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Reviewed by:
  • Carnivalizing Difference: Bakhtin and the Other
  • Lee Templeton
Peter I. Barta, Paul Allen Miller, Charles Platter, and David Shepherd, eds. Carnivalizing Difference: Bakhtin and the Other. London: Routledge, 2001. xvii + 265 pp.

The application of the theories and terms developed by Mikhail Bakhtin has become, it seems, something of a literary critical pastime. The quantity and variety of Bakhtinian approaches to literary analysis is staggering, due largely to the depth and relevance of Bakhtin’s work, but also, to a lesser degree, due to the interpretive dexterity of critics. As the editors of Carnivalizing Difference explain, “carnival, dialogism, heteroglossia, and the rest continue to roll off the tongues, and out from under the keyboard-caressing fingers, of scholars and graduate students who find in them a useful analytical framework which does not in itself need to be interrogated” (10). Amidst the mass of studies which utilize Bakhtin, many, as the editors claim, are, at their worst, “banal and de trop, while even at [End Page 210] their best they can sometimes make accusations of theoretical modishness difficult to deflect” (10). Barta, et al. do not make this claim for their volume. Carnivalizing Difference brings a level of intellectual rigor and consistency to Bakhtinian approaches, qualities that other studies sometimes lack. Carnivalizing Difference, which grew out of a conference under the same title held at Texas Tech University, consists of eleven essays. These range in subject matter from Euripidean tragedy to a Spike Lee film and explore the relationship between Bakhtinian theory and cultural practice.

The majority of articles in this collection investigate the connection between Bakhtin’s work and classical studies and seek to open the latter to more than simply carnival. In “Alienated Couples in Euripidean Tragedy: A Bakhtinian Analysis,” for instance, Nancy Felson deploys Bakhtin’s model for interaction between two or more people, as articulated in Toward a Philosophy of the Act, in a reading of marriages in three tragedies by Euripides. Such an approach, Felson claims, allows critics to “describe with precision moments of rupture and crises in understanding, as well as efforts by either partner to end discord and (re)introduce reciprocity, or else retaliate or exact revenge” (24). Ultimately, these ruptures in dialogic interaction indicate Euripides’s acknowledgement of the possibility of “something like reciprocal, dialogical, marital rapport” (43). Charles Platter, in “Novelistic Discourse in Aristophanes,” reevaluates Bakhtin’s claims about the “generic isolation” of classical literature in order to reposition Aristophanic comedy as a predecessor of novelistic discourse. While Platter downplays theories of carnival in order to focus on Bakhtin’s conception of the novel, Nigel Nicholson addresses carnival laughter’s role in high literature. In “Victory Without Defeat? Carnival Laughter and its Appropriation in Pindar’s Victory Odes,” Nicholson argues that carnival laughter is a complex and ambiguous part of Pindar’s Odes: “the laughter both supports and threatens the ideology of Pindar’s patrons” (82). Thus, while the dialogism that constitutes carnival laughter is present in high literature, it ultimately serves to legitimize authority. In “Degenerate Neoptolemus: Praise Poetry and The Novelization of the Aeneid,” Jeffrey S. Carnes turns to the Aeneid and its use of the victory ode to explore the potential for novelization in Virgil’s epic. According to Carnes, Virgil’s use of the genre of epinician briefly introduces new voices into the poem, opening the text up to heteroglossia—“in Bakhtinian terms, the epinician novelizes the Aeneid” (107). And yet, Carnes illustrates that the openness caused by this moment of novelistic discourse does not serve to subvert the poem’s status as Augustan propaganda, as may be expected. Rather, such a heteroglot text is “uniquely valuable for masking the totality of power with a façade of pluralism” (110). Daniel B. McGlathery’s essay, “The Tomb of Epic: Bakhtinian Parody and Petronius’ Tale of the Widow of Ephesus,” demonstrates how Bakhtin’s notion of the “ancient complex” of folk culture—those aspects of human experience such as food, sex, and death and the physical site of the public square—can be applied to Petronius’ tale of the Widow of Ephesus, and how such an application enhances the tale’s “carnivalesque leveling of the ‘high’ and...

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pp. 210-212
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