The mechanical quality of the grotesque can be evidenced in the work of Giovanni Battista Piranesi. His Carceri etchings exhibit some of the more common, and a few of the little known, aspects of the grotesque in architectural sketches. Piranesi (1720—1778) engraved imaginative reconstructions of ancient Rome providing a hypothetical view of antiquity. Piranesi 's Carceri etchings may be compared to architectural sketches since these etchings contain quick, expressive, and fantastic qualities, resembling a definition of architectural sketches. They are also grotesque because,
2 This definition is reminiscent of Baudrillard 's concept of the hyper-real: Baudrillard, J. (1983). Simulations. Semiotext.
in their visual presentation, they contain characteristics of accepted definitions of the grotesque; they are fanciful, bizarre, comically incongruous or absurd, ridiculously ugly, or depart markedly from the natural. These architectural etchings can be viewed as grotesque by virtue of their interpretive qualities. Some of the elements include transition (process or progression), ambivalence, fragmentation, deformation, their intermediary aspects, paradox and the grotesque 's affinity for the lower stratum. As in caricature, the transformation and ridicule encourage comprehension of a truth beneath outward appearances.
Piranesi 's work sublimely represents the grotesque, partially because of the obvious visual connections to traditional definitions of the grotesque, and also because of more complex notions of the grotesque that involve interpretation. These etchings provide comparison to sketches since they comprise characteristics typical of architectural sketches. They employ light expressive lines that are quick, vague, and often lacking in details. As do sketches, they represent the uncertain, changing, constantly transforming and tenuous stage of the design process. As described in earlier chapters, sketches often contain vague connections, and fantasy qualities. Piranesi 's etchings present many of these traits, and can be described as having a vitality reminiscent of sketches.
For the Carceri, Piranesi used etching rather than engraving, presumably because it allowed him to work quickly and render expressive variations of lines.3 Engraving being more labor intensive is a less spontaneous process. Although both provide the artist with the ability to produce a multitude of identical prints, etching promotes playful, quick lines. Similarly, architects use sketches to outline an abstract concept, then rework that same sketch until it becomes more detailed and definite.
Piranesi 's Carceri suggest he was practicing a similar process, as evidenced by the several stages of the Carceri 'sketchings'. The etchings were published in a first state and then reworked to produce a second state that was distributed later. The technique seems to have suited Piranesi well, as he used what Werner Oechslin describes as quickness: ' [t]he sketch is ideally suited for capturing the fleetingness of an idea' (1982: 103).
This method of etching/sketching, in comparison to drawing, allows the architect to find allusions and analogies during the action of drawing. E.H. Gombrich writes about how Leonardo used sketches for inspiration: '[h]e goes so far as to advise the artist to avoid the traditional method of meticulous drawing because a rapid and untidy sketch may in its turn suggest new possibilities to the artist' (1969, 189).
Piranesi completed ink sketches and drawings of the Carceri approximately coinciding with the Carceri etchings. Some of these sketches seem to resemble, or could have been preparation for, the etchings. Although these sketches appear similar they do not necessarily contain a pattern likeness to be preliminary for specific Carceri etchings. Piranesi revealed the looseness and innovation of his sketchy style when defending his imaginative creations from attack by his critics; he proclaimed '[t]hey despise my originality, I their timidity' (MacDonald, 1979: 29). Philip Hofer has noted Piranesi 's quick expressive fantasies by stating that, ' [h]is etching is as he intended it to be, almost freehand drawing seemingly made in a passionate hurry' (Hofer, 1973: xii). With these elements in mind, comprehending Piranesi 's Carceri etchings as sketches becomes possible.
Many aspects of the Carceri etchings anticipate interpretive, polemical, recombining, analogical, ambiguous, or unstable elements of the grotesque.
Grotesqueries.. .stand at a margin of consciousness between the known and the unknown, the perceived and the unperceived, calling into question the adequacy of our ways of organizing the world, of dividing the continuum of experience into knowable particles. (Harpham, 1982: 3)
3 With etching, Piranesi is able to work quickly, as the image is first scratched into wax, and then a process of acid bites the lines into the plate. The wax, being softer, allows fast motion as does a sketch. Engraving requires scratching into the plate, which is more labor intensive and slower, as the marks need to be deep enough to hold ink and thus print.
