Ugliness: A Cultural History 9781780235240

Ugly as sin, the ugly duckling—or maybe you fell out of the ugly tree? Let's face it, we've all used the word

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Ugliness: A Cultural History

Table of contents :
Ugliness: A Cultural History
Imprint Page
Introduction: Pretty Ugly: A Question of Culture
One: Ugly Ones: Uncomfortable Anomalies
Polyphemus: 'A Monster of a Man'
Dame Ragnell: 'She was a Loathly One!'
A Grotesque Old Woman: 'The Ugly Duchess'
William Hay: 'Never was, Nor will be, a Member of the Ugly Club'
Julia Pastrana: 'The Ugliest Woman in the World'
Orlan: 'A Beautiful Woman Who is Deliberately Becoming Ugly'
Ugly Ones: Uncomfortably Grouped
Two: Ugly Groups: Resisting Classification
Monsters and Monstrosities: Bordering Uglies
Outcasts and Outward Signs: Signifying Uglies
Primitives and Venuses: Colonizing Uglies
Broken Faces and Degenerate Bodies: Militarizing Uglies
Ugly Laws and Ugly Dolls: Legislating Uglies
Uglies United? Commercializing Ugly Groups
Three: Ugly Senses: Transgressing Perceived Borders
Ugly Sight: Seeing is Believing?
Ugly Sound: Do You Hear What I Hear?
Ugly Smell: A Nose for Trouble?
Ugly Taste: Are You What You Eat?
Ugly Touch: Do Not Touch?
Sixth Sense: Feeling is Believing?
Epilogue: Ugly us: A Cultural Quest?
Photo Acknowledgements

Citation preview

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kai su (‘the same to you’) inscription to ward off the evil eye, Antioch, 2nd century ad

UGLINESS A Cultural History Gretchen E. Henderson

r e a k t i on b o ok s

Published by Reaktion Books Ltd Unit 32, Waterside 44–48 Wharf Road London n1 7ux, uk First published 2015 Copyright © Gretchen E. Henderson 2015 All rights reserved No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publishers Printed and bound in Great Britain by TJ International, Padstow, Cornwall A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library isbn 978 1 78023 524 0

Lyrics from ‘What’s the Ugliest Part of Your Body?’, by Frank Zappa, We’re Only in It for the Money, © 1968/1996 Munchkin Music dba Zappa Family Trust. Used by Permission. All rights reserved.

Philosophers and philologists should be concerned in the first place with poetic metaphysics; that is, the science that looks for proof not in the external world, but in the very modifications of the mind that meditates on it. Giambattista Vico (1759)

What’s the ugliest / Part of your body? What’s the ugliest / Part of your body? Some say your nose / Some say your toes But I think it’s your mind . . . Frank Zappa (1968)


Introduction: Pretty Ugly: A Question of Culture 9 one Ugly Ones: Uncomfortable Anomalies 25 Polyphemus: ‘A Monster of a Man’ 29 Dame Ragnell: ‘She Was a Loathly One!’ 35 A Grotesque Old Woman: ‘The Ugly Duchess’ 41 William Hay: ‘Never Was, Nor Will Be, a Member of the Ugly Club’ 48 Julia Pastrana: ‘The Ugliest Woman in the World’ 54 orlan: ‘A Beautiful Woman Who Is Deliberately Becoming Ugly’ 60 Ugly Ones: Uncomfortably Grouped 65

two Ugly Groups: Resisting Classification 69 Monsters and Monstrosities: Bordering Uglies 74 Outcasts and Outward Signs: Signifying Uglies 80 Primitives and Venuses: Colonizing Uglies 88 Broken Faces and Degenerate Bodies: Militarizing Uglies 99 Ugly Laws and Ugly Dolls: Legislating Uglies 109 Uglies United? Commercializing Ugly Groups 119

three Ugly Senses: Transgressing Perceived Borders 127 Ugly Sight: Seeing Is Believing? 129 Ugly Sound: Do You Hear What I Hear? 138 Ugly Smell: A Nose for Trouble? 147 Ugly Taste: Are You What You Eat? 156 Ugly Touch: Do Not Touch? 165 Sixth Sense: Feeling Is Believing? 176

Epilogue: Ugly Us: A Cultural Quest? 183 References 197 Acknowledgements AND Photo Acknowledgements 227 Index 231

An old woman sits in front of a dressing table mirror while two younger women put feathers in her hair, 17th century, etching.

Introduction: Pretty Ugly: A Question of Culture


glydolls, Ugly Americans, Uglies, the Pretty Ugly Club: from contemporary television to toys to literature to music, recent years have witnessed rising interest in ugliness. As Sarah Kershaw titled an article not long ago in the New York Times: ‘Move Over, My Pretty, Ugly Is Here.’¹ But the concept has a much longer lineage that haunts our cultural imagination: from medieval grotesque gargoyles to Mary Shelley’s monster cobbled from corpses; from Hans Christian Andersen’s tale about a mud-coloured duckling to the Nazi ‘Exhibition of Degenerate Art’; from the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi to Brutalist architecture. Ugliness has long posed a challenge to aesthetics and taste, engaging and enraging philosophers, complicating questions about the human condition and the wider world in which we live and interact. Ugliness: A Cultural History sets out to reinhabit varied cultural moments that reveal changing concepts of ‘ugliness’. Rather than stuff these connotations into a singular and sagging definition, I aim to dig up ‘ugly’ synonyms across history to reanimate and complicate the word’s etymologic roots: ‘to be feared or dreaded’.² Since many fears turn inside out like children’s nightmares, seemingly dangerous because of what is unknown or misunderstood, this chance to review ugliness takes into account its long lineage alongside recent ‘aesthetics of suspicion’ toward both ugliness and beauty. ‘We cannot see beauty as innocent’, writes philosopher Kathleen Marie Higgins, when ‘the sublime splendor of the mushroom cloud accompanies moral evil’ and ‘beautifully embellished clothes and 9


jewelry currently motivate teenagers to murder’.³ Recent appropriations push ugliness into new terrain, treating the subject in positive rather than negative terms, naturalized and even banal. Art galleries from London to New York herald ‘ugly’ exhibits; children cuddle Uglydolls; an annual festival in Italy celebrates ugliness through a festa dei brutti. While the concept continues to grow from its dreaded roots, these appropriations help us to re-view the world from shifting perspectives – including the perspective of the ugly object – making more apparent the existence and contingency of what is to be feared and of what not to fear at all. If we follow Aristotle’s or Alberti’s belief that a beautiful object bears coherence in totality (a sense of ideal form with a distinct boundary between itself and the world), then ugliness and its ilk carry something more ambiguous and less coherent, excessive or in a state of ruin.4 Deformed, grotesque, monstrous, degenerate, asymmetric, crooked, bestial, freakish, unruly, disproportionate, handicapped, hybrid: a litany of related terms have accompanied the evolution of ugly, growing in and out of different terms, eras and cultures, left to the eye of each beholder. Kitschy, vulgar, decayed, abject, wasted, formless . . . Where should the list stop? The Oxford English Dictionary charts an ‘ugly’ lineage (with Old Norse roots and Middle English derivatives spelled variedly as igly, wgly, vgely, ungly, vngly, oggly, oughlye, hoggyliche and so on).5 Like this linguistic evolution, my own sense of the definition keeps changing, particularly as I traverse historical sources on the subject. ‘Never heard of uglifying!’ cries the Gryphon in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. ‘You know what to beautify is, I suppose?’6 The question is infamously debatable. ‘Ask a toad what is beauty’, wrote Voltaire, ‘he will answer that it is his female, with two large round eyes sticking out of her little head.’7 Unable to quantify ugliness, Umberto Eco claims: Beauty is, in some ways, boring. Even if its concept changes through the ages, nevertheless a beautiful object must always follow certain rules . . . Ugliness is unpredictable and offers an infinite range of possibilities. Beauty is finite. Ugliness is infinite, like God.8 10


Illustration of the Gryphon by John Tenniel for Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1872).

Crispin Sartwell has attempted to find the equivalent word for ‘beauty’ in six languages and discovered different concepts in English, Greek, Hebrew, Sanskrit, Navajo and Japanese – the last of which, wabi-sabi, he defines as ‘the beauty of the withered, weathered, tarnished, scarred, intimate, coarse, earthly, evanescent, tentative, ephemeral’.9 These adjectives might fall into the realm of ‘ugly’ in other cultural contexts, yet in Japan, they are deemed beautiful. Rather than mere binaries, ugliness and beauty seem to function more like binary stars, which fall into one another’s gravity and orbit each other while being constellated with many other stars. By constellating, even blurring, the boundaries between ugliness and beauty, I am not attempting to characterize every star in the ugly universe as beautiful, or vice versa. If so, both words would lose their meaning, in a kind of hoarding where detritus is as valued as diamonds. The two concepts inhabit a wider grey space. Shadowed by changing cultural appropriations, both definitions keep shifting, through not only accumulation but negation. As architectural theorist Mark Cousins writes, ‘all speculation about ugliness travels through the realm of what it is not.’¹0 Ugliness is not beautiful. 11

ugliness Helen Stratton, illustration of the old woman and the Ugly Duckling for Hans Christian Andersen, Tales from Hans Andersen (1896).

Beyond that negation, the traditional contrary of beauty and ugliness can mislead in a circular chase, running around but not reaching the ‘true contrary of both’ (in the words of art critic Dave Hickey): ‘the banality of neutral comfort’.¹¹ If ugliness provokes a shift beyond comfort and stasis, it arguably incites change. In his treatise on Äesthetik des Hässlichen (Aesthetics of Ugliness, 1853), Karl Rosenkranz described how ugliness is not merely the inverse of beauty or a negative entity but rather a condition in itself.¹² Back in third-century Rome, Plotinus compared ugliness to a body rolling in mud, mixing problematically with foreign organic material, while Plato’s earlier Parmenides discouraged overlooking ‘even the lowest things’, including ‘dirt’.¹³ When Cousins later reconsidered ‘the ugly’ in architectural terms, he expanded Mary 12


Douglas’s anthropological exploration of dirt as ‘matter out of place’.¹4 Ugliness, as ‘matter out of place’, interrupts perceptions in relation to something or someone else. It is relational. Constantly reworking the space between subject and object, ugliness resists static figuration and helps us to re-evaluate our shifting perceptions. Responses may elicit ‘ugly feelings’, but physical engagements can do more than qualify an object as ‘ugly’: such encounters can suggest that we, as perceiving subjects, might be matters out of place.¹5 As ‘ugly’ and related terms have evolved over history, their mutable usages push us to occupy not only the duality of object and subject but the space between. As the meaning of ‘ugly’ shifts and crosses bounds, it arguably breaks down the line between ‘us’ and ‘them’. Ugliness provokes us to re-evaluate cultural borders, including bodies that have been included and excluded, to question our own place in the mix. My interest in ugliness arose from intersections in the fields of art history, literature and disability studies. While researching the concept of ‘deformity’, I happened upon an obscure eighteenth-century

From an advertisement for an Ugly Face Club anniversary celebration (1806) reprinted with the frontispiece in Edward Howell’s edition of Ye Ugly Face Clubb, Leverpoole, 1743–1753 (1912).



fraternal club in Liverpool, England, called the Ugly Face Club. Its caricatured history emerged from a longer lineage of Ugly Clubs, both in Britain and in America, as well as Italy, spreading into subsequent centuries.¹6 The club facetiously cited its roots in antiquity, at a time when Aristotle famously claimed that women were ‘deformed’ males.¹7 By the eighteenth century, ‘deformity’ and ‘ugliness’ often were used interchangeably, conflating both significations in an era when deformed figures served as the butt of standing jokes and the basis of orchestrated public pranks, while many individuals were left to perform or beg on the street in the face of public chagrin.¹8 Circulating notions revived classical beliefs like the ‘maternal imagination’ (where a pregnant woman’s exposures to ugliness affected the form of her gestating child) and physiognomy (as if a person’s ugly outward appearance reflected their inward nature, also considered an inheritable trait). By the nineteenth century, ‘ugliness’ intersected notions of ‘abnormal’ and continued to carry varied social ramifications. The Victorian era witnessed the increased commercialization and commodification of display: from freak shows to ethnic displays at world fairs and museums of anatomy and pathology, among other institutions.¹9 Legislation in the United States included so-called ‘Ugly Laws’ (or ‘unsightly beggar ordinances’, starting around the 1880s) that prohibited individuals with physical deformities from visiting public spaces, perpetuating historic conflations of deformity and ugliness. In some cities, this legislation remained on the books into the 1970s when challenged by the rise of the Disability Rights Movement.²0 Across history, manifestations of ugliness have surfaced to complicate and shift the concept, even positively, pushing against existing aesthetic standards and social practices. The twentieth-century Danish artist Asger Jorn proposed: ‘An era without ugliness would be an era without progress.’²¹ Is ugliness a cultural quest? What do ‘ugly’ usages suggest over time, entangling with related terms and arguments around art and humanity? When Henri Matisse’s works were exhibited in the Armory Show of 1913, a critic for the New York Times wrote: ‘We may as well say in the first place that his pictures are ugly, that they are coarse, that they are narrow, that to us they are revolting in their 14

The Head of an Ox and the Head of an Ox-like Man: Three Figures of Each, Showing Their Physiognomical Relations, c. 1820, etching, after Charles Le Brun.

ugliness Julia Pastrana, ‘The Nondescript’, advertised for exhibition, c. 1860, coloured woodcut and text by Regent Gallery.

