Volume 9, Number 3 (October 2012)
Author: Dr. Brian Gogan
The problem of Tibet is very complicated. It is intrinsically linked with many issues: politics, the nature of society, law, human rights, religion, culture, the identity of a people, the economy and the state of the natural environment (Dalai Lama 2008).
When issues of politics and human rights are central to a country’s problem – as they are in what the Dalai Lama calls the “problem of Tibet” (2008) – these issues are not easily parsed and the problem is not easily solved. In order to work through complex problems that involve politics and human rights, we also need to examine the use of language situated in and around that problem and its central issues. In short, we need to study the rhetoric alongside the issues. In this article, I aim to do just that – to isolate a very specific manifestation of the “problem of Tibet” and consider its rhetoric in conjunction with its central issues.
In the following sections, I focus on the 2009 establishment of a Tibetan holiday called “Serfs Liberation Day” as a specific manifestation of the “problem of Tibet” (Dalai Lama 2008). My study of this holiday does not purport to solve any problems, especially the “problem of Tibet, for the “problem of Tibet” is far too expansive to be adequately treated, let alone solved, in a mere 6,000 or so words (Dalai Lama 2008). Rather I demonstrate that Jean Baudrillard’s work on carnivalization provides us with an interpretive framework through which we can better understand this problematic holiday, its rhetoric, and its issues. Drawing upon Baudrillard’s “Carnival and Cannibal,” I argue that a Baudrillardian approach to the “Serfs Liberation Day” offers both scholars and citizens a way to conceive of a reversal, whereby Tibet might be returned to Tibet. To support this argument, I: (1) Describe the global context of the holiday; (2) chart the rhetorical action of the holiday; (3) interpret the holiday’s rhetoric in terms of Baktin’s carnivalesque; (4) interpret the holiday’s rhetoric in terms of Baudrillard’s carnivalization; and, (5) suggest a more reversible and more rhetorical reading of “Carnival and Cannibal”.
II. The Global Context of the 2009 “Serfs Liberation Day”
In 2009, the “Serfs Liberation Day” emerged from and responded to many interwoven situations, or what we could describe as a web of people and nations, histories and borders, occupations and uprisings, protests and riots. Scholars who study rhetoric refer to this web as a rhetorical ecology. As Jenny Edbauer explains, a rhetorical ecology is a conceptual model that emphasizes the movement of rhetoric across situations, events, and structures (2005: 20). The model further stresses the distribution, circulation, and potential co-optation of language (ibid.). When we deploy this model and approach rhetoric from an ecological perspective [Edbauer’s ecological model builds upon Bitzer’s (1968) idea that all rhetoric involves an audience, an exigence, and constraints], we widen our inquiry and see the many multiple connections that run in and out of what might have been formerly categorized as single, discrete uses of language. Put simply, an ecological approach to rhetoric suggests a more global approach to the study of rhetoric, and the ecology from which the rhetoric of the 2009 “Serfs Liberation Day” emerged was undeniably global in its scope.
When we conceptualize the rhetoric of the “Serfs Liberation Day” as imbricated in an ecology, we must, first, connect the establishment of the 2009 holiday with the establishment of similar “Liberation Day” holidays, a phenomenon that began at the end of World War II. As Allied forces freed countries – including France, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, Italy, Czechoslovakia, Korea, and Guam – from Axis control, these formerly occupied countries declared official “Liberation Day” holidays to commemorate their freedom. While many of the “Liberation Day” holidays that were established as a result of World War II are still celebrated, the phenomenon of establishing these holidays has since proliferated, and the holiday itself has assumed new meanings. For instance, India and Goa mark the end of colonial rule with “Liberation Day” holidays, while Lebanon has established a holiday under the same name to recognize the Israeli Army’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon. Rwanda’s “Liberation Day” acknowledges the 1994 end of the genocide that resulted from its four-year civil war, and, in October 2011, Libya celebrated its revolution from Muammar Gaddafi’s rule with a “Liberation Day” holiday.Together, the “Liberation Day” holidays from across the globe reveal that the name of the holiday has remained quite consistent over the past seven decades. At the same time, the meaning behind “Liberation Day” holidays has broadened, so that the holiday can commemorate the end of an occupation, recognize the end of a civil war, or mark a successful revolution. Thus, “Liberation Day” holidays have evolved into a pliable rhetorical phenomenon; the holiday’s expanding purpose allows its moniker to be applied to an array of events.