One quality of the grotesque implying ' elusive' is that of ambivalence. The concept of ambiguity exemplifies attributes distinctive of Piranesi 's Carceri. The spaces are uncertain or indefinite in their endless depth, since walls and stairs fade into the distance or disappear in fog. Harpham explains these difficulties in understanding the shape of some objects or their connections to other things within the space. 'Within the gap of ambivalence or ambiguity, energy is confused, incoherent ' (1982: 8).
Looking to Plate III (Figure 5.3) the location appears to be a large interior underground stone space, but on closer observation the ambiguities within this space are evident. The light appears to be emanating from the right, casting shadows to the left, but it is not streaming from grates above as might be expected in an underground space. The mutually conflicting possibilities express the ambivalence of the grotesque. The lighting summons a mysterious uncertainty between above ground and underground, and additionally between exterior and interior, as the shadows seem consistent with those made by direct sunlight (Tafuri, 1987).
The ambiguous properties of the sketches reinforce this dichotomy of interior and exterior, and the technique using undefined connections directly relates these sketches to the grotesque. Harpham writes of the paradox of inside and outside r evealing '. the ambivalent is that which belongs to more than one domain at a time...[and] makes the grotesque image fluctuate in meaning' (1982: 4).
Piranesi alters the perspective point within these etchings so that the immediate space seems to continue rather than recede. When he wants space to recede he leaves the area light or undefined (his famous fog or steam). Manfredo Tafuri describes this space when analyzing Plate IX (Figure 5.4); he feels that the solid monument seems to melt into a huge elliptical arch, whose center quickly dissolves into empty space (1987: 26). For Tafuri this space describes the infinite and gives the plate a central lightness. This infinite space could express hope or an undefined future.
The polemic between exterior and interior spaces of which Tafuri writes is graphically achieved through techniques of perspective and illumination. The haunting of the space through these illu-sionary devices purposefully induces a feeling of the outside from the inside. It is possible Piranesi was questioning the political state by revealing the inside out. The more undefined the sketches, the greater our ability to read opposing meanings into them, since ' [c]onfused things rouse the mind to new inventions ' (Harpham, 1982: 146). Although undefined images allow imagination to interpret, it may be difficult to demarcate a boundary where maximum confusion leads only to chaos. Referring to play might impose some boundaries.
Tafuri feels Piranesi plays with his etchings as political statements, since his prisons contain torture devices and huddled people often in despair.4 In the mechanics of torture, Piranesi perceives the bourgeois as advocating a ' ... corrosive, diabolical.. .[and] an anti-human element ' (Tafuri, 1987: 31). He used the gloomy settings and symbolism to advance an assertion, one that was most likely not comprehended by most of his audience. He employed the strange fantasies as a medium with which to express this polemic, and these complex fantasies deceived his hidden meaning. Manfredo Tafuri describes the 'negative utopia' of the Carceri: '... Piranesi merely exalts the capacity of the imagination to create models, valid in the future as new values, and in the present as immediate contestations of the "abuse of those who possess wealth, and who make us believe that they themselves are able to control the operations of Architecture" ' (1987: 29).
Some of the delusion resides in the immense, and out of scale, mazes of the underground fantasies. Another part lies in the broken bodies of the forlorn inhabitants, which depict the common population dominated by the bourgeoisie. These perfects of the future present contradictions (Tafuri, 1987: 29). John Wilton-Ely describes the ' ... bridges, balconies, etc...[as] a nervous continuum with no point of stability or rest throughout' (1978: 83).
4 Piranesi was born in 1720, and although his travel was mostly confined to Italy, he must have been aware of the many conditions which sparked the French Revolution, and the decadence of the Imperial Age and the Baroque.
With the altered perspective, Piranesi sets observers in a tenuous position, forcing them to feel off balance in this continuous space. This is partially evidenced by the vacillation between ' center' or 'place', and this unnerving instability presents a visual message that supports this view (Tafuri, 1987: 27).
Piranesi 's depiction of the domination of common people reveals a ' reign of the most absolute coercion' (Tafuri, 1987: 31). Here, he is not eluding to a specific condition to create a new reality. He is, instead, presenting his version of a perceived or exaggerated image to express his political view. The delusion of truth in these etchings shows domination of mankind. This torture and humiliation is the 'active decomposition' of the status quo (Tafuri, 1987: 37). In keeping with Rousseau, Piranesi sees the 'chaos of the city' as an 'equation between city and nature' (Tafuri, 1987: 36).
