- Carnival

Projecting Bakhtin’s theory of Carnivalization upon modern Reykjavík's night culture

Carnivalization is described, as a semiotic theory of a Carnival, by Russian philosopher and literary critic Mikhail Bakhtin in his book "Rebelais and His World". It is a book that examines François Rabelais and the folk culture of the Renaissance.

Bakhtin’s novelty consists in observing the medieval carnival, an annual holiday before Quadragesima (Lent), and applying his observations to the cultural phenomena of modern times. He sees a carnival as a syncretic, ritualized form of public performance. He theorises that this same performance can also be seen in modern societies. It is seen, most vividly, in societies that lack social mobility; in societies where social roles are strongly defined. Reykjavík could be considered one such society.


At the center of Bakhtin conception there is the idea of inverting binary oppositions. When people went out on the carnival square, they took it as an opportunity to say farewell to their mundane routine before a long repentance (Lent). Manners and social norms were replaced with satanic dances, impermissible humor and low behavior. The roles of the society were switched as well. Females would dress in male clothes, the local idiot would become a king or a “trickster”, and so on. Within the borders of carnival, the sensible rules are of no use and everything is possible.

In modern society we can observe this "ritual" in nightlife and, more specifically, in Reykjavík's nightlife. Every night out is a re-enactment of the carnival rules of old. It has a beginning and an end. It has its own specific laws (applied only during the carnival) which are no longer valid the day after (“what happens in Kaffibarinn, stays in Kaffibarinn”).


In the presented project I tried to make an attempt to look into the ugly eyes of an antichristian tradition, through a prism of personal Reykjavik nightlife experience. The model, poet and philosophy student Valgerður Þóroddsdóttir tries out few different masks of a classic medieval carnival: a trickster, an innocent maiden (ninny), a kinsman and a queen.