Second, when we view the “Serfs Liberation Day” holiday ecologically, we must consider the way in which the relationship between Tibet and China influenced the establishment of the “Serfs Liberation Day” Holiday. China has occupied Tibet since 1949. Soon after the People’s Republic of China was founded, the People’s Liberation Army crossed the Tibetan border, seeking to overthrow the local Tibetan theocracy.For nearly a decade, Tibetans lived under a very tentative arrangement that was brokered between the two governments. On March 10th, 1959, individuals who remained loyal to the Tibetan theocracy and its leader, the Dalai Lama, unsuccessfully attempted to regain control of Tibet. China quashed this revolt, expelled the Dalai Lama, and exiled the local Tibetan government. This scission produced two competing states and, since each state mobilizes language to support their own interests, two competing rhetorics. China, for instance, considers Tibet a region within its own borders and refers to Tibet as the Tibet Autonomous Region (T.A.R.). China recognizes the Tibetan People’s Congress—a legislative body that was not only established by China, but was also the group that established the “Serfs Liberation Day.” China further maintains that the People’s Liberation Army “peacefully liberated” Tibet in 1950, and also calls the March 10th, 1959, conflict the 1959 Armed Rebellion (China Tibet Online 2011). In contrast, the exiled government of Tibet, called the Central Tibetan Administration (C.T.A.), claims that Chinese troops “invaded” Tibet in 1949 and discusses the March 10th, 1959 conflict as the Tibetan National Uprising, which China “brutally suppressed” (Central Tibetan Administration 2011). The C.T.A. refers to the “Serfs Liberation Day” as a “so-called” holiday and calls for it to be observed “as a day of mourning” (The Kashag 2009). Evidently, the language that is used to recount the long relationship between China and Tibet – from the names of each respective state to the designation that describes one event – is inherently political. Put simply, politics manifest themselves rhetorically and rhetoric belies politics. Thus, the relationship between China and Tibet exposes the co-existing political and rhetorical dimensions of the “Serfs Liberation Day”.
Third, when we position the establishment of the “Serfs Liberation Day” in a rhetorical ecology, we must acknowledge the link between the 2009 holiday and the 2008 Summer Olympic Games. On July 13, 2001, the International Olympic Committee (I.O.C) awarded the Games of the XXIX Olympiad to the People’s Republic of China. The choice was controversial for those who felt that China’s governing policies and actions, especially those with respect to Tibet, did not reflect the philosophy of the Olympics. As it is articulated by the I.O.C.,the philosophy of the Olympics supports an expansive view of human rights and denounces any form of discrimination, including discrimination against a country on political grounds (International Olympic Committee 2011: 10-11). Although laudable, the philosophy of the Olympics positions the games as a global venue that has regularly been used to highlight human rights violations. The boycotted Olympic Games of 1936, 1956, 1964, 1976, 1984, and 1988, as well as the salutes issued by Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games demonstrate how nations and individuals often use the Olympic Games as a rhetorical platform upon which they can focus the world’s attention to and demonstrate against activities that run contrary to the philosophy of the Olympics. For those who support the C.T.A., the, “the run-up to the Beijing Olympics was the perfect opportunity to make a statement” (Kuhn 2008). Indeed, a March 10th, 2008, protest to mark the forty-ninth anniversary of what China calls the 1959 Armed Rebellion and what Tibet calls the Tibetan National Uprising escalated, by March 14th,into violent riots. These riots not only resulted in significant property damage, hundreds of injuries, and the deaths of at least eighteen individuals, but they spread to other areas of Tibet. Occurring just months before the 2008 Olympic Games, these riots functioned as a strong condemnation of China’s policies, especially those concerning human rights,to the global community. Thus, from an ecological perspective, the establishment of the 2009 “Serfs Liberation Day” can be viewed as a poignant counter-statement, also addressed to a global community, about human rights in the region.
