By Mr Philip A Mellor, Professor Chris Shilling
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Extra resources for Re-forming the Body: Religion, Community and Modernity (Published in association with Theory, Culture & Society)
Carnival infused bodies with grotesque imagery and encouraged behaviour which reinforced this transcendence of the individual's bodily boundaries and the breaking of body regimes. The devouring, lascivious, laughing body was marked by open orifices which facilitated a merging with other people and with the wider environment and resisted categorisation. Instead of purging the body in preparation for a regime of denial during Lent, these carnivals were associated with an intensification of the body's loss in both itself and in the fleshy bodies that were other people.
As Caroline Walker Bynum (1987) has shown, fasting, religious charity work, and the experience of bodily states of 'ecstasy', allowed a number of women to escape the roles of food preparer and nurturer, and bypass certain forms of clerical control. These identities were often surrounded with dangers; male priests could judge religious ecstasies to be inauthentic or even demonic. Nevertheless, these women drew on particular religious traditions, and integrated them into personal biographical narratives which provided status in the form of religious 'careers' and challenged extant male hierarchies (Bynum, 1987: 221, 227; Lawless, 1991; Mellor, 1991).
As a period of time and a moral conception, 'Carnival was one half of an entity of which the other half was Lent' (Bossy, 1985: 42). Carnival usually occurred in the build-up to Shrove Tuesday or mardi gras, and was intended to represent and reveal the workings of sin in order that it might be got rid of before Lent. It included massive displays of consumption (in Nantes, Shrove Tuesday was dedicated to Saint Dégobillard Saint Vomit) and sexuality (prostitutes were essential, as were symbols of lechery).
Re-forming the Body: Religion, Community and Modernity (Published in association with Theory, Culture & Society) by Mr Philip A Mellor, Professor Chris Shilling