[Compiled by Josh Newell '91, English 34, Brown University. Emphasis added in the passages below.]

Decorative Initial The grotesque is a structure. Its nature could be summed up in a phrase that has repeatedly suggested itself to us: THE GROTESQUE IS THE ESTRANGED WORLD. But some additional explanation is required. For viewed from the outside, the world of the fairy tale could also be regarded as strange and alien. Yet its world is not estranged, that is to say, the elements in it which are familiar and natural to us do not suddenly turn out to be ominous. It is our world which has to be transformed. Suddenness and surprise are essential elements of the grotesque. In literature the grotesque appears in a scene or animated tableau. Its representations in the plastic arts, too, do not refer to a state of repose but to an action, a "pregnant moment", or at least — in the case of Kafka — a situation that is filled with ominous tension. In this way the kind of strangeness we have in mind is somewhat more closely defined. We are strongly affected and terrified because it is our world which ceases to be reliable, and we feel that we would be unable to live in this changed world. The grotesque instills fear of life rather than death. Structurally, it presupposes that the categories which apply to our world view become inapplicable." The various forms of the grotesque are the most obvious and pronounced contradictions of any kind of rationalism and any systematic use of thought — Wolfgang Kayser, The Grotesque in Art and Literature, 185

The present tendency is to view the grotesque as a fundamentally ambivalent thing, as a clash of opposites, and hense, in some forms at least, as an approximate expression of the problematic nature of existence. It is no accident that the grotesque mode in art and literature tends to be prevalent in societies and eras marked by strife, radical changes or disorientation — Philip Thomson, The Grotesque, 11

The most consistently distinguished characteristic of the grotesque has been the fundamental element of disharmony, whether this is referred to as conflict, clash, mixture of the heterogeneous, or conflation of disparates. It is important that this disharmony has been seen, not merely in the work of art as such, but also in the reaction it produces and (speculatively) in the creative temperament and psychological make-up of the artist — Thomson, 20.

The basic definition of the grotesque: the unresolved clash of incompatibles in work and response. It is significant this clash is paralleled by the ambivalent nature of the abnormal as present in the grotesque: we might consider a secondary definition of the grotesque to be the 'ambivalently abnormal' — Thomson, 27.


Victorian Web Genre and Style Literary Technique

Last modified 1992