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Rabelais and His World

4.25  ·  Rating details ·  1,248 ratings  ·  63 reviews
This classic work by the Russian philosopher and literary theorist Mikhail Bakhtin (18951975) examines popular humor and folk culture in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, especially the world of carnival, as depicted in the novels of François Rabelais. In Bakhtin's view, the spirit of laughter and irreverence prevailing at carnival time is the dominant quality of ...more
Paperback, 474 pages
Published January 1st 2009 by Indiana University Press (first published 1965)
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 ·  1,248 ratings  ·  63 reviews

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Jun 24, 2014 rated it it was amazing
[This is a review of three interrelated books: Moby Dick, Gargantua and Patragruel, and Baktins study, Rabelais and His World. Same review posted in all three places.]

In others, the nose grew so much that it looked like the spout of a retort, striped all over and starred with little pustules, pullulating, purpled, pimpled, enameled, studded, and embroidered gules, as you have seen in the cases of Canon Bellybag and of Clubfoot, the Angers physician

Others grew in the length of their bodies, from
Dostoevsky and Rabelais may strike you as a pears and pepper combination but for literary critic and collective farm bookkeeper Mikhail Bakhtin the two went as naturally together as rice and peas or bread and cheese.

In both of them he found the spirit of the medieval carnival, boy bishops and the Lord of Misrule. Here was the world turned upside down and a blast of equal voices in concert. It was all at least ten years too late and in the context of Stalin's Russia Bakhtin was wise enough to
Michael Perkins
Dec 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
"Laughter must liberate the gay truth of the world from the veils of gloomy lies spun by religion, politics and economics."


Some fascinating connections between Don Quixote (which I just reread) and the humor of Rabelais (d. 1553) and his world that influenced Cervantes (d. 1616). First, a mocking of institutions that were held in solemn regard, whether it was the Church for Rabelais or the ludicrous chivalry represented by the knight errancy of Don Q. Second, the bodily humor
Jun 10, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: theory
I love to use Bakhtin's ideas in my teaching. I'm particularly partial to his early thought, but this book is great for helping student see the importance of humor.

Bakhtin discusses mideval humor and how it was deeply political. In fact, he finds it deeply revolutionary.

You can't oppress someone who is laughing at you.

What joy!
Jun 10, 2011 rated it liked it
I had a pet boa constrictor years ago, and I popped him in a bag along with this book for a cross-country drive, during which time he shat all over the book. I think that's kickass appropriate, but perhaps no more appropriate than had it been kristeva, bataille, or deleuze.
Aug 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
In our present new Dark Age, I recommend this book highly. Bakhtins hilarious tome contains currents of resistance, subversion, and the return of grotesque humor (i.e. Rabelasian) of carnival fused with mockery of religion & the so-called ruling class. Bakhtins compelling argument is that the yeasty Dark Ages were funnier than Renaissance comedy for not excluding lower body functions, noises, stenches, and broad vulgarity in that eras art, satire, & festival. Heartier, truer laughter ...more
Mar 08, 2009 rated it really liked it
Wow! At one time trash talking and irony wasn't just to cut the other guy down to size. It was meant to revitalize, revivify and renew. Feasting, loosing of bowels, a bit of the old in and out, beating someone until they are bloodied, crushed and readied for eating as mince meat and general debaucery at the wine keg are all activities of rebirth and regeneration and all around good fun in the middle ages...and sometimes,if you hang about the applicable crowd, one can find such activities ...more
Dec 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This work is both exhausting and exhaustive. Bakhtin pushes one's patience to the limits while describing the images in Rabelais due to the time he spends on each thing he encounters in his examination. For the reason of his tirelessness, I have rated this book five stars. However, after about two-hundred pages, I was ready for the book to be done.

Bakhtin makes the following three major points:

1) Rabelais' images are dialectical, meaning that things tend to be both positive and negative at the
Jan 20, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A philosophy of laughter, public space, the carnival, the banquet, the grotesque body, and other bodily and material baseness in the middle ages, the Renaissance and in the work of Rabelais. Interesting ideas on the flattening of hierarchical, vertical space, and the shift towards historical time in the body of the grotesque people. Grotesque men as the microcosmos. An anthropological-anatomic history of the universe. A becoming-body, or the body in a process of infinite metamorphosis. The body ...more
May 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
imagine being bakhtin and writing /the/ defining work of criticism about two(!) of the world's most important authors while being hounded by the soviet government. especially considering this book was written many centuries after its subject was alive and it effortlessly steps over literally everything written about rabelais until then. a truly thrilling thinker
Jan 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
Much of this was over my head, but I did learn some in regard to Carnival and festivals. The last chapter in particular regarding the French-Italian wars was quite enlightening. Now to read Rabelais itself. I believe that this will have benefited me.
J.M. Hushour
Aug 27, 2017 rated it liked it
If you're like me, you find academic pedantry and over-analysis to be the worst kind of scholarship. Delving into a work of fiction with a meticulous and picking it apart is an insufferable effort and should be counted among the worst sins of "literary criticism", especially when the intention of the author, in this case five centuries dead, is most unclear. It's just unnecessary guesswork.
Bakhtin walks a fine line between this guesswork and an outright entertaining look at carnival culture, or
Caroline Hayes
Feb 27, 2020 rated it liked it
For a graduate class in Carnivalesque Literature.
Jun 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, uni
A very interesting book about folk humour and the idea of the grotesque. It can be a bit repetitive at times with its points, but it gives a lot of great examples and historical background about the way people lived.
Jul 28, 2011 rated it liked it
If you want to learn about the culture of the European Middle Ages and especially about humour in its different forms (and how it could be used to analyse Rabelais) this books offers a fascinating reading with hosts of little tidbits of information (including something that can be linked to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, always a plus to me).