Piranesi was deceptive with buildings, or prisons, that do not exist. He controlled the visual space by making a fictitious environment since he was describing a loss of freedom. It may have been a controlling mechanism to make the observer feel uneasy and thus understand the ' decomposition'. John Wilton-Ely reinforces Tafuri 's suggestion by proposing that ' ... the Carceri reveal the processes of a highly controlled discipline, exploiting to an unprecedented degree Baroque illusionist devices of perspective and lighting' (1978: 81).
These illusionist devices are reminiscent of caricature, in that Piranesi leaves the connections vague (Wilton-Ely, 1978: 19). He uses construction methods, common for his time, but does not detail any connections, leaving the observer to project the actuality. In a caricature, it is unnecessary to question the combination of a human and an inanimate object, for example, and this may also be true of the sketchy style that Piranesi used. Employing unusual lighting diminishes areas into vagueness that he wanted to de-emphasize.
In Carceri Plate XII (Figure 5.5) the shadows are cast diagonally to the left at approximately 45 degrees. Contrarily, the lightest area, the origin of the illumination, appears to be the lower right corner of the etching. Piranesi was deceptive to his liking to create a controlled atmosphere.5 He provides sufficient two-dimensional illusion in his prisons for the viewer to wonder about its existence (MacDonald, 1979). The Carceri contain enough vagueness and freedom to speak of possibilities and to question the norm set forth by Baroque artists and architects.
The action of possibilizing brings to the surface another important aspect of the grotesque that is discussed by Harpham and can be seen in sketches: the role of transition and the intermediary.
[T]he grotesque is embodied in an act of transition, of metonymy becoming metaphor, of the margin swapping places with the center. It is embodied in a transformation of duality into unity, of the meaningless into the meaningful. And all these discoveries were available right at the start: they were the very first things revealed about the grotesque, and they remain its primary features. (Harpham, 1982: 16)
Piranesi 's Carceri Plate VII (Figure 5.6) elegantly expresses a ' process or progression' of transition. On a basic or formal level, it is possible to view this etching in terms of movement since the many layers of balconies force the observer 's eyes to explore the depth of this etching. The stairs and balconies (the subject matter) speak of progression and, consequently, these stairs move diagonally and vertically through the space as a theme. This movement appears to oscillate between the two dominant vertical columns. The composition of the balconies moves diagonally up, right to left, and the spiral stairs swing diagonally down, left to right, as a counter balance. Similarly the large cable swings to the right and has been echoed by an arch breaking to the left. The strong rhythm
5 Manfredo Tafuri names Piranesi the 'wicked architect'. He quotes Klossowski describing a 'worthy' philosopher. It is the wicked man that favors his strongest passion, but the ' greater evil lies in concealing the passion under the appearance of thought, the wicked one sees nothing in the thought of the honest man than the covering up of an impotent passion' . He writes that in concealing the passion lies a great evil, but that of describing an action rather than committing it. He concludes that drawing, but not building, is wicked for an architect. Piranesi is only known to have completed one building (1987: 46—47).
FIGURE 5.5 Giovanni Battista Piranesi; Carceri, Plate XII. An arched chamber with lower arches surmounted by posts and chains, with strong light entering from the right-hand side. 1760s.
FIGURE 5.5 Giovanni Battista Piranesi; Carceri, Plate XII. An arched chamber with lower arches surmounted by posts and chains, with strong light entering from the right-hand side. 1760s.
of vertical railings reinforces a repetitious pattern, acting as a sequence of events. In the same way, Piranesi draws cables not in a thicker line to be more dominant but with many parallel lines that give the etching a fluctuating, nervous quality.
On a level beyond that of the obvious formal composition, there is potential to find elements of transition, and additionally of the intermediary. The people in the space move with undetermined action as if they are prisoners, but they have unusual freedom to wander this labyrinthine space. In the first state of this etching, several of the people are partially distorted by steam. Others seem to have weapons (vertical lines behind them), and still others are huddled, possibly helping each other walk. The function of this dismal space is indeterminate, which leads it directly into the grotesque.