inhumanity’, while The Nation reported: ‘Upon the ugliness of the surfaces I must insist at the risk of repetition.’²² How do these artistic critiques compare with the Nazi exhibition of Entartete Kunst, or ‘degenerate’ art, of 1937, comprised of some of the finest examples of German Expressionism, then crowded and contemptuously captioned, comparing ‘insane and inane monstrosities’ of ‘degenerates’ with those of ‘idiots and cretins’, focusing on Jewish artists and including the title of ‘Utter Madness’?²³ As ‘ugly’ and related words have tangled their tentacles around different people and practices, tensions have arisen in terms of nature versus culture. The ‘beauty’ of Chinese foot-binding and Victorian corsets crippled or caused broken bones, while the art of ballet turned a woman’s body 16


into a ‘deformed skeleton’, according to the mother of modern dance, Isadora Duncan.²4 The favourable French concept of jolie laide, or ‘pretty-ugly’, dates back to the eighteenth century, but more often than not the words ‘pretty’ and ‘ugly’ have stood in opposition. In the American South in the mid-twentieth century, African American children overwhelmingly described black dolls as ‘ugly’ and white dolls as ‘pretty’ in the famed study that revealed the fallacy of ‘separate but equal’: a turning point in the Supreme Court case of Brown v. Board of Education.²5 Should these ‘ugly dolls’ be compared with Hans Bellmer’s Surrealist bulbous Dolls or more recent Uglydolls, a plush and cuddly children’s toy dreamed up in 2001 by David Horvath and Sun-Min Kim, spawning stuffed animals and books, including the Ugly Guide to the Uglyverse with its claim that ‘ugly is the new beautiful!’?²6 When the television show Ugly Betty was still popular, abc ran a similar campaign urging people to ‘Be Ugly’, not unlike the tagline used to promote Shrek the Musical: ‘Bringing Ugly Back’.²7 How do these pop culture phenomena fit into a genealogy of ugliness that includes reconstructive war surgery for les gueules cassées (the ‘broken faces’ of the First World War), a contemporary psychiatric diagnosis of ‘imagined ugliness’ (officially recognized in 1987 as ‘dysmorphic disorder’), and the contemporary performance artist orlan (who was called ‘ugly’ after surgically refashioning her face by appropriating features of famous beauties in Western art)?²8 In 2005 it was estimated that Americans spent at least $12.4 billion on cosmetic surgery, which was more than the total gross domestic product for over 100 nations, from Albania to Zimbabwe, totalling over one billion people.²9 Among many other cases, where exactly does ugliness reside? Such examples only begin to tell the story of ugliness with its tangled aesthetic and cultural consequences. Much of what has been culturally ‘feared and dreaded’ has changed over time and place. ‘Ugly’ is based in the physical world yet remains conceptual – ambiguous, adaptable, anamorphic – and a modifier of anything that it seems to claim: ugly art, ugly weather, ugly behaviour, ugly girl. It is relational. Thus this book is structured to emphasize that relation: moving towards and away from ‘ugly’ 17


individuals, to ‘ugly’ groups, to ‘ugly’ senses that break down borders between self and other. While ugliness arguably enforces these divisions, it also blurs these bounds. Each chapter suggests alternative concepts of ugliness through varied perspectives by moving beyond the ‘eye’ of the beholder to less visual terms embodied in the beholder’s ‘I’. My first chapter, on ‘Ugly Ones’, identifies individuals who have bordered on human-animal hybrids. Across history, human animality has posed a seeming threat that nature and culture can deviate or otherwise deform an idealized human into an ‘ugly’ beast. From the ‘loathly’ medieval beast-turned-beauty Dame Ragnell, to the hirsute Victorian ‘freak’ Julia Pastrana, who was billed as the ‘ugliest woman in the world’, among other examples ranging from antiquity to the present, this chapter explores how ‘ugly’ and related terms have branded individuals in ways that grow in and out of the concept’s changing cultural construction. As aesthetic and social practices converge, they illuminate bodies in art and in society that not only contribute to a genealogy of ugliness but collectively destabilize a singular definition of ‘ugly’. The second chapter, on ‘Ugly Groups’, moves past the identification of ‘ugly’ individuals to groups. Attempts to discriminate against or fetishize ‘ugly’ groups at times have aligned with issues related to race, gender, sexuality, class, religion, nationality, age and disability. Presenting ugliness through case studies and contemporary social categories is problematic, and rather than focusing on collective bodies, this second chapter interrogates practices enacted around ‘ugly’ groups, including scapegoating, sanctifying, colonizing, eroticizing, militarizing, legislating and commercializing ‘uglies’. Even as their features radically differ and resist classification, some ‘ugly’ groups have shared similar treatments derived from cultural fears. As ‘uglies’ uncomfortably unite in the twenty-first century, arguments arise to disassociate from that label but also to appropriate it for empowering ends. Prehistoric artefacts depicting physical deformities also raise questions about ferocity and use-value, moving ‘ugly’ connotations beyond surface visual readings towards more complex sensory-based engagements. 18

Filippo Balbi, The Head of a Man Composed of Writhing Nude Figures, c. 1854, oil on wood.

Ecorché figure from Juan Valverde de Amusco, Anatomia del corpo humano . . . (1560).


The third chapter, on ‘Ugly Senses’, questions the visual emphasis on ugliness, which paradoxically provokes a response to turn away from rather than towards ‘ugly’ matters in our midst. Sensory ugliness transfigures cultural borders, experienced through displacements. Like the once-derided jazz or rock and roll, ugly sounds jar the ear of the beholder. Ugly smells reek beyond the putrid cityscapes of the flâneur. Ugly touch manipulates fashions and flesh. From ‘reckless eyeballing’ to medieval compositions of diabolus in musica (‘the Devil in music’) to souring synaesthesia, ‘ugly’ sensory experiences expose bodies to unfamiliar terrains that spur concerns about cultural values. Entwined with natural processes of decomposition and death, ugliness can also embody more than derided features. As cultural contexts shift, ugliness can signal a bleeding edge that leaves change in its wake. Negotiated through our senses, ugliness can transgress cultural boundaries that define us in relation to ugliness and, in turn, may allow us to redefine ugliness and, even, ourselves. By following bodies – bodies of individuals, bodies of groups and sensory bodies – I will negotiate bodies of knowledge to consider ugliness more corporeally and culturally than aesthetically. While overlaps abound, this book does not attempt to philosophize in strict aesthetic terms or to redefine ‘ugliness’ but rather to follow its asymmetric gesture across history to trace its close relation to culture. Navigating through bodies, my meditation on ‘ugliness’ investigates moments when its meaning has solidified and shifted through cultural responses around who and what has been ‘feared or dreaded’. Given the word’s European etymologic roots, ugliness has tended to follow a Western narrative that I hope to disorient over the course of my chapters. As if participating in an anthropologic rite of passage, my movements around ‘ugly’ distinctions will uncomfortably align with other historical binaries (like Western/ Eastern) to invite a detachment from one set of cultural conditions, passing through a transitional realm that aggregates both, to suggest a third potential state to be re-viewed through alternative contexts.³0 The concept’s genealogy emerges through shifting perspectives and perceptions. 21


In the first century bc, the author of Rhetorica ad herennium (thought to be Cicero) recommended using ugliness to build a memory palace, to assign to those images to be remembered a kind of ‘singular ugliness . . . if we somehow disfigure them . . . or by assigning certain comic effects to our images, for that, too, will ensure our remembering them more readily’.³¹ As I sift through ‘ugly’ rubble, I hope to puzzle pieces into a pattern like the one that was encouraged by Giambattista Vico, seeking ‘proof not in the external world, but in the very modifications of the mind that meditates on it’.³² Rather than mar beautiful figures, I have found figures already deemed ‘ugly’ across historic periods to witness what emerges from their cohabitation in this book, indirectly implicating myself in the making of ugly meanings. This book’s scope doubles as its limitation, covering broad ground in a short span. Ugliness lends itself to ongoing accumulation of examples and case studies, but rather than follow the trend of classification, I will trace the declassifying motion of ugliness beyond ‘ugly’ individuals, groups and senses towards the verb that Lewis Carroll coined as ‘uglifying’, to suggest its agency rather than stasis in cultural terms. A number of questions keep tugging at my imagination. Long before Mary Douglas and Mark Cousins linked ‘dirt’, ‘matter out of place’ and ‘ugliness’ in anthropologic and architectural terms, the British composer Charles Hubert H. Parry trumpeted the aesthetic value of ugliness in music using those very qualifications.³³ Among other proponents, the critic Roger Fry lauded ugliness in visual art, and more artists have echoed this sentiment over the past century.³4 How do we reconcile these cumulative aesthetic shifts against more negative social connotations? Does the vortex of culture and aesthetics pull ‘ugly’ elements into its mix to move them beyond inherited considerations with progressive force? Does identification of the ‘ugly’ potentially challenge the ‘banality of neutral comfort’ to support diversity? What elements of culture currently deemed ‘ugly’ might be considered otherwise in future contexts? Does ugliness disintegrate and disseminate like an invisibly fatal virus, or does it help humans to constantly renegotiate the positions of subject and object, to be reminded of our interdependence within a larger world? 22

introduction Francisco de Goya, The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters, 1796/8, etching with aquatint.

In essence, does ugliness keep us human? Hopefully, the pages that follow will identify a capacious sense of ugliness to consider these questions while remaining conceptual enough to move beyond any singular cultural or historic limit – and well beyond the limits of my imagination. By defying a singular definition, ugliness might be reimagined through more minds to sense our shared cultural stake in this topic beyond its slippery and sticky surface.


‘A Venerable Orang-outang’, caricature of Charles Darwin, The Hornet, 22 March 1871.


Ugly Ones: Uncomfortable Anomalies


tupid scientists picked up an ugly animal to transplant on a human body’, reads a 1988 tabloid.¹ An accompanying photo shows a chimp’s head clumsily pasted onto a man’s naked torso with the caption: ‘No one wants a chimp’s face’ under the heading: ‘ugly’. The chimp-man may seem laughable amid the tabloid’s headlines (like a front-page companion piece: ‘Mars Probe Photographs 200-foot Space Monster – and It’s Headed Toward Earth!’), but such stories grow from germs of truth. From antiquity to the present, human animality has posed a seeming threat that nature and culture can deviate or otherwise deform an idealized human form into a subhuman ‘ugly’ beast. In and of themselves, beasts are not necessarily ‘ugly’ but acquire that connotation when they seem to verge on the subhuman. To review the outlandish chimp-man is to peer down a telescope of diminishing mirrors a half-century after the Scopes ‘Monkey Trial’, over a century after Charles Darwin proposed his theory of evolution (which led him to be caricatured as ‘A Venerable Orangoutang’) and millennia after the Roman poet Ennius stated, ‘How similar the monkey, this ugliest of beasts, is to ourselves.’² Many categories have arisen to classify anomalous, inexplicable beasts that appeared particularly curious if they shared human resemblance. The tabloid story about the chimp-man might be considered a modern version of paradoxography, or wonder literature, whose origins tie back to antiquity through the medieval period. Public anxieties about the boundary between humans and animals have 25


manifested variedly over the centuries, like a cartoon in 1806 of vaccinated children acquiring the characteristics of cows.³ Such ‘ugly ones’ have long challenged the collective imagination. While not all blatantly fabricated like the chimp-man or cow-children, other seeming human-animal hybrids have embodied shifting cultural fears at different moments of history, garnering the reputation of ‘ugly’. Any number of anomalous individuals across history might be highlighted here, but rather than perpetuate a catalogue of freaks (as often happens with ‘the ugly’), I have focused on individuals who negotiated ugliness at times when the word’s meaning both solidified and shifted. The classical Cyclops Polyphemus shifted from monstrous to comic in retellings, where his ‘ugly’ external and internal attributes ranged from horrifying to pathetic. The medieval loathly hag Dame Ragnell transformed beautifully and wholly enough to provoke a fundamental question: ‘What are you?’ The subject of Quinten Massys’s early modern painting A Grotesque Old Woman (nicknamed ‘The Ugly Duchess’) has been reinterpreted under modern medical diagnosis in an attempt to pathologize ugliness. In his eighteenth-century essay Deformity, the parliamentarian William Hay traced the intersecting histories of ugliness and disability to challenge reductive readings of deformed bodies, including his own. In the nineteenth century, Julia Pastrana (billed on the freak show circuit as ‘The Ugliest Woman in the World’) performed her ugliness according to Victorian norms of race and gender, while her posthumous display became ‘grotesque’. In more recent years, the ‘carnal’ artist orlan has confronted the eye of the beholder through plastic surgery by appropriating features from iconic beauties in Western art and combining them into a feminist Frankenstein that has been called ‘ugly’. Despite being uncomfortable anomalies, all of these individuals have borne the label of ‘ugly’ in their respective cultural contexts and contributed to our inherited sense of the concept. Occupying a tenuous space between the known and unknown, the understood and misunderstood, the fit and misfit, the included and outcast, each figure has defied classification while spectators have identified their 26

Figure of an ancient Egyptian hunchback, 3000–2000 bc.


otherness in ‘ugly’ terms. ‘Ugly’ bodies often reveal less about the figures themselves than their respective cultures. As literary scholar Naomi Baker has written, the ugly body becomes ‘the site where multiple cultural tensions are negotiated and where potential models of identity are interrogated and confirmed’.4 Brands of ‘ugly’ can turn ordinary bodies into extraordinary bearers of social meanings, where treatments range from damnation to reverence, ridicule to commodification, and more. As a shape-shifting modifier, ‘ugly’ tends to reflect the perspective of the observer more than qualities of the observed. To identify someone as ‘ugly’ often spectates on abnormality ‘through a series of “nots”’, according to Rebecca Stern, ‘the most famous of which is the viewing subject’s “not me”’.5 As I reinscribe the brand of ‘ugly’ on these individuals, I inadvertently participate in an act of ‘othering’ that, on the surface, might perpetuate superficial readings, but by playing into that process I hope to trouble my own spectatorship and the act of spectating, which privileges visual cues. Working around words that have been used relationally with ‘ugly’ (including ‘monstrous’, ‘loathly’, ‘grotesque’, ‘deformed’, ‘freak’ and ‘cyborg’), I hope to illuminate the distance between classifier and classified, consumer and consumed, and other combined categories. ‘Cyborg’ may not strike a reader as ‘ugly’, but the usage of ‘cyborg’ and ‘ugly’ in proximity pulls them into a gravity that forces their relation onto a human body through shared labelling. As ‘ugly’ individuals project different social meanings, each bears connotations of what is ‘feared or dreaded’ in their respective periods. Taken together, this recollection invites us to occupy the duality of object and subject – and the space between – to indirectly navigate our own cultural moment, where ‘ugly’ meanings seep into our minds like slime in a horror movie, coating us in invisible sludge.


ugly ones

Polyphemus: ‘A Monster of a Man’

