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Titill

Grotesque Physicality: Female Excess in Angela Carter’s “Nights at the Circus”

Útdráttur

This essay suggests that embracing the physicality of the female body and its appetites is a premise for female empowerment. By exploring the protagonists of Angela Carter’s novel Nights at the Circus through the prism of theory on grotesque
imagery and the body, it argues that an unbiased acceptance of human physiology can help reverse the social marginalisation of women. It maintains that for this purpose, an understanding of the body as continually in the act of becoming is of central importance. The essay argues for Mikhail Bakhtin’s perception of a regenerative grotesque body in the medieval or Renaissance sense in preference to the prevailing Romantic grotesque which considers the body negative and terrifying.
The essay suggests that reclaiming the Bakhtinian grotesque can reduce the urge to abject the female body as expounded by Julia Kristeva. It claims that the categorizing of female anatomy as threatening is due to its cavernous yet overbrimming connotations, and that this ideology must be countered by celebrating physical excesses. To explain how the social psyche attempts to defend itself against the perceived threat of grotesque physicality, the essay refers to Michel Foucault’s theories of the panoptic State and discursive practices. It is suggested that the character of Fevvers exemplifies resistance to such control by revelling in her physical desires, and consequently in the crossing of bodily margins.
Fevvers’s refusal to be rendered a static image of feminine death for the normative male gaze to observe is connected to the concept of the spectacle. The essay claims that the heroine’s making a spectacle of her excesses adds to the
ambiguity that is central to the Bakhtinian grotesque, and that this brings about her
empowerment. The essay nevertheless observes that performing for the male gaze is not without risk. The essay then concludes with the suggestion that the character of Fevvers reveals how the Bakhtinian grotesque, performed as a spectacle, generates infinite possibilities for women because of its ambiguity. It proposes that this regenerating grotesque spectacle could facilitate resistance to the female body’s remaining a locus for social control.

Birting
11.9.2009


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