Crush the Assholetters Between the Teeth: Språkgrotesk in Henri Michaux and Gunnar Ekelöf (Part 1)
by Per Bäckström

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je vous déteste tous,
ceux qui se tapent sur le ventre entre eux disant: le premier au
deuxième: tu as raison
le deuxième au troisième: tu as raison
et tous les autres entre eux: tu as raison
révolutionnaires en brigades et comités
ou gens assis, actionnaires de la vieillesse de l’interminable et du
cafard
vous tous qui ne m’avez pas donné mon compte de viande
haine! (1)
—Henry Michaux



Experimentation has become an important aspect of modern poetry, nowadays so common that we take it for granted as a natural element of poetry. It has not always been like this, though; the urge to experiment was transformed into a norm with the rise of the Modern,(2) and was later – with Ezra Pound’s slogan “Make it New” – even elevated to the credo of modernism.(3)There are many kinds of experiments and many reasons to experiment, though, and not all of these relate to the reworking and transformation of tradition that Pound had in mind. One can, on closer inspection, identify two approaches in modern experimental writing. One holds to the language-games of modernism, with the intention to create a revolution within autonomous aesthetics; the other sweeps away the syllables in a total attack on language, constructing avant-garde experiments which in the name of carnival drag down words into the mire of everyday life – far away from the ivory tower of aestheticism.(4)

I shall, in this article, document this aggressive experimentation associated with the avant-garde, and specifically its characteristic relationship to poetry and language, in order to show how this experimentation can be separated from other experimental forms. (5) I will in my discussion use examples from the French author Henri Michaux and the Swedish poet Gunnar Ekelöf, though the latter – while recognized for his “grotesques” – belongs to Swedish “high culture”.(6) A note of mysticism is unmistakable in the writing of both Michaux and Ekelöf, a feature that also typifies the carnival and the grotesque.(7) The grotesque forms a constant strata in the work of Michaux, and therefore constitutes a fundamental part of his distinctive singularity, while, at the same time, it seems to be the source of the incomprehension with which his work has been met.(8)

Moreover, Michaux and Ekelöf each express in certain poems a momentary stupefication in the face of language, a stupefication that sheds light on the phenomena I have termed “language grotesque”. Before I look closer at the ways they use this technique, it is necessary to clarify my own use of the notions of “the Grotesque” and “the grotesque”.(9)These notions have not been used in a clear and consistent way traditionally, and therefore a delineation of their meanings is necessary for my discussion of språkgrotesk (language grotesque) in Ekelöf and Michaux. (10)



An attempt at a delineation of "the grotesque"


The term “grotesque” has two usages: to describe a characteristic or style, and to name a literary genre.(11) The latter usage has different meanings in different national traditions, a fact that makes the Grotesque in this sense less relevant for a general understanding of the phenomena. In this article, therefore, my emphasis lies on a discussion of the descriptor “grotesque”, i.e. the stylistic means which results in grotesque effects. It is not easy to delineate boundaries between these and similar terms such as the carnivalesque, since the borders among such concepts are in flux. The word furthermore has a strong connotative charge, which tells you more about the one using it than about the subject he or she speaks about, a fact that further complicates any discussion of the term.(12)

*

The word “grotesque” has its origin in the pictorial arts, where it is “derived from the Italian word grottesco from grotta (cave), and is mainly used to refer to a distinctive ornamental style, which was discovered in the end of the fifteenth century during the excavation of certain cellars and crypts in Italy”.(13) This late classical style is distinguished by its juxtaposition of often incompatible elements, for example parts of plants and animals, and therefore the style constitutes a radical break with the classical aesthetics which were re-discovered in the Renaissance.(14) The notion of the grotesque was used in a literary sense for the first time by Montaigne, as a characteristic of the ungainly style of his own essays. These represent a preliminary stage in the development of the literary aphorism, “which in a compressed, paradoxical form expresses a subjective thought or experience, calls into question accepted beliefs, and brings with it the use of incompatible contrasts, grotesque fancies and ambivalent effects”.(15) The term grotesque thereafter took on different meanings in different national contexts. The grotesque tradition was strongest in Spain and England; in 18th century England, the word became synonymous with, or inclusive of, the term burlesque, and was later linked to the gothic novel. This connection has colored the term with a specific connotation in England ever since. It was in Germany, however, that the first theoretical discussion about the notion took place, and it was here that interest in the grotesque was prevalent during Romanticism. The difficulty of defining the genre Grotesque is illustrated by the fact that it in England developed as a category including the burlesque and caricature, while Grotesque-comic for the German thinker Wolfgang Flögel is a sub-category of the burlesque.(16) In the 20th century, finally, the mutability of the concept stabilizes in the definition of the grotesque effect as something which originates in a powerful collision between the expectations of the reader on the one hand, and the experience of the thing itself on the other.(17) This definition has a striking similarity to modern definitions of metaphor, but differs in the readerís purported reaction to this rupture.

