Gargantua and Pantagruel


Bakhtin's analysis of Rabelais

Mikhail Bakhtin's book Rabelais and His World explores Gargantua and Pantagruel and is considered a classic of Renaissance studies.[8] Bakhtin declares that, for centuries, Rabelais' book had been misunderstood. Throughout Rabelais and His World, Bakhtin attempts two things: first, to recover sections of Gargantua and Pantagruel that, in the past, were either ignored or suppressed; and, second, to conduct an analysis of the Renaissance social system in order to discover the balance between language that was permitted and language which was not. By means of this analysis, Bakhtin pinpoints two important subtexts in Rabelais' work: the first is carnivalesque which Bakhtin describes as a social institution, and the second is grotesque realism, which is defined as a literary mode. Thus, in Rabelais and His World, Bakhtin studies the interaction between the social and the literary, as well as the meaning of the body[9]

Bakhtin explains that carnival in Rabelais' work and age is associated with the collectivity; for those attending a carnival do not merely constitute a crowd; rather the people are seen as a whole, organized in a way that defies socioeconomic and political organization.[10] According to Bakhtin, “[A]ll were considered equal during carnival. Here, in the town square, a special form of free and familiar contact reigned among people who were usually divided by the barriers of caste, property, profession, and age”.[11] At carnival time, the unique sense of time and space causes the individual to feel he is a part of the collectivity, at which point he ceases to be himself. It is at this point that, through costume and mask, an individual exchanges bodies and is renewed. At the same time there arises a heightened awareness of one’s sensual, material, bodily unity and community.[10]

Bakhtin says also that in Rabelais the notion of carnival is connected with that of the grotesque. The collectivity partaking in the carnival is aware of its unity in time as well as its historic immortality associated with its continual death and renewal. According to Bakhtin, the body is in need of a type of clock if it is to be aware of its timelessness. The grotesque is the term used by Bakhtin to describe the emphasis of bodily changes through eating, evacuation, and sex: it is used as a measuring device.[12]

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