What was ugly before ‘ugly’ existed? The word originated from a Middle English term meaning ‘frightful’ or ‘repulsive’ that derived from the Old Norse uggligr, ‘to be feared or dreaded’.6 While medieval in origin, the concept existed long before, as evidenced in classical languages. Ancient Greek and Latin included terms like teras and monstrum that connoted not only mythological monsters (like the head of the Gorgon Medusa) but humans and animals that were severely malformed.7 The generalized vocabulary could correlate external characteristics with internal qualities and did not refer exclusively to human impairments (for example, pepêrômenon, or ‘maimed’, could also refer to a plant). The term aischos, also aischros, sometimes referred to people with physical handicaps as well as ‘ugliness’ and ‘disgrace’.8 Kakos connoted both ‘ugly’ and ‘evil’.9 Just as linguists among Inuit cultures have infamously catalogued many words for ‘snow’, the range of ancient terms related to ugliness suggests its potent influence. Many of these terms ‘simply belonged to that category of phenomena which would today be considered “sub-human”’ where fear connoted ‘ugly’ aspects to be avoided, derided or neglected.¹0 To speak of ugliness in antiquity is to reduce thousands of years and cultures ranging across Egypt, Greece, Rome and the larger Mediterranean world. Stories survive in fragments, salvaged through excavations, translations and fortuitous swerves of fate. The Western sense of ideal beauty acknowledges its sources in ancient Greece, framed by Renaissance and neoclassical interpretations. ‘The most beautiful body of ours would perhaps be as much inferior to the most beautiful Greek one’, wrote the eighteenth-century art scholar Johann Joachim Winckelmann, adding that the Greeks ‘were particularly cautious in avoiding every deforming custom’ and did not know ‘those diseases which are destructive of beauty’.¹¹ Practices to uphold beauty paralleled accounts of negating ugliness. Aristotle proposed a law to prevent parents from rearing deformed children, and in Sparta, parents were legally obligated to abandon deformed 29


infants.¹² The practice of killing deformed babies likely was not as prevalent as myth suggests, and some cultural practices were more inclusive. The ancient historian Herodotus claimed that the Babylonians devised auctions to marry off their daughters, where the lowest bidders won ugly brides, and monies gained from the auctions of beauties helped to subsidize the dowries of their ugly sisters.¹³ Generally, however, the aesthetic and legal record implies that human ugliness tended to be derided, ridiculed or exiled by the Greeks and, to a lesser extent, the Romans. The twelfth-century ad Byzantine scholar Johannes Tzetzes recounted the ancient pharmakos: If a misfortune afflicted a city as the result of divine wrath, whether famine or plague or some other catastrophe, they led out the ugliest person of all for sacrifice [beating and burning the body], to be the expiation and pharmakos of the suffering city.¹4

Physical borders attempted to separate what was feared from what was not, at times incorporating deformed human figures to deflect evil through apotropaic laughter. In terms of laughter, ancient uglies also performed as entertainers and at banquet feasts, and the aspect of ridicule became part of the legacy of ugliness. The Roman emperor Elagabalus allegedly made a habit of inviting eight men to his banquets who as a group were either bald, one-eyed, deaf, black, tall, fat or had gout – simply to laugh at the collection of them. Later appropriations of ‘the ugly’ looked back to antiquity for inspiration to facetiously chart a genealogy of the term, as the eighteenth-century Ugly Face Club cited its founding members as Homer, Aesop and Socrates.¹5 Other neoclassical British practices seemed descended from Elagabalus, including meals served by waiters with wooden legs or wobbling hands, dinner parties of stutterers and ‘freak runs’ that raced cripples, obese or elderly groups.¹6 Considering these demeaning contexts, ugliness did not necessarily set these groups apart as wholly separate from society; rather, ugly groups were used and abused within the domains of Graeco-Roman and, later, neoclassical European culture. Even when left to die on the edges of the ancient empire (to recall 30

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a famous literary account of the ill-omened Oedipus, whose feet were bound), cultural treatments were framed as cathartic or pathetic acts to uphold a particular hierarchical order. From Thersites to Aesop to Socrates, ‘ugly’ figures played different roles in antiquity, and Polyphemus carried particularly ‘ugly’ connotations. Bordering on the subhuman, the one-eyed giant Cyclops emerged as one of the ugliest figures from the period. In Homer’s The Odyssey he kills off Odysseus’ men like a terrifying beast: ‘a lion reared in the hills’ who eats all ‘entrails, flesh and the marrowy bones alike’.¹7 When he devours the human crew, the sound is beastly, as if he were ‘killing puppies’.¹8 Other characters’ reactions qualify him as ugly, with little physical description apart from the violent injury of his eye: ‘a monster of a man’ but also ‘not / like a man, an eater of bread’ (hinting at his cannibal nature), ‘monstrous’, ‘a monstrous wonder’, ‘lawless’, ‘pitiless’, ‘terrible’, ‘savage’, ‘cruel’, ‘great evil’, ‘threatening evil’, ‘wild’, ‘in no way lovely’, with gigantic size and strength, boasting a deep voice that provokes ‘terror’.¹9 His terrifying nature borders on the Sublime, ‘more like a wooded / peak of the high mountains seen standing away from the others’. His surroundings emphasize his isolation: in a cave

Bust of Polyphemus, by Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein (called GoetheTischbein), copied after an antique sculpture, 1790s, etching.



on an island, where he lives with animals and their dung. Set apart even from his own kind, Polyphemus counts a sheep and a ram as his closest companions, and begs the ram’s pity while the ignorant animal acts as a vehicle for Odysseus’ escape. The giant believes Odysseus’ claim of his name as ‘Nobody’, so his fellow Cyclopes ignore his cry for help (‘Nobody is killing me by force or treachery’).²0 The son of a god who does not fear the gods, as a demigod, Polyphemus ambivalently embodies both man and beast, nature and culture, terror and pathos. His gruesome downfall fulfils a prophecy where his ugly characteristics seem to account for his unfortunate fate. Homer’s version of Polyphemus is one of many variations on this tale. From Euripides to Theocritus to Virgil to Ovid, the Cyclops’ story was told and retold throughout antiquity. While his character trended in these texts from terrifying towards comic, ogre to oaf, and variedly pastoral, his essence continued to be described as ugly. In Euripides’ version, for instance, his ugliness no longer terrifies

‘Prodigious Monster’, c. 1655, reproduction of a woodcut.


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as he appears ridiculous, ‘drunk, singing an ugly noise, / howling all over the place and out of tune’.²¹ The potency of his myth extended into real realms. An account by Martial described a slave named Polyphemus ‘who was so ugly and enormous that “even the Cyclops would find him grotesque”’.²² As Polyphemus straddled mythic and real worlds, he acted as ‘an index of the divine or natural order’ for negotiating cultural tensions that derived from his ugliness (namely, his non-Greek race, enormous size, congenital disorder and demigod status).²³ The divine pantheon included superhuman gods and goddesses but very few were considered ugly or deformed. Exceptions included Hephaestus (the lame god of metalworking and fire who oversaw the Cyclopes and who forged Zeus’s thunderbolts) and his children.²4 Other hybrid creatures populated myths: silly and lustful as Silenus or a satyr (part horse or goat), seductively fatal as a Siren (part bird), or prophetic as a sphinx (part lion). But their ugly aspects were trumped by Polyphemus’ ugliness, which threatened to transgress his hybridity into something more monstrous. Beyond myth, classical philosophy framed ugly bodies in a degenerating line-up from humans to subhuman to animal forms. In his Generation of Animals, Aristotle described a hierarchy of species where ‘anyone who does not take after his parents is really in a way a monstrosity.’²5 The downhill slope began ‘when a female is formed instead of a male . . . The female is as it were a deformed male’ and declined down the chain to reputedly hybrid offspring: bearing a human head and animal body (like a calf with a child’s head) or falsely resembling an animal (like a sheep with an ox’s head). Aristotle’s analogies reflected his period’s cultural tensions, from classifying congenital deformities to conflating ‘bestial’ with barbaric, diseased, retrogressed and full of vice. Many of his ideas remained current for centuries; even in 1512 the Spanish used his arguments in part to justify the conquest and enslavement of Native Americans, whom they deemed ‘talking animals’.²6 The ancient philosopher’s writings continued to inspire those interested in the ancient pseudo-science of physiognomy, including Giovanni Battista della Porta’s parallels between animals and humans (1586) and 33


Charles Le Brun’s artistic treatise on the expression of passions (1698), which Johann Caspar Lavater built upon in his Essays on Physiognomy (1775–8), in which he wrote: ‘virtue beautifies, and vice renders a man ugly.’²7 While the origin of a human-animal as ‘ugly’ is difficult to trace, ancient influences leave a trail across history. In Western antiquity, anomalous individuals not only seemed to threaten the survival of the species but signified a divine condemnation of the group. Fears became conflated as if ‘an aberrancy within the corporeal order is an aberrancy in the social order.’²8 Before the Graeco-Roman era in ancient Egypt and perhaps elsewhere, deformity was viewed more beneficently, even as a divine marker. Fusions of human and animal forms (like the gods Bes and Hapi) demonstrated an elevated social status of unruly bodies.²9 In the Amarna period, representations of Amenhotep iv/Akhenaten and Nefertiti bear ‘unprepossessing, ugly features’ that may have served to express ‘a radically new concept of kingship and queenship’ where ‘the ugliness of the images is indicative of the intensity behind the new beliefs.’³0 While these ancient manifestations may have differed from our modern concept of ugliness, their association with cultural change suggests how social identities were interrogated and negotiated through ‘ugly’ aspects. Even earlier, ugliness may have been tied less to physical characteristics and more to the emotions of fear and terror traceable through the word’s etymology. Fearsome events could be explained as interventions by gods that surpassed human understanding, as if ‘terrible beasts of the early civilizations predate not only humankind but also the very gods, encompassing within their deformed bodies an unformed universe.’³¹ Surviving motifs of the trickster, mutatis mutandis, located change within particular types of cultural characters themselves.³² Whatever the origins of ugliness, by classical times, it seemed to carry negative connotations. Exceptions to the rule included the Silenus-like but wise Socrates, the deformed fable-telling slave Aesop and the idea that Eros straddled the border between beauty and ugliness. Although some ugly bodies could receive better treatments by serving as religious auguries, entertainments and even erotic 34

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fetishes, ugliness was far from idolized. Mocking artistically fashioned hybrids, the Roman poet Horace famously wrote: If a painter cho[o]se[s] to join a human head to the neck of a horse, and to spread feathers of many a hue over limbs . . . so . . . a lovely woman ends below in a black and ugly fish, could you, my friends, if favoured with a private view, refrain from laughing?³³

For all the terror and laughter associated with ugliness in antiquity, its ambiguity reflected its more constant feature, shape-shifting and begging a question from the eye of the beholder: ‘What are you?’

Dame Ragnell: ‘She Was a Loathly One!’

In the thirteenth century, a medical text entitled The Secrets of Women warned that if a pregnant woman viewed an ugly animal, or even its representation (like a chimera painted on her bedroom wall), a freakish creature would be born.³4 This notion of maternal imagination stretched back to antiquity. In his ancient treatise Gynaecology, Soranus discouraged pregnant women from viewing monkeys at conception to avoid producing tailed offspring.³5 Even into the nineteenth century, Joseph Merrick (the so-called ‘Elephant Man’) allegedly attributed his deformed body to his mother’s experience of viewing an elephant during her pregnancy.³6 Beyond the noticeable absence of paternal imagination, the history of ugliness includes a search for natural causes to explain extraordinary events. Over the centuries, various theories arose around anomalous bodies to confront fears about cultural change. The medieval period grew increasingly enrapt with transformation and metamorphosis. The Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Icelandic sagas brimmed with ugly icons (from the Polyphemus-like ogre Grendel in Beowulf to man-eating giants that threatened Thor), but such terrifying characters hardly reduced the Middle Ages to the ‘ugly’ and ‘barbarian’ ‘Dark Age’ that historians long claimed.³7 Ovid’s 35


Metamorphoses enjoyed a revival, alongside fairy tales that circulated around the Mediterranean and Middle East, travelling the trade routes of early colonizers, cartographers and other figures who stood at cultural crossroads and conflicts.³8 The period witnessed heightened interest in myriad kinds of transformation: from werewolves to green men, demons to witches, shape-shifting to body-borrowing, miracles to alchemy.³9 Even before the ‘grotesque’ emerged formally, boundary-guarding creatures like gargoyles adorned architecture and marginalia of manuscripts. These figurations demarcated change and invited varied interpretations. St Bernard of Clairvaux decried the ‘ridiculous monstrosities’ in cloisters that appeared to be ‘marvellous ugly beauty and beautiful ugliness’, manifested as ‘filthy apes’, ‘fierce lions’, ‘monstrous centaurs’, ‘half men’ and other hybrids.40 In contrast, to appreciate divine diversity, Augustine claimed that ‘the trouble with a person who does not see the whole is that he is

Illustration by William Mulready (?) of the title characters from Charles Lamb, Beauty and the Beast (1887).


ugly ones Joseph Merrick, the so-called ‘Elephant Man’, 1889 (photograph from ‘Death of the “Elephant Man”’, British Medical Journal, 1890).

offended by the ugliness of a part’ and he needs to consider ‘its context or relation to the whole’.4¹ Under crusading and christening views, beauties and beasts both fell into the fold. An early tale of a beauty and beast arose in The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell (late fifteenth century), in which the ugly hag Dame Ragnell played both beauty and beast. The Arthurian romance describes her ‘as ungoodly a creature / As evere man sawe, withoute mesure’, ‘disformyd’ and ‘defoyled’.4² Her features include a red face with snotty nose and bleary eyes, grey clotted hair, hanging breasts and a humped back, with her body likened to a barrel. Her yellow teeth resemble a boar’s ‘tuskes’, and her mention of ‘owlles’ links her to witches.4³ Her beastliness contrasts with her fine jewels 37


and richly draped palfrey. Viewers marvel at her, and the narration attests: ‘Of lothyness inowghe she had’, ‘fowlle a creature withoute mesure’ and ‘She was a lothly on!’44 Despite her loathly appearance, she convinces Arthur to promise her to his handsome and trusted knight, Gawain, in exchange for saving the king’s life by answering a riddle: ‘whate [do] wemen love best’? (The answer: ‘sovereynté’.)45 In the face of others’ shame, she shows pride by asking to be paraded through the kingdom, then eats ravenously at their wedding feast. Gawain loyally fulfils his impossible promise, and as he prepares to consummate their marriage, her transformation to beautiful lady prompts his astonished question: ‘Whate ar ye?’46 ‘What are you?’ is a question often prompted through tales about ugly individuals. Seeming to defy expectation, Dame Ragnell undergoes a transformation that allows her to be beautiful by day and ugly at night, or the reverse, at Gawain’s discretion. She remains part beauty and part beast until he breaks her stepmother’s spell by granting her the choice: essentially answering her riddle of ‘sovereignty’. Through a series of oaths, her physical appearance and behaviour transform to uphold the order of the kingdom. She becomes the ‘fairest Lady’ of all England, but the tale does not end there. According to the earliest surviving manuscript of the romance, after five years of blissful marriage, Dame Ragnell dies. It is arguable that she needs to die because Gawain otherwise shirks his knightly duties, lying enrapt with his beautiful bride.47 Her beauty becomes a double-edged sword, like the biblical Eve, as her story suggests behavioural gender models available within the chivalric code. Through oral and written variations, Dame Ragnell and her companions undergo major and minor transformations, as does the tale itself. ‘Loathly ladies’ were a popular motif in medieval literature, appearing in late fourteenth-century tales like Geoffrey Chaucer’s ‘The Wife of Bath’s Tale’ in The Canterbury Tales and ‘The Tale of Florent’ in John Gower’s Confessio amantis.48 The tradition of loathly ladies entwines with a wider coterie of lovely ladies in broader periods and geographies, where external beauty conceals internal ugliness, like the myth of Pandora from ancient Greece or the tale of Surpanakha from the Sanskrit epic Ramayana.49 Other deformed female figures 38

