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Toni-Lee Sangastiano Mackin, IDSVA





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In the United States, the sideshow occupies a marginal and often controversial space in popular culture. Despite a decline of the sideshow during the early twentieth century, its postmodern reinvention in 1980 has inspired a proliferation of the aesthetics of the sideshow within mass media and culture as a highly profitable commodity. The current existence of the sideshow as a thriving genre can sometimes be met with surprise, disbelief, or disgust because of the history of sideshow and existing codes of “normality.” Although there is pre-existing scholarship on Bakhtin and the sideshow, what is missing is an exploration of Bakhtin’s dialogism in relation to the art of the postmodern sideshow. This dissertation argues that the postmodern sideshow as an art form is an example of a reinvention of intersubjectivity through Bakhtin’s dialogic and still relevant for understanding contemporary aesthetics. Furthermore, I propose that the carnivalesque is an aspect of the dialogic because the carnivalesque renews hope for a better future which reverberates through unfinalizable time. Instead, I will propose an intertextual genealogy between philosophical thought and the first-hand voices of sideshow performers and related show people in the spirit of dialogism. However, I assert that the dialogic is nearly impossible without a dissensus because of precarization and our permanent cellular connection as a result of our technological progress, which did not exist at the height of postmodernism. This new tyranny of normality has depersonalized our time, dissolved our friendships and communities, our ability to communicate, and our social consciousness to empathize with others in a fundamental shift to our notions of exploitation. A revolution of the aesthetic regime through the maternal will create a new paradigm that reorganizes our senses, our social consciousness, and the conditions for possibility in the dialogic.


Art and Design | Cultural History | Philosophy


Institute for Doctoral Studies in the Visual Arts


Portland ME

Dialogic Dissensus: The Postmodern Sideshow



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