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Abstract

Mikhail Bakhtin argues that Menippean satire, one of the two serio-comic genres of classical antiquity from which the carnivalesque strain in Western literature derives, continues its development in modern times in the “fantastic story” and the “philosophical fairy tale.” This modern form of the menippea is characterized by the presence of the grotesque, the use of the fantastic for philosophical purposes, the crowning of a (wise) fool or jester as carnival king, and “a sense of the gay relativity of prevailing truths and authorities” (Rabelais 11) which informs all carnivalized literature. A genre of “ultimate questions of worldview,” it features internal and external dialogue, including the anacrisis or provocation of a word by others’ words, and a utopian vision. Its characteristic setting is the public square and the threshold, rather than the habitable interior spaces where biographical life is lived in biographical time. I believe that Ionesco’s Rhinocéros can profitably be read as a modern menippea, albeit one with important reversals in the traditional pattern.

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