“For he has the territory of harmonicas, the acres of flutes, the domain of violins. And God says, Why did they put you in prison? What did you do to the people? ‘I made them dance and they put me in prison. The soot people hopped; and to twinkle lke sparks on a chimney-back and I made 80 francs every dimanche, and beer and wine, and to eat well. Maitenant…c’est fini…Et toute suite’ (gesture of cutting himself in two) ‘la tete.’ And He says: O you who put the jerk into joys, come up hither. There’s a man up here called Christ who likes the violin.”
The Enormous Room by ee Cummings
The tarot is a world flipped, a pun within a pun. The play of symbols in the cards is always interjected with riddles of the Fool, where the wisdom of certainty is disemboweled into joyous carnival code. Where all that takes place in the name of the jokester: clowns juggle balls toward infinity; a pair of giggling dwarfs spin the roulette of chance; the most chaste of the town’s maidens is lovingly entwined with a lion. Her hand is deep inside its throat. The bishop brays and grunts and howls at the moon, the queen quakes with pangs of desire. Under the trees where fruit hang like heavy like scrotum, the emperor guffaws at all of it until tears stream down his cheeks. Fools themselves, the party doesn’t notice how their central Trickster has slipped into the periphery. Compulsively- almost hysterically- he has somersaulted right out of town, to the very edge of the frame. No matter, the fire is prepared, the castle beyond the carnival preciously collapses. The stack of cards tumbles, the Trumps laugh in unison and the revelry continues, an orgy of stumbling color, like the slow greening of light in the morning. And yet we all know that holiday must end, and so the cards begin to recede into the dusking and somber tones of reality. Suddenly the cards are so orderly - stacked up as the sprawl of the holiday narrows and narrows. They shuffle home in single file. You would never guess that a joke still persists.
Meanwhile, the ‘real’ Fool has flip flopped his way right out of the ranks; slipped away from the rest of the pack. One expects that he might just keep laughing himself into hysterics, deny the hierarchies that must return, fall into incoherence, collapse onto the ground or back-flip right off the edge of reality. Except the tarot card shows the fool miraculously balanced upright. He, like the code of carnival contradictoriness, spins and then gains himself –at the last moment- in gently perpendicular pose. Right when we assume the power of his logic can be found laterally, in his aerial gymnastics, the Fool seeks inspiration in the soil. Emptied of his neighbors, the Fool has hidden the secret language of the carnival and transported its comedy into reality. For all that the Fool has carried in art and literature, in the Tarot it begins with the flip: the fool bodying forth the double essence of pure festivity. Logos is renewed with pathos. And there they are, held together by this trickster- sense and nonsense- so deftly, so slyly married.
The role of the fool and the effects of his twisted logic can be traced to very inception of the European deck and its relation to Medieval and Renaissance practices of play, festivities and celebrations. In this investigation of tricksterdom, Mikail Baktin’s seminal work in Renaissance studies, Rabelais and His World, will help to situate, however complexly, the fool in the context of the Tarot carnival. For Bakhtin, the carnival is a social and literary phenomenon. Images of the fool’s comedic reversals twist through many folklore traditions, celebrating the poor fool who becomes king and condemns the powerful to ruin. Because the figure of the fool so closely resembles a deformed prophet or a deity, Bakhtin’s formulation of carnival seems to indicate laughter and the carnivalesque folk humor did not lose their contact with the holy, sacred, or traditional aspects of religious processions. The Fool consecrates this inchoate holiness only by walking the edges of the Profane; he is the excessiveness of both extremes. It is with his divine madness that the solidity of the Tarot becomes alight.
