On Being and Festival Experience

“Toward a Philosophy of the Act reveals a young Bakhtin who is in the process of developing his moral philosophy by decentralizing the work of Kant. This text is one of Bakhtin’s early works concerning ethics and aesthetics and it is here that Bakhtin lays out three claims regarding the acknowledgment of the uniqueness of one’s participation in Being:

  1. I both actively and passively participate in Being.
  2. My uniqueness is given but it simultaneously exists only to the degree to which I actualize this uniqueness (in other words, it is in the performed act and deed that has yet to be achieved).
  3. Because I am actual and irreplaceable I must actualize my uniqueness.”

Being slow to activate your uniqueness can limit your potential for others to see you as a unique person of your own creation, however so often people exert themselves in a way that expresses individuality, but caters to the “I-for-others” schema Bakhtin identifies. Perhaps identity as “I-for-me” is inherently unreliable, because I can tell myself anything I want about who I am or what I am. And what I want to be and who I am based on my actions, which dictate the impression of me to others, is most significant and expresses the goal of active participation in our social groups. As interdependence increases the role of “I-for-others” is increased. Social norms become more important and judgments become to vital to ones survival and position within the tribe. Rituals affirm status, qualify blessings and merit good favor by existing within an established architecture, of which, members can participate. In groups and out groups become more defined. Those that live sustain-ably in the out groups become suspect and occasional pariah. Being, rightly constituted, becomes meaningful when we activate our uniqueness to qualify our existence and produce good favor and lasting positive memories within those that follow us.

In the context of art, Bahktin identifies a carnivalesque quality to various forms of art. That within the history of art in various forms there is a participatory element to art that emphasizes vulgarity or plays upon the inherent unfinalizability of artworks. So that when art participates in mimesis it remembers the art, but also allows it to continue in the sense that it may change its meaning or the audiences’ understanding of the piece. At once art is a historical object, but also time distorting as Gadamer would say it takes us into “autonomous” or “fulfilled” time and out of ordinary time. This is the transcendent and connective part of popular art and music. The memory of shared carnival experiences (festivals and house shows) destroy boundaries that exist in ordinary life and hence the power of art is found in its ability to remove notions of hierarchy and category given more power when combined with a sense of lawlessness, the removal of decorum and the presence of drugs or alcohol.

The modern festival is mostly empty of such ecstatic experiences due to the commercialization of its product. When audiences pay and high prices for general admission, vip admission or other status oriented ticketing, the event no longer occurs for its audience, but for its performers and the management. The carnival aspect is removed further when such an event works to remove the structure of hierarchy and status and then replace it with its own form of such a thing.  At that point, it goes from a carnival to a theater performance. Why this is important is that independent music and performance was designed to be carnivalesque. The difference between a house show and bar show is the ability of the audience to participate, engage and be a part of the performance. When bands cross that threshold, they engage the audience and enter into that “fullfilled” time space. When this occurs, audiences members immediately have a more meaningful experience.

How this relates to being is that music and art that makes no effort to engage the audience misses the point, unless its point is alienation. In which case,  there is meaning behind art which purposefully eliminates typical elements of its respective form which heighten engagement – line, harmony, symmetry, scale, chordal motifs, purposeful repetition and color balance. In which, case there is still the possibility for engagement when that art presents attitudes about the world, which other validate or offer upon it a seal of authenticity. However, artistic experiences which focus on engagement, but breakdown no walls between the audience and performer do less for us and individuals connecting with the artwork. Hence the $$ value of a theatrical performance like say Beyonce, versus your average local band. One is the performance of a lifetime and the other you may have wished you’d avoided by staying home and saving your money. But if the band, carefully and creatively engages with the audience and creates a sense that what is being experienced will take the audience out of ordinary time and into “fullfilled” time, then we have a genuine experience and lasting memory.









You don’t ever need to sacrifice a bit of who you are to complete your vision of yourself. Indeed that is how we always came to be and have such meaningful experiences in our lives. Sometimes that vision for yourself and others can have consequences.


But that suffering, when accepted unjustly, can reveal redemption into the world.