Evidently, an ecological understanding of rhetoric compounds and compiles disparate situations, and ultimately forms a contextual web that leads into and out from a given instance of rhetoric – in this case, the “Serfs Liberation Day.” But since an ecological approach to the study of rhetoric acknowledges that rhetoric can’t be contained or reduced down to its constituent parts, my reading of the context in and around the “Serfs Liberation Day” is, like any ecological reading of rhetoric, necessarily incomplete. The three connections that I have traced above are only three among many such linkages that contribute to the rhetorical action of the “Serfs Liberation Day.” Moreover, the three connections that I have traced above are all large-scale connections. The phenomenon, relationships, and events described in these connections are of a monumental nature: Together, they position the 2009 holiday as a manifestation of global-political rhetoric, behind which reside questions pertaining to human rights. But this macro-level compilation of large-scale situations is not, in and of itself, representative of an ecological approach to rhetoric; rhetorical ecologies are not merely a constellation of large-scale phenomenon, relationships, and events. Instead, as Nathanial A. Rivers and Ryan P. Weber remind us, rhetorical ecologies “productively highlight the mundane alongside the monumental” (2011: 194). In the following section, I push past the contextual web that enmeshes the “Serfs Liberation Day” and consider the way documents – those that might be characterized as monumental and those that might be characterized as mundane – describe this holiday.
III. The Rhetorical Action of the 2009 “Serfs Liberation Day”
On January 14th, 2009, the 9th Tibetan People’s Congress – the T.A.R.’s legislative body, both established and endorsed by China – convened its second annual session. During this session, Tibetan congressional representatives considered a bill that proposed the creation of the “Serfs Liberation Day” (Wu 2009, January 14). As the congressional proposal explained, this new holiday would commemorate the 1959 emancipation of approximately one million Tibetan serfs and slaves. Five days later, on January 19th, 2009, the “landmark bill” won the unanimous support of the 382 lawmakers, setting March 28th, 2009, as the first annual “Serfs Liberation Day” holiday (Wu 2009, January 18).1
Described as a piece of “landmark” legislation, this bill could quite easily be considered as a monumental for its use of language. By designating this holiday, the bill articulates a grand assertion and claims one singular, officially sanctioned history for Tibetans – namely, that China liberated Tibet in 1959. Monumental for the sweeping nature of its claim, the bill was accompanied by more mundane documents including several news articles. Whereas the bill circulated within the committees of the Tibetan People’s Congress, the news articles enjoyed a global distribution. Translated into English and disseminated over the internet, these articles offer evidence to support the establishment of the holiday and bolster the claim implicit within the holiday. These articles use language to strategically achieve China’s political goals. From the C.T.A.’s perspective, the articles typify the kinds of documents that belong to a propaganda campaign (The Kashag 2009). Nonetheless, when we compare these articles to the legislation they support, they represent a more mundane or more common kind of document. Thus, the mundane, “everydayness” of the news article genre serves as vehicle through which China can depict the “everyday life” of T.A.R. inhabitants. These depictions of “everyday life” are, in turn, used to substantiate the assertion within the holiday – that China liberated Tibet in 1959.
To achieve effect, the news articles mobilize what could be considered the conventional elements of any news article: biographical vignettes, direct quotations, historical commentary, and numerical data. Many of the articles also display the visuals that are characteristic of news articles, including photographs and informational graphics. For example, the January 18th, 2009, article “Holiday to Mark End of Tibetan Serfdom”opens by introducing readers to Dechen Narum, a seventy-four year-old former serf. The article reveals that, although Narum’s father was a shoemaker, he never had the time or the resources to make his children a pair of shoes. Besides recounting Narum’s story, the article also shares Narum’s comments regarding the “Serfs Liberation Day.” Narum is quoted as describing the bill’s passage as “icing on cake” – that is to say, a holiday celebrating her freedom only embellishes the freedom that she has enjoyed for the last half-century (Wu 2009, January 18). The article then explains that serfdom was ended in simultaneity with “the central government’s Democratic Reform” (Wu 2009, January 18). To emphasize the impact of these reforms, the article presents readers with a table that compares Tibet in 1959 with Tibet in 2008. According to the table, Tibet’s economy, infrastructure, and population have all benefitted from the reforms. Multiple news articles replicate this same strategy by profiling an “everyday” Tibetan, eliciting quotations from that individual, and connecting those remarks to the reforms instituted by the People’s Republic of China. For instance, the February 13th, 2008, article “‘Serfs Emancipation Day’ in the Eyes of a Serf’s Descendant” profiles a sixty-eight year-old former serf, named Tenzin Pasang. In the article, Pasang recalls “dark memories” from his life prior to the 1959 liberation (S. Zhang 2009, February 13). The article pointedly contrasts Pasang’s old life as a serf with his current life in the T.A.R., focusing again on the vast improvement from the old to the new (S. Zhang 2009, February 13).
