Bohumil Hrabal: Comic Grotesque of Simpletons

Comic Fatalists in the post-war years of those buffer countries betwixt Europe and Russia produced writers forced into the fantastic or macabre: parable, allegory, and satire – forms and styles both baroque and symbolist to get around the ideological censors of both the Left and Right.

CaptureEven in the earlier Great War (WWI) one remembers The Good Soldier Schweik of Jaroslav Hasek a comedic satire on war and civilization:

A great epoch calls for great men. There are modest unrecognized heroes, without Napoleon’s glory or his record of achievements. An analysis of their characters would overshadow even the glory of Alexander the Great. To-day, in the streets of Prague, you can come across a man who himself does not realise what his significance is in the history of the great new epoch. Modestly he goes his way, troubling nobody, nor is he himself troubled by journalists applying to him for an interview. If you were to ask him his name, he would answer in a simple and modest tone of voice: “I am Schweik.”

And this quiet, unassuming, shabbily dressed man is actually the good old soldier Schweik; that heroic, dauntless man who was the talk of all citizens in the Kingdom of Bohemia when they were under Austrian rule, and whose glory will not pass away even now that we have a republic.

I am very fond of the good soldier Schweik, and in presenting an account of his adventures during the World War, I am convinced that you will all sympathize with this modest, unrecognised hero. He did not set fire to the temple of the goddess at Ephesus, like that fool of a Herostrate, merely in order to get his name into the newspapers and the school reading books.

And that, in itself, is enough.

—Jaroslav Hasek, The Good Soldier Svejk

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Matthew M. Bartlett: The Stay-Awake Men – A Review

I feel like that skeptical American journalist, Jack Walser, backstage at the Alhambra Music Hall in Angela Carter’s Nights at the Circus as I begin contemplating just what is going on. Reading the works of Matthew M. Bartlett is like entering a bloody chamber full of Dr. Hoffman’s desiring machines wondering if I’ll survive the night. I haven’t fallen into such a grotesquerie of myth, legend, and horror in years. It’s as if Lucien, Petronius, and Rabelais had wandered into 21st Century and unloaded all their Menippean charms and sigils of laughter and horror into the cracked brain of a New England cat lover.  As I read Gateways to Abomination and Creepy Waves all I could hear blaring out of my radio was the macabre ramblings of the Leech on steroids. It’s as if Matthew had unleashed a curse upon my poor music box as it screeched, hollered, fornicated, spouted strange fragments of some disjointed and incongruous tales of the back woods of those northern climes where Matthew’s agglomeration of misfits live in a world all their own. And, if that wasn’t enough I had to download his latest effort The Stay-Awake Men & Other Unstable Entities into my poor innocent (or, not so innocent?) brain. Dang! Why’d I do that for? Well let me tell you…

Let’s begin our journey with the Carnomancer, or the meat manager’s prerogative…

Right off the bat I meet some lumpy old fart of a front store manager named LaFogg dreamin’ about young flesh and his dead wife, KaraLee. An ugly s.o.b. in “his fifties, a mere half-inch taller than very short, with a protruding belly and a bald spot that stayed resolutely pink no matter the season: not exactly the kind of man the cashier would ever look at with anything other than indifference…”.1 A typical over-the-hill loser if you ask me, but who’s asking? As this guy is day-dreaming about a young lass who wouldn’t ever give him the time of day, much less a smile, we’re thrown into a maelstrom of darkness when the meat manager goes berserk in the back of the store. What LaFogg finds when he arrives at the scene of commotion is one crazed creature (the meat manager):

With both hands he was lustily prying the cellophane from a huge hunk of bottom-round roast. Scattered across the tan and white tiled floor were torn shards of Styrofoam, sheets of pink-stained padding, and bunched remnants of cellophane, bubbled pink with blood. (SAOUE)

Needless to say the cops soon hall him out, but not before he let’s LaFogg and anyone who will listen, know, that he is looking for something: “It’s in here somewhere,” he said. “It has to be in here somewhere.” (SAOUE) We’re never told just what it is he’s missing, but we do know that it’s something that’s not going to portend anything good.