Three literary comic genres which overlap with each other are the farce, the burlesque and the Grotesque.(18) The farce differs from the others in its directness, i.e. that its barbs are immediately comprehensible for anyone, while the burlesque and the Grotesque are indirect: they presuppose that the reader is acquainted with the (social) phenomenon which is ridiculed. The burlesque does not have an ethical perspective, since it constitutes a sheer degradation of what is described. The Grotesque, in contrast, caricatures something that is experienced as negative, and therefore it has moral significance. According to Mikhail Bakhtin, however, such a definition reduces the Grotesque to mere satire; instead, he puts his emphasis on the Grotesque’s cathartic effect resulting in regeneration, which then becomes the distinctive mark of the Grotesque in comparison with the burlesque. The modern Grotesque, despite Bakhtin’s reservations, often has a satirical element in addition to its other qualities, which separates it from the purely low-comedic effect of the burlesque.Bakhtin divides the development of the Grotesque during the 20th century into two different forms: the “realistic” with Bertold Brecht and Thomas Mann as representatives, and the “modern” with Alfred Jarry as its starting point. The theater of the absurd, which grew forth as a literary movement after the Second World War under influence from groups like Existentialism, also partly builds on the latter tradition. The difference between the absurd and the Grotesque is, therefore, that while

the absurd drama totally abolishes the categories of time and space, unveils existence layer after layer, and ends in silence and emptiness, the grotesque sets such dichotomies against each other and drives them to their extremes. The absurd drama can’t, strictly speaking, be discussed, its situation can only be accepted or denied. The grotesque provokes, shocks and astonishes with its heterogeneity.(19)

The absurd drama is often based on purely farcical and/or grotesque elements, with the goal of demonstrating the emptiness of existence, but the Grotesque retains the preposterous or meaningless as well. The pure Grotesque, burlesque or absurd theater is, as most low-comedic genres, rare, while a juxtaposition of genres is legio.

*

The following adjectives have closely related meanings: “baroque”, “bizarre”, “burlesque” and “absurd”. The grotesque is simultaneously droll, low-comedic and fantastic. The adjectives “baroque” and “bizarre” lack the comic connotation, and “burlesque” does not have the fantastic and contorted feature. “The absurd” and “the grotesque” have closely related definitions and are often used in coordination, but the grotesque in its heterogeneity has a Bakhtinian regenerative function, with a cathartic and liberating effect. The grotesque’s positive role, therefore, is to:

– cast dubious value systems or norms in critical light;
– make discrepancies visible;
– seek a reality that is larger than the actual, which is closed in by norms; and
– overcome contrasts between the intellect and the sensations.(20)

Theoretical work on the grotesque can be divided into two different approaches, represented by Wolfgang Kayser’s The Grotesque in Art and Literature (1963) and Mikhail Bakhtin’s Rabelais and his World (1968).(21) Kayser analyzes the notion from the 17th century and onwards, while Bakhtin emphasizes the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.(22)

