions. His interest towards the life equals zero: only on the page 150 he gets up from the bed. Monotonous life, boring routine, absurd relationships, consuming food, lying, sleeping, sleeping and again sleeping – this is Oblomov’s life style. Both Luarsab Tatkaridze and Oblomov represent harsh satire against the 19th-century noblemen, who were in wretched social and economic conditions in Georgia as well as in Russia.

If Luarsab Tatkaridze and Ilia Oblomov are the visible products of the society, represent the organic part of an unhealthy society, are voluntarily engaged in the pseudo-festival of the endless pseudo-carnival and deeply believe its endlessness, the representatives of a second textual pair (Jaqo’s Dispossessed/Invitation to the Beheading) Teimuraz Khevistavi and Tsintsinat Ts. differ from the members of unhealthy society, they are engaged in the pseudo-festival of the pseudo-carnival world against their will, they feel the absurdity of the given situation and try to oppose and escape from it.

Teimuraz Khevistavi is a personage, owing to whom, the followers of Stalin’s and Beria’s totalitarian regime tortured and murdered the 20th-century Georgian Classic writer Mikheil Javakhishvili. The writer had not altered his character, had not modified the plot, and had not changed the ending – the author consciously sacrificed himself to his work. Who is Teimuraz Khevistavi? He is one of the main personages of 20th-century modernistic Georgian Literature:  a citizen rejected by time and epoch, ex-nobleman, ex-patron, ex-lawyer, who is under the threat of becoming ex-husband from the very beginning of the text. Although, thin and gaunt, Teimuraz finds strength in himself and, in spite of numerous challenges, discovers the principal values to save his soul. Nabokov’s weak personage – Tsintsinat Ts. is a spiritual partner of Teimuraz. The tragedy of the character lies in the fact that he is different from the others: he is not transparent while other inhabitants of the city are transparent! Tsintsinat is a prisoner, who is waiting for the death penalty. He had lost everything – house, wife, work, only the devil’s mediator, Mr. Pierre remains with him, and is permanently striving to win Tsintsinat Ts. over. But Tsintsinat has to survive: he is constantly trying to find the solution, fighting to save the values that others have lost long ago. In the end of the novel, he finds the salvation, Tsintsinat joins that world, from where deliverance begins.    

If Ilia Chavchavadze and Ivan Goncharov have to castigate their conformist characters and, from author’s own position, put an end to their pseudo-carnival lives – by the death sentence, which seems quite artificial in both novels, Mikheil Javakhishvili and Vladimir Nabakov are struggling to save the individual will of their non-conformist heroes, as they believe that the only way to survive lies beyond the individual reasoning.

The pseudo-carnival narrative in the texts of classical realism is dominantly expressed by an accentuating of the act of eating and drinking and idyllic comfort, as well as by means of parodying relationships. The act of drinking and eating in the texts of the epoch of classical realism (Luarsab Tatkaridze’s and Ilia Obmolov’s exaggerated love towards eating and drinking) keeps Rabelais principle and expresses the triumph of unhealthy society’s consciousness:  it loses the normal form and acquires the form of endless orgy. It is as endless as the pseudo-carnival itself (“What shall we eat today?”, Luarsab used to ask in the morning. “What shall we eat tomorrow?”, - he used to ask in the evening).   The direct result of the pseudo-festival is represented by the degradation of the characters’ appearance – triumph of a flash and fat, which indicates, on the one hand, the depreciation of the spiritual values of the character, and, on the other hand, the author’s critical-cynical attitude towards the personage. They are permanently eating, drinking, and having rest: getting up from his bed represents the greatest tragedy for Oblomov as well as for Luarsab. Luarsab’s favorite place is the bed. The act of eating and drinking and idyllic comfort is parodied in both texts, as any other expression of the absurd being. 

