Category Archives: uncanny

Most of the evening was spent on

Most of the evening was spent on researching JRMS interview[1] with Gilbert Alter-Gilbert:

Genealogy of the Cruel Tale by you.

Gilbert Albert-Gilbert’s Genealogy of the Cruel Tale from Bakunin v.6, 1997) [1]

and especially Gilbert‘s intriguing “Genealogy of the Cruel Tale[2] a perfect example of the kind of thematic literary criticism I’m rather fond of. The chart reminds of the aestheticization of violence and cruelty in general, of which Nietzsche said:

“One ought to learn anew about cruelty,” said Nietzsche (Beyond Good and Evil, 229), “and open one’s eyes. Almost everything that we call ‘higher culture‘ is based upon the spiritualizing and intensifying of cruelty….”

For your pleasure, here is the wikified version (information is scarce on the 20th century authors mentioned):


Genealogy of the Cruel Tale is a chart by American intellectual Gilbert Alter-Gilbert documenting the origins of the cruel tale, which begins etymologically with Auguste Villiers de l’Isle-Adam‘s Contes cruels anthology and has content- and style-wise similarities with cult fiction and horror fiction, Dark Romanticism and the roman frénétique, black humor, transgressive fiction, grotesque literature and folk tales. Sholem Stein says that it is a continuation of the research done by Breton in Anthology of Black Humor. Texts such as Walter Scott‘s On the Supernatural in Fictitious Composition, Lovecraft‘s Supernatural Horror in Literature, Mario Praz‘s Romantic Agony and Todorov’s The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre also come to mind. Notably absent is Sade.


Gratuitous nudity #8

Lest I be accused of too much theory, it is time for some gratuitous nudity, number 8 in our series[1].

Love in the year 2000, in Paris Tabou

Source: [Bxzzines]

This picture, taken from an unknown issue of Paris-Tabou, comes our way via Bxzzines[2], the blog on French obscure magazines.

This particular photo depicts a nude female embraced by a robot. The title is “L’amour en l’an 2000”, love in the year 2000. If we consider the robot as dressed, we can categorize this picture as belonging to the nude female/dressed male trope, should this notion to be far-fetched, it can still qualify to shed light on the sex and science fiction trope.

Paris Tabou was a French pin-up magazine published from September 1949 until 1953. Possibly taking its name from the Tabou Club, it published pin-up girls and stories by such authors as Boris Vian, who contributed L’Amour est aveugle, published in its first issue in 1949). Illustrators included the Italian Gino Boccasile.

Do not be surprised if it turns up at the excellent blog PonyXpress[3], the author of which has just favorited it at my Flickr stream[4].

Icon of Erotic Art #31

It is time for Icon of erotic art #31

Truck Babies (1999) by Patricia Piccinini

Truck Babies (1999) by Patricia Piccinini presents a pair of infant trucks. It is Icon of Erotic Art #31.

“The Truck Babies are infantile not miniature; they have big cheeks and fat bottoms, little wheels and lovely big eyes. They are what I imagined to be the offspring of the big trucks that I saw on the road. I examined the relationship between babies and fully-grown animals and people and applied these developmental changes backwards to the trucks.” [1]

The eroticism of this work is not obvious, but derives from the fact that most procreation is derived from the sexual act. It is my basic tenet that the sexual act is not necessarily “natural“, my favorite quote in this regard is from Leonardo da Vinci:

“The art of procreation and the members employed therein are so repulsive that if it were not for the beauty of the faces and the adornments of the actors and the pent-up impulse, nature would lose the human species.”

A quote that also comes to mind is one by Susan Sontag:

Human sexuality is, quite apart from Christian repressions, a highly questionable phenomenon, and belongs, at least potentially, among the extreme rather than the ordinary experiences of humanity. Tamed as it may be, sexuality remains one of the demonic forces in human consciousness – pushing us at intervals close to taboo and dangerous desires, which range from the impulse to commit sudden arbitrary violence upon another person to the voluptuous yearning for the extinction of one’s consciousness, for death itself.” –Susan Sontag in the The Pornographic Imagination

The sexual act requires humans to gain intimacy to body parts which are “naturally” abhorred by humans, body parts which involve excrementation for example.