Most tarot historians seem to agree that the invention of the trumps in Tarot seem to coincide with that of trumps in card games.  It is widely assumed among that circa 1425 the standard pack of 52-cards was brought to
The addition of the Major Arcana to the standard deck allowed for new games to played. All tarot games revolve around “taking tricks,” where players must follow suit or play a trump card.[iii] Whoever played the highest card takes the “trick.” The fool or trickster is the only card with a special effect, also called ‘l’excuse’. The word ‘trump’ originates in Roman triumphal processions, which were essentially parades for returning victorious Roman leaders. Triumph soon came to mean any political or religious procession involving images of deities, sacred masks, chariots, temple dancers, or priests and priestesses, concluding with a dummy resembling a king, which was to be burned at the end of the procession. After the “fool king” had passed, celebrants raised the cry of Triumpe, announcing the immanence of the divine spirit in all the things presented in the parade. Trump literally came to mean “that which is divine.”[iv]
Bakhtin points out in his introduction that historically the triumphal processions in which the Tarot trumps originate equally tended to collapse the distinction between the defamation and celebration of the victor.[v] However, during the Middle Ages and Renaissance, social and class structure was consolidated to the point where the comic and the solemn could not exist equally in tandem, and the comic was relegated to the non-official festivals in which folk-culture took the form of carnival.[vi]
The context of “the trump” in literature, however, has drifted far from the limits of state sanctioned and orderly parade, though the cards still have one foot, so to speak, in this Roman parade of solemnity. The inversion or coupling of high and the low, the base and the pure is at the heart of the fool. The poles are locked together; any sanctioned period of rest/holiday/feast is always, Bakhtin points out, imbued with philosophical content- nothing is entirely festive per se- something must be added from the spiritual or ideological dimensions. Holidays are made possible not just by the social but by the realm of ideal or eternal forms.[vii] Without this spiritual sanction, festivity is just debauchery.
In another sense, the carnival was neither a safety valve for the transgressive impulse, nor was it a bare negation of ideological hierarchy. Instead the fool ‘s puns and gross jokes express a pointed (and highly rational inversion) of moral and logical expectations, thus making materially possible a creative regeneration of words and reason.[viii] Following Bakhtin through the poetry of Gertrude Stein and the theology of Simone Weil, I argue that the Fool reverses the ordering of high/low in an effort to preserve the distance between them: what is truly sacred in the carnival is not the disappearance of one pole or the other but their fragile relation to each other.
The Fool or Ass makes apparent the material intemperance and baseness of holiness and divinity. Like in the Feast of Fools, a bygone celebration in the medieval Catholic tradition, the asinine extravagance of the Church’s penchant for the profane is a sacred sanction. The Fool, in this vein, irrupts in the pun- semiotic relationship between the savior and the ass, between the holy blood of Christ as a substitute for the sacrificial blood of the lowly beast of the Old Testament. At the end of mass during the festum asinarum, the Word Amen is substituted with a brute and nonsensical utterance: the guttural bray of a donkey. [ix] The holy word is made strange by the vocal and kinetic texture of a bodily sound. The sacred and profane are collapsed into the material otherness of expression. The Fool may gesture toward an immemorial and sacred past, he always blasphemes against it. It becomes clear that this blasphemy is always all ready to be reinscribed into the symbolic as sacred.
And yet the fool of the carnivalesque is not a selfsame archetype, so much embedded within an always sacred before. Instead, he is much more a ritualized interruption in the sacredness of the past, an eschatological break in the consistency of the tradition and the archaic. Whereas sanctioned feasts and holidays, like Christmas or Lent, involve a reinforcement of the existing stable patterns of time marking the triumph of the past as an immutable truth already established in time, the ideals that correspond to carnival images of are those of “making fun” of crises or breaks in the cosmological or biological cycles: feasting, joking, violence, vulgarity and "the material lower bodily stratum."[x] The interruptions of the holy fool dismiss prevailing truths and the collective laughter of the people debunks all transcendental signifiers and submits all official values to satiric parody. Profanity, puns and the disfigurement of “lofty” expression rampage flippantly through the byways and marketplaces of folk culture. In carnival, the unity of the holy word is brought down from on high into the orgy of riddling and sideways expression of the streets and markets.[xi] Where the form of expression was once valued, the material substance of language takes the stage.
These interplays of the comedic are at the root of collective laughter of the carnival. Though joke-telling is a “low” and often obscene form of expression and laughter is often tickled by nonsense, the fool reminds that joke or pun is most successful when it is ultimately rational, especially on two or more contradictory levels. Laughter is born of those methods of knowing which create and belie the transparency of the symbolic, it erupts from the tensions within any matrix of signs and is itself a defense against that which is utterly nonsensical or pointless. Each element of carnival topsy-turvyness yields a comic form- emphasis on the libininal and digestive lower body produces dirty or obscene jokes; the aggression towards hierarchy finds itself in slander and put-downs; the incongruousness of corporeal borders and limits expresses itself in puns and riddles; and the sanctification of the “inhuman” or beastly reveals itself as laughter at giants, dwarfs, clowns, trained animals. Oftentimes these forms reside in one another. Yet they should not be mistaken for nonsense. A joke may employ nonsensical sounds or word, but in the end it always attempts to make rational something apparently non-rational or absurd. The internal rules of jokes and puns respond to paradoxes in logic and language. Though nonsense and jokes are both forms of play, the distinction comes from the fact that laughter at nonsense results from the impossibility of resolving meaning but the joke has a point, a fulcrum around which reason turns.