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served protective functions on cultural and civic borders, like the Celtic Sheela-na-gigs with their exaggerated genitalia.50 Variations of Dame Ragnell also evolved beyond the medieval period. In the seventeenth century, the tale of Tannakin Skinker reflected a related genre involving pig-faced women. According to a pamphlet published in 1640, Skinker was a Dutch woman who had been ‘bewitched in her mother’s womb’ to become a ‘Hog-faced Gentlewoman’: ‘not onely a staine or blemish, but a deformed uglinesse, making all the rest loathsome, contemptible and odious to all that lookt upon her’.5¹ Like Dame Ragnell and John Gower’s loathly lady (whose story the pamphlet retells), Skinker can be delivered from the ugly spell only by marriage. Adaptations reflect storytellers and their cultural contexts, and beauties and beasts have spread ugliness and beauty across geographies and periods.5² From the French ‘Beauty and the Beast’ to

A certaine Relation of the Hog-faced Gentlewoman called Mistris Tannakin Skinker . . . (c. 1640), title page.



the Turkish ‘Princess and the Pig’ to the Japanese ‘Monkey Sonin-law’ to the Native American ‘Old Man Coyote, the Young Man and Two Otter Sisters’, variations of this tale have been projected onto different cultural landscapes, flora and fauna. Fairy tales are a genre that often embraces the ugly, counterpointed with beauty to delineate good from evil. The beauty of Cinderella contrasts with her Ugly Stepsisters.5³ Since literary adaptations carry cultural overtones, ‘ugly’ designations qualify perceptions. As Mark Burnett writes (and here I substitute ‘ugly’ for ‘monstrous’ to suggest a similar effect): ‘The “ugly” designation, it seems, has less to do with what the “ugly” actually possesses and more to do with the manner in which it is perceived.’54 Or, as Susan Stewart similarly writes with regard to ‘freak’: ‘Often referred to as a “freak of nature,” the freak, it must be emphasized, is a “freak of culture.”’55 Like the monster and freak, the ‘ugly one’ shifts through cultural retellings. In a recent illustrated children’s edition of Sir Gawain and the Loathly Lady (1987), the author Selina Hastings keeps the ugly hag

Juan Wijngaard, detail of ‘Loathly Lady’, from Selina Hastings, Sir Gawain and the Loathly Lady (1987).


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unquestionably repulsive (part pig and part horse, among other colourful features) but makes a few twists.56 Besides living happily ever after, this Loathly Lady – described as ‘ugliest’, ‘freak’, ‘monster’ and ‘truly loathly’ – senses the public’s gaze upon her and feels shame about her ugliness. She does not eat anything at the wedding feast – a far cry from her archetype’s ravenous behaviour. Her internalization of ugliness depletes her agency and power (namely, her sovereignty) as she becomes circumscribed by her own ugly trope. Her silent expression of shame gains a voice in the mestiza poet Gloria Anzaldúa, who prefaces one of her poems (written around the same time as the children’s book) with an epigraph: ‘Who in me says I’m ugly, makes me feel guilty; / who is it in my soul that needs you so desperately?’57 As will be explored later, shame suggests another kind of ugliness, akin to emotional ‘dirt’ (in the sense of ‘matter out of place’) that soils the soul.58

A Grotesque Old Woman: ‘The Ugly Duchess’

According to Cicero and Pliny the Elder, the ancient artist Zeuxis could not find a single satisfactory model, so gathered five women to paint their best parts to compose his ideal beauty.59 He aspired to represent Helen of Troy, so her face (that legendarily ‘launched a thousand ships’) must have been the hardest combinatory feature to fashion. Faces are the most identifiable of human features. Intimates can recognize each other’s hands, toes and moles, but public recognition comes most visibly from the face. It is the first feature of an embryo to differentiate and captures the most attention of newborns.60 The face carries layers of cultural meaning, and a rich history of idealized portraiture reaches back to Neolithic Polynesian skull cults, Egyptian mummy cases, Greek and Roman sculpted busts and other forms.6¹ Despite historic trends to beautify (with Michelangelo famously hating to represent anything but infinite beauty, and portrait galleries in European courts devoted solely to paintings of beautiful women), idealized models have not 41


always had the final word. After all, Zeuxis was rumoured to have died laughing at his portrait of an ugly old woman. The portrait that legendarily killed Zeuxis no longer exists, but a similar painting haunts our cultural landscape. Considered unattractive enough to gain the nickname of ‘The Ugly Duchess’, A Grotesque Old Woman or An Old Woman (1513) was painted by the Flemish artist Quinten Massys. When the painting went up for auction in London in 1920, a notice appeared in the New York Times announcing the sale of a ‘portrait which is generally accepted as being the ugliest one in the world’ due to its subject of a duchess ‘famous for her repulsive features’.6² Long before modern audiences viewed her, the painting captivated earlier onlookers. Leonardo da Vinci and his followers made sketches that for centuries were considered the painting’s source or suggested a lost original. Copies of Leonardo’s drawings, like his Five Grotesque Heads (c. 1490), circulated and inspired contemporaries in Northern Europe, where interest in the grotesque also arose from related iconography in churches, among other influences. The German artist Albrecht Dürer remarked that ‘Nobody knows what makes a good shape unless he first knows what makes a bad one’, and Leonardo devoted part of his Treatise on Painting to the ‘Variety of Faces’: ‘The more the figures are contrasted, viz. the deformed opposed to the beautiful, the old to the young, the strong to the feeble, the more the picture will please and be admired.’6³ Massys’s painting of ‘The

Francesco Melzi after Leonardo da Vinci, Two Grotesque Heads, c. 1510, pen and brown ink.


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Quinten Massys, An Old Woman or A Grotesque Old Woman (‘The Ugly Duchess’), c. 1513, oil on oak.

Ugly Duchess’ arose from this milieu, although the meaning of her face has been debated up to the present day. A Grotesque Old Woman shows a sitter wearing an extravagant headdress, clasping a rosebud to her wrinkled and overstuffed bust. Her reputation for ugliness seems to arise from her aged attempt to squeeze into an outdated youthful dress. She evokes something 43


more or less than human. Her facial features appear stretched, with a flaring arched nose, broad cheeks and forehead. Modern viewers have described her in animal terms, having a ‘snorting look that has something of the wild animal about it – the lion’, with a neck likened to a ‘turkey’s’.64 For centuries, the painting’s subject was identified as Margaret Maultasch, the fourteenth-century Duchess of Tyrol and Princess of Carinthia, rumoured to have been the ugliest woman in history. Recent scholarship has debunked that source, since studies of the painting reveal that Massys made his study from close quarters and amended the work during its creation – 150 years after the duchess died. Additionally, ‘Maultasch’ may have been a nickname for the duchess (who expelled her husband to marry another man, leading to their excommunication), since the moniker translates as ‘pocket mouth’ (a dialect word for vagina and, by extension, a whore).65 While the woman may have been powerful, perhaps even a duchess, some scholars have placed her as part of a novelty act that travelled to various courts, an object of fascination who earned money from her disfigured appearance.66 Despite the painting’s air of realism, the subject’s rosebud clashes against her overblooming body. The juxtaposition seems to satirize lusty old women who try to relive their youth. Drawing on Horace, Erasmus wrote in The Praise of Folly (1509–11): It’s even more fun to see the old women who . . . look like corpses . . . for ever smearing their faces with make-up and . . . exposing their sagging, withered breasts and trying to rouse failing desire.67

Like the painting, Erasmus’s description borders on caricature. Owing origins to the Bolognese Carracci brothers of the sixteenth century, caricature derived from a simplification of lines and ‘loading’ of features (in Italian, caricare means ‘to load’) that suggested the antithesis of beauty. Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘grotesque’ heads fed the development of caricature, later described in art historical terms as ‘combinatory de-grading’, that is, to ‘grade toward some species lower down on the evolutionary or ontological scale, toward a principle of formlessness, primitivism, or bestiality’.68 Caricature tapped 44

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an existing discomfort about human animality that toyed with the means of determining beauty and ugliness. With exaggerated features, caricatures provided a medium of inversions and twists, where dilettantes could look foolish and people paralleled animal and other nonhuman forms, as shapes of furniture and other inanimate objects figuratively echoed characters. ‘The Ugly Duchess’ could be the result of such exaggeration, with her worn body garbed in the fashion of her youth; however, evidence shows that painters from the period did not tend to hide the deformities of their patrons.69 Since she was painted as part of a diptych, and her male partner does not appear particularly ugly, her caricature is possible but not an easy fit. The tradition of uglifying beauty and beautifying ugliness has roots in ancient Greek practices, where catalogues of ugly charms emerged with Sidonius Apollinaris, a nobleman in fifth-century Gaul who provided a poetic formula for describing ugliness in headto-toe fashion.70 Expanding this lineage in medieval Europe, ‘deformed mistress’ poems functioned as mock portraits, reducing the features of a real or imagined deformed woman (or sometimes man) to an ironic catalogue or caricature of ugly traits, as a means of masculine poetic showmanship. Mock encomia inverted rather than transgressed canonical beauty, diffusing horror for humour, often at a subject’s expense. ‘The ugly woman, repositioned as an object of desire, becomes newly silent and passive’ in this genre, argues Naomi Baker, so ‘deformity, presented in these terms, is a stable, fixed, and knowable property.’7¹ Other traditions challenged this trope. In the medieval Arabic world, the practice of uglifying beauty and beautifying ugliness helped to re-view ‘blighted’ male bodies with integrity rather than condemnation.7² Concerns also arose through the European Renaissance with poets like William Shakespeare, whose Sonnet 130 (‘My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun’) faulted the literary tradition rather than his love for misreadings of ugliness and beauty. Her ‘dun’ form leads him to conclude: ‘And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare / As any she belied with false compare.’7³ If Zeuxis painted his ideal woman by cobbling together beautiful parts from different bodies, Massys painted ‘the ugliest portrait 45


in the world’ by working more holistically. Recent medical diagnosis and close study of the painter’s techniques have led scholars to deduce that ‘the subject of the painting was not the product of random deformities that the painter fashioned together.’74 The old woman’s facies leontina – that is, the face of a lion – is a feature typical of patients with Paget’s disease, osteitis deformans, a condition identified by Sir James Paget in the nineteenth century. Other characteristics include her enlarged and bent clavicles and arthritic hands. This posthumous diagnosis led the Telegraph to announce in 2008: ‘Art Mystery Solved.’75 However, the cross-labelling of a work of art through a medical lens raises a number of questions. Do we consider ugliness differently when viewed through the lens of medicine or science, as opposed to artistic or social representations? Do we perceive the subject of A Grotesque Old Woman differently if she becomes a patient suffering from Paget’s disease, or is Polyphemus less of a mythic monster if he is framed through the congenital condition identified as ‘racial synophthalmia’?76 While posthumously labelled by medicine, she would not have been contextualized by that diagnosis in her time. The condition was identified over four centuries after the painting’s creation, not unlike another recent diagnosis of Down’s syndrome in a Flemish painting created over three centuries before Langdon Down ‘discovered’ the disease.77 In the eighteenth century, the famed taxonomist Carl Linnaeus identified Homo monstrous as a separate species from Homo sapiens, including camel girl, elephant boy, bear girl and fish boy, among other human aberrations (differentiated from the albino-negro, the tailed man and the mermaid, who were delegated to Homo troglodytes, Homo caudatus and Homo marinus respectively).78 If ‘The Ugly Duchess’ had lived later, might she have become an eighteenthcentury subspecies? Or in the nineteenth century, might she have been exhibited with a moniker like ‘Lion Lady’, in the vein of freak show performers like the ‘Elephant Man’ and ‘Ape Woman’? The classification of ‘ugly’ proves unruly, especially when it tends to be applied and revoked. While a diagnostic approach contributes to the history of medicine and aids medical students and practitioners in honing their art of observation, reading a work of art 46

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Illustration of the Duchess by John Tenniel for Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1872).

diagnostically does not necessarily ‘solve’ a painting’s mystery. ‘While the medical and scientific cultures attempted to remake the human body into an object of scientific scrutiny’, writes the historian Stephen Pender, ‘in popular understanding the body remained a vast and insistent index of natural and political worlds.’79 Even after scholars have presented many possible readings of ‘The Ugly Duchess’, her figure continues to elude. Nothing tells us her actual story; she may be as much a character of myth and tale as Polyphemus and Dame Ragnell. Whatever her original connection with the artist, if she existed, her effect on viewers continues to haunt. The nineteenth-century British illustrator John Tenniel used her as a model for the Duchess in his famed illustrated edition of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.80 ‘It upsets me completely’, says a character speaking about Massys’s painting in Frank Cottrell Boyce’s recent novel, Framed: ‘If I looked like that, I’d hide myself, not go getting my 47


portrait painted and shoving it in other people’s faces.’8¹ The contemporary writer Edith Pearlman has a more defensive reaction to the famed figure: ‘The Ugly Duchess . . . has haunted me since our first encounter’, she writes, seeing a resemblance to her great aunt Elsa.8² Pearlman disagrees with Alice’s description of her as ‘very ugly’ and admires the Duchess’s ‘refreshing discourteousness’. Pearlman muses: ‘I didn’t forget her face . . . And I didn’t forget her appellation: ugly. Is there any word a woman dreads more?’ Her question raises another question: Would we remember the portrait of A Grotesque Old Woman differently if history had perpetuated a different label for her, like ‘A Woman with Paget’s Disease’ or ‘Lion Lady’ or ‘The Rosebud’ or merely ‘The Duchess’? Despite the claims of ‘Art Mystery Solved’, Massys’s painting will likely continue to resist classification as future eyes behold her. For all that we can diagnose from reading the surface of this old woman, her meaning submerges under her ‘ugly’ heading.

