A powerful esthetic category involving disruption and distortion
of hierarchical or canonical assumptions. The notion combines
ugliness and ornament, the bizarre and the ridiculous, the excessive
and the unreal. The term derives from the Italian term for grottos
(grotteschi), i.e., the ruins in which statuettes of distorted
figures were found in the XV and XVI centuries. The Romantic era,
with its interest in the dispossessed, in all those who before
the age of Revolution had been nameless and invisible, made the
grotesque its indispensable adjunct. Victor Hugo, for whom the
grotesque was indispensable opposite the sublime, aptly indulged
his penchant for antithesis when he claimes that the grotesque
is "the richest source nature can offer art." M. Bahktin
placed the grotesque at the heart of the carnivalesque spirit.
With its insistence on ironic reversals, on fluent and fertile
opposites, the grotesque also resembles the topos of The World
Upside-Down, that topsy-turvy universe where things are no longer
in their place, where order is disrupted, where hierarchies tumble,
and the Fool is king. Both the Grotesque and The World Upside-Down
possess a darkly comic portent, that the fantastic uncovers and
explores; both serve the key function of revealing the constructed
nature of rationality, of the mandate that everything be in its
place. The surface relationships by which daily life is governed
are anything but ordained and stable; indeed, they can be understood
as absolute only by dint of a sustained illusion.
View Images: The Grotesque
- Bakhtin: Rabelais and His World Cambridge: MIT Press,
- Leopoldseder, Hannes: Groteske Welt. Bonn: Bouvier-Verlag,
- Tristan, Frédérick. Le Monde à L'éenvers.
Paris: Hachette/Atelier Massin, 1980.
- E. A. Poe, Tales of Mystery and Imagination.
- Patrick Süskind, Perfume.
- Angela Carter, The Bloody Chamber.
- Enid Wellsford, The Fool, His Social and Literary History.
London: Faber and Faber, 1935.