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Radical Carnivalisation of Religion in Erasmus’s The Praise Of Folly

Sarbani Chaudhury    University of Kalyani, India    



This article delineates the conceptual, thematic and structural links of Erasmus’s The Praise of Folly to popular culture and the dynamics of this incorporation that subsumes moral righteousness in riotous wonder (Gordon 121) and lends an anarchic quality to the text despite authorial attempts to inscribe it within the framework of orthodox Christian scepticism. The inability of the ‘professed’ programme to contain and channel the means adopted for its propagation generates a hectic spill-over and highlights the possibility of unearthing repressed implications gravitating towards an acknowledgement of conflict and social dissonance. It also forwards a general critique of social, moral and intellectual hierarchy and privilege through the use of parodic travesty in the first two sections of the book. More significant is the paradoxical insistence on material life divested from the ideological referentials stipulated by established religion in the first part and the climactic evocation of a popular festive non-hierarchical Christian existence as the ultimate manifestation of collective desire. Taken together, Folly’s triptych – celebration, castigation, and renunciation – exemplify a deliberate foregrounding of the faultlines of the accepted schema and of proposing a positive, plebeian antidote.  The complex use of laughter, in both its conciliatory and destructive role, as the principal mode of expression (and response) further problematises the issue. Contrary to the common assumption of an irreducible dichotomy between laughter and philosophy, «laughter is recuperated as philosophy» in The Praise of Folly and constitutes «a way of knowing the truth about the world that is accessible neither to solemn academic discourse nor to the reduced genres of personal satire» (Michael D. Bristol). The article illustrates how the evocation of grotesque, popular, festive laughter by Folly’s ‘learned’ ignorance and her self-referential self-ridicule is, in effect, a ‘carnivalisation’ of religion that seems to be the only mode of attaining truth.

Dec. 1, 2014