in order to become aware of its deeper truths. As a significant side effect of the intellectual process, the mind performs a kind of exorcism on the terrible object of contemplation, rendering it more readily accessible and analyzable.
In 2000, drawing on the theories of L. S. Vygotsky and D. W. Winnicott in her book The Radical Aesthetic, Isobel Armstrong touched on insights analogous to Ruskin’s. She listed seven theses calling on the concept of play as a means of improving one’s thinking “concerning the aesthetic and the polis,” or critical cognition and social interaction. According to Armstrong, “play, that fundamental activity, is cognate with aesthetic production,” and as such, it is “not only an aspect of knowledge but the prerequisite of political change.” Her ensuing list of theses culminates in the affirmation: “It is surely our present task to play with contradictions.”2 In other words, the mind must accept any challenge and tangle with contradictions in order to promote improved thinking. The parallel between Ruskin’s and Armstrong’s conclusions is instructive not only because of the compatibility of the abstractions mentioned—“strategies of contradiction” being the phrase that Geoffrey Harpham has used as synonymous with the grotesque3—but also because it implies the enormous reach and weight of a notion such as play, which appears equally meaningful in both art and politics. Many other realms could be added: play with contradictions can be a powerful means in public debate, regardless of whether the end is economic or ecological.
Although Armstrong’s call to play does not necessarily evoke terror or the grotesque as it does in Ruskin’s case, it reveals a similar objective of inquiry and is quickly adapted to fields that are popular in contemporary theory. In his study The Trauma Question (2008), for instance, Roger Luckhurst quoted Armstrong while reflecting on the narrative knots, tangles, and contradictions of authors such as Jacques Derrida, Gérard Genette, and Jean-Francois Lyotard. Referring to the latter, Luckhurst wrote, “Because trauma cannot be integrated into diachrony, it is a blockage, ‘a bit monstrous, unformed, confusing, confounding.’”4 Adjectives such as these are germane to the vocabulary most often employed in descriptions of grotesque phenomena, and they echo decisively with what Irma