Carnivalesque Economies: Clowning and the Neoliberal Impasse

DOI: https://dx.doi.org/

Abstract

In Colombia, clowns are proliferating and thriving, particularly in the context of neoliberal political economies prevailing since the mid-1990s. This paper explores some reasons why this might have occurred, as well as theorizing a two-way relationship of domination and resistance between clown practices and the current iteration of late capitalist global economies; what I call “carnivalesque economies.” While Bakhtin described clowns as “the constant, accredited representatives of the carnival spirit in everyday life out of carnival season,” the Colombian case suggests that their breaching of norms and violations of taboos are all too easily co-opted by governments, corporations, and institutions to disseminate normative ideologies and coerce citizens. Nevertheless, these carnivalesque economies can never fully contain or account for the potential of clown performance to rupture and genuinely challenge neoliberal power relations. Rather than speak truth to power, clowns and clowning may speak truth about power, or point to its carnivalesque vulnerability, through play, through comic inversion, and through their particularly intense forms of communication. I focus on three performance moments from my fieldwork in Colombia in order to illustrate this argument about clowns’ ambivalent relationship to neoliberal political economies. The first of these is a performative intervention by clown-mimes in the streets of Bogotá in 1995, part of the “culture of citizenship” initiatives of Mayor Antanas Mockus; the second is a performance by “Buenavista Social Clown” that I witnessed in 2012, called “The Unknown Limit between the Public and the Private” commissioned and funded by a state department, “La Defensoria del Espacio Público;” and the third is a clown show produced by Clowns Without Borders (USA) and Pasos de Payasos (Colombia) in a school in Risaralda in which the audience invaded the stage.

Keywords

Clown, Colombia, Latin America, neoliberalism

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Kritika Kultura
Department of English
School of Humanities
Ateneo de Manila University

The Philippine Commission on Higher Education (CHED) declares Kritika Kultura as a CHED-recognized journal under the Journal Challenge Category of its Journal Incentive Program.

International Board of Editors

Jan Baetens
Professor
Faculty of Arts
Katholieke Universiteit te Leuven (Belgium)

Joel David
Professor of Cultural Studies
Inha University (South Korea)

Michael Denning
Professor of American Studies and English
Department of English
Yale University (US)

Faruk
Faculty of Cultural Sciences
Universitas Gadjah Mada (Indonesia)

Regenia Gagnier
Professor of English
University of Exeter (UK)

Leela Gandhi
John Hawkes Professor of the Humanities and English
Brown University (US)

Inderpal Grewal
Professor of Women's Gender and Sexuality Studies
Professor of South Asian Studies, Ethnicity, Race and Migration Studies
Yale University (US)

Peter Horn
Professor Emeritus and Honorary Lifetime Fellow
University of Cape Town (South Africa)
Honorary Professor and Research Associate in German Studies
University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa)

Anette Horn
Professor of German Studies
University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa)

David Lloyd
Distinguished Professor of English
University of California, Riverside (US)

Bienvenido Lumbera
National Artist for Literature
Professor Emeritus
University of the Philippines

Rajeev S. Patke
Director of the Division of Humanities
Professor of Humanities
Yale NUS College (Singapore)

Vicente L. Rafael
Giovanni and Amne Costigan Endowed Professor of History
University of Washington (US)

Vaidehi Ramanathan
Department of Linguistics
University of California, Davis (US)

Temario Rivera
Professorial Lecturer
Department of Political Science
University of the Philippines

E. San Juan, Jr.
Philippines Studies Center (US)

Neferti X.M. Tadiar
Professor of Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies
Barnard College (US)
Director of the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race
Columbia University (US)

Antony Tatlow
Honorary Professor of Drama
Trinity College Dublin (Ireland)