The Modern Satiric Grotesque and Its Traditions

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We will try and respond to your request as soon as reasonably practical. When you receive the information, if you think any of it is wrong or out of date, you can ask us to change or delete it for you. Robert D Zaretsky. He lives in Houston. Edited by Sam Haselby. Several years, and several hundred pages later, he loosed Gargantua and Pantagruel on the world. Driven by an insatiable hunger for both food and knowledge, endowed with great intellectual as well as physical brawn, and prone to laughter as seismic as an earthquake, the eponymous father-and-son duo overwhelm.

No matter how you approach them, they are volcanic and titanic, immense and elemental. And this is how Rabelais wanted it. For the good doctor, grotesqueness was not an insult, but instead an insight into the human condition. More than half a millennium later, in a world dominated by indignation and outrage, and largely abandoned by laughter, a dose of the grotesque might help to better digest events, if only by having a good — and right kind of — laugh.

Fifty years ago, the Russian literary critic Mikhail Bakhtin presented Gargantua and Pantagruel as a unique and foreign world, at once beautiful and repulsive.

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It is a kind of laughter that, like any of the countless dialects or languages over the millennia, withered and died. The possibility of reviving Rabelaisian laughter is as daunting as, say, reviving the Livonian language. Laughter is no different than political systems, commercial relations or artistic practices: it evolves over time, the result and cause of material and social transformations.

For medieval man, laughter was the great leveller. Inclusive and communal, laughter left no one untouched; no less universal than faith, it was a bit more subversive. For medieval man, laugh and the whole world laughs with you — or else. C ommercial interests and political institutions have, in our own age, hijacked carnivalesque events such as Mardi Gras, flattening them into carefully policed occasions marked by bar-crawling and souvenir-hawking. Laughter laced these festivals that larded the medieval calendar. Under the walls of castles, crowds would crown jesters as kings, while in churches the junior clergy would mock pontiffs.

Lords of misrule would make a mockery of royal pronouncements and practices, while monks would subvert sacred rituals into scatological riffs. During these great pauses, the institutional machinery of feudal society shuddered to a halt, enabling the vast majority of men and women, their lives shackled to scarcity and submission, to revel in the taste of abundance and lack of inhibition. What better reason for laughter?


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Not only did it defeat despair, but it also overturned the symbols of state power and violence — a dizzying liberation from time and place. While the grotesque is difficult to define, we know it when we see it. When white- and blue-collar workers joined student activists to protest the dehumanising values embodied by Wall Street, many of them donned the sinister mask of the anonymous anarchist hero of the film V for Vendetta The mask not only shielded their identities, it also signalled that, though these men and women hailed from different backgrounds, they shared all-too-human common concerns.

Few things are more grotesque than a murderous sociopath who presents the possibility of divine grace. This convergence of socio-professional opposites, along with their fusion of contemporary cultural references with timeless ethical demands, all of which was played out on the stage of Wall Street, fused into the grotesque. Grotesque in this sense is a descriptive, not a pejorative, term.

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But, of course, this is nothing more than a possibility. I n the world of Rabelais, the grotesque comes misshapen and in sizes beginning at XXXL, lumbering across a landscape reeling from the physically excessive and socially transgressive. Spain experienced soaring inflation, and manpower across the peninsula was at low ebb as a result of emigration and military service.

These problems were further aggravated by the loss of its American colonies. Some, however, recognize Cadalso and several lesser cultivators of Gothic fiction as 18th-century Spanish antecedents. Romanticism in Spain was, in many respects, a return to its earlier classics, a continuation of the rediscovery initiated by 18th-century scholars. Important formal traits of Spanish Romantic drama—mingling genres, rejecting the unities, diversifying metrics—had characterized Lope de Vega and his contemporaries, whose themes reappeared in Romantic garb.

Spanish Romanticism, typically understood as having two branches, had no single leader. Prolific , facile , and declamatory, Zorrilla produced huge numbers of plays, lyric and narrative verse collections, and enormously popular rewrites of Siglo de Oro plays and legends; he was treated as a national hero. One major Romantic theme concerned liberty and individual freedom. Rimas influenced more 20th-century Spanish poets than any other 19th-century work. A number of notable women writers emerged under Romanticism. Her poems sounded many feminist notes, although she in later life became conservative.

She also wrote 16 full-length original plays, 4 of which were major successes. While poetry and theatre claimed the major honours, Spanish Romanticism also produced many novels—but none that rivaled those of Scottish contemporary Sir Walter Scott. Costumbrismo began before Romanticism, contributing to both Romanticism and the later realism movement through realistic prose. Such writings, realistically observing everyday life and regional elements, bridged the transition to realism. Early revival novels are of interest more for their powers of observation and description a continuation of costumbrismo than for their imaginative or narrative quality.

He was a prolific writer, his works ranging from poetry and newspaper articles to critical essays and memoirs. Included among these many novels is his masterpiece, Fortunata y Jacinta —87; Fortunata and Jacinta , a paradigm of Spanish realism. The novel has been seen as an allegory of the sterility of the upper classes, but its complexity transcends facile summary.