Bakhtin takes as his point of departure the Medieval tradition of carnival, with its roots in the saturnalias of antiquity, which until the Renaissance existed parallel to officially sanctioned public events. During carnival nothing was sacred, since its form was built on the principles of ridicule, degradation and dethronement, within the logic of the upsidedown world. The prototypic figure of the carnival is the double body, primarily expressed in pictures of a woman pregnant with or giving birth to Death. The experience of time is cyclical and nothing is seen as finished, a temporal perception that explains the ambivalent character of the grotesque. Everything is dragged down to the lower regions of the human body, i.e. sexuality and digestion, a mystical experience of the world as a changeable unity.(23)

Kayser primarily sees the grotesque as an alienation (Verfremdung) of the world and society. He takes his point of departure in the pictorial grotesque with its disruption of the borders between disparate elements, taking the marionette and puppet motifs of Romanticism as illustrating this type of alienation. The grotesque is the result of a world that is incomprehensible and frightening, and its form borders on the absurd. Kayser reckons that the grotesque is “an attempt to invoke and subdue the demonic aspects of the world”,(24) and he points out Kafka’s work as typical of  “cold grotesque”, i.e. texts in which one enters an already alienated world.(25)

Bakhtin and Kayser each sees a different side of the grotesque mask—the former the rejuvenating laughter, the latter the frightened grimace—but the grotesque effect can arise out of both vitalism and nihilism.(26) It should therefore be possible, despite the incongruity between these thinkers, to find some broader definition of the grotesque, something that includes both Bakhtin’s pure (popular) grotesque as well as Kayser’s romantic-modern abstract. To find this common ground one must first of all examine what it is that evokes the grotesque in itself, i.e. which literary means produce a grotesque effect.

One can principally claim that a grotesque effect appears in the comic exposure of the discrepancy between ideal and reality, i.e. in the alienation of accepted norms. There are many ways to reach this effect, but common to them all is that they build upon the contortion and contrast principles. The contortion principle relates to Freud’s analysis of how the joke (Witz) works through displacements and condensations, in analogy with the dream. The contrast principle is related to what Jurij Mann calls the alogism of the grotesque, i.e. the division of the aesthetic figure into two logically inconsistent strata, for example through the juxtaposition of two incompatible images or words.(27) Such a definition can also be used about the modern metaphor, which makes it necessary to distinguish between theories of metaphor and the grotesque. Hereafter I use the concept of “alogism” to represent the juxtaposition of logically incompatible words or images, by which a grotesque effect is created.(28)

The use of mask in, for example, theatre is purely grotesque when it has a Bakhtinian function, i.e. carnivalistic and cathartic. If, though, the mask is worn to cast light on man’s reification, the effect can be either grotesque – if the intention is comical – or absurd. The mask motif also actualizes the grotesque effect that emerges when a split in the I becomes visible, i.e. when the inner heterogeneity of the human being becomes visible. The grotesque can also be established through an overly precise realism, in the form of an exact, but extreme precision. A closely related figure is hyperbole, which belongs to the field of the grotesque, as well as other rhetorical tropes that build upon exaggeration or duplicity.

The grotesque shares its characteristically cyclical narrative technique with the absurd, which results in texts that have a fragmented and unfinished quality. A grotesque text often has no beginning or end, but functions as an open-ended cut-out of reality. It is often written in open forms, and with an additive structure, and an enigmatic or allegorical nature, but the question that arises have no answers, but leaves the reader in suspense.


Språkgrotesk

Écrivant tel texte, il éprouve un sentiment coupable de jargon,
comme s’il ne pouvait sortir d’un discours fou à force d’être
particulier: et si toute sa vie, en somme, il s’était trompé de langage?(29)

—Roland Barthes


Poetry is often seen as incompatible with the grotesque, since poetry in general is said to adhere to a widespread demand for intimacy, due to its pre-supposed direct communication between the author and the reader.(30) Aspects of the grotesque can be seen, though, in poetry that builds on visual elements. With the development of big cities in modernity, a change in man’s perceptive structure appeared, which is mirrored in the dissolution of the poetical unity, which results in poems built up as collages or montages, techniques that have become a kind of trademark for modern poetry. These techniques defamiliarize language, a laying-bare for which the grotesque is well-suited. One example of this is the dissolution and re-arrangement of style and language elements in text-sound-poetry.

