Thursday, April 16, 2009

'Rabelais and His World'

The Author's (Francis Rabelais) Prologue to his First Book of 'Gargantual and His Son Pantagruel' (a 5-volume Chronicle of the lives, the heroic deeds and the sayings of his mythical giants) it's what it might be, in our days, and under a strict politically correct view, a declaration of equality upon all creatures of the world, regardless of their appearance, their traits and their external or visible features.

"Most noble and illustrious drinkers, and you thrice precious
pockified blades (for to you, and none else, do I dedicate my
writings), Alcibiades, in that dialogue of Plato's, which is
entitled The Banquet, whilst he was setting forth the praises of
his schoolmaster Socrates (without all question the prince of
philosophers), amongst other discourses to that purpose, said that
he resembled the Silenes. Silenes of old were little boxes, like
those we now may see in the shops of apothecaries, painted on the
outside with wanton toyish figures, as harpies, satyrs, bridled
geese, horned hares, saddled ducks, flying goats, thiller harts,
and other such-like counterfeited pictures at discretion, to excite
people unto laughter, as Silenus himself, who was the foster-father
of good Bacchus, was wont to do; but within those capricious
caskets were carefully preserved and kept many rich jewels and fine
drugs, such as balm, ambergris, amomon, musk, civet, with several
kinds of precious stones, and other things of great price. Just
such another thing was Socrates. For to have eyed his outside, and
esteemed of him by his exterior appearance, you would not have
given the peel of an onion for him, so deformed he was in body, and
ridiculous in his gesture. He had a sharp pointed nose, with the
look of a bull, and countenance of a fool: he was in his carriage
simple, boorish in his apparel, in fortune poor, unhappy in his
wives, unfit for all offices in the commonwealth, always laughing,
tippling, and merrily carousing to everyone, with continual gibes
and jeers, the better by those means to conceal his divine
knowledge. Now, opening this box you would have found within it a
heavenly and inestimable drug, a more than human understanding, an
admirable virtue, matchless learning, invincible courage,
unimitable sobriety, certain contentment of mind, perfect
assurance, and an incredible misregard of all that for which men
commonly do so much watch, run, sail, fight, travel, toil and
turmoil themselves.

But grotesque world is not abound of political correct attributes; it's rather the opposite. That's what we come across in Chapter 1.LII.—'How Gargantua caused to be built for the Monk the Abbey of Theleme' when Gargantua and the Monk are setting up the special rules under which the Abbey of Theleme will be organised:

"Item, Because at that time they put no women into nunneries but
such as were either purblind, blinkards, lame, crooked,
ill-favoured, misshapen, fools, senseless, spoiled,
or corrupt; nor
encloistered any men but those that were either sickly, subject to
defluxions, ill-bred louts, simple sots, or peevish trouble-houses.

But to the purpose, said the monk. A woman that is neither fair nor
good, to what use serves she? To make a nun of, said Gargantua.
Yea, said the monk, and to make shirts and smocks. Therefore was it
ordained that into this religious order should be admitted no women
that were not fair, well-featured, and of a sweet disposition; nor
men that were not comely, personable, and well conditioned.

So, when the Abbey of Theleme has been built, 'The inscription set upon the great gate of Theleme' in Chapter 1.LIV is writing:

"...Here enter not base pinching usurers, Pelf-lickers, everlasting
gatherers, Gold-graspers, coin-gripers, gulpers of mists, Niggish
deformed sots,
who, though your chests Vast sums of money should to
you afford, Would ne'ertheless add more unto that hoard, And yet
not be content,—you clunchfist dastards, Insatiable fiends, and
Pluto's bastards, Greedy devourers, chichy sneakbill rogues,
Hell-mastiffs gnaw your bones, you ravenous dogs.

You beastly-looking fellows,
Reason doth plainly tell us
That we should not
To you allot
Room here, but at the gallows,
You beastly-looking fellows...

...Grace, honour, praise, delight,
Here sojourn day and night.
Sound bodies lined
With a good mind,

Do here pursue with might
Grace, honour, praise, delight...

...Blades of heroic breasts
Shall taste here of the feasts,
Both privily
And civilly
Of the celestial guests,
Blades of heroic breasts...

...Here enter you all ladies of high birth, Delicious, stately,
charming, full of mirth, Ingenious, lovely, miniard, proper, fair,
Magnetic, graceful, splendid, pleasant, rare, Obliging, sprightly,
virtuous, young, solacious, Kind, neat, quick, feat, bright, compt,
ripe, choice, dear, precious. Alluring, courtly, comely, fine,
complete, Wise, personable, ravishing, and sweet,
Come joys enjoy.
The Lord celestial Hath given enough wherewith to please us

In the Second Book, Chapter 2.I.—'Of the original and antiquity of the great
Pantagruel', when Rabelais describes what it was the world before the birth of giants, strange accidents occured:

"However, account you it for a truth that everybody then did most
heartily eat of these medlars, for they were fair to the eye and in
taste delicious. But even as Noah, that holy man, to whom we are so
much beholding, bound, and obliged, for that he planted to us the
vine, from whence we have that nectarian, delicious, precious,
heavenly, joyful, and deific liquor which they call the piot or
tiplage, was deceived in the drinking of it, for he was ignorant of
the great virtue and power thereof; so likewise the men and women
of that time did delight much in the eating of that fair great
fruit, but divers and very different accidents did ensue thereupon;
for there fell upon them all in their bodies a most terrible
swelling, but not upon all in the same place, for some were swollen
in the belly, and their belly strouted out big like a great tun
, of
whom it is written, Ventrem omnipotentem, who were all very honest
men, and merry blades. And of this race came St. Fatgulch and
Shrove Tuesday (Pansart, Mardigras.). Others did swell at the
shoulders, who in that place were so crump and knobby that they
were therefore called Montifers, which is as much to say as
Hill-carriers, of whom you see some yet in the world, of divers
sexes and degrees. Of this race came Aesop, some of whose excellent
words and deeds you have in writing. Some other puffs did swell in
length by the member which they call the labourer of nature, in
such sort that it grew marvellous long, fat, great, lusty,
stirring, and crest-risen, in the antique fashion, so that they
made use of it as of a girdle, winding it five or six times about
their waist: but if it happened the foresaid member to be in good
case, spooming with a full sail bunt fair before the wind, then to
have seen those strouting champions, you would have taken them for
men that had their lances settled on their rest to run at the ring
or tilting whintam (quintain).
Of these, believe me, the race is
utterly lost and quite extinct, as the women say; for they do
lament continually that there are none extant now of those great,
&c. You know the rest of the song. Others did grow in matter of
ballocks so enormously that three of them would well fill a sack
able to contain five quarters of wheat.
From them are descended the
ballocks of Lorraine, which never dwell in codpieces, but fall down
to the bottom of the breeches. Others grew in the legs, and to see
them you would have said they had been cranes, or the
reddish-long-billed-storklike-scrank-legged sea-fowls called
flamans, or else men walking upon stilts or scatches. The little
grammar-school boys, known by the name of Grimos, called those
leg-grown slangams Jambus, in allusion to the French
word jambe,
which signifieth a leg. In others, their nose did grow so, that it
seemed to be the beak of a limbeck, in every part thereof most
variously diapered with the twinkling sparkles of crimson blisters
budding forth, and purpled with pimples all enamelled with thickset
wheals of a sanguine colour, bordered with gules;
and such have you
seen the Canon or Prebend Panzoult, and Woodenfoot, the physician
of Angiers. Of which race there were few that looked the ptisane,
but all of them were perfect lovers of the pure Septembral juice.
Naso and Ovid had their extraction from thence, and all those of
whom it is written, Ne reminiscaris. Others grew in ears, which
they had so big that out of one would have been stuff enough got to
make a doublet, a pair of breeches, and a jacket, whilst with the
other they might have covered themselves as with a Spanish cloak:
and they say that in Bourbonnois this race remaineth yet. Others
grew in length of body, and of those came the Giants, and of them

What it might be also relevant to disablity aesthetics and it deserves to be mentioned here is in Chapter 2.XIX.—'How Panurge put to a nonplus the Englishman that
argued by signs', in which, Panurge and an Englishman named Thaumast, communicate and discuss philosophical problems " signs only without speaking, for the matters are so
abstruse, hard, and arduous, that words proceeding from the mouth
of man will never be sufficient for unfolding of them to my(their) liking."
The argument will be done through signs created with movements of the members of their body, reminding us the Sign Language or Gesture Language, that is used by deaf and not deaf people for communicating each other.

In such a subversive book, to keep on searching on what it might be political correct to our contemporary view, regarding disability, someone, will loose the most of what that book has to offer.

What if in Chapter 2.XXVII.—'How Pantagruel set up one trophy in memorial
of their valour, and Panurge another in remembrance of the hares.
How Pantagruel likewise with his farts begat little men, and with
his fisgs little women; and how Panurge broke a great staff over
two glasses', little man and women is treated like a birth of Pantagruel's farts:

"...but with the fart that he let the earth trembled nine
leagues about, wherewith and with the corrupted air he begot above
three and fifty thousand little men, ill-favoured dwarfs, and with
one fisg that he let he made as many little women, crouching down,
as you shall see in divers places, which never grow but like cow's
tails, downwards, or, like the Limosin radishes, round.
How now!
said Panurge, are your farts so fertile and fruitful? By G—, here
be brave farted men and fisgued women; let them be married
together; they will beget fine hornets and dorflies. So did
Pantagruel, and called them pigmies.
Those he sent to live in an
island thereby, where since that time they are increased mightily.
But the cranes make war with them continually, against which they
do most courageously defend themselves; for these little ends of
men and dandiprats (whom in Scotland they call whiphandles and
knots of a tar-barrel) are commonly very testy and choleric; the
physical reason whereof is, because their heart is near their

Disability aesthetics should be concerned on the political correctness of its own expression? Disability aesthetics should feel comfortable whenever there is a self-mocking attitude towards its own beliefs? I believe yes, for many reasons.
What to my thought is extremely important and powerfull in this book, is its debasing and uncrowning manner to what it is commonly accepted as 'hight', the "...negation of the entire order of life (including the prevailing truth), a negation closely linked to the affirmation of that which is born anew" (M. Bakhtin).
What affiliate disability aesthetics with 'Gargantua and Pantagruel' and what makes this book looking so contemporary to our view, is the notion that the role of art is to make bourgeoisie feel uncomfortable; and this critical function is specifically characteristic to the arts since 'the crisis of the art", as Lyotard put it, locating it in the past century.

'Rabelais and His World' is the title of Michail Bakhtin's famous book dedicated to Rabelais's 'Gargantua and Pantagruel' novel. Bakhtin's book offered a refreshening and revealing, althought controversial to his contemporaries, view on many underestimated and misunderstanded aspects of the 'Rebelaisian' cosmos and through his 'grotesque realism' and 'carnivalesque' theories he studied the interaction between the social and the literary, as well as the meaning of the body.

In his fifth chapter of his book named 'the Grotesque image of the body and Its Sources' Bakhtin describes as 'exaggeration, hyperbolism, excessiveness' the 'generally consider fundamental attributes of the grotesque style.'
According to Bakhtin the grotesque world is that of great ambivalence; in one image of whom it is combined both the positive and the negative poles.

Here are some excerpts of the 5th chapter:

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