Symposium, May 7th: Kentucky Route Zero


EMILY: (To Ben) One of the first uses of the term grotesque to denote a literary genre is in Montaigne’s Essays. The Grotesque is often linked with satire and tragicomedy. It is an effective artistic means to convey grief and pain to the audience, and for this has been labeled by Thomas Mann as the “genuine antibourgeois style”.

BEN: Literary works of mixed genre are occasionally termed grotesque, as are “low” or non-literary genres such as pantomime and farce. Gothic writings often have grotesque components in terms of character, style and location. In other cases, the environment described may be grotesque – whether urban (Charles Dickens), or the literature of the American south which has sometimes been termed “Southern Gothic”.

BOB: In the 16th century, such artistic license and irrationality was controversial matter. Francisco de Holanda puts a defense in the mouth of Michelangelo in his third dialogue of Da Pintura Antiga, 1548:

“this insatiable desire of man sometimes prefers to an ordinary building, with its pillars and doors, one falsely constructed in grotesque style, with pillars formed of children growing out of stalks of flowers, with architraves and cornices of branches of myrtle and doorways of reeds and other things, all seeming impossible and contrary to reason, yet it may be really great work if it is performed by a skillful artist.”

STEVE: Wow, was that a quote block?

EMILY: Vasari, echoing Vitruvius, described the style as follows:

“Grotesques are a type of extremely licentious and absurd painting done by the ancients … without any logic, so that a weight is attached to a thin thread which could not support it, a horse is given legs made of leaves, a man has crane’s legs, with countless other impossible absurdities; and the bizarrer the painter’s imagination, the higher he was rated”.

STEVE: Well, that seems sort of harsh. Should we Discord at 8:30pm EDT? Is Discord a verb? I guess it is now. Let’s do that.

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