An unwinnable war, an economic recession, and an ecological disaster make it a good time to reconsider that beloved medieval genre, the grotesque.
So opined Jesse Tangen-Mills in a recent Rain Taxi review. It’s a sentiment with which I tend agree, and recently I have been reading histories of ‘the grotesque’ to get a better handle on what it is exactly, and how it differs from horror, satire, surrealism and other things with which it is often equated.
What I have gleaned is that the grotesque came not from images of gore as modern use of the term might make you think, but rather from cave paintings (cave, aka “grotto,” hence “grotto-esque” or grotesque). It was originally applied to a style of visual art featuring human-animal hybrid monsters as its predominant motif. Over time (and here I’m cutting history to the nub), the art style inspired a theatrical and literary genre that featured sympathetic freaks like the Hunchback of Notre Dame. It was eventually and indelibly linked to horror by Edgar Allen Poe, and has been applied as a descriptor for the literature of William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor and others.
However, like some semi-gelatinous clabber, it remains debatable whether it has truly solidified into a modern literary genre. Nevertheless, it amuses me to believe that it could exist as a distinct collection of absurdist weirdness, surrealist satire and cosmic horror. In other words, just the kind of stuff I like.