Michaux’s poetry, which often is very visual, takes in its narrative mode the form of prose poetry. His texts in general often exhibit a disjointed quality which makes them resemble aphorisms. Sudden bursts of experimental poetry are characteristic for Michaux and Ekelöf,(31) and both of them, though sparingly, wrote poetry that can be described as a sub-genre of the Grotesque, a genre which I have chosen to name språkgrotesk (language grotesque), since it has its roots in a fundamental alienation.(32) I define språkgrotesk as an aggressive dismemberment of the language body and a turning upsidedown of the linguistic hegemony. The notion of “grotesque”, which normally describes pictorial arts and prose, is here applied in another sense, as a metaphor for the aggression which is directed toward the poem in the precise moment of the poet’s linguistic alienation.

To make a distinction between aesthetic experimentation in general and språkgrotesk, one has to move away from the notion of the grotesque as frightening,(33) and embrace the very same carnival tradition that is Bakhtin’s point of departure in Rabelais and his World. According to Bakhtin, in the 20th century, the frightening element was dissociated from the grotesque and instead became associated with the absurd theatre, and absurdism in general, at the same time as a realistic grotesque developed by Bertold Brecht. In addition to Bakhtin’s two modern grotesque genres, I would add that the aesthetic avant-garde of the 20th Century actualized the positive potential of the concept: irreverence for hierarchy and degradation of all things “high."(34) The grotesque’s positive function is, as earlier mentioned, to expose dubious value systems or norms; make discrepancies visible; seek a reality that is larger than that which is closed in by norms; and overcome contrasts between the intellect and the senses.

The avant-garde, with which both Henri Michaux and Gunnar Ekelöf were associated at the time of their respective debuts, therefore opens a third way for the carnivaleque and the grotesque in the modern, and here I also want to locate the språkgrotesk. Andreas Huyssen writes in After the Great Divide. Modernism, Mass Culture, Postmodernism that the big difference between the avant-garde and modernism lies in their attitude to “high art”. His argument supports a view of the avant-garde as representative of the popular carnivalesque:

My point of departure, however, is that despite its ultimate and perhaps inevitable failure, the historical avant-garde aimed at developing an alternative relationship between high art and mass culture and thus should be distinguished from modernism, which for most part insisted on the inherent hostility between high and low.(35)

The fact that both the grotesque and the avant-garde are linked to the mass culture of modernity becomes even more evident if one analyzes avant-garde methods in relation to the three fundamental formal categories which Bakhtin perceives in the “low” popular culture of laughter:

1. Ritual spectacles: carnival pageants, comic shows of the marketplace.
2. Comic verbal compositions: parodies both oral and written, in Latin and in the vernacular.
3. Various genres of everyday speech: curses, oaths, popular terms of abuse.(36)

Large parts of the historical and post-war avant-garde can be characterized with the help of these formal categories. The most aggressive movements of the avant-garde – like Dada, Italian and Russian Futurism, Neo-Dada – adopted them whole-heartedly in their efforts to break down the autonomy of Art, and this makes them inheritors of the carnival tradition.(37) These avant-garde groups brought about, with their dada-soirées and futuristic happenings, a kind of ritual theatrical play; their books and collections of poetry certainly qualify as comical works; and they embraced popular culture in their denial of everything stable and established. The avant-gardistes created, like the culture of laughter, an entirely new language, where relativity was advanced as “truth” and the upside-down world as norm:

the forms and symbols of carnivalesque language, a very rich language which had the possibility to express people’s unified but complex carnivaleque perception of the world. This perception, hostile against anything complete and finished, against all claims for invariability and constancy, demanded forms of expression that were dynamic and interchangeable (“protean”), playful and changeable. All forms and symbols in the language of the carnival are permeated by the pathos of mutability and regeneration, by consciousness of the merry relativity of every ruling truth and power.(38)

Starting from Bakhtin’s theory of the carnivalesque, it is possible to specify språkgrotesk as an analytic term for the study of experimental poetry. Both his three formal categories (ritual spectacles; comic verbal compositions; various genres of casual and everyday speech), and the attack performed by the carnivalesque on the elevated and established culture, are reflected in Ekelöf and Michaux. The values of the popular culture of laughter stand out as one of the main inspirations for these author’s poetry at its most experimental.(39) One important distinction, compared to the genre grotesque as defined by Bakhtin, is, though, that the entity being degraded in språkgrotesk is something which was not directly available for medieval man in their carnivalesque pranks, but instead relates to a phenomenon mankind became aware of at a considerable later age: language per se.(40)




To be continued in the next issue.