The sex drive, to which near all human animals fall prey, has often propelled us to engage in the sexual act with non-human animals. I surmise that the depictions of human-animal hybrids featured in bestiaries so popular in the Middle Ages (only second in popularity to the Bible), is derived from the fear that human-animal copulation would result in offspring.

It is within the context of these bestiaries that the work of Piccinini should be viewed. The uncanniness of Truck Babies is derived from a fear of ascribing animal qualities to machines, machines having become the nearest equivalent to domestic animals in the post-industrial age.

Truck Babies also provides me with an opportunity to announce the death of American science fiction writer Thomas M. Disch (1940 – 2008), author of Camp Concentration, The Brave Little Toaster and 334. The oblique link between Truck Babies and Disch is the anthropomorphism evident in Truck Babies and The Brave Little Toaster.

Will you talk about yourself?

This post is part of the cult fiction series, this issue #5

The Swimmer (1968) Frank Perry

The famed John Cheever short story appeared in the New Yorker and people talked. Now there will be talk again. When you sense this man’s vibrations and share his colossal hang-up . . . will you see someone you know, or love? When you feel the body-blow power of his broken dreams, will it reach you deep inside, where it hurts? When you talk about “The Swimmerwill you talk about yourself?

Tokyo Nobody, a parable of abandonment

Tokyo Nobody (2000) – Masataka Nakano

[FR] [DE] [UK]

Masataka Nakano is a Japanese photographer, best-known for his Tokyo Nobody anthology, a series of photos of Tokyo, devoid of its 10 to 15 million inhabitants; mostly shot on the New Year holiday when all city dwellers go to visit relatives out in the country and Tokyo becomes a ghost town.

Via Trevor Brown (1).

See also: abandonment

Erutarettil, or, Treasures from the Antwerp library

I went to the Permeke library in the center of Antwerp yesterday evening and loaned these:

Two of these books I had already loaned, the work by Rachleff, which is excellent, and the sublime Sade / Surreal, which I’ve mentioned before here. Sade/Surreal is a pricey book (a French bookseller currently wants more than 300 EUR for it, but a German vendor is currently letting it go for less than 40 Euros, which is a bargain, if you have deep pockets, consider buying it for me as a present). For the last hour of so, I’ve been updating my wiki with the names found on the opening and closing pages of the book (pictured below), which reads like a who’s who of Sadean thought, a summa sadeica, as it were.

Sade Surreal inside page

Opening and closing page of Sade/Surreal

There were only a couple of names I could not identify, any help is welcome: Retz (either Gilles de Rais, or the cardinal with the same name, Young (perhaps Mr. Young of Night Thoughts?), de Saint Martin, Bertrand (probably Aloysius Bertrand ?) and Constant (Constantin Meunier?). The rest is indentified.

Also in the same book is the engraving below, which I find lovely, like a cake-building or a building of collapsing blubbery wet clay.

Tomb of Pompeii by Jean-Baptiste Tierce, 1766

Tomb of Pompeii by Jean-Baptiste Tierce, 1766

Unreason vs. reason


Adorable seventies graphic design on the book depicted above.

Of course, the classic illustration of unreason is:

The Sleep of Reason Produces Monstersis a 1799 print by Goya from the Caprichos series. It is the image the sleeping artist surrounded by the winged ghoulies and beasties unleashed by unreason.

The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters is a 1799 print by Goya from the Caprichos series. It is the image the sleeping artist surrounded by the winged ghoulies and beasties unleashed by unreason.

Unreason on the whole is a subject of innumerable greater interest than reason. As such, I’ll take the counter-enlightenment over the enlightenment any day. Conceded, there were interesting aspects of the enlightenment, ignored by history, such as the enlightenment of Thérèse Philosophe. See Robert Darnton’s The Forbidden Best-Sellers of Pre-Revolutionary France.

