The Carnival season really begins in New Orleans on Jan. 1, which means that the citizens become absorbed in the feverish process that would see their rise from workaday drones to creatures of imagination. They start with the feathers. Plato said that humans were bipeds minus feathers, so everybody works hard to restore the sadly plucked creature Plato mourned. Then they go to the silk, leather and paints, and then they go marching through the streets carrying incomprehensible messages. The New York Times Style section announced recently that Surrealism is back. In New Orleans it never went away. The NY Times is confused: only a few weeks ago, the word was that Irony was in hiding, that Satire better watch its back, and that the enemies of (Western) decadence were massing externally and internally. One can hardly conceive of Surrealism without irony, satire or decadence. So which one is it? Well, in New Orleans it just doesn't matter. We wake up ironic, we satirize all day, then we decay -- esthetically.
The first Carnival parade to march is the Krewe de Vieux, a rambunctious horde of some 900 souls divided into 29 tribes or sub-krewes such as the Krewe of L.E.W.D, the Krewe de Vieux Doo, Krewe of Underwear, Seeds of Decline, Mystic Krewe of the Inane, Krewe of Comatose, and many others, equally pungent, efulgent and redolent. The horde is held together by universal contempt (for all pomposity) and a grab-bag of scintillating ways to show it. The paraders mask, feather or nudely push on in a state of delirious combativeness. The theme of the procession this year is "Depraved New World," an apt reply to those who'd snuff out our bliss. The marchers pelt the mobs lining the streets with surrealist objects. The mobs grovel. One of these objects is a plastic cup with my face on it. Yes, mine, your humble servant's face, bursting through a distressed globe like hot waste through an abused bum. I will have, by the time you read this, worn the garment of a techno-Casanova, pardoned sinners, touched scofula and beheaded squares.
By the time you read this, I will have been King of the Krewe de Vieux parade. In the great pro-anarchist democracy of New Orleans, everybody can be King one day of the year. Of course, there are kings and kings. There are big Kings, like the Zulu King, and smaller kings like the King of the Krewe de Vieux, which was me. The duties and powers of a King vary, but mine were both unlimited and unchecked. My Kingly appointment will have ended after the all-night Ball where my scribes will have forgotten to take notes. For this reason, I am writing my account now, before I take up my throne, but since you will be reading this afterwards, I think that you will be in possession of a number of facts, sights and sounds that I can only guess at. It's postmodern, yes, it's twisted, certainement, but one thing's for sure: I ruled with aplomb and what happened happened because it had to. Surrealism is not only back, it's our only chance.