Modern history

The Modern Satiric Grotesque and Its Traditions

The Modern Satiric Grotesque and Its Traditions

Thomas Mann predicted that no manner or mode in literature would be so typical or so pervasive in the twentieth century as the grotesque. Assuredly he was correct. The subjects and methods of our comic literature (and much of our other literature) are regularly disturbing and often repulsive―no laughing matter.

In this ambitious study, John R. Clark seeks to elucidate the major tactics and topics deployed in modern literary dark humor. In Part I he explores the satiric strategies of authors of the grotesque, strategies that undercut conventional usage and form: the de-basement of heroes, the denigration of language and style, the disruption of normative narrative technique, and even the debunking of authors themselves. Part II surveys major recurrent themes of grotesquerie: tedium, scatology, cannibalism, dystopia, and Armageddon or the end of the world.

Clearly the literature of the grotesque is obtrusive and ugly, its effect morbid and disquieting―and deliberately meant to be so. Grotesque literature may be unpleasant, but it is patently insightful. Indeed, as Clark shows, all of the strategies and topics employed by this literature stem from age-old and spirited traditions.

Critics have complained about this grim satiric literature, asserting that it is dank, cheerless, unsavory, and negative. But such an interpretation is far too simplistic. On the contrary, as Clark demonstrates, such grotesque writing, in its power and its prevalence in the past and present, is in fact conventional, controlled, imaginative, and vigorous―no mean achievements for any body of art.


Part I. Dark Comedy

Chapter 1. Deadly Laughter

Chapter 2. Satiric Gothic, Satiric Grotesque

Part II. Stratagems

Chapter 3. Degrading the Hero

Chapter 4. Debunking the Author

Chapter 5. Dislocating the Language

Chapter 6. Gaming with the Plot

Chapter 7. Further Intrusion and Obstruction

Chapter 8. Discordant Endings

Chapter 9. Infernal Repetition

Part III. Themes

Chapter 10. Ennui

Chapter 11. Scatology

Chapter 12. Cannibals

Chapter 13. Dystopias and Machines

Chapter 14. Entropy and Armageddon

Part IV. Conclusion

Chapter 15. The Death of the Humanities


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