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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

About Me
Horace and Montaigne Go to White
I'm writing the introduction to my thesis at the moment, and thinking about all the
Gwyneth critics, poets and philosophers who have contributed to grotesque theory over the
Perth, Australia years. It seems anyone who is anyone has held forth on the subject, and had their
own particular definition of what the term 'grotesque' actually means. For this reason
Recently completed
a PhD on the I've decided to do a bunch of posts dedicated to said opinionated persons and their
grotesque. I enjoy statements on the grotesque.
long walks in
cyberspace and These come according to no particular chronology, or any assumed order of
colourful pants. importance. If you want to read a good history of the grotesque, I recommend Frances
View my complete Barasch's The Grotesque: A Study in Meanings. Part one of Peter Ward-Jackson's
profile Some Main Streams and Tributaries in European Ornament from 1500 to 1750 is also
a great survey from the art perspective.

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▼ August (11) [Ulisse Aldrovandi (1642) Monstrorum Historia]
Ruskin Around
- Part One

The Bleeding I'm going to start with Horace, because he is an interesting example of grotesque
Tree theory's tendency to adopt those who wrote about what is now termed 'grotesque' long
Horace and before the word itself was actually conceived.
Go to White
Castle Horace begins his Ars Poetica or "The Art of Poetry" (18BC) with these lines (I'm not
sure this is the best translation, but there you go):

A Grotesque
Romance "If a painter were willing to join a horse's neck to a human head and
Friday's spread on multicolored feathers, with different parts of the body brought
Dragon in from anywhere and everywhere, so that what starts out above as a
beautiful woman ends up horribly as a black fish, could you my friends, if
Your Brain
Looks Great you had been admitted to the spectacle, hold back your laughter?
Tonight Believe me, dear Pisos, that very similar to such a painting would be a
Hoow Many literary work in which meaningless images are fashioned, like the dreams
Killings? of someone who is mentally ill, so that neither the foot nor the head can
be attributed to a single form. "Painters and poets," someone objects,
"have always had an equal right to dare to do whatever they wanted."
The Jewellery We know it and we both seek this indulgence and grant it in turn. But not
of Dr
Moreau to the degree that the savage mate with the gentle, nor that snakes be
paired with birds, nor lambs with tigers" (1-33).
Myths and

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Popular [Ambroise Pare (1582) Des Monstres et Prodiges]
Hungry Like The
Mismatched, imaginary bodies are here equated with inconsistency in poetic vision. To
write well one must hold to a single premise, not place ideas together in a confusing
Grotesque Chairs? manner. As he comments a few lines down: "let the work be anything you like, but let it
at least be one, single thing."
The Wright Stuff
He also includes this rather amusing snark:
Seven Devils

Hybrid Vigour
"Near the gladiatorial school of Aemilius, a most incompetent craftsman
The Grotesques of will mold toenails and imitate soft hair in bronze but he is unsuccessful
the Luttrell Psalter with his complete work because he does not know how to represent a
whole figure. If I wished to compose something, I would no more wish to
Everywhere Hugo, I
be him than to live with a crooked nose although highly regarded for my
will Follow: Part 2
black eyes and black hair" (32-37).

Oh snap.
grotesque (79) So there is no point perfecting the ingredients if you are unable to bring them together
to form a convincing whole. It is interesting to note the value judgment at play here, for
art (58)
it is one that many others have shared. Grotesque bodies were often seen to
hybrid bodies (51) transgress the laws of nature and God's divine plan - depicting things that could never,
writing (34) and should never, exist. Weirdness is to be avoided, stick with the familiar and your
travel (30) work will be approved of.

Grotesque (29) In Horace we also see how easily the line dividing art and literature is blurred. The
hybrid bodies sketched and painted by artists are so suggestive he cannot help but
music video (24)
observe their analogous counterpart in patchy writing.
gross (21)
exhibitions (17)
conferences (16)
Video Games (15)
Female Grotesque
history (13)
zombies (13)
loot (11)
Gothic (10)
short film (9)
popular culture (8)
fashion (7)
robots (4)

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Montaigne later quotes Horace when offering his own, albeit brief, commentary on the
Linkage grotesque. Significantly, he does so while likewise crossing the border between art
and literature.
Cakehead Loves He begins his essay "On Friendship" (sometimes translated as "Of Friendship") like
Culture and Anarchy
"Considering the proceeding of a Painters worke I have, a desire hath
possessed mee to imitate him: He maketh choice of the most convenient
Has Boobs, Reads place and middle of everie wall, there to place a picture, laboured with all
his skill and sufficiencie; and all void places about it he filleth up with
le projet d'amour antike Boscage or Crotesko [grotesque] works; which are fantasticall
Maurice Moss pictures, having no grace, but in the variety and strangenesse of them."
Monster Crazy After duly admiring the grotesques, he compares them to his own writings:
Morbid Anatomy
Moya Bailey "And what are these my compositions in truth, other than antike workes,
Museum of and monstrous bodies, patched and hudled up together of divers
Ridiculously members, without any certaine or well ordered figure, having neither
Interesting Things
order, dependencie, or proportion, but casuall and framed by chance?"
Tama Leaver
The Horrors Of It All
Montaigne then quotes Horace's line about the woman with a fish tail "Definit is
Who Killed Bambi?
piscem mulier formosa supernè."
A woman faire for parts superior,
Ends in a fish for parts inferior.

Once again the grotesque is evoked to describe a writer's attempts at creation. The
assemblage of body parts is analogous to the assemblage of words and ideas. The
final text is thus imagined as a form of grotesque body.

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under a Creative
Noncommercial-No Gregor Reisch (1517) Margarita Philosophia]
Derivative Works 2.5
Australia License.
This all reminds me of Mary Shelley's comment in the introduction to Frankenstein: "I
bid my hideous progeny go forth and prosper."

Speaking of which, doesn't this sound familiar?

Woah. I only just noticed that.

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Labels: art, grotesque, history, language, Traditional Grotesque, writing

1 comment:
Randy September 18, 2010 at 8:50 PM

I am currently completing a book on Montaigne that reads his Essays through the
prism of this passage you quote from "Of Friendship." My thesis is that he is
specifically referring to the symmetrical grotesque decorative motifs, often in twin
vertical panels on either side of a central axis, discovered in the late 15th century
in Nero's Domus Aurea, and reincarnated by Raphael and his team in the Vatican
Loggia. Montaigne, my argument goes, arranged his essays in symmetrical pairs
around a central essay in each of his three books. The result is a combination of
order and disorder. The order is maintained by the symmetry itself, in which each
essay repeats motifs, words, and analogous situations, from its twin essay, as in
the vertical grotesques the monsters, etc. on one side repeat (but often with slight
differences) those on another. The disorder comes from the way one figure is
followed by another with which it can have no realistic causal connection (as
Vitruvius complained) as we move vertically up or down either of the twin panels.
The order is horizontal, the disorder vertical. The equivalent of the disorder in the
Essais is the disorderly way one essay follows another in their sequence, as well
as the sometimes seemingly disorderly way many of the essays, considered
alone, proceed.

I'd be pleased to discuss this further: Randolph Runyon at


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