I’ll admit every story in this book is like that, you are suddenly thrown a curve, not knowing just what’s going to happen next, but you know if you stay around long enough it’s not going to turn out for the best. It never does.

SPETTRINI – This is my favorite tale, and from what I understand it was made into a chapbook before it showed up here in this line up of horror. The things Matthew does to language is a downright pleasure. His ability to bring a character to life, along with the atmospheric strangeness of the landscapes is just plain eerie. In this tale we discover an old Mesmerist and Magician losing his grip on the trade, a man who as a child saw a poster of the great Spettrini:

Greyson had become interested in magic not because of having seen a performance nor perused a book, but because of a poster. In a glass display adjacent to the door of the Civic Hall, dramatically lit from below, the illustration depicted a long-limbed Spettrini on a field of purple, a gothic iron fence with intertwined skulls and snakes in the foreground and tilting and split gravestones behind him. He was dressed like a vampire, in a tuxedo with a black and red cape, his fingers bent, frozen in mid-gesticulation, his nails black and long. Between his hands a bat hovered upside down in streams of psychic energy, drawn by the artist as one might sketch a range of hillocks. One thin eyebrow was arched and his hair, black as an oil slick on a moonless night, was combed back and plastered flat to his cranium. His mustache was waxed and stuck out from the sides of his face like pipe cleaners. The very words on the poster seized Greyson’s imagination. Enchantments. Levitation. Necromancy. Resurrection. Its purpose was to advertise Spettrini’s upcoming performance…

The young boy becomes a young man and enters into an apprenticeship of sorts with this famed magician, and the tale spins out the dark contours of his mentorship, and leads him to seek out the darkest secrets of his mentors world…

FOLLOWING YOU HOME – In this tale we meet a young man named Merrill, a loner and beleaguered conversationalist, invited to the yearly Halloween Office Party at a private home where he gets into a confrontation with a more intellectual co-worker and decides to escape the party as quickly as possible. On his way home he confronts something that should not be…

NO ABIDING PLACE ON EARTH – In this tale a Father and Daughter are confronted by entities unknown described as “some kind of strange owl, plucked bare. Pallid, knobby breast; flimsy, webbed wings dangling from twig-like arms, it flew only with a great deal of exertion. …  Their heads resembled those of elderly men, wispy white hair, wizened, slack mouths curtained with pink, blistered dewlaps. One turned its hooded, sagging eye in his direction. Then the others did the same. They coughed and wheezed and began flapping their sad wings as if to launch. It sounded like the smacking of slackened cheeks when someone rapidly shakes his head back and forth.”

KUKLALAR – A tale of corporate malfeasance, when middle-management is replaced by wooden puppets of a very special type; and what tasks they assign, and the strange twists and turns of their short happy lives turned nightmare …

“The figure was made entirely of painted and lacquered wood, down to the brown business suit, white Arrow shirt, and red necktie. Its hair was painted brown with thin grooves carved in to simulate texture, parted on the right. Its chin was on its chest. It landed on its feet, knees bending slightly, and the spotlight swooped down to frame the scene. The Kuklala crouched like a ballerina, knees apart, head down, one wooden hand splayed on the carpet.”

THE STAY-AWAKE MEN – In this tale an old DJ is offered a position of a lifetime if he will only follow instructions, come to an interview in a shady part of town, watch a movie, and discover just what it means to give the performance of his disk jockey life…

THE BEGINNING OF THE WORLD – A sad tale of endings and beginnings, of fathers and daughters, of mutation, change, and apocalypses…

What one senses throughout these tales is not the macabre and grotesque details, nor the linguistic prowess of Matthew’s subtle and picaresque metaphors, hyperboles; and contradictions, incongruities, and deformations; rather it’s this all-pervading melancholy and sadness just under the surface of all that gritty glitz. Each of the main characters in these tales suffers a dark apprehension of reality in ways that not only break them but awaken in them a sense of that fatal accord that warps and corrupts us all. Underlying this collection is a sense of the utter futility of things; and, yet, it’s more than that: there is a sense that even in a dilapidated and ruinous universe of decay and entropy a person can discover in the underworld’s of a dark grotesquerie an enchantment and alluring magic; a secret power within things that both fascinates and repulses: an amazing portal into the unknown that surrounds us and permeates every cell in our body. To be lured in by these tales is to fall victim not to the malevolent heart of horror, but to experience the ecstatic madness we all crave but are want to acknowledge.


