Monday, January 20, 2014

The Existence of Art Through the Grotesque

           Can art even exist within naturalist works? Because art achieves beauty through uniformity and order, but a naturalist shows the natural disorder of the world through detailed characters and daily life. According to Maritain, "The imaginative and verbal riches of romanticism, the instinct of the heart, for all its intimate lack of poise, and spiritual penury, still keep alive within it the concept of art. With naturalism it disappears completely" (Maritain, 63). For Maritain, there is no art in naturalist works; this implies that art can only exist in romanticism because of how it expresses the ideal and because of its lofty morals imposed on the characters that exist within the work.

            O'Connor expresses naturalist qualities in her work Wise Blood, through the extensive use of the grotesque. Haze Motes and the other characters in this story exist in a grotesque world, whether it is a prostitute clipping her nails with scissors, wrapping yourself with barbed wire, or blinding yourself by destroying your eyes with quick lime. The details that O'Connor gives are detailed to the point of being grotesque, which she uses masterfully to covey the grimy details of everyday life to the reader. Haze repents for his sinful life by stuffing rocks and broken glass in his shoes, so that he injures his feet while he walks around. Why does O'Connor give these details to the reader? Why could she just not say that Haze hurt himself to repent for his lifestyle? She gives the details to emphasize the pain he is inflicting upon himself, because this makes the pain a real experience for the reader. These details make it both real and believable. O'Connor does the same thing when she describes Mrs. Leora Watts, "Mrs. Watts was sitting alone in a white iron bed, cutting her toenails with a large pair of scissors. She was a big woman with very yellow hair and white skin that glistened with a greasy preparation. She had on a pink nightgown that would better have fit a smaller figure" (O'Connor, 17). O'Connor describes the details to the reader to emphasize the fact that in real life, there are disgusting details that are experienced every day. And on top of that, Haze has intercourse with said woman. Mrs. Watts is described in such a way to make no man in his right mind actually desire her, yet Haze does. Why would O'Connor create such gross characters? Because these characters show distorted qualities that emulate natural qualities of people in real life. Regular people can be gross, so O'Connor makes her characters downright disgusting. The grotesque details of this story also emphasize the extent of the depravity of her characters.

            This is her way of being an artist, despite Maritain's claims that art cannot exist in naturalist works. O'Connor is artistic because she uses the grotesque to emphasize natural, gross details to the reader. Art exists O'Connor's works because she uses the grotesque to create believable characters. Some would argue that her characters are seen in a fun-house mirror, because they are distorted to the point where they are hyper-real, or simply unbelievable. O'Connor acknowledges this in her essay The Grotesque In Southern Fiction, "The problem for the novelist will be to know how far he can distort without destroying" (O'Connor, 821). Does O'Connor ironically do this in her own work, Wise Blood? She does not, because even though her characters are very distorted, they are still believable. Any man could become as anti-religious as Haze if the right buttons are pushed. And any person could become as crazy as Enoch if he is pushed to his limits. This is why O'Connor can function as an artist that utilizes the grotesque: she has the balance necessary to create grotesque, but ultimately, real characters. 

1 comment:

  1. Excellent first post! How do you think O'Connor squared what she was doing with what Maritain writes? A couple of things to keep in mind. Dealing with the deformities in human life is nothing new to art--you have it in the ancients and you have it supremely in folks like Dante and Chaucer (near to Maritain's heart). The question is the larger form that harmonizes that vision.