Ottoman miniature

Freak Out

Exploring the carnivalesque in the Persian and Turkish miniature traditions

Translated from Turkish by Eda Ata

Undoubtedly, the Russian philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin (1895 – 1975) is often the first person to come to mind when discussing the topic of the carnival. His reputation aside, what is interesting about Bakhtin’s analysis of the phenomenon of the carnival is the link he established between it as a literary genre and a socio-historical structure. According to Bakhtin, assuming carnivals to be ‘masked balls’ of the modern era in the over-simplified, extravagant context of theatric carnivals is erroneous. In order to properly understand the carnival, it is necessary to examine its origins and zeniths; in other words, one needs to reflect on the phenomenon in its various stages throughout antiquity, the Middle Ages, and the Renaissance.

To Bakhtin, the carnival was a world that dispelled people’s fears, created bridges between the individual and the world at large, and familiraised people with one another. Bakhtin’s world was the polar opposite of unilateral formality and dogma, and all things standing in the way of evolution and change that try to preserve the status quo. Arguing that the carnival had the potential to save people from such rigidity, Bakhtin emphasised at the same time that the ideal form of the spectacle was devoid of any nihilism, frivolousness, or vulgar bohemian individualism, even though it may have appeared to some at the time to be purely nonchalant.

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