Defence in the field of Visual Culture: MA Henriikka Huunan-Seppälä
MA Henriikka Huunan-Seppälä will defend her doctoral dissertation Unfolding the Unexpressed: The Grotesque, Norms and Repressions on Friday 14 December 2018.
Opponent: PhD prof. Noël Carroll, City University of New York
Custos: Max Ryynänen
Discussion will be in English.
Why are people so keen on grotesque images, bodies and violence, and what are the effects of
grotesque imagery on our culture?
As the thesis claims, grotesque representations have a unique role in influencing people’s
attitudes and valuations, idealizations and discriminations. The main problematic of the study
concerns the role of contemporary grotesque imagery with respect to cultural norms and
repressions, including taboos and ideals, fears and fantasies.
Understood in a wide sense, the grotesque refers to category violation – exemplified by
monsters, witches and vampires combining human and otherworldly features. The grotesque is also
characterized by transgression of body limits, realized for example through gory mutilations,
gluttony and licentiousness.
Devoted to exploring the flourishing grotesque, carnivalesque and abject imagery in
contemporary culture, Unfolding the Unexpressed dives into filmic representations of the grotesque
body – whether fantastic, monstrous, anti-ideal, caricatural, grotesquely gendered or mutilated.
The thesis approaches the subject through seven films: Pink Flamingos, Antichrist, Alien:
Resurrection, Fight Club, Kill Bill, Satyricon, and The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover. The
focus is on slimy monsters, human–animal hybrids and twisted minds; on smashed flesh, excrement
and obscenities; on sadistic terror and masochistic enjoyment.
Endeavoring to reveal the hidden within society, the research makes use of psychoanalytic
theory, feminist theory, semiotics and aesthetics – which all cut into cultural margins from aesthetic
anti-ideals through ideological blind spots to the murky depths of the psyche.
The thesis offers a novel outlook on the grotesque in interaction with norms, for example, as
regards gender, age and appearance. It shows how the grotesque supports or undermines taboos,
ideals, myths and stereotypes; how it constructs or dissolves identities, and rearranges categorical
limits. The grotesque constantly redraws the lines between what is considered normal or abnormal,
desirable or despicable. Embodying ideologies and power hierarchies, the grotesque is highly
consequential as regards issues of identity, gender and social difference.
Unfolding the Unexpressed illustrates how representations work through our conscious and
unconscious thinking modes, drawing on our fears and fantasies. It illuminates how the grotesque
can be used as an effective tool in visual communication.
The dissertation notice and the published dissertation are placed for public display at Väre (Otanimementie 14), at least 10 days before the defence date.