Let’s keep the keys to the city
Posted by schroeder915 on February 20, 2007
When Nagin gave away the keys of the city to the king of Rex, relinquishing leadership he doesn’t exercise, he made uncomfortable jokes about not having to do his job anymore.
Let’s keep the keys, and give no-C Ray the boot!
(I couldn’t find video of the handing away of the keys on any of the local TV newscast archives or NOLA.com, though I did see it on the 10:00 news last night).
Carnival, in order to be enjoyed, requires that rules and rituals be parodied, and that these rules and rituals already be recognized and respected. One must know to what degree certain behaviors are forbidden, and must feel the majesty of the forbidding norm, to appreciate their transgression. Without a valid law to break, carnival is impossible. During the Middle Ages, counterrituals such as the Mass of the Ass or the coronation of the Fool were enjoyable just because, during the rest of the year, the Holy Mass and the true King’s coronation were sacred and respectable activities. The Coena Cypriani quoted by Bachtin, a burlesque representation based upon the subversion of topical situations of the Scriptures, was enjoyed as a comic transgression only by people who took the same Scriptures seriously during the rest of the year. To a modern reader, the Coena Cypriani is only a boring series of meaningless situations, and even though the parody is recognized, it is not felt as a provocative one. Thus the prerequisites of a ‘good’ carnival are: (i) the law must be so pervasively and profoundly introjected as to be overwhelmingly present at the moment of its violation (and this explains why ‘barbaric’ comedy is hardly understandable); (ii) the moment of carnivalization must be very short, and allowed only once a year (semel in anno licet insanire); an everlasting carnival does not work: an entire year of ritual observance is needed in order to make the transgression enjoyable.
Carnival can exist only as an authorized transgression (which in fact represents a blatant case of contradicto in adjecto or of happy double binding — capable of curing instead of producing neurosis). If the ancient, religious carnival was limited in time, the modern mass-carnival is limited in space: it is reserved for certain places, certain streets, or framed by the television screen.
In this sense, comedy and carnival are not instances of real transgressions: on the contrary, they represent paramount examples of law reinforcement. They remind us of the existence of the rule.
Carnivalization can act as a revolution (Rabelais, or Joyce) when it appears unexpectedly, frustrating social expectations. But on the one side it produces its own mannerism (it is reabsorbed by society) and on the other side it is acceptable when performed within the limits of a laboratory situation (literature, stage, screen …). When an unexpected and nonauthorized carnivalization suddenly occurs in ‘real’ everday life, it is interpreted as revolution (campus confrontations, ghetto riots, blackouts, sometimes true ‘historical’ revolutions). But even revolutions produce a restoration of their own (revolutionary rules, another contradicto in adjecto) in order to install their new social model. Otherwise they are not effective revolutions, but only uprisings, revolts, transitory social disturbances.
In a world dominated by diabolical powers, in a world of everlasting transgression, nothing remains comic or carnivalesque, nothing can any longer become an object of parody.
Umberto Eco, “The frames of comic ‘freedom’,” _Carnivale!_, Ed. Thomas A. Sebeok. Berlin: Mouton, 1984.