By Michael André Bernstein

While a true assassin accuses the society he has brutalized, we're stunned, yet we're overjoyed by means of an analogous accusations once they are mouthed through a fictional insurgent, outlaw or monster. In "Bitter Carnival", Michael Andre Bernstein explores this contradiction and defines a brand new determine: the abject hero. status on the junction of contestation and conformity, the abject hero occupies the logically very unlikely area created through the intersection of the satanic and the servile. Bernstein exhibits that we heroicize the abject hero simply because he represents a practice that has develop into a staple of our universal mythology, as seductive in mass tradition because it is in excessive artwork. relocating from an exam of classical Latin satire, via analyses of Diderot, Dostoevsky and Celine, and culminating within the court docket testimony of Charles Manson, "Bitter Carnival" bargains a revisionist rereading of the total culture of the "Saturnalian discussion" among masters and slaves, monarchs and fools, philosophers and madmen, voters and malcontents. It contests the supposedly regenerative energy of the carnivalesque and demanding situations the pieties of utopian radicalism trendy in modern educational pondering.

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But precisely by being denied the glamor of a Promethean rebel, by occupying the logically impossible space created by the intersection of the satanic and the servile, the Abject Hero is both a more complex and ultimately a more subversive figure than the monster whose self-identity remains inviolate. Abjection has received so little critical attention primarily because its lack of glamor makes it too distasteful to contemplate at length. But in ressentiment, for all its shabbiness and self-loathing, there is a potential for extraordinary violence and a rage whose ferocity has been repeatedly mobilized by political movements.

From my perspective, however, abjection is a social and dialogic category, and its expression is always governed by the mapping of prior literary and cultural models. Abjection is only felt in conversation with another, with a voice, whether internal or external, whose oppressive confidence arises through its articulation of the normative values of society as a whole. The Abject Hero hears this voice as simultaneously more powerful 30 CHAPTER ONE and more tamed than his own; he encounters in it the judgment of a social order he fears and despises in equal measure, but against whose might he knows himself possessed of only the shabbiest ruses and most ignominious strategies.

More generally, there is the longing to keep open imaginative options that any decisive action or position, no matter how right, inevitably forecloses. To produce the kinds of bitter dialogues in which the Abject Hero can flourish, an intellectual-aesthetic excitement at pushing further the formal possibilities inherent in the genre unites with an imaginative need to risk everything in a Saturnalian clash that is like the gambler’s desperate self-testing on the edge of ruin. In order to fascinate, the Abject Hero must first persuade us that in spite of the obvious unpleasantness—or, more accurately, exactly because of that unpleasantness—conversation with him will yield the benefit of an otherwise unavailable insight into both human nature and the workings of society.

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Bitter Carnival: Ressentiment and the Abject Hero by Michael André Bernstein
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