SoSe 14: Unspeakable Humanity: The Grotesque 1950s
The grotesque is characterized by its emphasis on combining terrifyingly incompatible elements in language and, by implication, in the world. The 1950s witnessed a widespread and pronounced usage of ... Lesen Sie weiter
The grotesque is characterized by its emphasis on combining terrifyingly incompatible elements in language and, by implication, in the world. The 1950s witnessed a widespread and pronounced usage of the grotesque in American literature. The World Wars shattered prevailing notions of humanity, community and dignity throughout the West, including the United States. Writers of the immediate postwar period operated at a time when language itself was considered implicit in the horrors of war, oppression and the general dehumanization of human beings; at the same time, the pronounced consumerism of a comparably wealthy and secure white middle class seemed fundamentally at odds with the anxieties produced by the recent historical memory of the World Wars and by ongoing issues such as the nuclear threat and rising social strife in the United States.
This seminar addresses a segment of literature between 1946 and 1963 that approaches these contradictory experiences in American culture by means of the literary grotesque. The authors discussed in this seminar include James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, Joseph Heller, Flannery O’Connor, Grace Paley, Tillie Olsen and Kurt Vonnegut.
These writers used the grotesque to approach the complex “realities” of their time, and helped open the way for fundamentally new ways of seeing the world. In particular, the seminar traces radical reformulations of humanity based on the grotesque characterization of opportunism, science, as well as gender- and race-base oppression – issues that, at the time, only began to be formulated in the ways that we speak of them today. The literary grotesque, in this sense, does more than to combine horror with laughter – in the 1950s, it helps reintroduce a notion of sublime mystery to an understanding of what humanity is.