Dashiki Dialogues: Strike season: The carnival rolls into town

2014-07-13 15:00

There’s something about times of great excitement that make fundamental change in the world possible.

Times of great upheaval, festivities and youthful fervour share this potential or opportunity for reformation.

The 1791-1804 Haitian Revolution was an exciting time when old repressive ideas governing human relations were fractured.

The revolution fully entrenched the idea of unqualified and universal human rights for all.

Many would want to credit the French Revolution of 1789 for this. But the French remained slavers and were not antiracist in the pursuit of human liberty. This is why Haiti stands out as a legitimate humanist victory. Out of that time’s chaos, a great new order was formed.

It’s the same in all new great orders of life: the night before a wedding is marked by chaotic revelry that produces a new order in the form of marriage; and the academic graduation party leads to the sobriety of adult working life.

I believe this pattern marks all living systems. Think about how a river shapes the earth with greater agitation mostly nearer its source. Human beings also receive their fundamental education during their youth.

I’m reminded of a concept that was made popular by Russian literary theorist and philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin: “the carnivalesque”.

Bakhtin used the idea of the carnivalesque to look at the carnivals that took place in Europe during the Middle Ages.

He saw these as incidents within which political, legal and ideological authorities like the church and state were temporarily suspended.

In this way, the carnival was liberating because the general hard line of the church and state had little or no control over the lives of the people.

The important part of Bakhtin’s idea is in the fact that set and established rules and beliefs were availed to ridicule, reconsideration or even reconception at carnival time.

Perhaps in the South African sense, the carnivalesque is alive during strike season.

It is during this time the national ground of debate is cleared to make space for new ideas. The apparent loss of a moral high ground by the ruling party leaves space for a kind of carnivalesque potential.

As creative dialogues are wrapped up at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, a new dashiki might become possible for a nation that needs a reboot of lofty values.

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