Friday, September 07, 2007

Tales of the Appalachian Grotesque

My Southern and Appalachian reading regime of the last few years has been heavy on the Gothic--grotesque themes. James Dickey, Edgar Allen Poe, Emma Bell Miles, William Faulkner, John Fox Jr.--all these writers paint the South and the Southern mountains as "a strange place and a peculiar people." Writers who hail from rural or small-town America often write stories with an element of horror. Joyce Carol Oates comes from upstate New York and Stephen King from small-town Maine. They also write Gothic tales, in very different styles.

I feel sure there's something to this, but I don't know what it is. That's why I've been reading about the topic. I found this interesting article: Reflections on the Grotesque by Joyce Carol Oates (April 1993). Originally published in Haunted: Tales of the Grotesque

What is the "grotesque"--and what is "horror"--in art? And why do these seemingly repellent states of mind possess, for some, an abiding attraction?

I take as the most profound mystery of our human experience the fact that, though we each exist subjectively, and know the world only through the prism of self, this "subjectivity" is inaccessible, thus unreal, and mysterious, to others. And the obverse--all others are, in the deepest sense, strangers....

This predilection for art that promises we will be frightened by it, shaken by it, at times repulsed by it seems to be as deeply imprinted in the human psyche as the counter-impulse toward daylight, rationality, scientific skepticism, truth and the "real."....[T]his is the forbidden truth, the unspeakable taboo--that evil is not always repellent but frequently attractive; that it has the power to make of us not simply victims, as nature and accident do, but active accomplices.

Children are particularly susceptible to images of the grotesque, for children are learning to monitor what is "real" and what is "not real"; what is benign, and what not. The mental experiences of very young children, afterward layered over by time and forgotten, must be a kaleidoscope of sensations, impressions, events, "images" linked with "meanings"--how to make sense of this blooming, buzzing universe?....


Larry said...

Thanks for the link! Before I read Joyce Carol Oates's essay, allow me to tell you about another example of Southern Gothic which I read last week.

Randomly browsing the stacks at the Hannibal library last week, I happened across a Library of America complilation of the novels of Carson McCullers. Her novel The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter is a wonderful story which reminded me strongly of Eudora Welty, one of my favorite Southern novelists.

Rebecca Clayton said...

I read Carson McCullers before I read Eudora Welty (who I am currently rereading, and enjoying more than ever). And let's not forget Flannery O'Connor.