“All the acts of the drama of world history were performed before a chorus of the laughing people. Without hearing this chorus we cannot understand the drama as a whole.” -Bakhtin
It’s hard for me not to think synthetically about educating youth, studying language and literacy, living faithfully and ethically, and also attending to readings of contemporary consumer culture (popular culture, literature, music, books, and technologies.) By thinking synthetically, I mean that they are categories but not categorical, because of the role that culture has in shaping young people, and old for that matter, because our symbolic interchanges are so thoroughly embedded in cultural signifiers, and because in this world of symbol, praxis, and story, we strive and fall and negotiate and pray as human beings.
The quote is from Rabelais and His World, part of the conclusion of Bakhtin’s extended reflection on the carnivalesque and grotesquery of the world captured in forms of storytelling, but certainly true to life itself in varied performances. He reminds us that if a millennium from now, our Alien Robot overlords tried to decipher our present by studying Politico, the Dow Jones, and NSA Surveillance records, their understanding of the actual stuff of life would be misguided without bawdy Tweets and barroom banter, without Roseanne and Sanford, without reality TV and, well, Rabelais.
Not everything I write about will be mirthful indulgence bracketed off from stringent authoritarianism, but Bakhtin reminds us that human and democratic energies reside in the flea market and farmer’s market, the Saturday night fever and the Sunday night football. Attending to these is not to escape the world, but to read the drama of the world. I hope I learn to read it with wisdom and discernment.