Notes

Excerpt from the poem “Haine”, from Qui je fus, in Henri Michaux. Œuvres complètes 1, Raymond Bellour & Ysé Tran (eds.), Paris: Gallimard, Bibliothèque de La Pléiade, 1998, p. 116.

2 I differentiate between the Modern, which starts roughly 1850, and modernity which starts in the Renaissance, according to Anthony Giddens. Modernity and Self-Identity. Self and Society in the Late Modern Age, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1991 [1984].

3 Ezra Pound. Make It New, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1935.

4 I am investigating different approaches to experimental poetry, in a forthcoming book: Per Bäckström. Vårt brokigas ochellericke! Om experimentell poesi, Lund: Ellerströms, 2009.

5 This article is a reworked and translated chapter from: Per Bäckström. Le grotesque dans l’œuvre d’Henri Michaux. Qui cache son fou, meurt sans voix, Paris: L’Harmattan 2007.

6 I want to emphasize that when I speak about avant-garde, I refer among other things to a certain attitude towards art and the role of the artist, and not necessarily a membership in one of the many -isms of the 20th century. Gunnar Ekelöf, like Henri Michaux, took his point of departure from Surrealist poetry, even though he denied this fact as stubbornly as Michaux. Neither Ekelöf nor Michaux joined any avant-garde movement, though, and they are therefore interesting to consider in relation to the question of the status of modernism and the avant-garde. Like the avant-garde, these authors emphasized the process behind the creation of art when they continuously rewrote their already published poems, and thus distanced themselves from the emphasis on the autonomous Work of art championed by modernism. Such an attitude makes me conclude that the avant-garde and modernism are parallel movements in modernity, where the avant-garde, in contrast to modernism’s experimenting within the aesthetic field, wants to promote a revolution to rejoin life and art, see Per Bäckström, ”Avant-Garde, Vanguard or ’Avant-Garde’. What We Talk About When We Talk About Avant-Garde”, in Representing. Gender, Ethnicity and Nation in Word and Image, Karin Granqvist & Ulrike Spring (eds.), Tromsø: Kvinnforsk Occasional Papers, 2001; Per Bäckström. Aska, tomhet & eld. Outsiderproblematiken hos Bruno K. Öijer, Lund: Ellerström, 2003; Per Bäckström, ”One Earth, Four or Five Words. The Notion of ‘Avant-Garde’ Problematized”, Action Yes 2008; the last article is elaborated and commented upon in the response: Robert Archambeau, ”The Avant-Garde in Babel: Two or Three Notes on Four or Five Words”, Action Yes 2008.

7 Mikhail Bakhtin. Rabelais and his world, Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, 1968. Henri Michaux’s mystical inclinations grew deeper and deeper across his poetry-writing career, while the grotesque remained an integral part of his life’s work. For Gunnar Ekelöf, on the contrary, the grotesque constitutes a constant undercurrent in his much larger production of “ordinary” poetry. For Ekelöf see: Pär Hellström. Livskänsla och självutplåning. Studier kring framväxten av Gunnar Ekelöfs Strountesdiktning, Uppsala: Litteraturvetenskapliga institutionen vid Uppsala universitet (diss.), 1976; Anders Olsson. Ekelöfs nej, Stockholm: Bonnier, 1983. I will mainly discuss “the grotesque”, i.e. the techniques used to establish a grotesque effect. In comparative literature the term “grotesque” is commonly used for the genre, with all its nation-specific modes of explanation. I have therefore chosen not to go into a theoretical analysis of the genre as such, but will instead concentrate on the means for creating a grotesque effect.