Pasang further comments on the establishment of the 2009 holiday, saying: “It is meaningful to set up such a commemorative day as it will help the young Tibetans remember what hardship[s] their elders have lived through” (S. Zhang 2009, February 13). In aggregate, these documents co-opt the mundane genre of the news article, along with its conventional use of vignettes, quotes, numbers, photographs, and informational graphics, in an attempt to reinforce the monumental assertion of the “landmark bill” that established the “Serfs Liberation Day” holiday.
Beyond co-opting a mundane genre and its conventions to reinforce the assertion that China liberated Tibet in 1959, these news articles work to support the same assertion by associating the “Serfs Liberation Day” with a festive and free atmosphere. The articles report widespread celebration on the day that the Tibetan People’s Congress officially designated the holiday, as well as on the holiday itself. Through the news articles, readers learn of the “[g]rand celebrations” planned for March 28th, 2009, and see images of the village celebrations held in anticipation of the new holiday (Dong 2009, March 5). These reports are coupled with photographs of various dance performances, including an “ethnic group dance” performed by the villagers of Banjorihunbo and a celebratory dance performed by students from Chamdo County (Dong 2009, January 21a; K. Zhang 2009, March 24).In the photographs accompanying these reports, dancers are often pictured in costume, which further captures the festive atmosphere of the holiday.More recent news articles offer similarly robust descriptions of the festivities that occur on the “Serfs Liberation Day”: Costumed dances,folk dramas, themed galas, poetry recitations, and traditional songs all contribute to the celebration of the holiday. These news articles show Tibetan villagers, in full costume, performing “the Gorchom circle dance” (K. Zhang 2011, March 30). They report of a “farmer created [sic] drama named ‘Hot and Bitter Tears of Tibetan Serfs'” that “deeply moved” a Tibetan grandmother (K. Zhang 2011, April 1). They tell of a three-part gala held in the Opera Art Center, which included “moving songs” and a reading of the poem “Footsteps of Tibet” (K. Zhang 2011, March 28). These articles are significant for the way in which they report that the emotions of the liberated T.A.R inhabitants run freely during the holiday’s festivities and they are also extremely important for their treatment of Tibetan culture. The articles draw upon the free and festive atmosphere of the holiday to position the “Serfs Liberation Day” as a locus of Tibetan culture. The articles suggest that the holiday carves out a space that locates Tibetan folk culture alongside liberation;they convey the message that liberation allows Tibetan culture to thrive.
To be sure, the positioning of the “Serfs Liberation Day” as a locus of Tibetan culture is a more complex rhetorical strategy than a mere exhibition of evidence through vignettes, quotations, commentaries, datum, and visuals.This positioning is a rhetorical strategy that entangles itself in the foundational elements of culture, and it is a rhetorical strategy that deserves further attention. In the following section, I use Mikhail Bakhtin’s concept of the carnival to further gauge the effectiveness of this positioning in these “everyday” news articles.
IV. The 2009 “Serfs Liberation Day” as Bakhtinian Carnival
In Rabelais and His World, Bakhtin positions the carnival as a locus of popular culture, a site at which folk customs and folk genres are preserved (1984: 218). Viewing the carnival as a meme, Bakhtin refers to it “a special phenomenon” (ibid.). In particular, he argues for an understanding of the carnival as both an event (i.e., a symbolic celebration, a festival) and a quality (i.e., a characteristic, a spirit, a style). By linking the former understanding of the carnival with the latter understanding of the carnival, Bakhtin locates the carnival outside of the festival grounds. Associating the carnival with a wide variety of genres, he sees the carnival in images and hears the carnival in laughter. Put differently, Bakhtin studies the carnival through textual features that he categorizes as “carnivalesque.”