William Hay: ‘Never Was, Nor Will Be, a Member of the Ugly Club’

In his artistic treatise The Analysis of Beauty (1754), William Hogarth criticized the ‘poor artist’ who ‘fancies himself a nature-mender; not considering, that even in . . . the meanest of her works, [nature] is never wholly destitute of such lines of beauty’.8³ Hogarth advocated a naturalized, curved ‘Line of Beauty’ over idealized representations, distinguishing his character work from caricatures and contributing to an artistic turn that dissociated ugliness from negative characteristics. In the same year as Hogarth published his artistic treatise, Sarah Scott published a translated novel, Agreeable Ugliness: Or, The Triumph of the Graces, which she dedicated ‘to Those Ladies Who are ignominiously distinguished under the Denomination of ugly . . . You to whom as well as to myself, churlish Nature has denied what is esteemed.’84 In the sentimental novel, the virtuous ‘ugly’ and ‘plain’ narrator (called ‘Shocking Monster’ by her mother) contrasts with her beautiful, vain sister and ultimately 48

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‘triumphs’ through marriage to muddy the conflation of external and internal attributes. Portraits in earlier centuries tended to signify the silent ugly subject. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, through these and other works, a shift occurred where ugly individuals found spaces to redraw their bodies and otherwise talk back. One of the most notable figures to claim his deformity was the Englishman William Hay (1695–1755). A lifelong hunchback ‘scarce five Feet high’ who had also suffered from smallpox and impaired vision, Hay was a member of Parliament and wrote Deformity: An Essay. Published the same year as the aforementioned works by Hogarth and Scott, Hay’s essay offered his personal and professional experiences to expose perceptions around deformity in Britain. He lived in a period when deformity and ugliness were virtually synonymous. In A Dictionary of the English Language (1755), Samuel Johnson defined ‘ugliness’ first and foremost as ‘deformity’ and ‘deformity’ as ‘ugliness’. (Secondary meanings of ‘ugliness’ included ‘contrariety to beauty; turpitude; loathsomeness; moral depravity’, while ‘deformity’ was ‘ill-favouredness; ridiculousness; the quality of something worthy to be laughed at, or censured’.85) Given the negative connotations, Hay outlined how ‘deformed Persons set out in the world to a Disadvantage, and they must first surmount the Prejudices of Mankind.’86 Alluding to a range of ancient to contemporary sources, Hay criticized the likes of Juvenal and Montaigne, the latter of whom deemed deformity worse than ugliness: ‘Ill features are but a superficial Ugliness and of little Certainty in the Opinion of Men: but a Deformity of Limbs is more substantial, and strikes deeper in.’87 Hay also critically followed one of Francis Bacon’s arguments from ‘On Deformity’ (1625) to deduce that ‘a deformed Person must then be a complete Monster.’88 Learnedly interrogating perceptions of similarly shaped body parts, Hay questioned why a curved back provokes ridicule, while a gluttonous ‘prominent Belly’ does not.89 By challenging the discord between physically ‘crooked’ and morally ‘upright’, Hay’s work argued that his twisted body did not mirror a twisted soul. He also confronted the assumption that 49


deformity was an inherited trait, describing his father as ‘not deformed, but active’ and his mother as a ‘celebrated Beauty’.90 Notably his essay concluded with a postscript that mixed politics with aesthetics by adopting Hogarth’s conclusion that beauty consists of ‘Curve Lines’.9¹ As with other ‘ugly’ individuals in this chapter, Hay’s body at times was characterized as subhuman and analogized with animals. In Deformity, he claimed to bear a ‘Spider-like Shape’ that made him feel like ‘a Worm and no man’.9² He also jokingly despaired of rivalling a lady’s ‘Lap-dog’ and recommended that deformed individuals should avoid wearing ‘borrowed Feathers’, or fine clothes.9³ Placing himself above beasts, he recounted the story of a ‘martyred’ Roman auctioneer ‘exposed to wild Beasts’ for no other reason than being deformed, and also lamented the ill-treatment of animals at eighteenth-century venues like London’s ‘Cock-pit’ and ‘Beargarden’, which notoriously baited animals, sometimes staged in anthropoid fashion (like a monkey on horseback or a chained bear, not unlike the spectators who were penned behind the Bear-garden’s gate).94 Although a productive author, father and respected statesman, and married to a ‘distinguished’ lady, Hay presented his ridicule and shame alongside social ill-treatment of deformed individuals. He lamented a caricature of Alexander Pope (who characterized his own deformed body as ‘the wretched carcase I am annexed to’) that portrayed the famous poet as a hunchbacked monkey, described elsewhere: ‘like the Ancient Centaurs, he is a Beast and a Man.’95 Hay wrote that these subhuman characterizations ‘stung’ Pope enough to rank ‘among the most atrocious Injuries’. Such ridicule underscored deformity and ugliness, leading Hay to vehemently oppose being mistaken as a member of an Ugly Club: I never was, nor ever will be, a Member of the Ugly Club: and I would advise those Gentlemen to meet no more. For though they may be a very ingenious and facetious Society; yet it draws the Eyes of the World too much upon them, and theirs too much from the World . . . When deformed Persons appear together, it doubles the Ridicule.96 50

ugly ones Anonymous, Fronti Fides, or An Epistle to the Egregious Mr Pope, in which the Beauties of his Mind and Body are amply displayed, 1728, etching.

Ugly Clubs arose as social fraternities in Britain and America, organized around merry-making and the satirizing of members’ socalled ‘ugly’ features. Described in periodicals like The Spectator papers (1711–12, 1714), Ugly Clubs blurred the lines between fact and fiction in the vein of caricature. A member’s directory from the Liverpool chapter of The Ugly Face Club (1743–54) resembled a bestiary of human-animal hybrids, with members described in part as ‘shark’, ‘pig’, ‘eagle’, ‘cat’, ‘camel’, ‘monkey’, ‘cod’, ‘hedgehog’, ‘tortoise’, ‘badger’ and other animals.97 The club’s motto held that Tetrum ante omnia vultum (‘Before all things, an ugly face’).98 Like artistic practices of the period, descriptions privileged the face as a symbolic site rather than realistic representation. Interspersed among descriptions of members’ animal-like features, faux racial characteristics stated ‘ugly’ qualifications like ‘Jewish Sallow Phiz’, ‘Hottentot Complexion’, ‘Negro Teeth’ and ‘Japanezy Grin’.99 These descriptions likely reinforced outrageous stereotypes, particularly given that most 51


members were merchants at a time when Liverpool was Britain’s main slaving port. While few records survived due to the clubs’ practice of destroying their documentation, the activities of Ugly Clubs demonstrated little of the civic industriousness and temperance that Hay ascribed to deformed individuals. Nor were Ugly Clubs particularly hospitable to people with disabilities. One membership rule stated that even if a candidate is ‘humpback’d and leg’d and posses’d of all the perfections besides of the great and immortall worthy Aesop’, he could not be admitted to the Club if he lacked the requisite facial deformities, ranging from ‘Blubber lips, little goggyling or squinting Eyes’ to ‘a large Carbuncle Potatoe Nose’.¹00 Hay’s essay also seems aware of the underlying fear in cultural responses to both deformity and race. When describing his favourable experience in Parliament, he mentions ‘a venal Borough’ where ‘they never took Exceptions to any Man’s Character, who came up to their Price; yet they once rejected the best Bidder, because he was a Negroe.’¹0¹ Despite sympathizing with the plights of some marginalized groups, Hay did not claim community affiliation or see remedial potential for ugly women (often described as ‘plain’): ‘if plain, she cannot be transformed.’¹0² Regardless, his insistence on individuating his experience emphasized his wish not only to resignify the category of deformity and to dissociate a connection between physically and morally upright, but to transgress that binary entirely and be seen for his individual worth. Deformity: An Essay provides a pivotal view of ugliness in eighteenth-century Britain. Hay navigated his cultural environment as a political insider and social outsider. Like the artist Thomas Inglefield (1769–c. 1790), who was born without arms and legs and who drew and sold realistic portraits of himself, Hay worked to dispel stereotypes about deformed individuals (as dysfunctional, unemployed, lazy, shifty) and participated in a tradition that resignified the deformed body through self-representation.¹0³ His commitment extended to the way that the mp wished to be represented by others, as he wrote of sitting for a portrait: ‘I insisted on being drawn as I am’ with ‘the strong Marks of Small Pox . . . for I did not 52

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Paul Sandby, Puggs Graces Etched from His Original Daubing (satire on Hogarth’s Analysis of Beauty), 1753, etching.

choose to colour over a Lye’.¹04 Naturalized representation was not an easy task. The statesman advised his portrait painter (who told Hay that he had never been allowed such liberty before) that ‘if he hoped to be in Vogue never to assume it again’. After the publication of The Analysis of Beauty, Hogarth’s serpentine line was denounced by critics as his ‘Line of Deformity’ and ‘The Antiline of Beauty’.¹05 It was also attacked in caricature, as in Paul Sandby’s Puggs Graces Etched from His Original Daubing (1753–4), which depicted Hogarth painting monstrously deformed women in order to conform to his Line.¹06 Within two decades, revived interest in the ancient pseudoscience of physiognomy led Lavater to claim: Beauty and ugliness have a strict connection, with the moral constitution of the Man. In proportion as he is morally good, he is handsome; and ugly, in proportion as he is morally bad.¹07



Even as efforts persisted to redraw aesthetic and political lines, freak shows and related hyperbolic displays hurled ugliness to new heights.

Julia Pastrana: ‘The Ugliest Woman in the World’

Exhibitions of human wholes and parts have a long history. As far back as ancient Rome, Pompey the Great collected human curiosities into a museum, which included a boy with the head of a dog, a statue of a human who gave birth to an elephant, a stillborn baby from a male homosexual and pairs of conjoined twins.¹08 Animal parts provoked a similar fascination. In the medieval period, among monastic and royal collections, the French Duc de Berry collected natural oddities including whales’ teeth, a unicorn horn, an embalmed elephant, a hydra and a basilisk.¹09 European explorers and travellers brought back natural specimens from voyages to fill Wunderkammer and Kunstkammer, or cabinets of wonder. Some collectors did not need to travel to find their curiosities. The sixteenth-century surgeon Ambroise Paré collected from his patients accidentally swallowed items, like nails and needles, and natural calcifications including kidney and gall stones. Ferdinando Cospi maintained a museum in Bologna that included a dwarf, Sebastiano Biavati, who served as both live specimen and curator.¹¹0 The eighteenth-century British surgeon John Hunter bribed a group of sailors to bring him the remains of the ‘Irish giant’ Charles Byrne, who ironically had paid the sailors to bury his remains at sea to avoid being collected by the aptly named Hunter.¹¹¹ Against a backdrop of increasing practices of investigation, classification and display, bodies who refused to fit categories seemed to demand attention. By the nineteenth century, such bodies galvanized interest in the formal exhibition of freaks. Our current sense of ‘freak’ dates to the 1840s, around the same time that ‘normal’ came into common use.¹¹² Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary of 1755 reveals a more archaic definition of ‘freak’ as ‘a sudden and causeless change of place; a sudden fancy; a humour; a whim; a capricious prank’.¹¹³ Antecedents of freak shows dated 54

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back to antiquity, where ‘monsters’ were displayed for interpretation or sold in the Roman teratôn agora, or ‘monster market’.¹¹4 Ancient monsters included dwarfs, slaves and deformed individuals, as well as more fantastic individuals like those described by Plutarch who ‘have no calves, or who are weasel-armed, or who have three eyes, or who are ostrich-headed’.¹¹5 In the medieval period and beyond, fools and court dwarfs occupied a repertoire for mystery plays and travelling troupes. Public exhibitions included London’s Bartholomew Fair, and British fairs in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries tended to be seasonal, with individualized displays migrating between private houses and pubs. Following court collections, curiosity cabinets and fairs, by the 1830s human exhibition became more institutionalized. Through industrialization, the Victorian era witnessed increased commercialization of display, the establishment of permanent places of exhibition and fascination with museums of anatomy and pathology. Against this backdrop emerged Julia Pastrana (1834–1860): ‘The Ugliest Woman in the World’. A hirsute ‘Mexican Indian’ woman, Pastrana was exhibited variously as the ‘Ape Woman’, ‘Baboon Lady’, ‘Marvelous Hybrid or Bear Woman’, ‘Hybrid . . . wherein the nature of woman predominates over the brute – the Orang Outang’, ‘semi-human being’, ‘mysterious animal’ and a litany of related labels.¹¹6 Her travelling act included singing, dancing, speaking different languages, undergoing medical examinations and participating in staged social functions. Extant narratives of her display brim with exaggeration, but it is believed that she came from the Sierra Madre region of Mexico, part of the so-called ‘Root Digger Indian’ tribe, and in early life served as a domestic servant for a Mexican governor. Her prominent jaw, heavy hair growth over her face and body, and other physical attributes were later identified as hypertrichosis with gingival hyperplasia.¹¹7 A dealer of curiosities introduced her to the freak show circuit, leading her to tour America and Europe as a ‘Wonder of the World’ with her manager, Theodore Lent, who married her and displayed her throughout Europe. She died shortly after childbirth in Moscow, when Lent sold her and their hirsute son to a 55


professor at the University of Moscow’s Anatomical Institute, then repurchased both bodies after their embalmment for posthumous display. The bodies circulated long after Lent’s death through museums, circuses, royal courts and amusement parks into the 1970s, then became a basement specimen in Oslo’s Institute of Forensic Medicine. Public and religious objections mounted until 2012, when the Norwegian National Committee for the Evaluation of Research on Human Remains granted the return of her body to Mexico. Both during her life and after her death, Pastrana defied easy classification. Promoted as a human-animal, she also transgressed that binary and was billed as ‘curious’, ‘remarkable’, ‘exquisite’, ‘mysterious’, ‘hybrid’, ‘indescribable’ and ‘nondescript’, to name a few terms. Her singularly ‘ugly’ case demonstrates the fallibility of any binary classification. Along with her moniker of ‘Ugliest Woman in the World’, souvenir pamphlets announced her human-animal lineage, being ‘suckled by her Indian Mother’, ‘dwelling only with baboons, bears, and monkeys’ and having ‘the face of a Baboon – the body and limbs of a Woman – the skin of a Bear, and other strange formations’ that demonstrated ‘where man’s bestial attributes terminate and where those that are Divine begin!’¹¹8 Arthur Munby, a civil servant and poet, compared his experience of seeing an ape in a zoo (‘a beast – / Such a monstrous birth of the teeming East, / Such an awkward ugly breed’, ‘hideous’ with ‘savage jaws’, ‘fearful’ and ‘loathly’ – recalling Dame Ragnell) with seeing Pastrana (‘And my thoughts went back to . . . the creature who sat there and look’d at me / So fiercely, strangely, eagerly, / From under her shaggy hair’).¹¹9 A more scientific-minded explanation of Pastrana’s body came from Charles Darwin, who identified her ambiguously as the ‘Spanish dancer’ and ‘remarkably fine woman’ whose ‘thick masculine beard’, ‘hairy forehead’ and ‘projected’ jaw gave her a ‘gorilla-like’ face.¹²0 More than straddling the binary of human and animal, her perceived ugliness transgressed tensions between other categories: civilized and primitive, normal and pathological, female and male, self and other.¹²¹ Even as demonstrations of Pastrana’s fine singing, dancing, sociability and medical authentication aimed to prove her as racially exceptional, that qualification proved troubling. Her 56