Visit Matthew M. Bartlett at his site: http://www.matthewmbartlett.com/
And, by all means, pick up his works: here!
Especially his latest work: The Stay-Awake Men & Other Unstable Entities


  1. Bartlett, Matthew M.. The Stay-Awake Men & Other Unstable Entities. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (June 16, 2018) SAOUE

 

Flannery O’Conner: The Delusions of a World

About every four or five years I reread Flannery O’Conner’s short stories. Always fascinated how she can open up the wounds of our human delusions. Her grotesques are creatures of habit and stupidity: men, women, and children who seem to fall into the ruts of some organic necessity, their minds bound to outmoded forms of thought and behavior.

Rereading The Geranium which was her first published short story (1946) one can already see that ironic and cynical eye she cast on everything, showing the slow and methodical destruction of those habits of mind that bind us to our personal world of delusory fictions. The main character in this story is an old man, Dudley, who unable to take care of himself anymore has been hijacked from his home up North in New York by his daughter and brought south, brought into a world unfamiliar and almost hostile to the likes of Dudley.

Most of the story is wrapped around Dudley’s inability to accept this new situation. So that he continuously reminisces about his fabled antics in the boarding house where he still had some sense of being needed and wanted for who and what he is rather than what he’s become in this unsettled realm of his daughter’s southern clime. This juxtaposition between his supposed idyllic world up North, and the darker and more fragmented world down South plays out against an unfolding destruction of his life’s equilibrium based as it is on a racist mythology at the heart of the American Anglo-Saxon culture and ideology.

Truthfully this story is about racism, about a man who’d been a racist his whole life as if it were the normal aspect of things. Where he’d come from up North in some small town victim and perpetrator alike of this racist mythology of the White Man seems to have never dissolved – at least in Dudley’s eyes. While down South in his daughter’s inner-city tenement living quarters where Dudley now finds himself he discovers that people are jammed up against each other so close and without any natural or organic sense of the world that he is no longer able to keep his sense of balance. The geranium of the title becomes the focal point of his need for the natural world, for a sense of connection to his old life. The flower that a neighbor puts out every morning at the same time becomes a part of Dudley’s new mythology of order.

His rage for order, for a world that fits his expectations begins to unravel when the flower goes missing, when his neighbor seems to have forgotten to put it on the window seal at the usual time. From that point forward in the story everything in Dudley’s life and Mind begins to unravel. His daughter having two children in an unwed household works long hours so that Dudley is surrounded by the activities of the children. O’Connor chooses to show the story completely through the mental breakdown of the old man, a story in which his grand children and daughter seem peripheral and almost lost as to what to make of this cantankerous old curmudgeon. Right off the bat he is at odds with his daughter, wondering why she felt it her ‘duty’ to take care of him when he was very able to take care of himself. Of course, that’s one of the key delusions: a sense of self-sufficiency and independence. His inability to accept growing old, of needing others in his life, of needing people to care and look after him; this wound to his narcissistic pride, of being a Man.

It all comes to a head when he discovers his daughter’s next door neighbor is an African American. Of course Dudley has throughout the story referred to ‘people of color’ with the ‘N’ word so that his whole life has been built out of this prejudiced sense of inequality to the point that having his daughter, who as he puts it, “You ain’t been raised that way!”1 This sense that White’s are somehow better shows us Dudley’s world in a nutshell. A world of racist hierarchy and prejudice that is a part of American psyche and behavior that most White’s are raised up and indoctrinated into as part of a twisted history.

