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Ma Thesis Questioning the Carnivalesque

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  This thesis explores the form that resistance takes in poetry slams. In this study, Mikhail Bakhtin’s  theory of carnival is applied to the poetry slam as a contemporary form of resistance. Carnival provides a place outside of everyday life where different rules are in effect. Through the carnival, participants see new possibilities for their everyday lives. The purpose of this thesis is to demonstrate whether poetry slams show carnivalesque resistance. (p.3, in totalitate!) “All the acts of the drama of world history were performed before a chorus of the laughing people. Without hearing this chorus we can not understand the drama as a whole.” (Bakhtin 1968:474) (p.6)  Poets engage with topics of race, gender, discrimination, politics, failed love, or any topic — sacred or profane — that they desire while they stand upon the stage with the microphone before their lips and the crowd waiting to respond in front of them. Ears waiting for feedback hear the sudden cheer as the last stanza fades. With the poem’s performance completed, the poet finds a way back into the audience to sit, listen, and offer verbal accolades to the next performances. (p. 5) DEFINITION pp. 6- 7 Poetry slams have been described as a means to “address the modern human condition by bringing to life...personal, political, social and spiritual concerns while knocking the socks off an audience thr  ough the artful and entertaining application of performance” (Smith and Kraynak 2009:5). Poetry slams are competitions that welcome performers regardless of their skills or status, providing a place for people coming from diverse circumstances and backgrounds to take 2 the stage to elocute about matters that are a part of their everyday existences. A common saying with poetry slams is that “the points are not the point, the point is poetry” (Smith and Kraynak 2009:19). The competition provides a format for performers to say something about which they feel deeply, gain feedback from judges’ scoring, and hear the reactions of the audience. Poetry slams were started as a way to bring vitality back into poetry performance events that were perceived as having grown into stale poetry readings composed of academics and their literary companions (Smith and Kraynak 2009:18). (p.7) With this broader debate over resistance in mind, the poetry slam’s potential for resistance will be   studied using Bakhtin’s concept of the carnival. Mikhail Bakhtin conceived of carnival as a form of  resistance. Carnival provides a time and place where the existing social order becomes 'uncrowned' and inverted through the practices of the participants allowing laughter and critique to challenge the dominant discourses (Gardiner 2000:65). Carnival relies on the participation of everyone at the event to create an alternative social order so that people can relate to each other on an equal basis during the carnival time. The potential for resistance in the carnival will be questioned. How well does the poetry slam fulfill the attributes of the carnival? On the other hand, how is the carnival contradicted by practices in poetry slams? (p.8) The three main concepts, dialogue, the act, and carnival, will be used to illustrate how ordinary people can be involved in a particular form of resistance. Each of those three concepts will be outlined and explained below. Since dialogue provides the foundation for discussing Bakhtin's theory, it will be examined first. This will then be followed by a brief discussion of Bakhtin's philosophy of the act. Building off the two other concepts, the carnival will be discussed as a form of resistance. (p.13)
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