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The Grotesque and the Unnatural By Markku Salmela and Jarkko Toikkanen ...

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The Grotesque and the Unnatural

Introduction: Reading the Grotesque through the Unnatural

Markku Salmela and Jarkko Toikkanen

Let us begin with an illustrative parallel that spans a century and a half of cultural criticism. In the third volume of The Stones of Venice (1851–1853), John Ruskin wrote in the chapter “Grotesque Renaissance” that what he called the “terrible” grotesque tangled with its “playful” counterpart due to

this cause: that the mind, under certain phases of excitement, plays with terror, and summons images which, if it were in another temper, would be awful, but of which, either in weariness or in irony, it refrains for the time to acknowledge the true terribleness.1

In other words, the fear and revulsion the terrible grotesque would inspire if the mind were “in another temper” is warded off by one’s realization that for the moment it poses no clear and present danger and can actually be “played with” and contemplated, as the noble mind should