Many carnivalesque features appear littered in the mundane news articles that work to establish the “Serfs Liberation Day.” The carnivalesque features of these news articles position the holiday as the locus of Tibetan culture and convey the message that liberation allows Tibetan culture to thrive. First, the news articles set-up liberation as a meme, or a cultural feature passed down through generations. In a carnivalesque manner, the articles report that former serfs consider the establishment of the “Serfs Liberation Day” important because it will help younger generations “remember what hardship their elders have lived through and remind them that all the good life owes to our Party” (S. Zhang 2009, February 13). Second, the news articles render liberation carnivalesque in its status as both an event and a quality. The articles treat “Serfs Liberation Day” as a festival event that celebrates liberation, but they also treat liberation as a quality of contemporary life for the T.A.R.’s inhabitants. Third, as I have previously explained, these news articles associate folk culture with liberation. The articles provide carnivalesque descriptions of dance, drama, poetry, and song that allow readers to see the sights and hear the sounds of the Tibetan folk culture. Thus, the news articles deploy the carnivalesque in service of their larger rhetorical goal: The carnivalesque seems to help support the claim that China liberated Tibet in 1959 by rhetorically positioning the “Serfs Liberation Day” as a cultural locus that should be celebrated.
However, the carnivalesque descriptions in these news articles should not be interpreted as reasons to celebrate the liberation of Tibet; instead, the carnivalesque descriptions should be understood as causes for concern over the state of Tibetan culture. As Bakhtin explains, the carnivalesque is a cultural reduction that signals the “consolidation” of culture (1984: 218). Bakhtin’s own historical survey of the carnival reveals how carnival “celebrations became a reservoir into which obsolete genres were emptied” (ibid.). Bakhtin further tells us that the carnival preserves culture only to the extent that “dying or degenerating” cultural forms are deposited into it (ibid.). Thus, from a Bakhtinian perspective, the carnivalesque descriptions in the mundane news articles signal the degeneration and consolidation of Tibetan culture. The “Serfs Liberation Day” is positioned as a cultural locus in part because the Tibetan culture is shrinking; its folk dances, dramas, poems, and songs are becoming “obsolete” genres which are systematically being “emptied” into the holiday (ibid.). Put simply, the presence of carnivalesque features in the news articles inconsistently positions the holiday and, thereby, renders this rhetorical strategy ineffective.
Although Bakhtin’s notion of the carnivalesque explains the way in which the consolidation of a culture and its genres might position a holiday as a cultural locus, Bakhtin’s notion of the carnivalesque does not adequately address the monumental assertion that China liberated Tibet in 1959. In fact, Bakhtin’s discussion of liberation with respect to the carnival seems wholly incompatible with the actual “Serfs Liberation Day.” Bakhtin argues that the carnival carves out a space for all of the unofficial – popular or folk – aspects of culture and thereby distinguishes itself from the official aspects of culture. He emphasizes this distinction, noting: “As opposed to the official feasts, one might say that carnival celebrated temporary liberation from the prevailing truth and from the established order; it marked the suspension of all hierarchical rank, privileges, norms, and prohibitions” (1984: 10). But, whereas the Bakhtinian carnival celebrated a “temporary liberation” from the “established order,” the 2009 “Serfs Liberation Day” was established by the order to commemorate the permanent liberation of Tibetan serfs (ibid.). Because Bakhtin’s theory and the “Serfs Liberation Day” transpose their causes and effects – the theory claims that carnival leads to liberation, while the holiday suggests that liberation leads to carnival – Bakhtin’s theory cannot respond to the questions regarding liberation.
Unlike Bakhtin’s work on the carnival, Jean Baudrillard’s work on the carnival addresses questions about liberation directly. As such, I argue that Baudrillard’s work offers us a much more comprehensive framework within which we can more fully understand the political-rhetorical action of the “Serfs Liberation Day.” In the following section, I draw upon Baudrillard’s work in order to demonstrate the way in which a Baudrillardian approach reveals how this holiday carnivalizes modern values, as well as the concept of liberation.