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Julia Pastrana, ‘The Embalmed Nondescript’, 1862, wood engraving.

parentage of ‘Root Digger Indian’ (invented by period writers) was described as ‘the most filthy and abominable [race] . . . with as little purpose as other Carnivorous animals’, which by extension exposed ‘the desire to classify the performing, masculine, nondocile female body as barbaric and animalistic’.¹²² Performing in a culture of 57


patrolled social categories, Pastrana became an object that simultaneously fed viewers’ curiosity, desire, fear and disgust. Framed in the vein of a ‘sensitive monster’, Pastrana’s exceptionality exposed cultural tensions as viewers sought to validate their compassion through a kind of condescension.¹²³ Distinguishing between outward appearance and inward nature, the ballad of the Hog-faced Woman of 1639 similarly claimed that in spite of her ugliness, ‘Shees loving, courteous, and effeminate.’¹²4 Characterized in that sensitive vein, ‘poor Pastrana was known for her ugliness’, according to an alleged interviewer, Otto Hermann: To the world, she was nothing more than an aberration, something grotesque that was paraded before others for money and trained to do tricks like circus animals. For those few who knew her better, she was a warm, thoughtful, capable being with a big heart. They knew her sorrow at being on the fringe of society, not part of it.¹²5

Hermann claims to remember Pastrana smiling and saying of her manager and husband, ‘He loves me for my own sake’ – which seems questionable since after Pastrana’s death, Lent married another woman with a similar condition named Marie Bartel, whom he exhibited as Pastrana’s younger sister and called Zenora. Marriage allowed him to share in his wives’ profits, not unlike the situation of Grace McDaniels (1888–1958), a woman who later bore the title of ‘The Ugliest Woman in the World’ (also billed as ‘The Mule-faced Woman’). Rumoured to have come to the American freak show circuit after winning an ugly contest in the 1920s, McDaniels suffered from progressive tumours on her lips and mouth.¹²6 Remaining accounts describe her as ‘grotesque’, not only like a ‘mule’ but a ‘hippopotamus’, while claiming that she was generous and ‘a beautiful woman inside’, feeding an ‘eros of ugliness’.¹²7 McDaniels’s alcoholic son (rumoured to have been born after a drunk carnival worker took advantage of her) had a terrible temper and, serving as his mother’s manager, took most of her income before they both died in the same year. To the extent that Pastrana 58

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and McDaniels shared the claim of ‘Ugliest Woman in the World’, their surviving stories question not only their titles but the legacies of their spectating cultures. A recent play adaptation of Pastrana’s life by Shaun Prendergast was staged in darkness, so audience members literally were left in the dark to draw new conclusions by listening to Pastrana’s context, rather than making judgements based on her physical body.¹²8 Even when otherwise well intended, scholars who write about ‘freaks’ risk replicating the sideshow. This chapter of Ugliness reinscribes the qualification of ‘ugly’ to individuals, problematically resembling case studies, while suggesting how perceptions change in different cultural contexts. Tod Browning’s horror film Freaks (1932) showcased ‘normal’ people in a travelling carnival who appear as monsters, while the physically deformed ‘freaks’ act more honourably, and their deformities acquire an ordinariness amid terrifying events. Like much material related to ugliness, cultural backgrounds complicate reductive readings of bodies alone. In Zimbabwe, some members of the Wadoma tribe are born with a ‘lobster-claw’ or ‘two-toed’ deformity but are not isolated as freaks.¹²9 Returning to the sideshow, figures like Julia Pastrana and Grace McDaniels bear ‘ugly’ labels from history that can become their legacy, but which can also act as points of access for declassification. In their recent decision to repatriate the remains of Pastrana, the Norwegian Committee on Human Remains wrote: The attention Julia Pastrana received while alive, and particularly the treatment of her remains after her death, has to a great extent consisted of various forms of interest in her particular appearance, a fascination which has sometimes been not only ethically unacceptable, but grotesque.¹³0

Looking backwards at history, the committee deems Pastrana’s handlers and viewers – not Pastrana – as grotesque. That is, they are ugly. The ranging ways that spectators have reacted to Pastrana’s human body – fearing it, delighting in it, dressing it up, making it dance, examining it, re-examining our own role in her performance, 59


in life and after death – implicates us in her ugliness and encourages a move toward ‘alliance’ (to borrow Rebecca Stern’s word), however problematic that posthumous alliance might be. By deeming her handlers and viewers as grotesque, we might call them ‘The Ugliest Spectators in the World’. The hyperbolic argument defeats itself, however, as it allows us to pass the buck to history and sidestep the sideshow, rather than look for analogous situations in our midst.

orlan: ‘A Beautiful Woman Who Is Deliberately Becoming Ugly’

In a 1960 episode of The Twilight Zone called ‘The Eye of the Beholder’, a head-bandaged patient named Janet Tyler awaits removal of her surgical wrap.¹³¹ She wants to see if her eleventh and last permitted surgery might cure her ‘pitiful’, ‘twisted lump of flesh’. Describing herself as a ‘grotesque ugly woman’, she melancholically confides to a nurse: ‘Ever since I was a little girl, people have turned away when they looked at me.’ ‘The very first thing I can remember is another child screaming when she looked at me. I never really wanted to be beautiful’, she continues, ‘I never wanted to look like a painting.’ In the style of Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling, shot at odd angles, augmented and distorted by light and shadow, the episode frames nurses and doctors from the neck down, until Janet’s last facial bandage is removed. ‘No change! No change at all!’ cries the doctor, as he and his colleagues shrink back into the shadows. Then Janet’s face is revealed: a blonde bombshell of a Hollywood model, circled by their hog-like faces. ‘Where and when is this?’ asks Rod Serling at the end of the episode, ‘where ugliness is the norm and beauty the deviation from that norm?’ The implied questions are many, including: why would a beautiful woman deliberately make herself ugly – not just temporarily applying make-up or changing clothes, but performing a full-out permanent rearrangement of her face? How can she not recognize her beauty, instead believing her designated ‘ugliness’ to be a ‘crime’ in the face of the state’s motto of ‘Conform to the norm’? 60

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As The Twilight Zone reverses viewers’ expectations for beauty and ugliness, the situation appears grotesque. Janet even contemplates suicide, going to what might be called ‘ugly’ lengths to avoid being sent away (to a ‘segregated . . . ghetto designed for freaks’) to achieve socially sanctioned beauty. By reversing the binary of ugliness and beauty, ‘the eye of the beholder’ opens up an in-between (non)category to behold. That futuristic and indeterminate space reveals where, to borrow the words of orlan, ‘a body is but a costume.’¹³² orlan (born 1947) is the adopted name of the French charnal/ ‘carnal’ artist who engages in performance and body art. She has been called ‘a beautiful woman who is deliberately becoming ugly’, ‘rather ugly . . . her pug-like face would need something more than the skill of a surgeon’s knife to reach the Grecian ideal of perfection’ and (among particular detractors) an ‘ugly bitch’.¹³³ While orlan’s career spans decades and many projects, two series are particularly relevant to this discussion of ugliness: The Reincarnation of Saint orlan and Self-hybridizations. Regarding the first, in the early 1990s, orlan underwent a series of ‘aesthetic’ surgical operations to refashion her face from parts of beautiful women in famous works of Western art: the chin of Botticelli’s Venus, the nose of Diana of Fontainebleau, the eyes of Gérard’s Psyche, the mouth of Boucher’s Europa and the forehead of Leonardo’s Mona Lisa. She wished not to resemble them but to question their stories and socially fabricated concepts of the body. After male plastic surgeons refused to make her too ugly (as she said, ‘to keep me cute’), orlan found a female feminist plastic surgeon willing to perform her wishes.¹³4 The theatrically staged surgeries happened publicly, some televised internationally, with the artist using local anaesthetic to stay awake to address her audience and read from literary, philosophical and psychoanalytic texts. Each surgery was performed around a theme. Meticulous documentations revealed her disturbingly graphic dayto-day recovery, with bandaged face and bruises. To help financially support subsequent operations, the artist salvaged and auctioned off ‘reliquaries’ of her flesh, scalp, cells and blood in surgical gauze. Unlike the Catholic patron saints of ugliness (Germaine Cousin and Drogo of Sebourg), orlan rejects the notion of suffering and 61

ugliness orlan, Réfiguration Self-hybridation, série précolombienne no. 4. (Refiguration Self-hybridization, Pre-Columbian series No. 4), 1998, cibachrome.

religious dogma, mocking it and embracing the baroque and grotesque, undoing and reimagining iconography as if ‘confronting the monster in ourselves and in our culture [that] begins to break down the experience of separation’ based on cultural differences.¹³5 While controversial, orlan asks important questions about the body and social constructions of beauty and, by extension, ugliness. Beyond her deconstruction of mythic feminine beauty (undertaking works that have been likened to Zeuxis, on the one hand, and Frankenstein on the other), orlan has also explored non-Western concepts of beauty to reimagine her face. In the late 1990s, for a project of Self-hybridizations, she digitally transformed her face into a composite of pre-Columbian standards of beauty. Using sculptural artefacts and research into the Aztec, Olmec and Mayan cultures of 62

ugly ones orlan, Réfiguration Self-hybridation, série précolombienne no. 9, cibachrome.

Mexico and South America, she discovered favoured features like large noses (connoting elegance and power), crossed eyes (which parents physically encouraged by placing an item between a baby’s eyes as an infant learned to focus) and a deformation of the head (achieved by prolonged pressing on the baby’s fontanelle). Her research into Yucatán culture yielded no word for ‘beauty’ in the SpanishMayan vocabulary, and also suggested that Mayans celebrated multiple identities and metamorphoses. While these may be modern interpretations, orlan refashioned herself according to these non-Western standards to expose how different cultures construct different concepts of the body.¹³6 Subsequent Self-hybridizations of the artist have included African Self-hybridizations (2000–2003) and AmericanIndian Self-hybridizations (2005–8).¹³7 63


Like other individuals in this chapter, orlan hovers around binary classifications while defying them. In the manner of humananimal hybrids, her face has been likened to a ‘pug’ and ‘toad’, even an ‘extraterrestrial’ (and orlan herself has said, ‘I no longer recognize myself in the mirror’), but she obliterates any singular category by calling attention to its social construction.¹³8 ‘Our whole culture is based on the notion of “or”’, she writes; ‘All of my work is based on the notion of “and”: the good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly, the living and the artificial, the public and the private.’¹³9 orlan literally embodies the transgression of categories. Unlike the Cyclops Polyphemus who eats others, orlan arguably cannibalizes herself.¹40 Unlike Dame Ragnell, the carnal artist’s transformation aims to undo rather than restore social expectations of beauty. Unlike ‘The Ugly Duchess’, who is all face, orlan has been said to have ‘no face’, while being an artwork who can talk back about her perceived ugliness.¹4¹ Unlike William Hay, who was born with so-called deformities and autobiographically takes his culture to account for the mistreatment and shame of deformed individuals, orlan artificially deforms her body and her identity to be considered ugly for artistic and activist ends. Unlike Julia Pastrana, who is costumed by her husband and manager, orlan acts as her own ringmaster and uses her flesh as her costume, exposing the private realm of plastic surgery in a highly public realm. Her incorporation of technology has pushed her into the realm of cyborg, as Donna Haraway defines it: ‘appear[ing] precisely where the boundary between human and animal is transgressed’.¹4² orlan’s means have been controversial to the point that her cutups not only carve out a space for enactment but leave a gap, as critics have argued that she neglects ‘the sentient and embodied female subject, the one who feels concern about herself and about others’.¹4³ In the face of criticism and confrontation, including by those who have undergone cosmetic surgery and engaged in body modification, orlan implicates spectators in the activity of qualifying her. ‘I’ve only been operated on nine times’, she has said, adding, ‘the rest of the time I’m “normal”.’ Unlike Janet Tyler in The Twilight Zone, who undergoes eleven facial surgeries in an attempt to ‘conform to the norm’, orlan 64

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repeatedly undoes her normality to reveal that the norm itself can be ugly.