When the young African American man next door meets Dudley on the stairs, after the old man has run down to do an errand for his daughter, he pats him on the back in a friendly gesture. Suddenly Dudley is beside himself and falls back sliding down the stairs and landing on his butt. The young man helps him to his feet and guides him to his daughters apartment. The whole time Dudley is speechless and unable to say or do anything. As he is about to enter the apartment the young man once again pats him on the back which reminds Dudley once again that his world is tilted and unhinged:

He patted Old Dudley on the back and went into his own apartment. Old Dudley went into his. The pain in his throat was all over his face now, leaking out his eyes. He shuffled to the chair by the window and sank down in it. His throat was going to pop.  (13)

This physical sense of explosion, an outer sign of his internal condition, a condition that like the tales of his hunting days suddenly finds him at a loss for words, a man who has for his whole life lived according to a set of rules and habits that gave him a sense of place bound to a White culture that no longer exists except in the Mind of an old man who has now sensed the deluded truth of his own petty existence. And, yet, it’s a truth he is unwilling to accept. It’s at this moment that the geranium, the last refuge of his connection to the old world, to his place up north, his life without doubts about who he was and his place in the universe becomes absolutely unhinged. The flower has gone missing:

A man was looking at him. A man was in the window across the alley looking straight at him. The man was watching him cry. That was where the geranium was supposed to be and it was a man in his undershirt, watching him cry, waiting to watch his throat pop. Old Dudley looked back at the man. It was supposed to be the geranium. The geranium belonged there, not the man. “Where is the geranium?” he called out of his tight throat. (13)

His neighbor feeling threatened by the old man tells him it’s none of his business where the flower is, but if he wants to know it fell down and broke six floors below. Dudley looks over the window sill and sees it down in the alley smashed but still living in a clump of dirt. He takes a mind to go down six flights and pick it up after being challenged by the white man across the way. But getting to the end of the hall and actually faced with walking down six flights,

He walked slowly down the dog run and got to the steps. The steps dropped down like a deep wound in the floor. They opened up through a gap like a cavern and went down and down. (14)

This notion of entering an abyss, an infernal where he’d have to confront more people like the neighbor next door and the neighbor across the way is too much for Dudley.

The man was sitting over where it should have been. “I ain’t seen you pickin’ it up,” he said.
Old Dudley stared at the man.
“I seen you before,” the man said. “I seen you settin’ in that old chair every day, starin’ out the window, looking in my apartment. What I do in my apartment is my business, see? I don’t like people looking at what I do.”
It was at the bottom of the alley with its roots in the air.
“I only tell people once,” the man said and left the window. (14)

For once in his life Dudley is unable to keep his Mind balanced, completely unhinged and unable to speak or say anything he just stares at the broken flower pot and the pink-red geranium six floors below as if it was his broken Mind and Life. Oblivious to the violence surrounding him, of the hostile intent of the White man across from him he just stares at the flower. Dumfounded at the catastrophe of his existence, a World shattered to the point of no return, a world beyond redemption, he felt a sense of doom realizing he was now living in a world that would lie like that flower in a broken heap of ruin, forever.

It’s this sense of shock and devastation, an awakening from the delusions of one’s world, of a life lived in the midst of pure and unadulterated delirium that is the earmark of O’Connor’s stories, her Gnostic fables in which the only truth given is that we are all deluded living in our own private hells beyond redemption. Of course her defenders have tried to return us to a Catholic vision of hope and transcendence, rather than as in this story the truth of a bittersweet world of immanence and ruin, a world full of grotesques like Dudley who in the end crumple and fold under the weight of the World’s clamour.


  1.  Connor, Flannery. The Complete Stories (p. 9). Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Kindle Edition.

The Last Man

They have something of which they are proud. What do they call it, that which makes them proud? Culture, they call it; it distinguishes them from the goatherds.

-Friedrich Nietzsche: Thus Spoke Zarathustra

Nietzsche once envisioned the end point of progressive politics: the last man. The lives of the last men are pacifist and comfortable. There is no longer a distinction between ruler and ruled, strong over weak, or supreme over the mediocre. Social conflict and challenges are minimized. Every individual lives equally and in “superficial” harmony. There are no original or flourishing social trends and ideas. Individuality and creativity are suppressed. Outwardly it appears to the alien as a perfect world, a utopian enclave where the populace is taken care of, secure, and happy.