Art history revisionism

Grotesque Head (c. 1480-1510) by Leonardo da Vinci, clearly the inspiration for The Ugly Duchess
Grotesque Head (c. 14801510) by Leonardo da Vinci,
clearly the inspiration for The Ugly Duchess
The Ugly Duchess by Quentin Matsys

The Ugly Duchess (1525-30) by Quentin Matsys

In my previous post I argued for a revisionist approach to art history, favoring discarded art historical movements related to the grotesque and the fantastic. I called for a start of art history with the work of Bosch rather than Da Vinci. I realized when writing it that I sort of short-changed da Vinci since the latter has also made many lesser-known works including several grotesques [1] and caricatures[2]. See the book Leonardo Da Vinci: The Divine and the Grotesque by Martin Clayton.

The reason I short-changed da Vinci is that he is much better known for “mainstream” works such as the Mona Lisa and Vitruvian Man. While researching da Vinci’s relation to the grotesque I came up with Grotesque Head, a powerful caricature which is clearly the inspiration for Quentin Matsys‘s The Ugly Duchess. Enjoy.

Introducing Paul Rumsey

Two Bodyheads (2003) by Paul Rumsey

Two Bodyheads (2003) by Paul Rumsey

Regular readers may have noticed the informed comments of Paul Rumsey, so I thought it was time for a proper introduction.

I discovered the work of Paul Rumsey in December 2005, when I was researching The Waking dream: Fantasy and the surreal in graphic art, 1450-1900 (1975).

Anonymous Flemish print, end of the 17th century, from The Waking Dream book.

Anonymous Flemish print, end of the 16th century,
from The Waking Dream book; please notice thematic similarities
in Rumsey’s work such as this.

I’ve always been an obsessive Googler and searching for certain terms from “The Waking Dream,” I stumbled upon an essay by Rumsey in which he cited the The Waking Dream as an early inspiration and also quoted 20th century names partly already familiar to me:

“In the twentieth century this type of imagery has permeated culture, and is found everywhere, in diverse art forms including: the satiric installations of Kienholz, the drawings of A. Paul Weber, the cartoons of Robert Crumb, the animated films of Jan Svankmajer, photographs by Witkin, plays by Beckett, science fiction by Ballard, fantastic literature like Meyrink’s The Golem, Jean Ray’s Malpertuis, the art and writings of Bruno Schulz and Leonora Carrington, films by David Lynch, Cronenberg and Gilliam; all are part of a spreading network of connections, the branching tentacles of the grotesque.”

This quote – as well as the preceding passages – were so dense with names of artists I admired that I decided to investigate further and to find out what it was that gave me a certain frisson in these artists which I found lacking in others admired by established art criticism; a frisson that could be summarized as fantastic, as in fantastic art.

Paul Rumsey’s work fits squarely into this fantastic art tradition: buildings growing on people’s heads[1], humans who have their faces on their bellies, horrifying animals [2], human-animal hybrids [3], polymorphous objects shaped out of breasts [4] and imaginary structures [5] are some of the themes to be found in his work.

Rumsey’s work calls for a revisionist approach to art history. An art history which starts with Bosch rather than Da Vinci (born just two years later), with Odilon Redon rather than Monet (born in the same year) and which prefers Kubin over Picasso (born four years apart).

If you are interested in this kind of art history, here is a list of books that give an extensive overview of the field:

Also visit Rumsey’s official page and the site of the Chappel Galleries, which has Rumsey’s work on display.

Horticultural horror

Following my recent post on an ugly plant, which was actually a very beautiful plant as suburbanlife remarked, I stumbled upon a photograph of a Tetrameles nudiflora tree at the Ta Prohm temple in Cambodia. This is a very frightening plant, the roots of which cover this entire temple in Cambodia and like the “ugly plant”, it seems to be dripping like a fluid over the structure.

I first came across horticultural horror in the stories of Stephen King but a quick search on “horticultural horror” at Google turns up many more examples. For example, “The Garden of Adompha”, a 1938 story by Clark Ashton Smith, tells of a king who maintains a gruesome garden sown with human limbs grafted onto plants.

“A bare, leafless creeper was flowered with the ears of a delinquent guardsman…. Some of the salver-like blossoms bore palpitating hearts, and certain smaller blossoms were centered with eyes…”

Previously at Jahsonic: