A Carnival’s Carnival: The Queerness of Grace

by jdavidcharles

This is a sort of synthesis between two previous posts, the one on Cabaret as a carnivalesque inversion of the Law as well as my post on the queer-other. Žižek quite frequently throughout his work (here or here) refers to how the breaking of the Law, psychoanalytic pleasure (think here of Civilization & its Discontents—the breaking of the Law is precisely incivility, that is, contentment), is the “glue” of communities even more so than the Law itself. The Law itself is the “ordering” of the social, but it is the exceptions, the cases in which transgressing the Law is more lawful than the Law itself, that are the true binding of a community.

Žižek’s classic example of this is the Ku Klux Klan as the carnivalesque inversion of the social order of the Law—it is the true glue that bound together the 1920s Southern white community, not the Law. Imagine, though, if a member of the white community revealed the identity of key Ku Klux Klan members to the authorities (because, after all, legally these persons are criminals). This person is rightly fulfilling the Law of the white community, but, in so doing, is removing the very glue (that is the invert, the exception) of the community of the Law. The common title for such a person, e.g. Atticus Finch, is a n*gger-lover. The correlation between betrayal of the inner “true” community, the Ku Klux Klan, as the ultimate perversion of the Law (despite the fact that such a person would be literally obeying the Law to the utmost) and the individual’s sexuality is obvious. Here is a person who is not-quite a brother, not really a member of the white community, but yet not really a member of the black community either.

And this is what I meant by queer-other in my previous post—the one who loves the brother-ideal, the Law, the Father, etc., in such an “authentic” way—without irony—that it can only be viewed by the brotherhood as perversion, parriphilia. Another obvious example of this is Joseph of Genesis—the son who wholly embraces the love of the father without irony to the neglect of the brotherhood—thus the brothers must cast him out (into the carnival’s carnival—the inversion of the inversion itself, which is slavery in Egypt—arole Egypt fulfills throughout Judeo-Christian imagery—the land without Law at all: which, in the police/Ku Klux Klan analogy would be the black community).  This point is quite explicit given the repetition of this pattern—Joseph becomes Potiphar’s favorite, but Potiphar’s wife finds this love too authentic, perverted, thus he is outcast again. It repeats yet again when he is put in prison and becomes the prison-guard’s favorite (the homoerotic motif here is quite explicit). In this version of the queer-other myth he is ultimately outcast into the ultimate carnival, that is as carnival-King, Pharaoh’s servant (as a dream-interpreter, a typically eunuch role).

The irony being that Israel, the “handmaiden”/”Bride” of the Father/Law, is ultimately redeemed by the queer-other, specifically by his queerness—that which does not “fit” (is in excess of) the Law or its inversion in the carnival. Just as in the case of the police/Ku Klux Klan analogy, the “n*gger-lover” is neither a member of the white community nor the black community thus s/he is able to go beyond both, so too Joseph, who was neither a “true” brother nor a “true” Egyptian went beyond Israel and Egypt. Further, just as there is a perverse love for the Law/police and a rejection of the double of the KuKlux Klan/carnival tension for the “n*gger-lover”, so too there is the perverse love of Jacob (the Father/Law) precisely in that he was the perverse favorite—the firstborn of Rachel—yet to the rejection of the double of the family, the carnival brotherhood, of which he was not a true brother—remember his dreams which met with his brothers’ violent disapproval. But it is precisely in this otherness, which goes beyond the language of Law/transgression and from outside (from Egypt, the carnival’s carnival), that the ultimate redemption of the community of the Law comes.

This is what in the Christian tradition is called grace. Grace is this perversion of the Law, the transgression of transgression, the ultimate exterior gift.  Joseph becomes, through his very queerness (his love of the Father/Law which goes beyond the community and its carnival-double) the King of the carnival’s carnival (the perverse double of the Pharaoh who is the perverse double of Jacob), and thus is in a position to save the “inside” community from the furthest “outside.” Likewise, this is why the Christian God went beyond merely entering the carnival of creation as a person but entered the carnival’s carnival—the ultimate transgressor, the ultimate criminal and sinner, even to death on the cross (or: if Rome is the carnival of Israel, he became the ultimate citizen of nowhere, the criminal-slave of Rome). It is only from this position of exteriority, outside the dialectic of law and transgression, grace can come as an authentic gift—a gift that is wholly from without, other, queer.