Loyola University Chicago, USA
Émile Durkheim (1858–1917) noted how laws and norms require transgression to be affirmed, how a society of saints requires sinners to affirm moral boundaries, and how this is often done through public spectacles of punishment or an encapsulated realm of transgression. For Victor Turner (1920–83), a social structure necessarily creates an “anti-structure,” with alternative values and practices which are generally kept apart from mainstream society. But, on occasion, often celebratory festivals, there is toleration for, if not acceptance of, what is generally considered deviant, transgressive, and indeed prohibited. Public celebrations of the transgressive have been part of Western society since the highly expressive, orgiastic Dionysian festivals of ancient Greece provided frenzied homage to the god who gave humanity wine and whose rituals included hearty drinking, singing, dancing, and a lot of cavorting.
Life in the Middle Ages was generally nasty, brutish, and short, especially for poor peasants and townspeople who lived under oppressive political and economic conditions. Yet there were collective festivals, fairs, and carnivals that were times of widespread merriment, joy, and laughter. These were often connected with various kinds of transgressions of moral norms and values like modesty and deference to authority, and with celebration of the body in the form of indulgence ...