Explain the concept of Grotesque Realism and also the main theme of the chapter Rabelais and His World which the Russian formalist Bakhtin wants to put forward to us. 

1 Answer | Add Yours

amarang9's profile pic

amarang9 | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

In Rabelais and His World, Bakhtin puts forward the concept of Grotesque Realism which is an analysis of language and literature involving the body. This is a continuation of Bakhtin's project of shifting the formalist and structuralist focus on abstract structures of language to real (Realist) individual and social manifestations of language. 

Describing the "carnivalesque" culture, both as life and in theater, Bakhtin sees a more free social scene which is to say the carnival culture is simply more genuine. 

We have already said that during the carnival there is a temporary suspension of all hierarchical distinctions and barriers among men and of certain norms and prohibitions of usual life. We added that an ideal and at the same time real form of communication, impossible in ordinary life, is established. (Introduction to Rabelais and His World

Such an atmosphere where norms are less inhibiting, creates a more informal and, for Bakhtin, a more real kind of communication. Being informal, the profane and grotesque are more frequently used both as an expression of this freer communication and, when necessary, as an appropriate mode to mock as is the case with satire and folk humor. 

Grotesque Realism is not the objectification of the body, nor is it simply using profane gestures to make disgusting jokes or comments. Bakhtin sees grotesque realism as something positive. All people have bodies. Focusing on the bodies of the living world accentuates a universal; we all have bodies. Since it is a universal, this material/realist concept of grotesque realism is both material and "cosmic," a universal notion of the "collective ancestral body of all the people." 

Grotesque Realism essentially focuses on degradation. Here, Bakhtin notes that degradation is not pejorative. It is a degrading from the abstract or spiritual to the earthly, material human life. It is a "coming down to earth." This is why some of the themes involve the actions of the body: eating, defecation, procreation, production, birth, etc. - and these all indicate things like consumption, transition, rejuvenation and renewal. Focusing on the body is therefore a triumphant moment for realism in that it focuses on actual physical changes in time and history. It is, in this sense, a more real Realism or a more free use of satire. And given that the focus on the body illustrates concepts like eating, procreation, and renewal (birth), this also illustrates people's actual power for individual and social renewal or reinvention. 

Sources:

We’ve answered 318,912 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question