Bloom's Literary Themes
edited by Harold Bloom
After completing my read of The Grotesque I'm still not sure I could give you an acceptable definition of what qualifies as "literary grotesque". Each essayist seemed to have his or her own twist on what it was that made a certain book, story, poem or play fit the bill. Some I heartily agreed with, some I couldn't understand their reasoning at all or even their purpose. Not surprising in a work of this kind, I suppose. Not all of us can easily follow the scholarly mind at work. The examples used in this book range from Shakespeare's Hamlet and King Lear to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and Poe's short stories to the work of Franz Kafka and Flannery O'Connor. In other words, it has been around a long time and there is a lot of it out there.
There are essays included that are very informative and easy to follow whether or not you have read the specific work that is being discussed, others (the one on Nikolai Gogol's "The Overcoat" comes to mind) which appear to require the reader to be quite familiar with the story or novel. Either way, The Grotesque added significantly to my TBR. Just what we need, right? :-)
Anyway, when I first made this purchase, I posed a question wondering if books by Clare Clark, Cormac McCarthy and Chuck Palahniuk would be considered "grotesque". As I stated earlier, it is difficult to pin down a specific definition, but three qualities that seem to be fairly well agreed upon are the following: humor, astonishment and disgust/horror. Holding strictly to these, only one of the three authors I suggested fits solidly into "grotesque" and that would be Palahniuk. Clark and McCarthy contain vast amounts of astonishment and disgust, but I would have to go back over some of it to see if I could identify any humor. However, the examples of humor in some of the essays are not anything I would have defined as such, so maybe if I adopted a different, looser definition I would find it. I would need to work under the assumption that "humor" is not just comic or funny, but it includes things like the sadly absurd. It's something to consider. And another author I have recently discovered, Patrick McGrath, may also be described as grotesque. I believe the ending of Dr. Haggard's Disease could nudge it into line.
Considering my adoration for dark and disturbing reads, I will be on the lookout for more of the grotesque as I read in the coming months and report what I find. In the meantime, do you have any suggestions that fit the three factors of humor, astonishment and disgust/horror?
NOTICE: (Updated March 5, 2010)
Beginning December 19, 2009, Books 'N Border Collies will be posting but only intermittently while I pursue personal goals. I plan to share some reading I'm doing, but there will be no reviews. I will, however, be sharing my exploration of vegetarian cooking and the cookbooks and websites I use to educate myself. I hope you enjoy it!