The ' fragmented and jumbled ' messages evoke the intermediary, and thus the meaning hovers between the known and the unknown: things that are knowable and those that require interpretation (Harpham, 1982). Harpham reveals another aspect — the grotesque acts as a mediator between our knowledge and ambiguity. ' Resisting closure, the grotesque object impales us on the present moment, emptying the past and forestalling the future ' (1982: 16). An observer of the etchings may not be completely confident of Piranesi 's meaning; he might be commenting on a desperate situation, with the etching as an agent of political criticism. This prison might represent a view of a bleak future. The grotesque is within this gap of ambiguity; it is ' .dynamic and unpredictable, a scene of transformation or metamorphosis.' (Harpham, 1982: 8)
Harpham describes this mode of transformation, an interval of the grotesque, as similar to a paradigm crisis (1982: 17). This transformation might be a medium with which to find the truth through absurdity and exaggeration, since it may be necessary to reside in the interval of the grotesque to find radical insight (Harpham, 1982: 46).
In the lower center of this etching (Figure 5.6) two unstructured images can be seen coming out of the mist; they seem to be two dark crosses in this seemingly Godless place. This is a strange contradiction to the chains of confinement or disparity. Piranesi might be exposing the mid-region between a metaphysical heaven or hell (Harpham, 1982: 8). Again, as Harpham expresses, the grotesque can be seen as an ' ... intertextual "interval" ... [when] looking for unity between center and margin, the interpreter must, whether he finds it or not, pass through the grotesque' (1982, 38).
The grotesque then, acts as a means of emerging understanding, which is the process of 'making and unmaking meaning' (Harpham, 1982: 40). As established, the etchings in their quickness and incompleteness can be viewed as sketches, in that they have an unfinished quality. This is particularly evident as Piranesi published them in one state and reworked them to be distributed again. They are part of a creative process; a short pause within a passage of a larger story. Each of the Carceri has the same theme and could be seen as a piece within a series. This is still another example of these sketches as grotesque, where they exhibit a combination of transition and the medium of the intermediary. These qualities are well stated in a quote from George Santayana:
If this confusion is absolute, the object is simply null; it does not exist aesthetically, except by virtue of materials. But if the confusion is not absolute, and we have an inkling of the unity and character in the midst of the strangeness of the form, then we have the grotesque. It is the half-formed, the perplexed and the suggestively monstrous. (Santayana, 1961: 175)
Again, in Figure 5.6, it is confusing to view strange forms that are ambiguous but also resemble the grotesque in their relationship to the human body. The turret on the right is disturbing because, when glancing away, it has a bizarre resemblance to a face. The shape can allow perception of various forms, as it is incomplete enough to permit interpretation. William MacDonald notices the bollard in these prisons (especially Figure 5.7), a symbol for authority, and writes: ' [a]t times they become almost anthropomorphic and rather threatening, . where the forms resemble humanoids ...' (MacDonald, 1979: 14). These abstract body forms seem to function as an analogy in which the workings of a prison are compared to the human body.
The human body is vital to understanding the grotesque and, with this in mind, Mikhail Bakhtin acquaints the reader with the medieval world of Rabelais (1968). Degradation and bodily functions reveal a transformation important to the grotesque. For life in this time, the carnival was the mid-zone between mere existence and art (Bakhtin, 1968). The Middle Ages was a time of festival and carnival, as people gathered to mark time and celebrate life. All that was sacred was put aside for gay parodies and festivities: ' . the carnival-grotesque form exercises . to consecrate inventive freedom, to permit the combination of a variety of different elements and their rapprochement, to liberate from the prevailing point of view of the world, from conventions and established truths, from clichés, from all that is humdrum and universally accepted' (Bakhtin, 1968: 34).
The festival allowed a new order of things, especially the parody of sacred texts and rites. With the 'feast of fools', drunkenness and freedom of laughter were permitted. 'The truth of laughter embraced and carried away everyone; nobody could resist it' (Bakhtin, 1968: 82). Laughter ceremonies paralleled official religious services and, subsequently, the ' feast of fools' allowed, for example, the grotesque degradation of various church rituals and symbols. It also provided for a transfer to the material bodily level, which involved gluttony and drunken orgies on the alter table, indecent gestures, and disrobing (Bakhtin, 1968). Bakhtin writes that the carnival involved the joyful laughter of celebration, but that it also revealed an escapist opportunity within a difficult life by lowering that which was held on high by society.