However, if one is just interested in the grotesque and the carnival, the introduction offer just about everything the book offers theoretically. The rest
Jan 02, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: partial-reads
You probably already know Bakhtin's story. A brilliant Russian theorist with a touch of what Baudelaire called spleen, he wrote profound philosophical treatises that went largely unnoticed in his lifetime. After his death his rediscovered texts proved immensely influential -- particularly in literary studies and sociology. Rabelais and His World deals, of course, with the bawdy medieval narratives by French writer Rabelais, vaunted by Bakhtin as one of history's most indispensable yet ...more
Jun 20, 2012 rated it really liked it
This book was written by the world-wide famous structuralist literary critic, Bakhtin who re-discovers the concept, GROTESQUE, which was indeed intentionally abandoned and suppressed since the Antiquity. In search of trying to re-define and re-invent the concepts of grotesque, burlesque and carnivalesque, following the steps of Rabelais, the author of Gargantua and Pantagruel, Bakhtin seeks to revive what is most human. In fact, the book is an excellent inquiry in re-defining what is human and ...more
Aug 08, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Call it the history of laughter.

why is carnival culture and the humorous side of folk-culture so little documented in historical books?

The fact that humor and carnival culture of the lowest people beholds a ancient reappearing wisdom - that it is something revolutionary that questions established ideas in society and religion by seeing things

eternally unfinished and ambiguous.

i love the thoughts in this book.
Maree Kimberley
Sep 25, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm just impressed with myself that I got all the way through this book! It was hard work sometimes, but I'm now just a little bit in love with Rabelais. His insults are so much better than Shakespeare's.
Roy Kenagy
May 28, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: in-stasis
A surprising number of parallels with SpongeBob SquarePants.
Eran Zelnik
Aug 28, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Awesome, though at times too sentimental about the middle ages and renaissance. I love his rendition of the grotesque as a means to embrace ambivalence and fearlessness.
Joel S
Apr 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Excellent discussion of late Medieval author Francois Rabelais. A fine piece of criticism that also details the deficiencies in Enlightenment thought.
Aug 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book is dense and intellectually demanding - you are invited to reconstruct nothing less than an extinct paradigm of the world in your imagination - but it is absolutely worth the effort, both in general and also particularly for an enhanced understanding of that singular comic master Rabelais. For a Westerner, it offers jaw-dropping psychological insight into our pre-modern, pre-Enlightenment European ancestors and their understanding of nature and the world. For the reader willing to ...more
Matt Sautman
Aug 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I am pleasantly surprised by this book. Despite never having read Rabelais, Bakhtin's critical examination of this French writer's works serves as a gateway into a theoretical examination of Rabelais's influences, the grotesque, and carnival that I find riveting. For the historical elements of the work, a person may only need to read the first chapter, but there are worthwhile ideas scattered throughout the entire text.
Emma England
Jan 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
If you only ever read one cultural theory book, this is the one I'd suggest. It's not necessarily the easiest to read but it's not impenetrable and it's easy to apply to the world around you making it useful and interesting.
Jun 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kaikista-parhaat
such a great book, a masterpiece
The best.
Jacob Hurley
Apr 06, 2019 rated it liked it
compares rabelais to the long running folk traditions of humor and carnival. rigid and contained, but ellucidating
Brendan Coke
Sep 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Pure ecstasy to read.
May 02, 2014 rated it really liked it
Quintessential literary theory. Just a shame I know virtually nothing about Rabelais, or his works. For clarity's sake; I have skipped the parts that pertained solely to Rabelais. There was just no use in reading those parts, although, admittedly, they did seem mighty interesting.

That is not to say that 'Rabelais and His World' is a waste of time for people like most of us, Rabelais-ignorants. I've been browsing through this book in order to write about a 21st century book from a Canadian
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Russian philosopher, literary critic, semiotician and scholar who worked on literary theory, ethics, and the philosophy of language. His writings, on a variety of subjects, inspired scholars working in a number of different traditions (Marxism, semiotics, structuralism, religious criticism) and in disciplines as diverse as literary criticism, history, philosophy, anthropology and psychology. ...more

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“In the whole of the world and of the people there is no room for fear. For fear can only enter a part that has been separates from the whole, the dying link torn from the link that is born. The whole of the people and if the world is triumphantly gay and fearless. This whole speaks in all carnival images...” 5 likes
“[I]n every real part of the existing world, as well as in every real individual. positive and negative traits are always combined. because there is always a reason for praise as well as for abuse. Such an explanation has a static and mechanical character; it conceives parts of the world scene as isolated, immovable. and completed. Moreover. separate features are stressed according to abstract moral principles. In Rabelais' novel praise-abuse is aimed at the entire present and at each of its parts. for all that exists dies and is born simultaneously, combines the past and the future, the obsolete and the youthful, the old truth and the new truth. However small the part of the existing world we have chosen. we shall find in it the same fusion. And this fusion is deeply dynamic: all that exists, both in the whole and in each of its parts. is in the act of becoming. and therefore comic (as all that is becoming), but its nature is also ironic and joyful.” 2 likes
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