Sublime and grotesque: exploring the liminal positioning of clowns between oppositional aesthetic categories

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  • Susanne C. Ylönen, University of Jyväskylä
  • ,
  • Marianna Keisalo, University of Helsinki

The horror clown is a potential rooted in the liminalities that are an integral part of the clown figure per se. Drawing on anthropological work and the study of popular culture, this paper argues that clowns can be placed between different dualistic frames such as the sacred and the profane, the sublime and the grotesque, and fear and disgust. This positioning and the ways in which clowns operate between these categories are transmitted aesthetically. In this paper the dualistic aesthetics and violent potential of clowns is examined through three different clown examples: the ritual clown, the circus clown and the horror clown. Field observations made by Keisalo of the Chapayeka rituals clowns in Sonora, Mexico in 2004, 2006 and 2007 are contrasted with a case description of circus clowns provided by Paul Bouissac and a well-known example of a horror clown, Stephen Kings Clown Pennywise in the novel It. While these clowns serve different purposes and represent different cultural contexts, we claim that they all occupy a liminal space that can be analysed in aesthetic terms.

Original languageEnglish
JournalComedy Studies
Volume11
Issue1
Pages (from-to)12-24
Number of pages13
ISSN2040-610X
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2020

    Research areas

  • Clowns, grotesque, liminality, profane, sacred, sublime, violence

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