V. The 2009 “Serfs Liberation Day” as Baudrillardian Carnival
In many of his writings and especially inThe Mirror of Production and Impossible Exchange, Baudrillard interrogates the concept of liberty as well as the closeconstructof liberation. According to Baudrillard, liberty has been extinguished and liberation is nothing more than a paradoxical use of language – that is, an internally compromised and woefully unsuccessful rhetoric. The rhetoric of liberation attempts to sever the reciprocal link between entities – subjects and objects; good and evil; the real and the imaginary – and to assert the freedom and autonomy of the subject. Yet, in doing so, it enslaves words to proscribed meanings. Baudrillard tells us that “words are not free” (Baudrillard  2001: 54). Rather, words are subjugated “to one another in language” (ibid.). From Baudrillard’s perspective, the rhetoric of liberation is responsible for the end of liberty. Baudrillard also suggests that the rhetoric of liberation works through metonymy, claiming that “[liberty] still has to die an unnatural [death] dragged in effigy through all the discourses which stand in for it” ( 2001: 53). Thus, from the outset, Baudrillard’s treatment of liberation suggests that it is best understood as a rhetorical construct.
Moreover, Baudrillard’s treatment of liberation suggests that the rhetoric of the “Serfs Liberation Day” is, in fact, the extent of the “Serfs Liberation.”In other words, a Baudrillardian approach to the “Serfs Liberation Day” positions the holiday as purely rhetorical and entirely dependent upon metonymic stand-ins to perpetuate its farce.But, to understand the way in which discourses “stand in for” the concept of liberty – that is, to understand how metonymy functions with respect to the rhetoric of liberation and how metonymy functions with respect to the “Serfs Liberation Day” – we must turn to Baudrillard’s conception of the carnival ( 2001: 54).For Baudrillard, carnival neither refers to a festival nor a textual quality; instead, carnival functions as a derisive metaphor. In “Carnival and Cannibal,” Baudrillard actually pairs the metaphor of carnival with the metaphor of cannibal in order to posit another one of his characteristic dual forms. The carnival-cannibal dual form is “reflected in every corner of the world,” says Baudrillard ( 2010: 5).
Baudrillard uses the metaphor of the carnival to describe a process through which modernity is reproduced around the globe ( 2010: 4). He calls this process “carnivalization” (ibid.: 3). He further refers to carnivalization as a hegemonic process, suggesting that carnivalization is a process by which dominant power holders maintain their power and expand their influence. Throughout his discussion of carnivalization, Baudrillard codes the dominant forms of modernity as both “Western” and “White” (ibid.:8). As Baudrillard explains it, the process of carnivalization exports modernity in four stages: (1) evangelization; (2) colonization; (3) decolonization; and, (4) globalization (ibid.: 3-4). As the trajectory of these four stages imply, Baudrillard focuses his discussion on the final stage. According to Baudrillard, the globalization of power occurs either through the exportation of modernity or the parody of modernity (ibid.: 21-22). In both cases, the hegemonic spread is accomplished by moving militaries, shipping products, packaging culture, or pushing ideology (ibid.:4). Baudrillard tells us that chief among the exports and the parodies are the values of modernity (ibid.:2010: 3-5). Thus, Baudrillardian carnivalization constitutes a metonymic process. When the values of modernity are taken up, whether as an import or as a parody, they function as stand-ins; subtle enough to pass as a place holder, yet patent enough to be recognizedas prosthetic. These kinds of metonymic stand-ins can be found throughout the news articles which work to establish the “Serfs Liberation Day.” Conceding that liberation as well as the holiday are rhetorical constructs, the news articles enlist imported and parodied modern values to stand-in for liberation. Subsequently, when the values of modernity are identified in the news articles, the “Serfs Liberation Day” is revealed as a farce.