'The essential principle of grotesque realism is degradation, that is, the lowering of all that is high, spiritual, ideal, abstract; it is a transfer to the material level, to the sphere of earth and body
in their indissoluble unity' (Bakhtin 1968, 19). The fool could be king for a day, revered and honored by his drunken neighbors. An example of this occurs in Victor Hugo 's The Hunchback of Notre Dame where Quasimodo is crowned and paraded through the streets. As rules broke down and roles reversed, people could be lewd and unmannered. ' Grotesque realism knows no other lower level; it is the fruitful earth and the womb. It is always conceiving ' (Bakhtin, 1968: 21). The body that defecates and performs sexual intercourse reveals its humanness. Bakhtin continues: '[n]ot only parody in its narrow sense but all the other forms of grotesque realism degrade, bring down to earth, turn their subject into flesh' (1968: 20).
This contact with the earth also means rebirth; Rabelais expresses the lowest level of life, but returns it to the cycle of life (1928). ' The grotesque image reflects a phenomenon in transformation, an as yet unfinished metamorphosis of death and birth, growth and becoming' (Bakhtin, 1968: 24). It is this rebirth which provides a context within which to view the Carceri etchings. The seemingly contradictory principle of rebirth in the grotesque might be a theme here, as Piranesi is inviting a comprehension of another aspect of human nature by showing the lowest degradation of the human condition. The contact with the earth, as these underground spaces disclose, adds a new dimension of interpretation to Piranesi 's choice of subject. It is possible the etchings represent a false face for a new life or hope from despair. Bakhtin prefers to choose hope:
Mask is connected with the joy of change and reincarnation, with gay relativity and with the merry negation of uniformity and similarity, it rejects conformity to oneself... The mask is related to transition, metamorphoses, the violation of natural boundaries, to mockery and familiar nicknames. (Bakhtin, 1968: 39)
The joy of laughter and rebirth, common during the Middle Ages, revived and changed its meaning in pre-Romanticism and Romanticism. ' It became the expression of subjective, individualistic world outlook very different from the carnival folk concept of previous ages, although still containing some carnival elements' (Bakhtin, 1968: 36). As a secondary and slightly contrary argument, the Romantics viewed the grotesque differently. Coming near the end of the eighteenth century, the Romantic Period coincides with much of the time Piranesi was working, as the Carceri date somewhere between 1745 and 1760 (Hofer, 1973).
Laughter was also an important transformation of the Romantic grotesque, '.[but] laughter was cut down to cold humor, irony, sarcasm. It ceased to be joyful and triumphant hilarity. Its positive regenerating power was reduced to a minimum ' (Bakhtin, 1968: 38). It is possible that Piranesi 's Carceri describe a sarcastic pessimism more characteristic of the Romantics. Where Rabelais 's devils are wonderful 'jovial fellows, or comic monsters ' , the Romantics dwell on the devil as ' terrifying melancholy and tragic' and see the grotesque as 'nocturnal and dark' (Bakhtin, 1968: 40—41).
It would be easy to describe the Carceri as 'nocturnal and dark,' except for the paradoxical omnipresent light. It is interesting that John Ruskin (1819—1900), in his book The Stones of Venice, possibly a hundred years after Piranesi (and Romanticism), calls the late Renaissance a ' grotesque' Renaissance and describes it as in the ' spirit of jesting' (Ruskin, 1907: III, 102). Here, after Romanticism, Ruskin was returning to a view of the grotesque as characterized by joyful laughter. This paradoxical juxtaposition of darkness and light in the grotesque is reiterated in Ruskin's light-hearted view:
This spirit of idiotic mockery is, as I have said, the most striking characteristic of the last period of the Renaissance, which, in consequence of the character thus imparted to its sculpture, I have called grotesque; but it must be our immediate task, and it will be a most interesting one, to distinguish between this base grotesqueness, and that magnificent condition of fantastic imagination, which was above noticed as one of the chief elements of the Northern Gothic mind. (Ruskin, 1907: 110—111)
Ruskin examines two conditions of mind that combine to describe the grotesque: kinds of jest and kinds of fearfulness (1907, 115: 127). These concepts are distinctly reminiscent of the seventeenth-and eighteenth-century concept of the sublime as beautiful terror. Ruskin does seem to agree with the more complex definition of the grotesque involving parody and interpretation. He writes about the 'noble' grotesque:
For the master of the noble grotesque knows the depth of all at which he seems to mock, and would feel it at another time, or feels it in a certain undercurrent of thought even while he jests with it; but the workman of the ignoble grotesque can feel and understand nothing, and mocks at all things with the laughter of the idiot and the cretin. (Ruskin, 1907: 128)
This dichotomy exemplifies another aspect of a definition of the grotesque — that of affinity versus antagonism (Harpham, 1982). Affinity suggests a resemblance or similarity, whereas antagonism expresses opposition or hostility. Kayser wrote that ' [t]he grotesque is a structure. Its nature could be summed up in a phrase that has repeatedly suggested itself to us: THE GROTESQUE IS THE ESTRANGED WORLD' (1963: 184).
