Art, Surrealism, and the Grotesque Essay

Art, Surrealism, and the Grotesque Essay

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The term "grotesque" in art and literature, commonly refers
to the juxtaposition of extreme contrasts such as horror and
humor, or beauty and monstrosity, or desire and revulsion. One
function of this juxtaposition of the rational and the irrational
is to subdue or normalize the unknown, and thereby control it.
The simultaneity of mutually exclusive emotional states, and the
discomfort it might cause, inspires a Freudian analytic critical
approach because of its focus on controlling repressed desires
through therapeutic rationality.

There are volumes of Freudian art criticism, which typically
begin by calling attention to manifestations, in some work of
art, of the darkest desires of the id. Perhaps in no field of
art criticism does Freud's name appear more frequently than in
surrealism, and for various reasons, the grotesque figures very
strongly in that art movement. From the association of
surrealist art and Freud, we can derive a cursory understanding
of the grotesque in this breed of Modernist art: the grotesque
appears as an image, the content of which might traditionally be
repressed, but instead, it is expressed within the controlled
confines of a work of art. The psychoanalytic critic will focus
on the simultaneous attraction to and repulsion from the dream-
like imagery on the surrealist canvas. Yet, this does not
consider the surrealist notion of art as a liberation of the
subconscious, nor does such analysis adequately incorporate the
surrealist goal of political revolution. Instead, it reduces
surrealist art criticism to the interpretation of dreams. This
Freudian view becomes too limiting of our understanding of
surrealism, the grotesque, and perhaps even of ourselves...


... middle of paper ...


...d Practice of Dream Interpretation." in Freud:
Therapy and Technique. ed. Philip Rieff. New York: Collier
Press, 1963. pp. 205-235.

Heidegger, Martin. "What is Metaphysics?" in Basic Writings, ed.
David Farrell Krell. New York: Harper & Row, 1977.

Plank, William. Sartre and Surrealism. Ann Arbor: Univeristy of
Michigan Research Press, 1972.

Sartre, Jean-Paul. Nausea. trans. Lloyd Alexander. New York: New
Directions, 1964.

------- The Psychology of Imagination. trans. Bernard Frechtman.
New York: Washington Square Press, 1966.

------- The Writings of Jean-Paul Sartre: A Bibliographic Life
Chicago: Northwestern University Press. Interview with
Claudine Chonez in Marianne, Dec. 7, 1938.

------- "What is Literature?" and Other Essays. Trans. Steven
Ungar. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1988.

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