Thesis statement v5
Any culture in any socio-political situation has or has had its own definitions of what is acceptable: what is right, what is good, what is just. It also has its own definitions of what “things” are – objects, places, buildings, whatever – which always bear specific connotations, reflective of a given society’s overall values and perception of the world. Yet while these things and constructs are often represented in idealized forms, in that which is considered beautiful or meaningfully expressive, behind this world of singular things—of objecthood—lies an ocean of pure multiplicity that serves as background to all we do, the ground of our figure. French philosopher Michel Serres claims that “noise is the very background of being.” One could argue that this is evident now more than ever. In our era of increasing mobility, hyper-connectivity, and hyper-diversity, the systems of meaning that define our identity are challenged. More than ever we are projected back unto an undifferentiated background of noise, a circumstance, I believe, which is ripe with potential, inviting us to relate on a much more primal level. To do so, however, we must open ourselves to living within the “jolly relativity” of all things, and engage the world in a carnival spirit that subverts and liberates us from dominant assumptions through humour, chaos, and pleasure.
Gargantua and Pantagruel, the two great masterpieces of French Renaissance writer François Rabelais, offer some insight into how the space of the carnival and the grotesque can positively challenge and make bare these value-driven constructs, and serve as a time and place of intimate gathering, and of metamorphosis and renewal. As a necessary offspring of the ordered society, the carnival is founded on its own time and its own rules, emerging as completely apart from the everyday, inhabiting the threshold between it and its plain opposite. If the norms, rules, and quantifiable time of the everyday serve to draw lines which both contain and separate, the carnival makes these lines fluid, conflating right and wrong, the self and the other, the terrifying and the hilarious, and the beautiful and the wretched. The aesthetic mode of the grotesque, which permeates Rabelais’ imagery, operates much in the same way and with the same intention, in the same formless interstitial space. Rather than the individual bodies and objects we’re accustomed to, neatly defined and withheld from each other and from the world, the grotesque form brims over its limits of singularity, joyously succumbing, deforming, and melding with the bedlam of the earthly and the bodily other. Wrapped in ambivalence, what was ordered and rigid becomes abnormal and flaccid, but gloriously, wondrously, comically so, beckoning us to think beyond the gap between the beautiful and the repulsive, and return to the world re-born.