Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe
On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
TALJARD, Marlies. "What is man that Thou hast endowed him with such grace?" The representation of the battle between Carnival and Lent by Bruegel and T.T. Cloete. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2015, vol.55, n.2, pp. 205-219. ISSN 2224-7912. http://dx.doi.org/10.17159/2224-7912/2015/V55N2A4.
The aim of this article is to compare certain similarities and differences in Peter Breugel the Elder's painting "The battle between Carnival and Lent" and T.T. Cloete S most recent volume of poetry, "Karnaval en Lent is een gedig" ("Carnival and Lent are one poem"). The central theme of the volume of poetry is based on the painting by Bruegel which was painted in 1559. Because both works of art function by means of collective transcendents, thereby activating archetypal matter, it is possible to make such a comparison. The implication intended by this statement is that basic human nature, which is depicted in both works of art, does not change with time. Thus it is possible that, 450 years after Bruegel's painting was made, we can still identify with his representation of the human condition, which is, to some extent, depicted in a modern version in Cloete's work. It will be argued that, in both works of art, the emphasis falls on the representation of Carnival and Lent as symbols of the good and the evil nature of man, but also that the liminal zone, where no categorical oppositions are possible, is the focus point of both artists. It is clear that Bruegel neither sides with the "bad behaviour" (of the Lutherans) that is depicted on the left part of the painting, nor with the "good behaviour" (of the Roman Catholics) portrayed on the right. In his painting the accent clearly falls on the folly of man, who will, notwithstanding his religious denomination, always be prone to human folly and sin. In Cloete's poetry the accent falls on the Janus-faced man and the inherent duality which is characteristic of human nature: man is both body and mind, holy and evil, egotistic and part of the O/other. His purpose - after the manner of Desiderius Erasmus - is to emphasise oppositions in order to reconcile the antitheses which are an inherent feature of man's nature as such. Bruegel and Cloete regard the human condition - the condition of the unthinking, anonymous masses - as folly and depravity. In this regard, both works of art have a somewhat moralistic character, although not in a restrictive sense. Both artworks focus on the symbolic significance of eating as a metaphor of the decadent and debased human society in which the artists live. Bruegel paints the diseased, disfigured and disabled human being as a mirror in which human society should see itself. The same underlying principle marks several of Cloete's poems, works in which he refers to those who deform themselves by overeating and other excesses and by gross overutilization of that which we have received through the grace of God. However, Cloete's characters are neither sick, nor disabled or mutilated - they are unsightly as a result of their unhealthy lifestyles. On the other hand, whenever Cloete uses disabled characters throughout his body of work they mostly symbolise either the author himself, or (and!) the creative artist (for instance the crippled Hefaistos who manufactures the shield of Achilles). Thus it would appear that both Bruegel and Cloete aim to confront human society with a metaphorical mirror in order to facilitate a process of reflection which might lead to self-knowledge. An important part of this process is that which Bakhtin calls "carnavalesque laughter": the liberating laughter at the foolishness of humanity in which everybody joins in, an ambivalent laughter, at the same time mocking and triumphant, and full of joy. In essence this kind of reflection is a collective process which takes place in the liminal space of the Carnival, as well as in the space in which the fool looks at his reflection in the mirror which the artist holds up in front of him, i.e. in order for him to perceive his own foolishness.
Keywords : Cloete; T.T; Battle between Carnival and Lent; Pieter Bruegel the Elder; human folly; critique of religion; social critique; gluttony; symbolic language in poetry; symbols in medieval painting.