The word carnival is interesting in its own right; despite appearances — OED: “The explanations ‘farewell flesh, farewell to flesh’ (from Latin vale) found already in Florio, and ‘down with flesh!’ (from French aval), belong to the domain of popular etymology” — it’s from medieval Italian carnelevale, from (again quoting the OED) “Latin *carnem levāre, or Italian *carne levare (with infinitive used subst. as in il levar del sole sunrise), meaning ‘the putting away or removal of flesh (as food)’, the name being originally proper to the eve of Ash Wednesday.” But in lit-crit circles it’s strongly associated with the name of Bakhtin (Wikipedia), and I had never thought about where he picked it up. I just ran across an intriguing footnote from Katerina Clark’s Moscow, the Fourth Rome: Stalinism, Cosmopolitanism, and the Evolution of Soviet Culture, 1931-1941 (see this post) and thought I’d share it:
The term “carnival” is actually sparingly present in the early chapters of the dissertation, but its use increases from chapter to chapter until it becomes the dominant term for his analysis in chapter 4. Before then, especially in chapter 1, his main term is “Gothic realism.” The final draft of the dissertation was probably begun no earlier than November 1938, but some work on Rabelais may have been begun earlier in the decade. One might therefore speculate that Bakhtin adopted the term “carnival” only at some point after it became central to Soviet official cultural practice in 1935, but this could only be speculation; “Istoriia ‘Rable’: 1930–1950-gody,” in M. M. Bakhtin, Sobranie sochinenii, vol. 4 (1), ed. I. L. Popova (Moscow: Iazyki slavianskikh kul’tur, 2008), 841, 846, 858).
Speculation, sure, but what interesting speculation! And the very existence of official Soviet carnivals was new to me as well; there’s a considerable amount about them in Karen Petrone’s Life Has Become More Joyous, Comrades: Celebrations in the Time of Stalin, which I should read one of these days.