The removal from affections suggests intermediary qualities but it also contains elements of paradox, especially in pairings of ' high' and ' low'. The grotesque is the ideal versus the abnormal, as in pairs like the beauty and the beast (Harpham 1982). Harpham describes the importance of this intermediary dichotomy characteristic of the grotesque: ' [i]f the grotesque can be compared to anything, it is to paradox' (1982: 19).
The fact that the Carceri etchings can be considered sketches makes room for interpretation and paradox, important elements for the grotesque. The scenes are fantastic and bizarre, since it would be unusual to have experienced spaces as large, complex, and endless as these. They are incongruous or absurd compared to most people' s experience. They are often ugly in their dank, crumpled deterioration, and depart from a common definition of the natural.
Returning to the issue of light, it is possible to view incongruous or unnatural instances when studying the gratings of these underground spaces. Carceri Plates III, XII and XII (Figures 5.3, 5.5, 5.7) exhibit large barred openings supposedly leading to tunnels or other underground spaces. The gratings themselves are dark, and the space between the bars is lighter in value, which brings into question the paradox of a light exterior with the light source 's origin a mystery. Part of this paradox lies in the factor of the sketch, since seeing the etching Plate XII (Figure 5.5) as a sketch reveals the importance of the technique of the line. Piranesi draws the positive objects with line, to reveal the shapes quickly. In his hurry to define the form, he does not draw the negative space to reveal the positive but draws the object itself. An artist with more time would draw the space between the bars dark. To interpret the role or function of the gratings suggests an encounter with a grotesque paradox created by the quickness and fervor of the sketch. Harpham's example applies to this etching:
The delight of interpretation is the puzzling-out of this truth, which is implied just as strongly by what is left out as by what is included. It is 'the gaps, left or overleaped by the haste of the imagination' that form the grotesque character; and the mind, which hates gaps as nature hates a vacuum, leaps to fill them in through interpretation to the point where the grotesqueness vanishes and the image appears, if not as 'Gospel' (as Ruskin said) at least as a compressed allegory. (Harpham, 1982: 19)
Further, it is possible to comprehend in the etching defined or more detailed objects rendered with more and darker lines, independent of their distance from the observer. Shadows in the background are all the same gray regardless of their distance from the light, which encourages comprehension of the grotesque in the intermediary qualities of this sketch. The strange ambiguous shadows on the walls and figures in the foreground are fragmented and jumbled (Harpham, 1982: 18). They reside between the known and the unknown and, as allusions, support analogies to many known objects. Harpham explains, ' [w]e can see that grotesque forms present great opportunities for the imaginative intellect, for they are pre-eminently interpretable ' (1982: 19). These undefined forms sometimes seem to be shadows, at other times objects or figures; they command attention as the lines are shorter and more definite in length, in contrast to the long consistent lines given to other shadows. The long lines give similar texture to shadows both on rock and wood, a technique that gives consistency to the sketch and, in treating materials in a similar way, plays down the change in surfaces. This is another paradox created by the 'passionate hurry' of the sketching style.
What truth can Piranesi be stating with this incredible transformation? This fantastical space, on one level, prepares one for the wonders of a possible built environment. The huge depth, exaggerated scale, consistent lighting, and patterning of values, interpretively or metaphorically suggest spaces which Piranesi felt or experienced. Kayser writes that: ' THE GROTESQUE IS A PLAY WITH THE ABSURD ' (1963: 187). Some of these spaces seem unreasonable or incongruous, which links them to absurdity, especially in light of their paradoxical inconsistencies. What can be viewed as absurd may be dependent upon individual interpretation. As with caricature, the viewer must have knowledge of the subject or be able to see more than what is obvious. This ability to observe more than the obvious figures in several examples of the grotesque in literary classics. Classic texts can be read and reread by many generations and are open to a variety of interpretations. They are timeless and, using Harpham's discussion of Wuthering Heights as an example, one finds issues of the grotesque such as indeterminacy, repetition, metamorphosis, the monstrous and interpretation:
The classic text is distinguished by its high level of significant indeterminacy; the repair of indeterminacy gives rise to the generation of meaning. Generations of readers die off, liberating the text from their necessarily culture-bound interpretations, and permitting later generations to explore and to repair other newly discovered lesions, or gaps of indeterminacy in the surface of meaning. (Harpham, 1982: 79)
These are examples of the grotesque that may fit into a generational interpretation but also may be universal. Piranesi uses many of these elements, such as indeterminacy, repetition, metamorphosis and the monstrous. In comparison the process is similar; whether verbal or visual, the common ground is imaginative interpretation.
