Proposal for a Semi-Permeable Dreamtime
In trying to arrive at "graceful skill" in the planning and carrying-out of celebration - or what might be called FESTAL ZEN - a nice balance of structure and spontaneity is required.
In practice, it seems clear that the mere proclamation of a festival is no guarantee that this desired MOVEMENT ("spontaneous ordering") will actually take place. Any number of factors can block this movement and cause the festal energy to stall.
In a traditional society, IMMEMORIAL CUSTOM supplies the pre-conditions and structure for the release of saturnalian excess or breaking-of-bounds which constitutes the festal moment or movement.
Our contemporary society however is "held together" - if at all - by a different force or energy, that of the Commodity Consensus. This social glue is paradoxically composed of alienation rather than solidarity. In this context, one cannot depend on immemorial customs of solidarity to underpin the festival, because no such customs exist (outside of certain ethnic or well established groups, that is) - certainly not in the general middle-class cultural milieu to which "we belong", at least by default.
For this reason a severe problem faces the planners of "alternative" festivals in our time. The festival is meant to supply a counter-force against alienation, and to strike a blow for face-to-face human contact. But mere "face-to-faceness" or physical presence is no guaranteed protection against the subtle and pervasive influences of commodity alienation. Some people will come to the festival in order to consume it, rather than to create it. They have confused a "lifestyle" of alternative ATTITUDES with a LIFE of alternative activity and creative production. THey believe that they are ALREADY PARTICIPATING because they espouse the correct attitudes and adopt the correct counter-cultural fetishes. They expect to be entertained. Frequently they expect to be entertained for free.
Now, it should be pointed out that even in a traditional context a festival is not precisely an OPEN STRUCTURE. Even a medieval town fair, much less a tribal corroboree, was rarely attended by any complete outsider. Festival was a time to turn custom upside-down - but everyone knew what custom was. Even in a potlatch, where the guests came to consume, an underlying assumption ruled that each guest would also, some day in turn, host a potlatch. Ultimately, from a structural point of view, "everyone" participated. The unwritten code of RECIPROCITY shaped even the wildest rule-breaking of the celebration.
Some modern equivalent for this code of reciprocity and participation needs to be developed. A zero-sum game is more "fun" when all players follow the rules and compete honestly. A festival is a non-zero-sum game in which "everyone" wins, but it is still a GAME, and therefore more fun when rules are (voluntarily) followed. Groundrules provide the "container" or "foundation" for the spontaneity and excess of festal movement. And these rules should be precisely the rules of reciprocity and participation.
The "purpose" of the festival has always been to provide a revivifying contrast with the dull round of workaday life. Even hunter/gatherers, who have not yet developed the deep ANXIETY OF SCARCITY prevalent in agricultural/industrial societies, still need periodic release from cosmic and earthy restraints. How much more so a society like ours, rooted in deprivation and self-deprivation, actually structured and based on alienation and immiseration! We need to structure not only a festal release from the dull round (of consumption and dissatisfaction), we also need to restructure the very solidarity which traditional societies could take for granted. Our festivals have double purposes, therefore, and so must be planned with some care. Those who cannot overcome the habits of consumption and dissatisfaction must be discouraged from attempting to vampirize our festivals. Energy must circulate, not dissipate. In fact, energy should INCREASE - the festival should be an anti-entropic and synergistic device .
In comparing last year's Dreamtime Corroboree with this year's, I felt that the 1993 energy-exchange was often a bit overly one-sided. Last year nearly everyone who attended was an active participant. Nearly everyone prepared a major project and presented it; - in this sense, there was no "audience". THis year however twice as many people attended and fewer than half as many projects were presented. (Moreover, the strain on the "physical plant" was extreme this year, too energy-draining.) A certain number of "baby birds" - big open needy mouths - were in evidence: - people waiting to be entertained.
The Corroboree could develop in two different directions and still serve a useful function. ONE- it could become a profit-making event for the Dreamtime community, and help pay for the continued existence of the village. In this case, a fee should be charged, just as it is at neo-pagan conventions and SciFi conventions. Special events should be ticketed and not given for free. Kitchen workers, etc. should be paid, or their work should be accepted in lieu of fees and tickets. More workshops with "experts" should be offered. Attendance should be limited to fit the physical plant.
Or, TWO - the Corroboree could continue as an experiment in "spontaneous ordering" and "festal zen". In this case, attendance should be open ONLY to those who propose large-scale creative projects, of interest to the core-membership at Dreamtime. All participants should share expenses, and also either make sizable financial contributions or donations of material, and/or share work on the physical plant. All finished Corroboree project work should be left at Dreamtime and all royalties or fees earned by that work should belong to the Dreamtime Corroboree fund. No consumers or "audience" should be invited. No fees or tickets. No experts - only participants.
I believe that both of these possible futures are valid, and I would continue my association with Dreamtime under either scenario. However I am more INTERESTED in the second possibility. It's far riskier and more difficult, but the potential reward is also far greater. Future Number One might well prove FESTIVE enough, but only the second could be FESTAL in the special insurrectionary sense of the word which most intrigues us.I don't think we can have our cake and eat it too - i.e., have a TRUE FESTIVAL which also MAKES MONEY for Dreamtime. The second possibility means continued sacrifice on our part, and the need to find money to pour into the Corroboree. The first possibility could make money and also be a real potlatch of all our creative wealth, a serious of life-enhancing intensity - true festival.