How is the Genre of Carnivalesque Present in "Black Obelisk" by E. M. Remarque?

Essay by dal4ikUniversity, Bachelor'sA, November 2007

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Carnivalesque is a universal spirit of gaiety, laughter and festivity. As a genre of literature, it has particular features. Though the term”carnivalesque”, a derivative from “carnival’, was invented by Mikhail Bakhtin, a Russian literary critic, in the twentieth century, the carnivalesque had its roots in ancient culture. He studied the features, images and sources of carnivalesque. On the example of “Gargantua and Pantagruel” by Rabelais Bakhtin showed how a work of literature can be carnivalised. The purpose of this paper is to prove on the basis of Bakhtin’s theory of carnivalesque that “Black Obelisk” by Remarque is a sample of carnivalised German literature. ”Black Obelisk” is a novel about people living in Germany during inflation in 1923. The main characters of this book are Ludwig Bodmer, a worker of the monument firm” Heinrich Kroll & Sons”, his friends and brother-soldiers: Georg Kroll and Willy, and schizophrenic Isabelle. “Black Obelisk” is a tragicomedy with the presence of ambivalent carnivalesque images like body and death and folk humor.

In the book “Rabelais and his World” Bakhtin writes that the main features of carnivalesque are ambivalence, inversion of hierarchies, festivity, inclusion of all humanity and laughter that reduces and regenerates simultaneously.

One of the features of carnivalesque laughter, according to Bakhtin, is its ambivalence. Ambivalence is a possibility to understand things in different ways. Carnivalesque laughter is ambivalent: it is gay and at the same time mocking. It asserts and denies; buries and revives . There are a couple of images in the novel which should be looked upon from the point of view of ambivalence. Mostly, these images are connected with the lower strata of the body and death. One of them is the image of urine. This image debases and regenerates simultaneously. In “Black Obelisk” Knopf, a former...