Mary Russo: The Female Grotesque

They were omnipresent in her childhood. The schoolteachers. The five aunts. Her grandfather’s sisters stood, posed in front of the family home. Their silver hair, washed and dressed in braids, wound around their heads. They were wide-shouldered women, their bosoms secured to fashionable belts. The skirts of their dresses alluded to hips as spacious as their shoulders. They balanced on skinny, little chickens’ legs, which stuck out from underneath the dresses. The image terrified Sheila when she was thirteen. 

Sheila’s pots were bereft of classical proportions; the playful drawings of everyday life and of community rituals, however, referenced ancient Classic pots. 

Associated with rationalism, the classical provides the normalizing aspects of western culture and high culture. The classical body is closed, self-contained, monumental, symmetrical, masculine, and sleek. The classical model of progress corrects and erases mistakes. [Mary Russo, The Female Grotesque; Risk, Excess, and Modernity (New York and London, Routledge, 1995) 62 and 63]

Opposing the classical is the grotesque, which leaves room for chance, for error. The grotesque is identified with the low culture of the carnival and with social transformations.  The grotesque body is open, protruding, secreting, multiple, and changing. It presupposes the body as process and semiosis, it moves and transforms. 

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