Bitter Carnival by Michael André Bernstein

By Michael André Bernstein

"You humans positioned value in your lives. good, my existence hasn't ever been vital to a person. i don't have any guilt approximately anything," bragged the mass-murderer Charles Manson. "These youngsters that come at you with knives, they're your kids. You taught them. i did not educate them. . . . they're working within the streets--and they're coming correct at you!" while a true assassin accuses the society he has brutalized, we're surprised, yet we're delighted by means of an identical accusations after they are mouthed via a fictional insurgent, outlaw, or monster. In sour Carnival, Michael Andr Bernstein explores this contradiction and defines a brand new determine: the Abject Hero. status on the junction of contestation and conformity, the Abject Hero occupies the logically very unlikely house created by way of the intersection of the satanic and the servile. Bernstein exhibits that we heroicize the Abject Hero simply because he represents a practice that has develop into a staple of our universal mythology, as seductive in mass tradition because it is in excessive artwork. relocating from an exam of classical Latin satire; via substantially new analyses of Diderot, Dostoevsky, and Cline; and culminating within the court testimony of Charles Manson, sour Carnival deals a revisionist rereading of the total culture of the "Saturnalian discussion" among masters and slaves, monarchs and fools, philosophers and madmen, voters and malcontents. It contests the supposedly regenerative strength of the carnivalesque and demanding situations the pieties of utopian radicalism trendy in modern educational pondering. The readability of its argument and literary variety compel us to confront a robust hindrance that engages probably the most significant matters in literary stories, ethics, cultural historical past, and demanding concept this day.

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Typically, Horace marshals his most effective apologia and counter-accusations when challenged by an antagonist of patrician rank and presumption. In such a conflict, Horace elegantly inverts the custom- 42 CHAPTER TWO ary roles and reveals that it is his nobly-born interlocutor, not he, who suffers from the plebeian vices of frustrated ambition and greed. But Horace’s situation is entirely different when the accuser’s voice is that of a household slave, speaking not with the arrogance of an aristocrat’s invidia but with the license of a single day to vent a whole year’s accumulated irritation.

The overthrowing of experience into its opposite, of purposefulness into purposelessness, of necessity into what is wished for, but in such a way that this process causes [us] no harm, but is O TOTIENS SERVUS 35 simply imagined once out of wanton exuberance, delights [mankind] because it liberates us momentarily from the compulsion of necessity, of what is appropriate to [quotidian human] purpose and experience in which we ordinarily see our inexorable masters. We play and laugh when the expected (which usually makes us afraid and tense) reveals itself without causing harm.

Criticism has become quite comfortable with the figure of the daemonic rebel, and, at least in its Nietzschean mode, with the man of ressentiment, but a certain frisson of fallen splendor still seems to be necessary in order to attract the critic’s attention. Thus it is not really so surprising that so few works address abjection directly. Among the best known to do so is Julia Kristeva’s Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection. Kristeva has recognized abjection’s uncanny grip on human consciousness, and her description does much to bring so recalcitrant a concept into the realm of discursive critical analysis.

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