Additonal Note on the Carnivalesque

Just recently (2019), I discover that Ranciere has spoken about carnival, recognising it as a cultural form that is akin to the subversive moments “when people do a multiplicity of things: performances, acts or parties whose unruliness undermines the forces of inequality”, yet in his view carnival is compromised by its institutionally sanctioned and regular, cyclical character:

There is a time each year when men or women of the people become kings or queens and subvert the world, turn it around or upside down, but do so in a specific time. And for me that’s different from this capacity of people who show up at unexpected moments, without any programme or any schedule. (

Ranciere describes this difference as matter of “temporality”. Whereas carnival confirms a regular temporality that is bound by dimensions of inequality, genuinely irruptive cultural moments represent “the invention of a new temporality.”

Yet I wonder if the work of repetition in carnival can be neatly opposed to its unruliness? I wonder as well whether the notion of a pure subversion that opens on to the new is not also complicit in relations of inequality? This relates to the problem of repetition’s relation to the new and the new’s relation to repetition. Nietzsche and Deleuze discuss this relation at length in the notion of the dice throw and the eternal return. I won’t go there just now. Now I only want to suggest that perhaps repetition can be thought differently, less as opposed to motions of opening and renewal than as the necessary moment of recollection, continuity and burial that enables the new. And in this manner, the notion of novelty itself would have to also be reconceived – as something formal, as something that also contains an aspect of repetition. To neglect this complex, indeterminate relation between repetition and renewal in carnivalesque experience is to fail to recognise its genuine, potent relation to temporality and cultural life. To imagine that the new can appear on its own, beyond the play of repetition, is precisely to subscribe to a sense of temporality that obliterates the world, that withdraws from its rhythmic perturbations and conceives an utterly strange and self-present moment. This space of the new as profoundly alien is closely allied to every imposition of inequality in the modern world.

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