A world without disease, conflict, war, poverty, mental aberrations – a world without creativity. In such a world the men and women no longer need education in the sense of the old political horizons, because the world is itself a fulfilled and progressive society. Enlightenment, the sciences, and the socio-cultural regulators who oversee this civilization are not men and women of power, but rather volunteers in a world of non-power. The impersonal laws and pyscho-social apparatus that enforces the stability, security, and regulatory mechanisms of this utopian world are themselves regulated by the ultra-egalitarian value systems that keep even their own mental systems in check.

At the center of this society will be the AGI systems that make all the decisions regulating the complex interactions across the fold of this world populace. These systems will act as oracles for the vast majority of educated and uneducated believers who will become only the beneficiaries of this new impersonal machinism. We could say the AGI’s will handle the intricate and complex relations of jurisprudence that will arbitrate every aspect of this societies intrinsic and extrinsic relations. Welcome to the algorithmic society of the future.

At the heart of this system of egalitarian social relations is the psycho-pharmaceutical Neuromantic Nomos – the Order of Neural Law. Such a society is well versed in the convergence of nanotech, biogenetic, telemantic, and neuroscientific pharma: the fusion of nano-tech and pharmaceutical regulatory agents that will focus their powerful socio-medicinal systems on bringing peace and happiness to the citizens of this brave new world. The growth of regulative platforms of sustainability and resource regulation will have brought to bare the full systems of law to regulate every aspect of life on earth. Yet, to work out these regulatory positings is no longer in the hands of humans but of powerful machinic intelligences which will supply both the legal and socio-medical techniques needed to enforce this system. Humans will be free, but only within a very well defined system of reasons and regulations. Their lives regulated by nanobiotech machinic intelligences that carefully regulate metabolic and neural systems according to the new Nomos.

After the chaotic downturn in the Age of Risk during the so called post-Enlightenment age of unregulated Laissez-faire and beyond into the late financial capitalisms of the Oligarchic and Plutocratic worlds of Neurocapitalism, when humans were coerced into Security Regimes through the use and abuse of the vast new technologies of neuralpharmakon: the time of non-time, presentism, held sway.  The end of certain forms of violence and revolutionary thought brought to an abrupt end the age-old defiance of the masses against oppression. With the advent of neuraltech pharmakon, the street drugs of the new dispensation, along with the cult like prophets dispersing this new religious melioration unto the downcast and forgotten became the way to reign in the dissident elements of the Great Failure. Now that this socio-cultural world was hooked on peace and love, on unity and diversity of psycho-sexual integration the diverse and angry world of poverty and dissidence vanished. The production of dreams and fantasy became the new watchword, a world of satisfied gamers of reality.

With a new Universal Base Income (UBI) in place there was only the need to discover something worthwhile to do and be in this new world. With the end of the age-old monetization systems of capital came the only coin left: human creativity. Yet, as in most regulated systems creativity would be segmented off from the vast majority of players. The creative class would become the enhanced and unregulated systems of experimental social relations, beings set apart in special zones to live and work in the Great Experiment. These beings would become the focus of a well orchestrated Reality TV series in which the uncreative classes would dream of their heroes from afar. (more on this in a future post!)

So that it was just that much easier to incorporate less and less risk management, and off-load more and more of human security and risk onto the newly developed AGI’s. The very systems of profit and plunder that once brought the .01% their dreamworlds, was turned against them to awaken a living dream for all. In the end humans developed a society that elided the very concept of competition and aggression from the human genome. The new biogenetics would slowly but methodically develop personality types according to the function and algorithmic needs of the society itself. One was not so much free to do what one wanted, but to do what one was programed to want. For humans were no longer bound by the illusion of Free Will, but regulated by the impersonal will of their neuraltech systems far below the surface of awareness and consciousness.

 “The event itself is far too great, too distant, too remote from the multitude’s capacity for comprehension even for the tidings of it to be thought of as having arrived as yet.”

