The Twenty-Frist Century Pantagruel: The Function of Grotesque Aesthetics in the Contemporary World
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This dissertation examines whether the grotesque, an aesthetic form associated with the carnivalesque literary mode and commonly seen as aesthetically and politically subversive, can resume its function within the contemporary context in which carnivalisation of everyday life is a frequently noted aspect of capitalist culture. Locating as its primary image the human body in the process of often-violent deformation, this study explores this problem by theorising the grotesque as Janus-faced: existing on the boundary between the Symbolic and the Real. As such, I argue that the grotesque is: a) deeply related to cultural attempts to challenge hegemonic structures, even as these challenges become themselves implicated in the power structures they oppose (Chapters 1, 2, and 3); and b) a concept that reveals the realm of the Real as independent of human consciousness while also being of profound interest for this consciousness and the subjectivity which it underpins (Chapters 3 and 4). In outlining this argument, this study deploys the theories of Gilles Deleuze, Slavoj Žižek, and Alain Badiou, as well as the work of Jacques Rancière, Henri Lefebvre, Thomas Metzinger, Catherine Malabou, Quentin Meillassoux, and Ray Brassier. It, furthermore, works its way backwards from the Anglo-American cultural scene of the late 1990s and early 2000s (Sarah Kane’s Cleansed and Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds), through elaborations of punk anti-Thatcherite London(s) of the late 1970s/early 1980s (Peter Ackroyd’s Hawksmoor, Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s From Hell, and Iain Sinclair White Chappell, Scarlet Tracings), to post-1968 attempts to reinvigorate a progressive vision of the USA and write it (back) into existence through Gonzo autobiography and journalism (Oscar Zeta Acosta’s The Revolt of the Cockroach People and The Autobiography of a Brown Buffalo, and Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas). In this way, the argument of this work tries to find a path – through a deformed human body in works of literature, film, and comics – toward a non-human world that can be deployed in the service of a progressive political vision, even while the autonomy of this non-human world is recognised.