Quixote, Carnival, Brussels, Easter







Bakhtin coined the term “carnivalesque’ to mark literary works with multiple, contrasting, and forever-competing centers of gravity. These paintings above have multiple, contrasting, and forever-competing centers of gravity. They’re done by someone new in my world, Octavio Ocampo.

These images help with Dostoevsky, Bakhtin, and Cervantes

— with Paris, 9/11, Easter, and Brussels


    And they just won’t hold still!


One is called “Kiss of the Sea.”

As I said, it won’t hold still.

Take a look!


  •            Are there two, four, or six faces of the sea?
  •           Is there one bird? — is it two . . . or three?
  •           Is that a man or a rock looking out?


The other is “Visions of Quixote.”


  •           Is Quixote on horseback or the base of                                           a windmill, or both?
  •           Do you see eyebrows? Or is that really a double                         portrait of Quixote and his sidekick, Sancho Panza?
  •           Is Dulcina del Tobofo there too?
  •           How many monsters does he confront?

This is truly Bakhtin’s Carnivalesque in play.


A carnival can be a “three ring circus.”

images-6The Brothers Karamazov can look like a three-ring circus or carnival. After all, who is the center of attention?

  •           Alyosha, the young protégé of Father Zossima,
  •           Dimitry, the wild romantic, or
  •           Ivan, the voyeuristic intellectual?

A carnival has side shows as well as main rings.

images-3There are dispersed competing dyads in The Brothers.

  •       Who wins the confrontation                                     between Christ and The Grand                                          Inquisitor?
  •       Who kills the old man, Dmitri or                                       Smerdyakov?
  •       What gives between Grushenka and Alyosha?
  •       What gives between Dimitri and Grushenka?

Then there are unsavory love triangles:

  •           Dmitri, The Old Man, and Grushenka.

We could multiple these already multiple centers of interest.


Bakhtin calls the novel carnivalesque because it has many rings and many sideshows, each a single spectacle loosely tied to the others.

553098_508303782525729_716802173_nRather than a master plot line we have spinning circles within circles. At any point we can focus on one of the main rings or on one of multiple side shows.

Yet there is an odd ineffable “unity” in play. For the carnival, there’s the relatively arbitrary fence that keeps paying customers and performers, barkers and concessionaires, inside.

For the novel, there’s the relatively arbitrary binding, title page, and end-papers of the book.

Then there’s the image that limits the distance between observing and observed, between reading and acting. Polyphony in art can mirror whomever might be viewing or reading the art.


In the Christian world, today is Easter Sunday.

I love Plainsong and Cathedral Choirs and don’t take theology much beyond music. But rather than try to make a linear narrative of the Biblical account of death and resurrection, what if we pictured two or more images on top of one another, or one image with multiple, contesting centers of gravity?

resurrectionOctavio Ocampo tries this.

Take a look!

  •           Are we in the underworld?
  •           Is this an apparition?
  •           Who is the shadowy onlooker to the right?

And there’s more:

  •           Is the head (or soul) detaching from the body?
  •            Have we abandoned bodies in Hell?
  •           Do those clouds show a heavenly destination?
  •           A foot slipping down from the beard?
  •           A figure in the beard, shouldering a cross doubling as a mouth?

Bakhtin would see all this layered multiplicity as the carnivalesque.

It’s all polyphony, unfinished, and won’t hold still.

Divine Comedy, Divine Carnival.


I hope I’m not indiscreet entering some final images after last week’s terror:


494ec88c-adc1-4cbd-8ace-44152be86b0bThese scenes are grave and worthy of tears —

and also seem celebratory, affirmative, inclusive, full of courage and hope.

Can they be all that . . . at once?

How many mixed passions can                                      inhabit a heart?

                     Give me images . . .  .



               There were three days and nights of silent mourning.


Then, as if risen from the dead, thousands broke into sustained, spontaneous applause

Ed Mooney, Zeteo Contributor

See his Excursions with Thoreau: Philosophy, Poetry, Religion, Bloomsbury, 2015, and Lost Intimacy in American Thought: Recovering Personal Philosophy From Thoreau to Cavell, Continuum, 2009. – See more at: https://zeteojournal.com/2016/03/20/hostility-to-science-bruno-dawkins-van-gogh/#sthash.Ky2xfmsB.dpuf

Notes: From the lengthy Wikipedia entry on Bakhtin, trimmed and slightly altered: Bakhtin found in Dostoevsky’s work a true representation of “polyphony”, that is, many voices. He criticized the assumption that, if two people disagree, at least one of them must be in error. For Bakhtin, truth is not a statement, a sentence or a phrase. Instead, [it encompasses] a number of contradictory and logically inconsistent, viewpoints. Understanding needs a multitude of carrying voices [or images]. It cannot be expressed by “a single mouth” [or an unambiguous image]. Carnival is the context in which many distinct individual voices are heard, flourish and interact together.

 Credits: The images of paintings by Octavio Ocampo can be found at http://visionsfineart.com/ocampo/index.html . The images from Brussels are from news.com/…/vigil-held-in-brussels-after-attacks-at-a…



  1. Here is a comment on Steve Jobs: “Jobs was a stylishly dorky Buddhist technophile, an egomaniacal hippie minimalist, a sentimentally mercurial aesthete hard-ass, a Zen perfectionist, an adopted son who denied, but later accepted, the paternity of his daughter. No novelist could have invented Steve Jobs. He was a man who fit into no preëxisting category.” Does this mean some people become carnivalesque in identity — transcend any simple sequence of descriptive categories?


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