8 See Per Bäckström. Enhet i mångfalden. Henri Michaux och det groteska, Lund: Ellerström, 2005; Bäckström 2007.

9 The distinction between the notion as genre (“grotesken”) and as effect (“det groteska”) is not evident in English, and therefore I will hereafter make it more apparent by writing “the grotesque” when I mean the quality and “the Grotesque” for the genre.

10 The Swedish critical reception largely characterizes Michaux with words centered around the adjectives “grotesque” and, in later years, “absurd”, a term then in vogue. See e.g. Tuve-Ambjörn Nyström, ”Inledning”, in Henri Michaux. En barbar i Asien. Reseberättelse, Stockholm: Victor Pettersons Bokindustriaktiebolag, 1948; Arne Häggqvist. Obehagliga författare, Enskede: Ars, 1953; Ilmar Laaban. “Här liksom annorstädes”, Expressen 500626, reprinted in Ilmar Laaban. Om litteratur, Åhus: Kalejdoskop, 1988; Ulf Linde. Spejare. En essä om konst, Stockholm: Bonnier, 1960; Artur Lundkvist, ”Henri Michaux”, in Henri Michaux. Varje kung återvänder till spegeln, Stockholm: Coeckelbergh, 1977; Torsten Ekbom, ”Utmarkerna bortom språket. Henri Michaux död”, Dagens Nyheter 841025; Marianne Tufvesson, ”Henri Michaux”, in Bakhåll. Stora katalogen från Bakhåll, Lund: Bakhåll, 1989. When authors and writers in Sweden identify Michaux as an author that uses the grotesque as technique, this label is driven by the prevailing critical vocabulary, which also, in my opinion, accounts for their later incorrect application of the generic term “absurd” to his work. The reason for the substitution of ‘absurd’ for ‘grotesk’ probably derives from the growth of the theater of the absurd after the Second World War. The theater of the absurd, furthermore, developed out of one of the two modern forms of the grotesque. (See my discussion about the grotesque as technique, below).

11 This section is based upon: Bakhtin 1968; Wolfgang Kayser. The Grotesque in Art and Literature [Das Groteske. Seine Gestaltung in Malerei und Dichtung], Ulrich Weisstein (trans.), Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1963; Helge Nielsen. Det groteske. Begrebshistorie, litteraer kategori, groteskteorier, Köpenhamn: Berlingske, 1976; Bertel Pedersen. Parodiens teori. (Teoriens parodi), Köpenhamn: Berlingske, 1976.

12 Nielsen 1976, p. 211.

13 Pedersen 1976, p. 126, translation by the author.

14 Ibidem.

15 Nielsen 1976, pp. 85–86, translation by the author.

16 Ibidem, pp. 87 and 96.

17 Carl Pietzcker, according to ibidem, pp. 203–04.

18 G. Schneegans, according to Bakhtin 1968, pp. 301–02.

19 Nielsen 1976, pp. 20–21.

20 Ibidem, pp. 228–29.

21 Bakhtin 1968; Kayser 1963.

22 Kayser and Bakhtin both open themselves up for critique for being biased in their analyses of the grotesque, though from constrasting positions: Kayser sees only the frightening aspect of the grotesque, while Bakhtin sees the liberating aspect. In this way, however, the two thinkers complement each other. Bakhtin’s interpretation of the carnival has been criticized, since he here leaves the balanced duality which is so characteristic for his earlier works, one-sidedly celebrating the carnival as a model; see among other Caryl Emerson & Gary Saul Morson. Mikhail Bakhtin. Creation of a prosaics, Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1990. Jostein Børtnes also comments upon the fact that Bakhtin only sees one pole of the carnival and not the other: the holy, in his discussion of Frances Yate’s critique of Bakhtin. As Børtnes wisely points out, it is rather the critique that is one-sided: “Bakhtin’s and Yates’ dispute turns out in the end to be an misunderstanding. Their interpretations of Rabelais are in reality complementary”. Jostein Børtnes, ”Bakhtin, Rabelais og det karnevalske”, in Middelalderens mentalitet, Ingvild Øye (ed.), Bergen: Bryggens museum, 1990, p. 142, translation by the author. I will here only conclude that it seems like Bakhtin himself did not aim at an exhaustive analysis of Rabelais, but that he mainly was interested in the fundamental dialogicity of the carnival.