-Friedrich Nietzsche


Anti-Fascism = “de-familiarizing, de-oedipalizing, de-castrating; undoing theater, dream, and fantasy; decoding, de-territorializing – a terrible curettage, a malevolent activity.” (Anti-Oedipus: Deleuze & Guattari)

To one half of humanity this will appear dystopia completed, to the other half a strange progress indeed. Maybe it’s more of a fable of “Be careful what you wish for, you might get it in unexpected ways and means.” If you haven’t noticed this is a sort of ongoing world building scenario for a dystopian trilogy in the offing… I’ve often wondered “What if…” we pushed the current trends in progressive thought and politics to the ultra conclusion? What would such a egalitarian world of social justice really look like? Would it push the techno-commercial to the point of a total reformist society based on impersonal regulation by decisioning systems like AGI’s or not? With our investment in the convergence technologies will humans divide into creative and uncreative social relations? How will we have both happy satisfied workers and creativity, too? As so many have suggested, creativity is itself a vehicle that brings violence to the world in which it breaks through. So will the creative class become a separate world, segmented off from the great mass of uncreative talents?

Country Noir: On Writers That Sustain Me

In a world that disdains you the only reasonable response is stubborn disregard of contempt.
—Dorothy Allison

A friend of mine Arran James asked me a question about who the Southern Writers I most enjoy beyond the usual suspects of Edgar Allan Poe, Mark Twain,  Zora Neale Hurston, William Faulkner, Katherine Anne Porter, Thomas Wolfe, Flannery O’Connor, Walker Percy, Cormac McCarthy, Tennessee Williams (Playwright & Short Stories), Robert Penn Warren, A.R. Williams (Poet/Essayist), and Truman Capote. Good Reads has a good list to start with along with the specifics of Country noir, but it’s a toss up for the best – and, there are some missing on Good Reads I’d add. But that’s just it, matters of time, memory, and habit all seem to coalesce in this world; shift us to those writers that speak to us, that give us something we need, a dark gift of wisdom. The one’s I keep on reading and rereading, the one’s that give me pleasure or disturb and perturb me to change and wake up and help me get through the bleak days of my life and our century of idiocy are the one’s who spoke to me, lifted me out of my self-pity and gave me the power to find my own voice, my own way, my own truth in this world.

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Allan Moore: Jerusalem

51whd70y4clAllan Moore’s new novel is out at last. Jerusalem. Of course if you’re at all familiar with comics, Allan is a mortal god among gods. With such series as Watchman, V for Vendetta, Saga of the Swamp Thing, From Hell, The League of Extraordinary Gentleman, Promethea, Voice of the Fire, Lost Girls and so many others his collaborations have produced some of the most innovative works in the industry. Now he comes out with what possibly might be his last work, and what a work. I’ve only downloaded it and begun to read it. So I’ll only jot from the blurb if you haven’t seen the work:

In the epic novel Jerusalem, Alan Moore channels both the ecstatic visions of William Blake and the theoretical physics of Albert Einstein through the hardscrabble streets and alleys of his hometown of Northampton, UK. In the half a square mile of decay and demolition that was England’s Saxon capital, eternity is loitering between the firetrap housing projects. Embedded in the grubby amber of the district’s narrative among its saints, kings, prostitutes, and derelicts, a different kind of human time is happening, a soiled simultaneity that does not differentiate between the petrol-colored puddles and the fractured dreams of those who navigate them.

Employing, a kaleidoscope of literary forms and styles that ranges from brutal social realism to extravagant children’s fantasy, from the modern stage drama to the extremes of science fiction, Jerusalem’s dizzyingly rich cast of characters includes the living, the dead, the celestial, and the infernal in an intricately woven tapestry that presents a vision of an absolute and timeless human reality in all of its exquisite, comical, and heartbreaking splendor.

In these pages lurk demons from the second-century Book of Tobit and angels with golden blood who reduce fate to a snooker tournament. Vagrants, prostitutes, and ghosts rub shoulders with Oliver Cromwell, Samuel Beckett, James Joyce’s tragic daughter Lucia, and Buffalo Bill, among many others. There is a conversation in the thunderstruck dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral, childbirth on the cobblestones of Lambeth Walk, an estranged couple sitting all night on the cold steps of a Gothic church front, and an infant choking on a cough drop for eleven chapters. An art exhibition is in preparation, and above the world a naked old man and a beautiful dead baby race along the Attics of the Breath toward the heat death of the universe.

