In 1965, after thirty years of waiting, Mikhail Bakhtin (1895-1975) was finally able to publish, in Russia, his masterful study of the series of five novels by Rabelais known as Gargantua and Pantagruel. The study was entitled The Work of François Rabelais and the Popular Culture of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance (Творчество Франсуа Рабле и народная культура средневековья и Ренесudoсансurania, Khudozhestvennia literatura, Moscow).
In France, it was first published in 1965 under the title L’œuvre de François Rabelais et la culture populaire au Moyen Âge et sous la Renaissance (Gallimard, Paris). Not long after, MIT released the English translation, by Hélène Iswolsky: Rabelais and His World (1968). The Spanish version had to wait almost twenty more years. La cultura popular en la Edad Media y el Renacimiento: El contexto de François Rabelais (Popular Culture in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance: The Context of François Rabelais) appeared in 1987 (Julio Forcat and César Conroy, trans., Alianza Editorial, Madrid).
To feel more comfortable on the humble side of life: that’s perhaps the mark of a true humorist. As I skimmed through these ink drawings of Christoph Niemann online, I ran into a rather simple image portraying a hen somewhere along the Mekong River and I thought, “There. That’s the artist at his best.” I didn’t care too much for the animation of Angkor Wat at sunrise, however suggestive it is, nor for the boutique-boat sliding down the river, a gratifying exercise in light, undoubtedly, nor for the picturesque scene of a local girl cleaning fish at the market. I liked the black-spotted bird under the black-spotted dress hanging against exuberance, the cartoonish arm waving over the current at dusk and blotting it white, the loaded cargo tricycle with a motorbike on top.
The line between the serious and the comical is tenuous and unstable. All the more so in a repertory as casual and unrestricted as Niemann’s. He prefers techniques like watercolor and ink, traditionally related to temporary results. He sketches. He improvises, very much like a jazz musician. True to the designer’s calling, he simplifies. But despite this tendency, there’s a serious vein in him.