It is worth to notice that parody, in the epoch of classical realism, preserving Rabelais charge, focuses on the tendency of losing main spiritual values. Parody, in its classical sense, is the imitation where disfigure of the subject of imitation is witnessed. ”Disfigure” in this case, means satiric-ironical imitation of the subject of imitation. The roots of parody have to be traced in the antique literature (Aristophanes, Lucian, Apuleius), and its transformation as the special means for literary expression - in the epoch of Renaissance (Rabelais, Swift, Cervantes). The so-called debasement of motives represents typical feature of literary parody, which is signed by the structural ambivalence of motives and grotesque materialization. This concept occupies the central place in Bakhtin’s theory about carnival literature. Bakhtin considers degradation or debasement of the higher as the typical and important process of grotesque, which is of ambivalent nature and acquires “absolute and strictly topographical meaning”. [5] Degradation, on the one hand, means radical “downward”, descending from the sky to the ground, on the other hand – ascending and rebirth. Bakhtin considers “downward” and “upward” as genetically related pairs. “Downward” and “upward” represent the relevant categories of the “earth”. Only the first represents the earth as the element that devours, swallows up (grave, womb), while the other represents it as the element of birth, of renascence (the maternal breast). But how far is the parody preserved in the texts of classical realism that we have interest in. Bakhtin remarks - “Medieval parody is unique, quite unlike the purely formalist literary parody of modern times, which has a solely negative character and is deprived of regenerating ambivalence. This genre and all the other modern forms of degradation could not, of course, preserve their former immensely important meaning”. [6] We consider that Bakhtin’s opinion is as fair for the texts of classical realism, as it is unfair for texts of high modernism.

If the parody of spiritual (pseudo-faith), domestic (pseudo-family, pseudo-marriage, pseudo-child), social (pseudo-landownership, pseudo-nobility) and other relations of Luarsab Tatkaridze and Ilusha Oblomov is the best means for revealing and castigating characters’ and, correspondingly, societies’ bad sides, Teimuraz Khevistavi’s and Tsintsinat Ts’ parody has far deeper roots.

The establishment of the stylistic method of parody in the Eschatological anti-utopia, formed in the context of high modernism, was connected with the descent of the motives peculiar for parody.  Parody of sacral became the main target for anti-utopian mockery, which made it possible the further transformation of main anti-utopian opposition – society/ individual - in a new opposition – non-sacral/sacral. This motif was not new for the fiction (the biblical plot of “Tower of Babel” serves as a proof), but the anti-utopian genre, has restored and developed its non-homogeneous, ambivalent thinking revealed in the literature of the middle Ages and Renaissance. We have to oppose the above mentioned idea of M. Bakhtin and consider that   the stylistic method of parody engaged in anti-utopian novels has preserved its “ambivalence of revival” and “in the conditions of new time” managed not only to accentuate the tendency of loosing spiritual values, but also prepared the background for their reincarnation. In the beginning of the 20th century, in the period of regeneration of religious consciousness, the opposition sacral/non-sacral has gained harshness and appeared in such low motives as: profanation of religion, parody of ecclesiastic topics and irony of demiurgic function.   Parody laughter, in this case, represents the most important step, gateway, which means “immanent perturbation” from the slavery condition towards the freedom”. [7] Transformation into freedom means not being in freedom, but the releasing process which positive and negative values depend on the negative and positive values of the event, from which the person is releasing oneself. “Freedom” for personages of anti-utopia means liberation from the officials, prevailing regime, on the one hand, and from the weak, shadowy sides of the “self”, on the other hand.

