Tag Archives: Bakhtin

I finished reading Mikhail Bakhtin’s ‘Rabelais and His World’

"I go to seek a Great Perhaps", supposed last words of Rabelais

I go to seek a Great Perhaps“, supposed last words of Rabelais

I finished reading Mikhail Bakhtin’s Rabelais and His World (1965) and took notes here.

“Our study is only a first step in the vast task of examining ancient folk humor” says Bakhtin on the last page of his monumental work. To me, this was not a first step, but a pretty comprehensive overview of Rabelais, his language and his time. Sometimes I even felt there was just a bit too much repetition.

What I will most likely remember best of Bakhtin’s analysis is the metaphor of the pregnant death: symbol for a number of processes characterized by the prefix re-: renewal, rebirth, regeneration, reconstruction, revitalization and ultimately Renaissance.

I find myself smiling and nodding in admiration simultaneously when reading Rabelais.

Spain had Cervantes, England had Shakespeare, but the Frenchmen Rabelais was the father of them all.

When he died, he said “I go to seek a Great Perhaps“.

Did he?

Nobody knows, actually.

More and more I am confronted with the spuriousness of attributions.

François Rabelais and bodily fluids

He Did Cry Like a Cow

I have this thing with bodily fluids.

So does François Rabelais and it seems to me even more, his chief theorist Bakhtin, whose emphasis on excreta such as blood, sweat and tears is … well … emphatic.

In one of Doré’s illustrations of Gargantua and Pantagruel, the perverse emphasis on bodily fluids is hyperbolically administered. The print is informally titled He Did Cry Like a Cow and depicts the “grief wherewith Gargantua was moved at the decease of his wife Badebec.”

In my perverse imagination, the tears of Gargantua become drops of sweat or even sperm in a similar way that Yoshifumi Hayashi depicts those excretions of the lower bodily stratum.

The gaping mouths of Goya

Los Chinchillas from Los Caprichos by Francisco de Goya

Los Chinchillas from Los Caprichos by Francisco de Goya

I’m reading Rabelais and His World and I’m taking notes as I go along.

There is much repetition of the tropes of Rabelais in Bakhtin’s book. For example, the term dismemberment is mentioned about twenty times and gaping about ten times. The grotesque body and what it stands for is explained over and over again.

It suddenly occurred to me that Francisco Goya is the specialist of the gaping mouth.The mouth which is wide open. Incidentally, gaping means yawning in my language (Dutch).

 This morning I looked up the combination Goya/gaping/mouth.

British art critic David Sylvester came to the same conclusion:

“The mouth plays a role in Goya‘s art more prominent than in that of any other major artist. Mouths leer, grin, gape, gasp, moan, shriek, belch. A hanged man’s mouth lies open and a woman reaches up to filch his teeth. Grown men stick fingers in their mouths like sucking infants. Mouths vomit, the sick gushing out of them, and a great furry beast sicks up a pile of human bodies. Mouths guzzle: they guzzle avidly, ferociously, living flesh as well as dead. Saturn grips one of his children in his fists and with his mouth tears him limb from limb.”

One can add to this the Lazarillo painting and the Caprichos There Is Plenty to SuckYa es horaEstan calientes and the force-fed Chinchillas. And from the Desastres: the vomiting man in Para eso habeis nacido and the vomiting monster of Fiero Monstruo!