This is Halloween and the Music of the Carnivalesque

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Halloween is a great season. You may love it like I do (or some of my friends, who couldn’t wait for the 1st of October to set out their decorations), or you might be like my mom, who hates this season with the fire of a thousand suns. Perhaps she is more evolved and doesn’t need to recreate the trauma of death and rebirth that our paleolithic ancestors required, the primal response to a confrontation with death by mammoth or saber-tooth tiger.


Mikhail Bakhtin, Russian literary critic and philosopher, wrote about the Carnivalesque in literature. It is a suspension of rules, practiced during Carnivale (carne-vale, translated as “farewell, meat”) and Mardi Gras, the celebration before the austerity of Lent, and during Halloween.


It was a way to acknowledge that despite the power of the Church and King over people’s lives, there was a space in time in which people could play at having the power. They could dress up and be anything they chose during a suspension of regular order and they would be believed. It is a revolt against rule, albeit temporary.

Aside from the socio-political look at carnival, Halloween for many represents a lifting of the veil between worlds. It reminds people of the spiritual connection between the world of the living and of the dead, culminating of course in Día de Muertos. This takes us back to our primal roots, our imagining the dangers ahead, and coming to terms with how to face those dangers, becoming an adult when ready to confront those dangers head on, with nothing but your spear. Humans have evolved with this primal instinct for such a confrontation, some of us with a heightened need (ranging from watching scary movies to riding roller coasters to base jumping and shark diving). In all but the extreme cases, we know this is a safe exercise in confronting death–we get an adrenaline spike from the thrill but know we remain safe.

Perhaps this is the real appeal of Halloween. We want our senses elevated, we want our hypothalamus to tell our adrenal glands to pump us with epinephrine like our early ancestors. We want the euphoria of being scared.

In celebration of that, here is a playlist for the month of October to get you in the mood. Two songs a day for the entire month (bonus songs for when we get close to the actual date). The songs range from mildly cute and kitschy, safe-for-my-mom, to creepy, to unsettling and downright scary. (For some people, the Carnivalesque is a perpetual state, and they have managed, like vampires, to live outside the world of law and social order.)

Click on WEEK ONE to get started on this week’s Halloween Playlist, and come back to the website for weekly updates.



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