Ugly Ones: Uncomfortably Grouped

At the base of the Buddhist temple of Borobudur on the island of Java, a carved relief bears the inscription ‘the deformed, ugly one’.¹44 The temple rises like a small mountain, a monumental stupa composed of dozens of smaller stupas, pointing towards the sky. Thought to be constructed on Hindu ruins between the eighth and ninth centuries (300 years before Angkor Wat in Cambodia, and 400 years before many cathedrals in Europe), Borobudur sits on the edge of Mount Merapi, a volcano that buried the colossal structure for centuries under ash. Rediscovered and excavated in the nineteenth century, the temple invites pilgrims to circumambulate and ascend the mountain-like mandala. Borobudur’s famed narrative relief panels illustrate Buddhist scriptures of carved heavens and hells, tempters and guardian monsters, among various supernatural beings, that aid pilgrims in their ascent of the holy mountain towards enlightenment. Because no surviving record explains the temple’s construction, ‘the deformed, ugly one’ is left open to interpretation. ‘Ugly’ suggests different possibilities in this cultural context. Its pairing with ‘deformed’ conflates the two words, read almost interchangeably and appearing in Old Javanese script as virupa. In the reliefs, it is believed that ‘ugly appearance, deformity, stupidity, indolent disposition, lethargy and inertia are considered consequences of bad actions’, contextualized by a ‘prejudiced society that regards deformity and ugliness as repulsive and even fearsome’.¹45 The carved figures toil as hunters, fishermen, farmers, street performers, peddlers and beggars, among other uglier shapes and actions associated with karmic consequences. Some scholars have suggested a more practical possibility for the inscription: that it may have instructed sculptors, since all panels originally bore inscriptions like ‘heaven’, ‘king’, ‘bell’, ‘covetous’ and ‘evil speaking’.¹46 Whatever the 65


Carved relief panel with the ‘deformed, ugly one’ on the Borobudur Temple, Central Java, Indonesia, 8th–9th century.

meaning, the inscription of ‘deformed, ugly one’ sends a brash message. Placed at a threshold far from the uppermost stupa, this ‘ugly one’ faces a visitor on foundational edges. To some degree, all of the ‘ugly ones’ in this chapter have inhabited the edges of their cultures. The Cyclops Polyphemus lived isolated in a cave on an ancient island. Dame Ragnell emerged from the woods on the edge of a medieval kingdom. ‘The Ugly Duchess’ posed preeminently, but her aged attempt at youth trapped her in a grotesque frame of reference. William Hay rose to a position in Parliament while his deformity reduced him to the margins of cultural misunderstanding. Julia Pastrana lived most of her life in a series of sideshows. orlan has taken centre stage, deflecting views about ugliness to help orchestrate aesthetic and cultural oppositions that, in turn, reflect those oppositions back at her. This collection hardly skims the surface of individuals who have borne the label of ‘ugly’ in their lifetimes and legacies. Grouping them is not meant to isolate exemplars or reanimate spectacles but rather to demonstrate how the same word – ‘ugly’ – can qualify different traits within a culture and gravitate towards other terms that tangle social and aesthetic values. Any number of individuals might 66

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have been highlighted, but rather than perpetuate a catalogue of freaks (as often happens with ‘the ugly’), I have focused on figures who negotiated ugliness at moments when the word’s meaning both solidified and shifted. Taken together as a collection of uncomfortable anomalies, these ‘ugly ones’ received and projected larger social anxieties and practices around race, gender, age, class, disability, nationality and other political categories that help to map a genealogy of ugliness. All six (three fictive, three factual) pose different questions about their contextualizing cultures. Like the ‘deformed, ugly one’ carved at the base of the temple at Borobudur, their shared label qualifies the role that cultures play in determining ‘ugly’ meanings, while also suggesting what meanings get lost when reduced to that label. As the next chapter will explore, cultural identifications of ‘ugly’ individuals can trend toward generalizing attributes of ‘ugly’ groups, also leading to social practices with ‘ugly’ consequences.


‘American Rattlesnake’ gargoyle designed by Drs Charles S. and M. Elizabeth Tidball and carved by John Guarente at the National Cathedral, Washington, dc, 1966.


Ugly Groups: Resisting Classification


bove the entrance to the French abbey of Sainte-MarieMadeleine at Vézelay (c. 1124), a carved procession marches along the Romanesque tympanum. Frozen in stone, these figures – hunters, peasants, fishermen, soldiers, priests – cluster around a giant Christ and his apostles. The smaller folk appear to talk, listen, farm and participate in activities representative of medieval life between the early Crusades. Along with pilgrims, heathens swarm the portal’s edges, like tendrilled marginalia of an illuminated manuscript. The hierarchical procession transitions into nooks filled with fabulous creatures: seemingly human but bestial, hybrid, deficient or superfluous, with wing-sized ears or dog-like muzzles or lacking noses, ranging in size from pygmy to giant.¹ These creatures at the edges illustrate an array of ‘monstrous races’. To gaze upon Vézelay’s portal affords another view of ugliness: beyond individuals to groups. Strange creatures like those on the French tympanum were not unique, reappearing in guidebooks carried by crusaders and pilgrims, reproduced from earlier sources like Isidore of Seville’s Etymologies (c. 615–30) and back to Pliny the Elder’s influential Natural History (ad 77), in which he listed over 50 monstrous races.² These monsters differ from modern understandings of ‘race’ and included the Blemmyae, who lacked heads and necks and bore faces on their chests; Cynocephali, or dog-headed peoples; Panotii, with body-length ears; and noseless, flat-faced Sciritae.³ Varied sources described each group as having its own habitats and practices, essentially their own cultures.4 While not inherently ‘ugly’, 69


these creatures migrated across media and moved beyond more wondrous and curious tropes to merge with other constructs that carried more fearful overtones. Records like bestiaries and teratologic catalogues preserved and circulated accounts that were transmitted verbatim or deformed through exaggeration, error and recombination. As accounts mixed what was known and unknown, these groups captivated beyond wonders to terrify as portents, differing in appearance and behaviour from those who observed them and conjuring connotations of ‘ugly’ as cultures collided.5 This chapter examines shared but shifting ‘ugly’ characteristics associated with groups. Following the last chapter, where I highlighted figures who negotiated ugliness at moments when the word’s meaning shifted and solidified, I will trace that gesture further through periods when ‘ugly’ attributes of individuals became generalized into ‘ugly’ groups. A range of ‘ugly’ terms have troubled existing social categories. Beyond ‘monstrous’ races, ‘blighted’ peoples and ‘outcasts’ populated medieval Islamic and Christian paintings and poetry, where schemata signified groups that aligned with or departed from ugliness. As global explorations increased, religious rhetoric shifted from fallen or damned states toward notions of the ‘primitive’, where groups were ridiculed or exoticized in ugly terms to delineate aesthetic limits and civilized taste. Medical practices changed understandings of unruly bodies, not only those with congenital markers, but those broken by war or otherwise deemed ‘degenerate’ and aestheticized for social ends. Ugliness was also legislated along cultural lines, as groups were discriminated against or defended based on ‘ugly’ markers of disability, class, race, gender and other social categories. More recent popular and commercial appropriations of ‘uglies’ have undermined negative connotations and challenged the cult of beauty. Paralleling the formation of contemporary political categories, a range of aesthetic and social strategies have legitimated or discredited ‘ugly’ groups and ascribed a range of values to ugliness. What is to be gained by grouping historical uglies under categories that arguably reinscribe superficial labels and suspect logics? ‘Category’, writes literary scholar Tobin Siebers, ‘derives from the Greek katēgorēma, meaning a public denunciation or accusation. 70

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Detail including ‘monstrous races’, carved into the central tympanum of the Basilique Sainte-Marie-Madeleine de Vézelay, France, c. 1120–32.

Categorical thought is accusatory logic.’6 My attempt to gather these groups under historical headings is not meant to be reductive or exhaustive, or to retrospectively accuse past accusers. To echo the historian Robert Garland, ‘I am not sufficiently comfortable with the degree of enlightenment in my own attitude nor with that of the society to which I belong to pass judgement.’7 Rather, I aim to re-collect related terms to trace cultural practices that have shifted around ‘ugly’ groups to both establish and undermine that ‘ugly’ qualification. As the word’s shifting presence negotiates cultural and aesthetic tensions, it contributes to a genealogy of ugliness and to our contemporary understanding of the term. Since categorization inscribes meanings, different representations blur any singular reading of ugliness. Gathered together, ‘ugly’ groups can illuminate cultural tensions and even anticipate social contexts on the verge of change. When ‘ugly’ qualities exceed the group, a categorical break can occur. Presenting ugliness through case studies is problematic, and rather than focusing on collective bodies, this second chapter 71

Monstrous races illustrated in Hartmann Schedel, Anton Koberger, Michael Wohlgemuth and Wilhelm Pleydenwurff, Liber chronicarum (1493).

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interrogates practices enacted around ‘ugly’ groups, including scapegoating, sanctifying, colonizing, eroticizing, militarizing, legislating and commercializing ‘uglies’. Attempts to discriminate against or fetishize ‘ugly’ groups have at times aligned with issues of race, gender, sexuality, class, nationality, religion, age, disability and other social categories. Even as their features radically differ and resist classification, ‘ugly’ groups often share common treatments that derive from cultural fears. While it is impossible to equate experiences across cultures and categories, I will trend towards that trap to suggest varied patterns of ugliness that might benefit by being addressed through association. Prehistoric artefacts that depict physical deformities also raise questions about ferocity and use-value, moving ‘ugly’ connotations beyond surface visual readings towards more complex sensory-based engagements. As ‘uglies’ uncomfortably unite in the twenty-first century, arguments arise to disassociate from that label but also to appropriate it for empowering ends. Ugly aspects of architecture – like the monstrous races carved into the portal at Vézelay, or ‘the deformed, ugly one’ carved into the temple at Borobudur – uncomfortably but productively invite renegotiation of cultural boundaries. Mikhail Bakhtin famously described how ‘the most intense and productive life of culture takes place on the boundaries.’8 With this in mind, the ‘grotesque’ will remain on the boundary, recalling not only the word’s architectural origins (derived from ‘grotto’) and ornamental connotations (like gargoyles), but more capacious aspects of the grotesque body. The grotesque body is not a closed system, according to Bakhtin, but keeps opening and messing up categories, so strict definitions of ‘ugly’ and related terms do not succeed in establishing stereotypes. Cultural groups that have historically been constrained to borders have at times been made ugly by fear and invite reconsideration of ‘ugly’ meanings in comparative contexts. As we move beyond ‘ugly’ individuals to consider ‘ugly’ groups, cultural patterns emerge as history seems to repeat, but then disassembles and shifts. Like a Chinese Shang Dynasty taotie mask that multiplies animals into a monstrous abstraction, on the surface ugliness can appear static but on closer inspection becomes a transforming assemblage of individual rams 73


or birds.9 What unites the groups in this chapter as ‘ugly’, to some degree, is resistance to being singular or simplified and, by extension, perpetually feared.

Monsters and Monstrosities: Bordering Uglies

To return to Vézelay and its medieval sculpted procession is to encounter a world that both did and did not exist. The realm of ‘monstrous’ or ‘strange’ races lay on the threshold between the known and unknown, between fact and fancy, between earthly and divine realms. Vézelay was one of the great stops on the pilgrimage routes of France, a crossroads for pilgrims en route to Jerusalem or Compostela. Unlike other cathedrals of its time that favoured apocalyptic scenes and demons, Vézelay stood apart against the backdrop of the Crusades. The abbey’s tympanum depicted the mission of the apostles surrounded by a wavy border, like the oceanic ring on mappaemundi beyond which monstrous races dwelt. Projecting a message both geographical and theological, Vézelay’s monstrous races conveyed ‘a far more embracing view of the cosmos’, according to cultural historian John Block Friedman, where the races existed ‘in their own habitats at the edges of the world, even shown with their children, swords, and horses, awaiting the Word’.¹0 Since period architecture was readable like a book to a visually literate population, the cultural placement of these ‘races’ conveyed a legible message to crusaders, pilgrims and other visitors who could place denigrated groups on the margins of divine dominion.¹¹ Ugliness was not the overriding connotation of monstrous races, but over the centuries fearful associations arose in some cultural contexts. The word ‘monster’ has origins in both ‘to show’ (monstrare) and ‘to warn’ (monere).¹² In antiquity, monstrosity tended to be explained less in terms of cultural groups and more as individual prodigies and monstrous births. Monstrosity and ugliness overlapped in terrains of otherness involving misshapenness and distortion.¹³ Sources ranged from medical treatises, to physiognomic 74

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accounts, to literary and philosophical texts. As discussed in the last chapter, extensive vocabulary described a range of what was considered ugly: from disabling or deformed conditions, including hunchbacks and dwarfs, to those who were excessive or deficient, like the obese and emaciated, to those who defied sexual classifications, including hermaphrodites and eunuchs. Ancient Greek and Latin did not clearly distinguish between ugliness, deformity and disability (also differing from our modern understandings of these terms), so more than terminology, the contexts of bodies revealed cultural attitudes and ways of treating them.¹4 Monstrosity could be didactic, derivative, comic or commercially valued. Particularly in ancient Rome, groups of monsters were associated with commerce and status, where the demand for deformed slaves gave rise to ‘monster markets’ (teratân agora).¹5 This demand led on occasion to individuals being deliberately disfigured; Longinus described how some slaves were caged to stunt their growth in order to be aesthetically appealing. Some ugly emperors preferred deformed slaves (who acted as spies, confidants, lovers) to mirror a ruler’s moral decay or deficiency, even disfiguring slaves or subjects as punishment, entertainment or branding. ‘Beside creating monstrosity, the bad emperors could handpick their own monsters’, writes classicist Lisa Trentin, but the ugly slave was more than a scapegoat, since both master and slave were ‘social anomalies and operated within categories outside the social constructions of normality’.¹6 Varied social characteristics placed some singularly ‘ugly’ monsters within a broader group. The leap from individual prodigies to unusual races has been traced to Isidore de Seville (c. 560–636), who wrote: Just as among individual races there are certain members who are monsters, so also among mankind as a whole, certain races are monsters, like the giants, the Cynocephali, the Cyclopes, and others.¹7

The ugliness of the ancient Cyclops Polyphemus distinguished him as an anomalous individual and the ugliest of his ilk; he was not 75


alone, however, but rather part of a race of reported Cyclopes who shared his telltale feature: a single, round eye. Cyclopes were often catalogued among the monstrous races, depicted by their physical and cultural traits and thought to live in Sicily but also appearing in what was then broadly called India. Early natural histories, travel narratives, letters, maps, encyclopaedias and other commentaries described races far from Europe in vague swathes of territory (generally called India, Ethiopia, Albania or Cathay) that geographically delineated otherness (at times even conflating races, as when Ethiopians were described as ‘burnt-faced’ Indians).¹8 Depictions changed over time as stock images gained currency within cultural contexts and associations acquired uglier, sinister qualities. Seeking purity beyond the Church and into foreign lands, for instance, Pope Urban ii (c. 1035–99) decried pagan peoples as ‘unclean races’ who ‘polluted with their filthiness’, and encouraged Christian soldiers to ‘exterminate this vile race’.¹9 As notions of ‘monster’ and ‘race’ were linked with ‘vile’ and ‘unclean’, identifications of ‘ugly’ groups framed their associated attributes as a negative moral indicator that served to justify ugly treatments. As classical sources and medieval travel narratives commingled, more fearful aspects of the unknown became conflated with monstrous races to reinforce cultural notions of ugliness. European travellers to the East encountered Indian art and religious artefacts and described their encounters in ‘ugly’ terms. The mid-thirteenth to late seventeenth centuries saw a wealth of ‘hybrid representation, namely putting European clothing on an Indian subject’, writes the art historian Partha Mitter, turning classical, more curious and harmless monsters in India into increasingly malevolent beings, connected to Western notions of demonology and Apocalyptic literature.²0 Stereotypes reinforced themselves through travel accounts and related literatures, like Varthema’s Itinerario (first published in 1510, followed by multiple editions and translations in all the major European languages), wherein a European devil was substituted for an Indian god.²¹ Accounts perpetuated notions of Indian ‘monsters’ and ‘idols’ as ‘ugly’, putting them in company with beings considered evil, deformed, hideous, fearful and negative. In his 76

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The ‘Idol of Calicut’, India, in Lodovico di Varthema’s Itinerario . . . (1515).