His later works represent naturalism or reflect turn-of-the-century spiritualism. He also wrote more than 20 successful and often controversial plays. Realistic drama in Spain produced few masterpieces but established a bourgeois comedy of manners further developed in the 20th century. In poetry, realistic trends produced little of note. He used a realistic approach to treat contemporary moral, religious, and political conflicts in his works, although his work also shows Romantic and medieval themes. The novel acquired new seriousness, and critical, psychological, and philosophical essays gained unprecedented importance.

A provocative, somewhat unsystematic thinker, Unamuno aimed at sowing spiritual disquiet. An artistic critic and sensitive miniaturist, he excelled in precision and ekphrasis description of a visual work of art. In his later works he experimented with Impressionism and Surrealism.

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The three stages of his literary evolution exhibit radical aesthetic change, beginning with exquisite , sometimes decadent , erotic Modernista tales, as in his four Sonatas —05; Eng. Each represents a season of the year and of human life corresponding to the youth, plenitude, maturity, and old age of the narrator, a decadent Don Juan; intertextual allusions, nostalgia for an idealized past, aristocratic posing, melancholy , underlying parody, and humour abound.

Modernismo rejected 19th-century bourgeois materialism and instead sought specifically aesthetic values. Seeking Platonic absolutes in his final years, he produced measured, exact poetry that increasingly exulted in mystical discoveries of transcendence within the immanence of self and physical reality. A prolific playwright noted for his craftsmanship and wit, he profoundly altered Spanish theatrical practice and fare.

Excelling in the comedy of manners with sparkling dialogue and satiric touches, Benavente never alienated his devoted upper-class public. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in His dramas inveighed against hypocrisy and corrupt values with mordant irony. Luces de Bohemia ; Bohemian Lights illustrates his theory and practice of esperpento , an aesthetic formula he also used in his fiction to depict reality through a deliberately exaggerated mimesis of its grotesqueness.

She continued writing his plays even after he abandoned her for another woman. Brothers Manuel and Antonio Machado collaborated on several lyric plays during the s and early s. The term novecentistas applies to a generation of writers that fall between the Generation of and the vanguardist Generation of The novecentistas —sometimes also called the Generation of —were more classical and less revolutionary than their predecessors.

They sought to renew intellectual and aesthetic standards while reaffirming Classical values. Belarmino y Apolonio ; Belarmino and Apolonio examines the age-old debate between faith and reason, utilizing symbolic characters and multiple narrative viewpoints, while Tigre Juan ; Tiger Juan dissects traditional Spanish concepts of honour and matrimony. Images and metaphors—frequently illogical, hermetic, or irrational—became central to poetic creation. Most of these poets experimented with free verse or exotic forms drawn from the Japanese, Arabic, and Afro-Caribbean literary traditions.

By the end of the Spanish Civil War, in , many writers of the Generation of were dead or in exile. Lorca , a consummate artist, musician, dramatist, and poet, captured the stark emotions and powerful effects that characterize traditional song and ballad forms. In Romancero gitano ; The Gypsy Ballads , he blended popular styles with sophisticated mythic and symbolic elements evoking mysterious, ambivalent visions of nature. Symbols and metaphors turn hermetic in Poeta en Nueva York ; Poet in New York , a Surrealist reflection of urban inhumanity and disorientation written during his visit to the United States in — Salinas sought pure poetry through clearly focused poems and a heightened sensitivity to language.

Truth of Two and Other Poems , profoundly personal love experiences inspire subtle observations on the solidity of external reality and the fleeting world of subjective perception. Aleixandre , influenced by Surrealism, dabbled in the subconscious and created his own personal myths.

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He received the Nobel Prize for Literature in Like Lorca, Alberti initially incorporated popular forms and folk elements. Alberti joined the Communist Party in the s, and during the Civil War and his subsequent exile in Argentina, he wrote poetry of political commitment; later he resumed personal, intimate themes.

Several significant women poets belong chronologically to the Generation of , including Rosa Chacel , a major essayist, poet, and novelist. Frequent themes are philosophical inspiration, faith, religiosity, separation, menace echoing the Civil War , friendships, and her wanderings. Her exile poetry expresses pessimism, loss, violence, horror, anguish, uncertainty, and pain e. Characterizing her mature writing are religious preoccupations and mystic language. Champourcin ranks with the truly significant poets of her generation.

Lesser figures include Pilar de Valderrama and Josefina de la Torre. A novelist, memorialist, biographer, anthologist, critic, archivist, and author of juvenile fiction, Conde published nearly titles, including nine novels and several plays. She became the first woman elected to the Royal Spanish Academy and was the most honoured woman of her generation. She was born in Chile of Spanish parents and lived in Spain in the s; she later spent three decades in the United States before returning in to Spain, where she remained until her death.

Get access to the full version of this article. View access options below. You previously purchased this article through ReadCube. Institutional Login. Log in to Wiley Online Library. Purchase Instant Access. View Preview. Learn more Check out. Abstract The nightmare visions described by early American writers such as William Bradford, Mary Rowlandson, and Cotton Mather, with their allusions to a terrifying wilderness and its even more terrifying inhabitants, represent the nascent elements of the American grotesque, a tradition that emerged in full force in the early nineteenth century with writers such as Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Herman Melville.

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