Rocking in the Free World: Music, Humour and the Carnivalesque in American Culture

Jones, Rhianon (2021) Rocking in the Free World: Music, Humour and the Carnivalesque in American Culture. PhD thesis, UNSPECIFIED.

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This thesis argues that American rock music and Mikhail Bakhtin’s theory of the carnivalesque and grotesque real can be usefully brought to bear upon one another to enhance and interrogate our understanding of how each functions as a means of expression and a mode of understanding in the present day. I understand rock music as an essentially carnivalesque and often humorous artform that reflects both the cultural concerns contemporaneous to when it was written, produced, recorded or performed and the broader culture from which it springs. American rock speaks both back to the formation of American culture and forwards to the current moment and beyond. Meanwhile, Mikhail Bakhtin’s theory of the carnivalesque has assumed a centrality in today’s critical landscape. I suggest that Bakhtin’s formulation, developed in respect to European ritual forms, is too particularised for the study of modern or non- medieval societies. The United States of America must necessarily exhibit a form of carnivalesque that reflects the unique conditions of its establishment and development. This includes social and cultural characteristics Bakhtin found incompatible with the carnivalesque as he saw it related to folk culture. iii Each chapter studies a different band who came to prominence during or immediately before the early 1990s in the ‘alt-rock’ movement. By considering this music in relation to discourses of humour, carnivalesque and grotesque, I not only shift the parameters of how music and its musicians have previously been regarded – or ignored – but I also breathe new life into debates surrounding Bakhtin and his theory. This not only illustrates the importance of music as a cultural and historical artefact but also demonstrates that the carnivalesque is a vital and constantly evolving mode.

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Thesis (PhD)
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19 Nov 2021 13:20
Last Modified:
15 Sep 2023 04:47