It’s Mardi Gras today.
I was surprised to find out too. I’ve been wrapped up in other affairs and I’d completely lost track of the holidays and things.
Mardi Gras is like Halloween in that it is a form of ritual space designed to unleash the chaotic and debased aspects of the self in a controlled fashion as a means of preserving the semblance of order and morality for the remaining temporal cycle. Bad today, pious tomorrow, and well-behaved the rest of the year. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Conservation of ritual. The Dionysian cults of old would smile if they could see how we carry their flame.
Human social groups cannot function without measured application of the occult.
I like to think of the Venetian Carnivals when musing on matters such as this. There are few examples so fine. They were Halloween and Mardi Gras combined in one, a festivity of excess and release and pageantry.
And yet, the Venetian Carnival provides an example of how such a system can go all wrong. Theft. Burglary. Assault. Organized gang fights. Crime of all sorts, some of it home-grown and some of it by foreigners coming in to drink of the extravaganza while flouting the implicit rules and agreements that make it possible.
Any ritual intended to unleash the maelstrom of human passions relies on a very delicate framework of implicit concessions and sacrifices. It dances on the razor’s edge in a lively jig in which one false step brings the entire edifice crashing down.
The beauty of the internet is that we can grant these rituals a spatial and temporal permanence they could never have had in the world of flesh and blood. Every culture can have its own Carnival, and the party never has to end.
What happens if we decide to take that path? A permanent Carnival that we can retreat to at any time? The internet already is such a thing. What happens if we turn it in on itself and create an Inception of Carnivals and free ourselves from the burden of being known by our masks?
The Carnival takes over. The status system of the Carnival supersedes the status system already in place as people find themselves unable to separate the excesses of the Dionysian rite with whatever order they claim to uphold outside the mask.
Is this inevitable? No. But it a trap to be wary of, one that follows the same principles and poses the same danger as entryism of a foreign sort. It is entryism of our darker urges and it is very real indeed.
A culture that desires to promote aristocratic sophistication, cultural refinement, and nuanced discernment is one that must take great care to compartmentalize its Carnival and be aware that the base status system of the Carnival not spill over and the frenzied activity behind the masks not impact the normal functioning of said culture, unless it desires to bear witness to the destruction of its raison d’être.
Any designated space in which members of a subculture can make fun of each other in an anonymous way is a mechanism that borders on the necessary. It allows for tension to be blown off and all sorts of games to played, and as long as all agree that all such action is in good faith, the repercussions are few.
If the fires of the Carnival are heaped with too much fuel, the inferno can break free of its bonds and become a force acting of its own accord. The ritual space used to abrade the Dionsyian becomes the belly of a ravenous beast insatiable in appetite and possessed of no further urge than its own perpetuation.
The nightmare becomes unleashed. It is a nightmare that is needed. It is a nightmare that is deserved. It is a nightmare that ensures the destruction of the dreamer.
The only defense is to wake up, but it is not a feasible recourse when one is trapped in moonlight reverie.
What does one do then?