In the studied texts - “Jakho’s Dispossessed” and “Invitation to the Beheading” – the footing of the narrative is the main characters’ longing to get out of the pseudo-carnival text towards the valuable alternative, new reality, new cosmos. This process means not only emphasizing the differences between the real and imaginary worlds, but representing those logical and ontological oppositions, which exist between the necessity and possibility.  Alternative world becomes possible only when it is formed in the author’s imagination and is gradually realized by means of transformative aspiration of the selected protagonist. The essential part of the process of transformation is the intermediate, transitional, liminal phase as a transitive space, laid between alternative worlds, the watershed between the existing and imaginary systems, an ambivalent ontological landscape, which has to be overcome by the character. From this viewpoint, imaginary world is perceived not as a “non-existing object”, but as an “existence” based on the alternative ontological principles formed beyond the transitive phase in character’s free mind. The major and defining categories for those transitions are the specific, sacral categories of time and space (for details see: I. Ratiani “Chronotop in Anti-utopian Novel”, 2005, http://

            We can conclude that the analysis of different literary-aesthetic epochs in relation to the pseudo-carnival narrative can prove the following:

1.     The pseudo-carnival narrative, as an “uninterrupted eternity” is formed in opposition with the carnival “temporality”;

2.      The replacement of the carnival narrative with the pseudo-carnival one in the text is motivated by the necessity to highlight the brutal reality and fix character’s attitude towards it;

3.       Any literary text, formed in the frameworks of the methodological model of realism, in spite of its literary-aesthetic or cultural belongings, is open to the pseudo-carnival narrative, which enables us to suppose that the pseudo-carnival text is a form of inter-literary and inter-cultural dialogue;

4.      The dialogue is harmonic on the level of the identical literary-aesthetical contexts, but - controversial on the level of the different literary-aesthetical contexts, as much as the structural-compositional relation towards the pseudo-carnival text is different;

5.      The main task for the epoch of classical realism is to reveal, to parody and castigate the pseudo-carnival absurd as the triumph of unhealthy society’s consciousness. Eschatological anti-utopia, formed in the epoch of modernism, is not satisfied only with the display of problems, but activates the “reviving ambivalence” of the parody and, “in the conditions of current time,” manages not only to highlight the tendency of loosing main spiritual values, but to prepare the ground for their reincarnation as well.

The existence of the different structural-compositional positions towards the pseudo-carnival narrative singles out not its conceptual disharmony, but – methodological differences. Moreover, can we even talk about the consequence? Does Luarsab’s and Oblomov’s death mean cultural renewal and giving birth to Teimuraz and Tsintsinat Ts.? Can it be a cultural heritage?

We consider that the aesthetic perspective of the comparative analysis of the texts relating to the epochs of Realism and Modernism can be regarded as the rapprochement towards each other. Analogies without the contacts provide the synthesis of the concrete literary texts in a special cultural-creative pattern. Correspondingly, comparative method represents the global tendency of literary-analytical thinking which ultimate goal is to reveal the literary bases of a creative work and prove intense integration of national literatures in the world literary processes.

 Works Cited:

[1] Bakhtin, Mikhail M., Rabelais and His World. Trans. by Helene Iswolsky. 1968; reprint, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, Midland Book, 1984, 7-8.  

[2] Bakhtin, Mikhail M., Rabelais and His World. Trans. by Helene Iswolsky, 1968; reprint,

Bloomington: Indiana University Press, Midland Book, 1984, 9.

 [3] Lanin, Boris. Russian Literary Anti-Utopia. Monograph. Moscow, 1993, 108.

[4] Ibid. 108.

[5] Bakhtin, Mikhail M., Rabelais and His World. Trans. by Helene Iswolsky, 1968; reprint, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, Midland Book, 1984, 21.

 [6] Bakhtin, Mikhail M., Rabelais and His World. Trans. by Helene Iswolsky, 1968; reprint, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, Midland Book, 1984, 21.

[7]  Averintsev, Sergey S. “Bakhtin, Laughter, Christian Culture”. M. M. Bakhtin - Pro Et Contra, Anthology. V. 1.  Comp: K. G. Isupov, D. K. Burlaka. St.-Petersburg, Russian Christian Institute of Humanities Press, 2001, 470.



Translated from Georgian into English by Ariane Chanturia     


  Irma Ratiani