FemaleGrotesque

The Female Grotesque: Risk, Excess and Modernity

The Female Grotesque: Risk, Excess and Modernity. Mary Russo. New York: Routledge, 1994. Pp. 233. $16.95 (paper).

Russo sets out to relate the grotesque body to “spatial and temporal dimensions of modern spectacle” (6) and to explore the possibilities of the grotesque for a feminism she characterizes as too concerned with appearing mainstream (12). While her analysis draws on various theoretical traditions, Russo largely builds on Peter Stallybrass and Allon White’s argument that “the grotesque returns as the repressed of the political unconscious, as those hidden cultural contents which by their abjection had consolidated the cultural identity of the bourgeoisie” (8-9). She foregrounds the interdependence of the grotesque and the normal and argues that the grotesque body provides “room for chance” within “the very constrained spaces of normalization” (11), incorporating “female exceptionalism” and the “monstrous and lacking,” taking in both “high” and “low” bodies (22-23). Crossing centuries, national borders, and genres, her cultural-studies inquiry suggestively juxtaposes grotesqueries from Amelia Earhart’s stunt flying to Georges du Maurier’s serial novel Trilby and David Cronenberg’s gynecological nightmare Dead Ringers. Russo contests traditional readings of these bodies as victimized and powerless, arguing that “the assumption of death, risk, and invisibility may be the price of moving beyond a narrow politics of identity and place” (48). Risk is “not a bad thing to be avoided” (10), but neither should feminists normalize the figure at risk as “a safe woman” (29).

Russo uses the grotesque as an intriguing model for alternative communities that would tolerate heterogeneity. Her analysis of the wedding feast in Tod Browning’s Freaks argues that the celebration is characterized by “a sense of solidarity and community [that] emerges from the participants’ collective differences” (90). The grotesque body does not necessarily point the way to a utopian space.


MY TAKEAWAY
“The grotesque returns as the repressed of the political unconscious, as those hidden cultural contents which by their abjection had consolidated the cultural identity of the bourgeoisie” (8-9).
- so the figures of bourgeois repression come face to face with disturbing eruptions
- madness/transformation/the unspeakable clusters around the Player Characters
- the PCs aren’t upright Anglo-Saxon male guardians of sanity; rather, they suffer eruptions of the grotesque as a result of the WASP overclass
- I don’t want to gross out the players, I want their characters to gross out the power holders of the fictional universe

She foregrounds the interdependence of the grotesque and the normal and argues that the grotesque body provides “room for chance” within “the very constrained spaces of normalization” (11), incorporating “female exceptionalism” and the “monstrous and lacking,” taking in both “high” and “low” bodies (22-23).

- the PCs are the one’s open to chance and the effects thereof
- female hungers and liabilities and strengths must destabilize the status quo
- exceptional feats (Earhart), Trilby, bodies
- “the assumption of death, risk, and invisibility may be the price of moving beyond a narrow politics of identity and place” (48).
- Risk is “not a bad thing to be avoided” (10), but neither should feminists normalize the figure at risk as “a safe woman” (29).
- the risks that women undertake must not be victimization — they are free choice with exceptional results or shaking consequences

FemaleGrotesque

XX Horror ErikWeissengruber