Among the carnivalized values of modernity that saturate these mundane news articles are what Baudrillard lists as “religious, technical, economic, and political values” (ibid.:3). By mining these values as metonymic stand-ins for liberation, the articles draw upon what Baudrillard calls “the logic of modernity” or a demand that modernity be imposed “upon the entire world” (ibid.:8). In terms of technical values, the articles enumerate the wide range of accomplishments, each of which demonstrates how the technical values of modernity manifested themselves in the region. Baudrillard acknowledges that “modernity also involves the transference of everything which had to do with the imagination, dreams, the ideal and utopia into a technical, operational reality”(ibid.:51); and, indeed, these articles report on improvements in everything from drinking water to education, from public transportation to housing (S. Zhang, February 13 2009; Wu January 20a 2009; S. Zhang, February 13 2009; and Wu, January 20b 2009). As for economic values, the news articles explain the T.A.R.’s modern economic gains using modern economic terms, such as the total gross domestic product and the per capita gross domestic product (Chi 2009; Wu, January 18 2009). Finally, religious values and political values are often discussed in the articles together, since “politics and religion” were integrated under the exiled government (K. Zhang, March 25a 2009).As these news articles would have it, the values of modernity have taken root in the inhabitants of the region.
VI. The 2009 “Serfs Liberation Day” as Baudrillardian Cannibal
When the “Serfs Liberation Day” is exposed as a carnivalized farce, the holiday’s festive atmosphere deflates and its grand claims about liberation evaporate. What remains are the people that the political-rhetorical action of the “Serfs Liberation Day” co-opted; the individuals who were “dressed up” in the carnivalized values of modernity, who were defined in terms of their economic output, who were given a vote, who were placed into schools, dropped into houses, and dumped behind the steering wheel of an automobile, all in the name of liberation (Baudrillard  2010: 6; Wu, January 20a 2009; Wu, January 18 2009; and Chi, January 18 2009). By extinguishing the concept of liberty, a Baudrillardian approach suggests that the inhabitants of the T.A.R. might still be living as serfs – that is, serfs who just serve a different feudal lord.2 While it may be impossible to tell whether this new feudal lord is modernity or whether it is the People’s Republic of China, it is, from a Baudrillardian perspective,feasible to think that Tibet might one day overthrow the hegemony that currently controls it.In other words, the Baudrillardian dual form of carnival and cannibal allows to think about a time when cannibal might work against carnival, when the cannibalistic counters the carnivalesque. As such, it is feasible to consider a time when Tibet might come to reoccupy itself.Thus, along with the people, the cannibal challenge to the carnival remains.
Cannibalization is the counter and the challenge to carnivalization. Baudrillard’s paring of cannibal with carnival positions the two concepts as a reversible, dual form. Cannibal, says Baudrillard, can slowly undermine or devour the carnival ( 2010: 4). In other words, cannibal absorbs – silently and physically – the hegemony of the carnival (ibid.: 5; 11). Baudrillard’s discussion of the cannibal positions cannibal as a metaphorical concept that remains with individuals who have been carnivalized. For Baudrillard, “the prototype” of cannibalization is found in sixteenth-century Brazil, at a mass of passive conversion (ibid.). During this mass, the converts devoured their missionaries, cannibalizing these missionary bishops in what Baudrillard describes as an “extreme form of hospitality” (ibid.: 4).Thus, the Baudrillardian dual form of carnival and cannibal allows us to think of a time when the C.T.A. might devour the T.A.R., when Tibetans might undermine the Chinese by being excessively hospitable to them. Perhaps this excessive hospitality has already begun gnawing at the “problem of Tibet”. After all, cannibalization can be a silent process.
VII. Reversibility and Rhetoric
Throughout this piece, I have argued that Baudrillard’s work on liberation, as well as the dual form that he introduces in “Carnival and Cannibal”, offers all scholars, especially those concerned with language and politics, a highly useful interpretive framework. I have attempted to show that by applying this framework to one extremely complicated manifestation of the “problem of Tibet” (Dalai Lama, 2008), we arrive a more comprehensive understanding of how the political-rhetorical action of the “Serfs Liberation Day” works. In the case of Tibet, the dual form, or what we might call the reversible pairing, of carnival and cannibal also allows us to conceptualize a point atvwhich a reverse – as in a Tibetan reoccupation of the T.A.R., or a C.T.A. return to Tibet – might occur. Indeed, as I argue elsewhere, Baudrillard’s notion of reversibility reveals how rhetoric might be used to thwart hegemonic value systems implanted in a community, foisted upon a country, or stretched across a globe (Gogan 2012).