An opulent mythology for those without a pot to piss in, through the labyrinthine streets and pages of Jerusalem tread ghosts that sing of wealth, poverty, and our threadbare millennium. They discuss English as a visionary language from John Bunyan to James Joyce, hold forth on the illusion of mortality post-Einstein, and insist upon the meanest slum as Blake’s eternal holy city.

It should be a wild romp full of surprises… looking forward to it.

Flannery O’Connor: The Southern Comic Grotesque

I think it is safe to say that while the South is hardly Christ-centered, it is most certainly Christ-haunted.

-Flannery O’Connor, Some Aspects of the Grotesque in Southern Fiction

When we look at a good deal of serious modern fiction, and particularly Southern fiction, we find this quality about it that is generally described, in a pejorative sense, as grotesque. … Thomas Mann has said that the grotesque is the true anti-bourgeois style, but I believe that in this country, the general reader has managed to connect the grotesque with the sentimental, for whenever he speaks of it favorably, he seems to associate it with the writer’s compassion.

In these grotesque works, we find that the writer has made alive some experience which we are not accustomed to observe every day, or which the ordinary man may never experience in his ordinary life. We find that connections which we would expect in the customary kind of realism have been ignored, that there are strange skips and gaps which anyone trying to describe manners and customs would certainly not have left. Yet the characters have an inner coherence, if not always a coherence to their social framework. Their fictional qualities lean away from typical social patterns, toward mystery and the unexpected.

In the novelist’s case, prophecy is a matter of seeing near things with their extensions of meaning and thus of seeing far things close up. The prophet is a realist of distances, and it is this kind of realism that you find in the best modern instances of the grotesque.

Whenever I’m asked why Southern writers particularly have a penchant for writing about freaks, I say it is because we are still able to recognize one. … Ghosts can be very fierce and instructive. They cast strange shadows, particularly in our literature. In any case, it is when the freak can be sensed as a figure for our essential displacement that he attains some depth in literature.

Certainly when the grotesque is used in a legitimate way, the intellectual and moral judgments implicit in it will have the ascendency over feeling. I think this tradition of the dark and divisive romance-novel has combined with the comicgrotesque tradition, and with the lessons all writers have learned from the naturalists, to preserve our Southern literature for at least a little while…

For the kind of writer I have been describing, a literature which mirrors society would be no fit guide for it, and one which did manage, by sheer art, to do both these things would have to have recourse to more violent means than middlebrow subject matter and mere technical expertness. …

The novelist must be characterized not by his function but by his vision, and we must remember that his vision has to be transmitted and that the limitations and blind spots of his audience will very definitely affect the way he is able to show what he sees. This is another thing which in these times increases the tendency toward the grotesque in fiction.

We live now in an age which doubts both fact and value, which is swept this way and that by momentary convictions. Instead of reflecting a balance from the world around him, the novelist now has to achieve one from a felt balance inside himself.

The great novels we get in the future are not going to be those that the public thinks it wants, or those that critics demand. They are going to be the kind of novels that interest the novelist. And the novels that interest the novelist are those that have not already been written. They are those that put the greatest demands on him, that require him to operate at the maximum of his intelligence and his talents, and to be true to the particularities of his own vocation. The direction of many of us will be more toward poetry than toward the traditional novel.

The problem for such a novelist will be to know how far he can distort without destroying, and in order not to destroy, he will have to descend far enough into himself to reach those underground springs that give life to his work. This descent into himself will, at the same time, be a descent into his 1·egion. It .will be a descent through the darkness of the familiar into a world where, like the blind man cured in the gospels, he sees men as if they were trees, but walking. This is the beginning of vision, and I feel it is a vision which we in the South must at least try to understand if we want to participate in the continuance of a vital Southern literature. I hate to think that in twenty years Southern writers too may be writing about men in gray-flannel suits and may have lost their ability to see that these gentlemen are even greater freaks than what we are writing about now. I hate to think of the day when the Southern writer will satisfy the tired reader.

-Flannery O’Connor, Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose Pieces