23 To degrade in the name of the revolution and, at the same time, to search for utopias of various kinds, is a defining feature of the avant-garde, who in their work seek both “revolution and magic”, according to Octavio Paz. Children of the Mire. Modern Poetry from Romanticism to the Avant-Garde [Los hijos del limo], Cambridge Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1974.

24 Kayser 1963, p. 188.

25 Ibidem, p. 148.

26 Reinhold Grimm, after Nielsen 1976, p. 173.

27 Kayser 1963, p. 195.

28 The notion of “alogism” carries the added benefit that it makes superfluous the term  “surrealism”, the meaning of which is far too wide for this discussion, since it covers all kind of unexpected juxtapositions and not only the ones creating a grotesque effect – besides being the name on an avant-garde movement, and as such giving a far too narrow frame for the analysis.

29 Roland Barthes, ”Roland Barthes par Roland Barthes”, in Œuvres complètes 3. 1974–1980, Éric Marty (ed.), Paris: Seuil, 1995, p. 182.

30 That poetry is a genre characterized by intimacy and directness is a view which of course can be strongly criticized. This, though, is not a criticism which I will elaborate on, since this article focus on the aspects of the poem which brings out the grotesque – and therefore anything but intimate – effect.

31 Eva Lilja draws a line from Dada and Surrealism up to the concrete poetry in the Sixties, Eva Lilja. Den dubbla tungan. En studie i Sonja Åkessons poesi, Göteborg: Daidalos, 1991, pp. 127–29.

32 Other articles that concentrate on Michaux’ language experiments, include: Jean-Claude Mathieu, ”Avaler la langue, dilater la pupille”, in Passages et langages de Henri Michaux. Actes de la troisième ”Rencontre sur la poésie moderne”, Michel Collot & Jean-Claude Mathieu (eds.), Paris: Josef Corti, 1987; Serge Canadas, ”Le mimodrame émotionnel, ou l’âme énergumène”, in Henri Michaux. Plis et cris du lyrisme, Catherine Mayaux (ed.), Paris/Montréal: L’Harmattan, 1997. Serge Canadas makes a brief mention of the carnivalesque, but neither he nor Mathieu expound further on this field.

33 Examples of such interpretations are Kayser’s definition of the grotesque per se and Bakhtin’s analysis of the grotesque from Romanticism onwards.

34 Bakhtin perceives, as earlier discussed, two modern grotesque traditions during the 20th century: one, the realistic strain, deriving from Brecht, and the other, an absurd drama, deriving from Alfred Jarry. Bakhtin seems blind, however, to the importance of “the historical avant-garde” for the return of the carnival (maybe because they also were influenced by the tradition from Lautréamont’s Maldoror and Jarry’s Père Ubu). “The historical avant-garde” is a sobriquette for those avant-garde groups that had their heyday circa 1905–1930, see Peter Bürger. Theory of the Avant-Garde [Theorie der Avantgarde], Michael Shaw (trans.), Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984 [1974], (even though Bürger far too narrowly sets their époque to 1915–1925). The neo-avant-garde (re-)appeared after the Second World War and continued roughly until the middle/end of the Seventies.

35 Andreas Huyssen. After the Great Divide. Modernism, Mass Culture, Postmodernism, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986, p. viii.

36 Bakhtin 1968, p. 5.

37 Eva Lilja also point out the grotesque as an important part of Dada and Surrealism. Lilja 1991, pp. 127–29.

38 Ibidem, pp. 20–212, translation by the author.

39 Such an interpretation of Gunnar Ekelöf’s grotesques has also been pointed out in: Hellström 1976; Olsson 1983; Ingemar Haag. Det groteska. Kroppens språk och språkets kropp i svensk lyrisk modernism, Stockholm: Aiolos (diss. 1999), 1998.

40 For a discussion of the origin of the language crisis, see for example the introduction in: Bernt Olsson. Vid språkets gränser. Svenska 1900-talslyriker och frågan om ordens förmåga, Lund: Ellerström, 1995, pp. 13–21.


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