Enigmas of the Sublime and the Grotesque

  • Antoine Dechêne
Part of the Crime Files book series (CF)


This chapter introduces three important concepts liable to help one deal with texts which certainly reject classification and interpretation: the sublime, the grotesque, and, to a lesser extent, the abject. Based on theories by Burke, Lyotard, and Kant among others, the concept of the sublime is used in this book to describe the cognitive failure of the detectives facing the ungraspable nature of human experience. The related concept of the grotesque, apprehended through Bakhtin and Kayser, is studied as a literary mode which emphasizes and further distorts the anxiety and horror that the lack of solutions generates in metacognitive mystery tales. Lastly, the abject, understood in Kristevian terms, appears as the most extreme form of existential and intellectual privation experienced by the detectives.

Works Cited

  1. Auster, Paul. 1990. The New York Trilogy. New York: Penguin Books. Original edition, 1985, 1986, 1986.Google Scholar
  2. ———. 2007. The Invention of Solitude. New York: Penguin Books. Original edition, 1982.Google Scholar
  3. Bakhtin, Mikhaïl M. 1984. Rabelais and His World. Trans. Hélène Iswolsky. Bloomington/Indianapolis: Indiana University Press. Original edition, 1968.Google Scholar
  4. ———. 2011. Forms of Time and of the Chronotope in the Novel. In The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays by M. M. Bakhtin, ed. Michael Holquist, 84–258. Austin: University of Texas Press. Original edition, 1981.Google Scholar
  5. Beckett, Samuel. 2009. Three Novels: Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable. New York: Grove Press. Original edition, 1959.Google Scholar
  6. Bolaño, Roberto. 2010. Monsieur Pain. Trans. Chris Andrews. New York: New Directions Book. Original edition, 1999.Google Scholar
  7. Brady, Emily. 2013. The Sublime in Modern Philosophy: Aesthetics, Ethics, and Nature. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Burke, Edmund. 1958. A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful. London: University of Notre Dame Press. Original edition, 1757.Google Scholar
  9. Butler, Christopher. 2002. Postmodernism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  10. Clayborough, Arthur. 1967. The Grotesque in English Literature. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Original edition, 1965.Google Scholar
  11. Deleuze, Gilles. 1997. Bartleby; or, the Formula. In Essays Critical and Clinical, 68–90. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
  12. Den Tandt, Christophe. 1995. Invoking the Abyss: The Ideologies of the Postmodern Sublime. Revue belge de philologie et d’histoire 73 (3): 803–821.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. ———. 1998. The Urban Sublime in American Literary Naturalism. Urbana/Chicago: University of Illinois Press.Google Scholar
  14. Eckhard, Petra. 2011. Chronotopes of the Uncanny: Time and Space in Postmodern New York Novels, Paul Auster’s “City of Glass” and Toni Morrisson’s “Jazz”, (Transcript) Lettre. New Brunswick/London: Transaction Publishers.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Hawthorne, Nathaniel. 1974. Wakefield. In Twice-Told Tales, 130–140. Columbus: Ohio State University Press. Original edition, 1837.Google Scholar
  16. Inwood, Michael. 1999. A Heidegger Dictionary. Oxford/Malden: Blackwell Publishers.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. James, Henry. 1964. The Figure in the Carpet. In The Complete Tales of Henry James. London: Rupert Hart-Davis. Original edition, 1896.Google Scholar
  18. Kafka, Franz. 2012. A Brother’s Murder. In A Hunger Artist and Other Stories, ed. Ritchie Robertson, 34–45. Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  19. Kant, Immanuel. 1991. Analytic of the Sublime. In The Critique of Judgement, 90–203. New York: Oxford University Press. Original edition, 1790.Google Scholar
  20. Kayser, Wolfgang. 1963. The Grotesque in Art and Literature. Trans. Ulrich Weisstein. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Original edition, 1957.Google Scholar
  21. Kristeva, Julia. 1982. Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection. Trans. Leon S. Roudiez. New York Columbia University Press. Original edition, 1980.Google Scholar
  22. Levin, Harry. 1958. The Power of Blackness: Hawthorne, Poe, Melville. Chicago/Athens/London: Ohio State University Press.Google Scholar
  23. Lozier, Claire. 2012. De l’abject et du sublime: Georges Bataille, Jean Genet, Samuel Beckett. In Modern French Identities, ed. Peter Collier, vol. 65. Bern: Peter Lang.Google Scholar
  24. Lyotard, Jean-François. 1984. The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. Trans. Geoff Bennington, Brian Massumi, and Régis Durand. Vol. 10. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Original edition, 1979.Google Scholar
  25. ———. 1991. The Sublime and the Avant-Garde. In The Inhuman: Reflections on Time, 89–107. Stanford: Stanford University Press. Original edition, 1988.Google Scholar
  26. ———. 1994. Lessons on the Analytic of the Sublime. Trans. Elizabeth Tottenberg. Stanford: Stanford University Press. Original edition, 1991.Google Scholar
  27. Meindl, Dieter. 1996. American Fiction and the Metaphysics of the Grotesque. Columbia/London: University of Missouri Press.Google Scholar
  28. Melville, Herman. 1856. Bartleby. In The Piazza Tales, 19–50. New York: Aegypan Press.Google Scholar
  29. Merivale, Patricia, and Susan Elizabeth Sweeney. 1999. The Game’s Afoot: On the Trail of the Metaphysical Detective Story. In Detecting Texts: The Metaphysical Detective Story from Poe to Postmodernism, ed. Patricia Merivale and Susan Elizabeth Sweeney, 1–24. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.Google Scholar
  30. Miernowski, Jan. 2014. Au-delà du beau: le sublime et le grotesque. In Le Sublime et le grotesque, ed. Jan Miernowski, 9–39. Genève: Libraire Droz.Google Scholar
  31. Morawski, Stefan. 1994. The Hopeless Game of Flânerie. In The Flâneur, ed. Keith Tester, 181–197. London/New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  32. Plato. 1991. The Republic of Plato. Trans. Allan Bloom. New York: BasicBooks.Google Scholar
  33. Poe, Edgar Allan. 1975a. The Man of the Crowd. In The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe, 475–481. New York: Vintage Books. Original edition, 1840.Google Scholar
  34. ———. 1975b. William Wilson. In The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe, 626–641. New York: Vintage Books. Original edition, 1839.Google Scholar
  35. Shaw, Philip. 2006. The Sublime. London/New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  36. Tester, Keith. 1994. Introduction. In The Flâneur, ed. Keith Tester, 1–21. London/New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  37. Thompson, Philip. 1972. The Grotesque. London: Methuen. Accessed 25 May 2016.

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Antoine Dechêne
    • 1
  1. 1.University of LiègeLiègeBelgium

Personalised recommendations