These are described by Nabakov in Invitation to a Beheading as absurd objects, shapeless, pockmarked, mottled, knobby things which when placed before a distorting mirror became handsome and sensible . the nonnons could be said to stand for the text, or the artifact itself; the mirror is the act of interpretation. (Harpham, 1982: 21)
The grotesque is also the mirror that helps differentiate, translate and understand the unknown. It assists in the viewing of multiple interpretations, not necessarily providing complete understanding, but providing an inkling of something more. The confusion lies in the uneven ground-plane and how the observer's eyes are kept constantly moving in and out of the spaces. This pattern of dark and light stripes gives the sketch a nervous quality, as one 's eye can never rest.
Fragmented, jumbled, or corrupted representation leads us into the grotesque; and leads us out of it as well, generating the interpretive activity that seeks closure, either in the discovery of a novel form or in a metaphorical, analogical or allegorical explanation. (Harpham, 1982: 18)
The rhythmic pattern of darks and lights makes the drawing consistent and yet exciting. Even the dark figures help unify the scene; they assist in understanding the scale as exaggerated and, being substantially darker, act as weights to hold down the perpetual space.
These architectural sketches transport their viewers to another place and time. They are excited about the possibilities, and each observer wants to arrive at his or her own conclusions as to whether this is an ancient, recently discovered ruin from some great age of architecture, or a place discovered in a new world.
The 1700s were a time of new travel, as trips abroad brought back fascinating examples of antiquity from Palmyra and Egypt, for example. Drawings such as these undoubtedly helped to excite an interest in archeology. It is possible to draw individual conclusions, but Piranesi with his theatrical design experience has supplied an interval — an analogy or transition — to support the adventure, which helps locate meaning in this environment. 'A fine grotesque,' Ruskin said ' ' was the expression, in a moment, by a series of symbols thrown together in a bold and fearless connection, of truths which it would have taken a long time to express in any verbal way' (Harpham, 1982: 19).
Piranesi 's architectural sketches demonstrate the grotesque. The Carceri etchings can be compared to sketches in their loose and undefined techniques. ' Piranesi 's etched lines dance and soar, stimulating the beholder' s imagination at the same time that they fill him with wonder, a deep sadness and a sense of mystery' (Hofer, 1973: xii). His etchings/sketches are grotesque in their use of technique, in that the lines describing both positive and negative space are paradoxical. The shadows show omnipresent light, leaving the space intermediary and confusing. The aspects of Piranesi' s perspective, and uncertain spaces and shapes, convey undetermined interpretation.
The messages of Piranesi 's Carceri also utilize concepts of the grotesque. The underground spaces speak of dank despair, which connects them to deformation, bodily degradation and the earth, and in turn communicates a metamorphosis of new life. Similarly, Piranesi 's light, which is undetermined and omnipresent, expresses, in ambivalence, the paradox of the grotesque. There is also a theme of social comment that is revealed in transition and paradox. Piranesi, himself, reveals the grotesque, as Tafuri calls him the ' wicked architect ' because his arguments are made solely with drawings rather than buildings. Even the technique of redrawing the Carceri, each time a redefinition, provides a transition and progression, each a rebirth.
Historically, the definition of the grotesque is difficult. Its meaning has changed as its elements were interpreted differently. Kayser writes about the role of interpretation for the grotesque — that it is 'AN ATTEMPT TO INVOKE AND SUBDUE THE DEMONIC ASPECTS OF THE WORLD' (1963: 188). With the demons of the world in mind, it is conceivable to reiterate the main concepts of a modern definition of the grotesque: ambiguity, transition, deformation, aspects of the lower stratum, paradox and interpretation. Through these notions it is possible to view how the grotesque assists in understanding more about architectural sketches.
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