With the publication of “Carnival and Cannibal,” the capacity for reversal – a capacity that is not only central to Baudrillard’s work but also imbedded in most conceptions of rhetoric – has been scrutinized. In his review of “Carnival and Cannibal,” Gerry Coulter contends that “in this book, Baudrillard does not point to some sort of reversibility” (2011). In “Carnival and Cannibal,” as well as some of Baudrillard’s other late writings, Coulter senses that “Baudrillard’s hope (in reversibility) faded” (2011). To support this conclusion, Coulter references a personal conversation between himself and Baudrillard in 2006 and he also draws support from “Carnival and Cannibal” (2011). While I cannot comment upon the conversation between Coulter and Baudrillard, I can, by means of a closing, offer a slightly more optimistic reading of “Carnival and Cannibal.”
As Coulter surmises, Baudrillard seems uneasy – perhaps uncharacteristically so – towards the end of “Carnival and Cannibal.” In particular, the last paragraph of the piece appears to lack both the characteristic assertiveness and the performative gusto with which Baudrillard often concludes his pieces. In the final paragraph of “Carnival and Cannibal”, Baudrillard admits that he has “drastically” revised his thinking in response to his understanding of global power ( 2010: 28). By my reading, this drastic revision occurred as a result of globalization. Prior to “Carnival and Cannibal”, reversibility was the only universal for Baudrillard. Reversibility was, in other words, the only thing capable of being globalized; it was, as Baudrillard puts it, the horizon of his thought ( 2010: 28). However, when Baudrillard views global power as “a power of defiance,” he forces himself to move past the earlier horizon and think beyond the reversible ( 2010: 28). Coulter interprets this move as an abandonment of reversibility – that is, a conceptual resignation of sorts – and this reading is well supported by the text (Coulter 2011; Baudrillard  2010: 28).
However, I want to propose that, in moving beyond the global reversible, Baudrillard does not abandon the principle of reversibility. Instead, he pushes the horizon of reversibility out further, expanding it by creating a new dual form that pairs reversibility against irreversibility. In the last sentence of this piece, Baudrillard writes: “But perhaps we have to resign ourselves to the idea that even reversibility, as a weapon of mass seduction, is not the absolute weapon; and that it is confronted with something irreversible – in what we may just discern today as a worse kind of ultimate prospect” (ibid.: 28). Baudrillard’s use of the words “perhaps” and “may,” as well as his use of comparisons, including “not the absolute” and “a worse kind,” suggests that he is building reversibility into his writing by deliberately and quite playfully qualifying his observations (ibid.: 28). He tells us that this kind of globalization may be like he writes, or it may be the reverse.
Reversibility may have succumbed to something irreversible (as Coulter’s reading would have us believe), or it just may be that Baudrillard forged a new reversible pair, one that pits reversibility against irreversibility. Accordingly, it is my view that Baudrillard offers us a reversibility that exceeds the universal and that is without boundaries. Moreover, this reversibility is equipped to confront the contemporary political-rhetorical problems – including the so-called “Arab Spring” and the “Occupy Movements” – that are found across the globe. To be sure, the reversible-irreversible dual form suggests a kind of reversibility that will keep scholars who study Baudrillard quite busy.
About the Author
Brian Gogan is an assistant professor of English at Western Michigan University, where he teaches courses in the Rhetoric and Writing Studies program. His scholarship on Baudrillard, rhetoric, and writing has appeared in the collection Who Speaks for Writing: Stewardship in Writing Studies in the 21st Century and will be forthcoming from the journal Rhetoric Review. His current book project: Jean Baudrillard: Rhetoric and Exchange, demonstrates Baudrillard’s relevance as a rhetorical theorist.
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1 – The holiday was originally proposed to the Tibetan People’s Congress as the “Serfs Liberation Day.” Prior to the bill’s passage, the holiday’s name was changed to the “Serfs Emancipation Day.”Despite this revised name, it is reported that the holiday commemorates liberation and some news articles refernece the holiday as the “Serfs Liberation Day.” For consistency, I will use the “Serfs Liberation Day” throughout this paper to refer to the holiday.
2 – In Impossible Exchange, Baudrillard contends that modern individual has merely internalized his or her serfdom. Baudrillard outlines the following trajectory: In ancient society, there was the master and the slave. Later came the lord and the serf. Later still, the capitalist and the wage-labourer. There is a servitude particular to each of these stages ( 2001:55).