The pun is perhaps at the height of the fool’s power; he plays tricks with words and sound, often creating a semantic confusion in the sound of a word and also a contradiction in meaning. In a pun, the sensory way a word simply looks or sounds is the base of its complexity- contradictory reasoning and reversal are concretized into a single mark. Take for example the irreverent pun in the joke: ‘How do you get holy water? Boil the hell out of it.’ The materially vocal and kinetic rhythm of the utterance, rather than the concept behind the sign, becomes the source of its logic. Many of the greatest authors, notably Shakespeare, have employed the pun as a form of the highest art form; for example in Romeo and Juliet, Mercutio remarks that “dreamers often lie.”[xii] The word lie plays with the double meaning that dreamers often deceive, but also quite literally that they recline in bed. A single manifest word or sound signals at least to differing conceptual functions. Oftentimes a joke will hold up not just the doubleness of the pun, but a sense of hilarity or tragedy which might ensue from misrecognizing the semantic ambivalence of the sign. Take for example the quotation from Joyce: “Come forth Lazarus! And he came fifth and lost the job.”[xiii] Accordingly, the pun shows itself to be more rational than its listener.
For Bakhtin, such reversals of sense express the creative energy of "a carnival sense of the world." Laughter works philosophical changes upon life and society. It may erupt from the collective body, but its most important function is internal; it defends the creative freedom of thought. In carnival, laughter and excess push aside the seriousness and reverse the vertical hierarchies of "official" life.[xiv] The elevation of baseness through parody shakes up the authoritative version of language and values, making room for an assortment of voices and meanings in the world. And so while the jokes of the carnival are often base, dirty, profane or beastly, the jokes told by the Fool and the laughter of his audiences fundamentally set human beings apart from their animal or vegetable kin. Once we accept that we possess two faculties that set us apart from other creatures – the symbolic and laughter – it becomes clear that both the laughter and the need to laugh can only be by virtue of symbolic logic and its tendency to turn upside down and inside out.
 In this book, Bakhtin argues that Rabelais' 16th-century novel Gargantua and Pantagruel is based on, and can only be understood through, late medieval-early Renaissance "popular-festive forms." Rabelais and His World describes an elaborate aesthetics of medieval peasant culture, referred to alternately as "the people," "the folk," "the second world," "the unofficial world," and "popular-festive culture," defined against the "official world" of civil and religious duty.religious authority. Bakhtin insists that readers can apprehend the true philosophical importance of Rabelais' book only by listening with the ears of the 16th century, which were finely tuned to the aesthetics of the grotesque.
 The Tarot trumps themselves date with certainty from 1392, when Charles VI of France made in the court accounts an entry referring to the payment to Jaquemin Gringonneur for the purchase of three sets of the trump cards. (Polack, 25).
 In the medieval celebration the younger clergy chose from among their own number a mock pope, archbishop, bishop, or abbot to reign as Lord of Misrule. Participants would then "consecrate" him with many ridiculous ceremonies in the chief church of the place, giving names such as Archbishop of Dolts, Abbot of Unreason, or Pope of Fools. The protagonist could be a boy bishop or sub deacon. The parody tipped dangerously towards the profane and was condemned by the late twelfth century. The ceremonies often mocked the performance of the highest offices of the church, while other persons, dressed in different kinds of masks and disguises, engaged in songs, dances and revelry within the church building. (Thurston)
 The duality of puns often manifests itself in parody. The rationality of the fool’s topsy-turvy punniness is fairly evident in this modern play with puns: “lawyers are disbarred and clergymen defrocked, doesn't it follow that- electricians can be delighted, musicians denoted, cowboys deranged, models deposed, dry cleaners depressed, bed makers debunked, baseball players debased, teachers declassified, bulldozer operators degraded, organ donors delivered, software engineers detested, underwear makers debriefed, and musical composers decomposed? On a more positive note, though, perhaps we can hope that politicians will be devoted.” (source unknown)
[iii] The Fédération Française de Tarot, official rules
[iv] Encyclo- 180
[v] Bakhtin, 6
[vi] Ibid, 7
[vii] Ibid, 9
[viii] Ibid, 16
[ix] “Feast of Fools,” Thurston
[x] Bakhtin, 9
[xi] Bakhtin, 17
[xii] Shakespeare, 16
[xiii] Joyce, 105
[xiv] Bakhtin, 15; 25