Thursday, September 04, 2008

Dancing In the Streets

And here we continue with the Sans Souci Studios Summer Reading List Extravaganza!!

I love Barabara Ehrenreich, and when I heard she had written a book about the decline of community festivals (and along with them, much in the way of masking traditions) in Western culture, of course I had to read it. Here are the ideas I found the most interesting.

Ehrenriech implies that there is an inherent contradiction in human society, that it is collective by nature, but as it becomes increasingly successful, it grows larger and larger until by necessity it splits into hierarchies. Then the upper hierarchies try to suppress collectivism in general as it can foment revolution and change. Festivals (especially masked festivals!) were a prime time for people to gather and plan all sorts of mischief, so the powers that be have been trying to regulate or do away with them altogether for time immemorial.

In this context, masks are subversive. They allow anonymity. Masks allow people to step out of their prescribed roles. They allow men to be women, beggars to be kings. Masks, through estatic ritual, possession, and trance (now how are those for scary words!) can afford practitioners direct contact with their gods, as opposed to through "belief" and "faith", or through the indirect mediation of priests. Masks by their very nature can defy the social order.

Now I really want to run off and catch the next performance of Bread and Puppet!

Stay tuned!

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