Meeting Report: ‘Reflections on Writing the Female Grotesque’ by Karina Lickorish Quinn

A big thank you to Karina Lickorish Quinn for her fascinating talk at the network. Thanks also to those who attended – it was brilliant to see some new faces alongside our very loyal members.

Karina introduced the group to a variety of theories exploring the subject of the grotesque before treating us to some extracts of both her published and unpublished fiction. She illustrated how her creative process is influenced by her doctoral research and advised the group not to ignore academic writing as a source of inspiration. At the beginning of her talk, Karina defined the grotesque by presenting us with a series of decorative work which depicts human faces interwoven with foliage. This highlighted the hybrid nature of the grotesque and its absurdity. She then outlined the theories which have so far inspired her fictional works such as ‘OÖGENESIS’ which won the White Review short story prize in 2016.

One theory in particular which took a prominent place in the talk was Julia Kristeva’s theory of ‘abjection’. According to Kristeva, the abject is something which threatens stability and order because it disturbs the boundaries between the inside and the outside of the body. It reminds us of our body’s slow decay and eventual death. Examples include pus, menstruation, and excrement. A particular ‘grotesque’ image with which Karina confronted us was the ‘pregnant crone’. Karina showed us a photograph of a model created by Cindy Sherman of an old woman giving birth to an ambiguous string type substance which resembles sausages. She asked the audience how they responded to this ‘abject’ image. When it first appeared on the screen, faces around the room displayed reactions such as curiosity, horror, amusement and repulsion. Karina argued that Sherman’s model would be seen by philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin as the epitome of the grotesque since it is an image of ‘death giving birth’ and ‘decaying flesh’.

It is impossible in a short report to demonstrate the ambiguity, intensity, and intrigue of Karina’s writing so we’ll leave you with an extract she presented to us from ‘OÖGENESIS’ …

“Before the week was out, in an act of extravagant contempt for her mother’s wishes, Georgia had developed two more pairs of nipples – a set on her abdomen and a set on her groin. The sprouting of thick, black hairs followed soon after: from each nipple erupted a stiff, dark tendril so coarse that it resisted any form of depilation. The aestheticians at the beauty salon, who valiantly but vainly applied everything from hot wax to electrolysis, were horrified; but while Jane remained under a dark cloud of humiliation for the rest of the day, Georgia seemed wholly unashamed of her aberrant hirsutism. Quite the contrary: she seemed to get a perverse satisfaction out of standing in front of the mirror and stroking the long black strands, curling them tenderly around her fingers.”

If you’d like to read more about Karina’s creative writing, have a look at her website: https://www.karinalickorishquinn.co.uk/

 

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