Itinerario of 1596, J. H. van Linschoten described temples (that in the late eighteenth century would be lauded as examples of ‘the sublime and the picturesque’) filled with ‘so fearefull, horrible and develish formes’ and ‘with so evill favored and uglie shapes, that to enter therein it would make a mans hayre stand upright’.²² Travelling to India in the years 1608–11, William Finch described a gallery containing ‘dews [deva] or rather divils, intermixt in most ugly shape with long hornes, staring eyes, shagge haire, great fangs, ugly pawes, long tailes, with . . . horrible difformity’.²³ In the latter half of the seventeenth century, Jean-Baptiste Tavernier made six voyages to the East and described the many-armed symbolic images of gods as ‘hideous monsters’, ‘an ugly sight to behold so many deform’d spectacles’.²4 ‘Ugly’ became a trope to qualify European encounters with Indian artefacts, assigning to objects Christian narratives for which they were never intended. Harking back to Marco Polo, many-armed monsters were a touchstone of cultural tensions depicted in literature and art. The Hindu deity Shiva appeared differently when perceived through a foreign set of eyes, reducing his supernatural symbolism of many 77


The Prince of Darkness: Dagol devouring human limbs, taken from a general work on the magical arts, c. 1775, watercolour.

attributes to a congenital omen or something subhuman. Cultural attitudes began to shift when Western visitors to India looked beyond surface aspects to develop an interest in Hindu iconography and comparative religions. Scientific and more extensive observations pushed connotations of ‘monstrous’ away from ‘ugly’ content and towards the monumental scale of sculptures, even correlating 78

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‘pleasant and monstrous’.²5 Following philosophical trends of allegory, ‘ugly’ traits were re-viewed as if they concealed mysterious truths to be deciphered beyond their ‘monstrous’ exterior and ‘uncouth manner’.²6 Displacements occurred in other ways, as different cultural encounters confused supernatural and natural attributes. After exploring interests shifted across the Atlantic, new encounters with peoples in the Americas replaced the monstrous races of India in the European imagination, assuming ‘not only the name “Indians” but also the burden of many traditional attitudes toward “monstrous” men’.²7 The transference of ‘ugly’ attributes across cultural lines perpetuated colonialist conquests whose consequences remain felt to this day. Monstrous races are only one group of historical uglies. Ugliness was not inherent to these groups but rather inscribed and imagined, arising when different cultures and ideologies collided, shifting curious and wondrous qualities to be feared as circumstances changed. Embodying the border between the known and unknown, monsters over the centuries have manifested in combinatory and less classifiable forms – from marvels to signs, portents to jokes – where the monstrous body doubles as a ‘construct and a projection’.²8 The lineage of monstrosities includes a wider group of creatures beyond monstrous races: from Ambroise Paré’s sixteenth-century On Monsters and Marvels and other texts about monstrous births, to nomenclature like the eighteenth-century Linnaean subspecies of Homo monstrous.²9 In 1889, Joris-Karl Huysmans described a new field emerging from le monstre under the microscope.³0 In the twentieth century, serious scientific study of monsters declined and trends moved towards amateur investigations, while modernized monsters multiplied across media: from cinematic reincarnations of Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (not to mention textual and hypertextual adaptations, like Shelley Jackson’s Patchwork Girl of 1995), to neo-gothic and horror manifestations, to more benign fuzzballs found in Sesame Street’s The Monster at the End of This Book or Disney’s Monsters University. The cute and zany adaptations allow monsters to be both ‘helpless and aggressive’, as Sianne Ngai argues, where characterizations condescend and 79


control the creatures’ fearful features.³¹ Even as historic monsters move to a controllable centre, other monsters arise on the borders of our imaginations: monstrous technology, monstrous nature, monstrous privacy and more.³² Once occupying the domains of cathedrals and maps, cosmology and geography, monsters continue to emerge at thresholds of dwellings and dreams: beyond the gargoyle jutting from the cathedral, to the monster hidden under the bed, to the carnival creature lurking in the funhouse of mirrors, to the virus corrupting a hard drive or human flesh.

Outcasts and Outward Signs: Signifying Uglies

Just as the word ‘monster’ derived from connotations of ‘show’ and ‘warn’, another term associated with ugliness bore a double-edged history in the medieval Arab world: ‘blights’. ‘Blights’ (in Arabic, ˛ āhāt) referred to a range of conditions of deformity and disability, not to mention diseases like leprosy, skin boils from drugs and other markers of difference: fair-haired, blue-eyed, black-skinned, hunchbacked, thin-bearded, bald or left-handed.³³ As this range suggests, ‘blighted’ encompassed many types of physically and cognitively ‘damaged’ human bodies, as well as signifying animate and inanimate states that included animals and crops. While ‘ugly’ attributes often characterized blighted groups, literary forms arose to challenge inherited conceptions and to offer different aesthetic strategies for reading blighted bodies. These strategies opened up new ways of characterizing ugliness. For over 150 years a particular group of medieval Sunni scholars (connected as friends and mentors in Cairo, Damascus and Mecca) sustained the theme of blightedness, appropriating ugliness to challenge the boundaries of community and ˛ social perceptions around the category of ahl al- āhāt (‘people of blights’).³4 Among other textual treatments, these literary practices ranged across Hadith collections and religious texts, literary and historical prose, letters of friendship, moral consolation and biography. Two notable examples of blighted literature revolved around 80

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the genre of the anthology and the poetic skill of uglifying beauty and beautifying ugliness. Through the anthology – notably a genre that groups – the Damascene Taqī al-Dīn al-Badrī (d. 1489) built on the lineage of Zeuxis with a twist: re-membering blighted body parts into an idealized whole.³5 Al-Badrī not only grouped poems by blight but reassembled diseased parts into a segmented but complete blighted male body. Amid seventeen thematic chapters (ranging from ‘Political Elites’ to ‘Merchants and Jewellers’), his chapter on ‘Afflicted Limbs and Body Parts’ gathered approximately 160 poems by authors across the Arabic-speaking world, where each title aesthetically reconstructed a blighted body part with an epigram to reconfigure it as beautiful. As one poem reads: I asked him about his hand, asked him what had caused it pain. He said, ‘My hand is broken,’ and I responded, ‘So is my heart.’³6

Not only did the re-collection of blights, as a group, reconfigure bodily aesthetics and invert standard tropes of love poetry, but the gesture removed social and historic contexts to personalize encounters and provoke compassion with the reader. Through the genre of the anthology, this re-collection moved a single poem on blights out of isolation to join company with related blights, so poetic traditions were ‘re-archived’ to encourage ‘new sites of collective memory’, according to the historian Kristina L. Richardson, literally and figuratively ‘re-membering’ already existing texts.³7 Another Arab literary tradition inverted tropes by praising ugliness and deriding beauty. An anonymous early tenth-century manuscript claimed that ‘the best poet . . . uglifies the most beautiful things and beautifies the most ugly things’.³8 A work by ˛ al-Tha ālibī (d. 1038) specifically explored ‘Beautifying the Ugly and Uglifying the Beautiful’.³9 With roots in antiquity, as discussed in the last chapter, the evolution of the practice of beautifying ugliness moved beyond mockery in the medieval Arab world. Skilled poets reversed associations for subversive or frivolous purposes, but more often moralists used this strategy to profess a communal belief. 81


Poetic skilfulness tended to revolve around male relationships and themes of religion, intellect, virtue and desire through a practice often described as taghayyur.40 As practitioners reconfigured meanings, they questioned cultural norms around blighted human figures, extending to black slaves and deformed individuals. According to the writer al-Jāhi . z. (d. 868 or 869), one of the most important figures for this topic (whose sobriquet literally meant ‘the goggle-eyed one’): ‘What matters is not being straight or crooked, but what is proper, useful or more profitable’, since ‘there are very many twisted or crooked things that would be harmful or defective if they were even and straight.’4¹ His claim included examples of ribs, sieves, necklaces, hooks, new moons, beaks, tusks and claws. Poetic skill took on a political edge. Tracing the poetic talents of Shihāb al-Dīn al-H ․ ijāzī (al-Badrī’s teacher from Cairo, d. 1471), Richardson describes his subversive negotiation of ‘ugly’ form and content: ‘As skilful as he is at taghayyur, he is even more skilful at de-stigmatising the gaze of unblighted people towards blighted ones and acknowledging the sexuality and desirability of marked people.’4² The same outward markers acquired new significations, opposing the idea that any form could be inherently ‘ugly’ and opening up alternative readings. Against the backdrop of the medieval Islamic world, the shift to sympathize with rather than stigmatize blighted body parts was significant. Blights provoked responses that might be called ugly, motivated by fear and distrust, like one account to ‘beware . . . anyone with a blight (cāhā) on his body . . . for he is a friend of controversy, and his behaviour is distressing.’4³ By law, offensive body parts were amputated as punishment. Identifying someone with hidden blights (like baldness that could be covered by a turban) could lead to legal ramifications, as in the case of Meccan historian Ibn Fahd (d. 1547), whose book divulged the identities of such blighted individuals and so was torn up and washed clean of ink. His case led to debates about the site of ugliness: from the ‘ugly style’ of his ‘ugly composition’, to the ‘ugly acts included in that book’, to the question of whether the ‘intention was not ugly’.44 The negotiation of what was precisely ‘ugly’ reflected social tensions that derived in part from competing medical and religious models, where the fate 82

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of those ‘deformed of body’ conformed to different rules, not only on earth but in their afterlives. Exceptions always emerged: from a man who chose to marry a smart, one-eyed woman while rejecting her beautiful sister, to the interpretation of Muhammad’s disc of skin between his shoulders as an authenticating mark rather than a blight.45 Literary treatments helped to complicate representations of blights and prevented them from being reduced to superficial stereotypes. Beyond human depictions, with regards to supernatural representations, the practice of linking external ‘ugly’ attributes with internal characteristics reinforced and projected cultural values. Ugly stock characters, like divs, or demonic beings, maintained external attributions that reflected their evil nature. The Persian epic of the Shahnama, completed by Abu’l-Qasim Firdausi (ad 1010), brims with stories of divs, whose tales grew into popular pictorial subjects with a careful correspondence between ugliness and evil. From the tenth century, attitudes towards human figures had grown beyond idealized representations of royalty to include more realistic portraits, expanding to include lower social classes and paving the way for their caricature, mock portraits and silhouetted paintings of grotesque figures like jongleurs and dancers.46 Over time representations of divs in the Shahnama likewise changed pictorially: from animal-human hybrids to oversized, disproportionate, hyper-sexualized human figures, whose excessive forms and violent behaviour contrasted with modest, proportioned, civilized heroes. Images of divs were ‘not casual pictorial hodge-podges’, writes art historian Francesca Leoni, ‘but reflected well-rooted cultural ideas and preconceptions about what was deemed evil in the pre-modern Persian world’.47 Influenced by the Arabic science of physiognomy, images reiterated familiar cultural ideas about good and evil that solidified cultural prejudices. Ugly marks emphasized the opposition between divs and heroic figures. Despite evolving visually from the fourteenth to sixteenth century, divs remained moral warnings and scapegoats to minimize human blame, contrasting even with Iran’s arch enemies, the Turanians, who more closely resembled the Iranians.48 The otherworldliness of the divs 83

Unknown artist, Rustam Kills the White Div, 1562, ink, opaque watercolour and gold on paper.

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helped to project and protect moral sites in aesthetic terms, shaping cultural reception and practice. Both outwardly and inwardly, ugliness demanded attention, as described in this parable by Sa’dī: Why are you, in the world, a bed-time tale for ugliness? Why has the artist in the emperor’s portico Made you morose-faced, ugly and corrupt?49

Just as divs reflected pre-modern Persian viewers of the Shahnama, ugliness in medieval Christian art reflected the shifting attitudes of believers. Fallen figures like Lucifer, tormenters of Christ and other hybrid and demonized figures (like those rendered by Dante Alighieri or Hieronymus Bosch) manifested in debased or fantasized realms to draw lines between good and evil, salvation and damnation. Representations often carried corrupt connotations. One painter depicted the Last Judgement by going to ‘great trouble’ to make the Devil ‘so hideous that no painting or sculpture was ever so ugly’.50 At the same time, ugliness could be deceptive, shapeshifting and even sacred. Medieval Christian figures were intentionally uglified for a higher purpose. Symbolic figures like the Crucifix or the fourteenth-century Roettgen Pietà (a work that has been called ‘ugly’ and ‘deformed’ by art historians) transformed suffering, shame, humility, age and degradation into signs of salvation rather than sin.5¹ St Augustine wrote that Christ ‘hung ugly, disfigured on the cross, but his ugliness was our beauty’.5² Ugliness influenced many aspects of material life, including a preference for smoke-stained over shiny images (as the Florentine Giovanni Dominici believed piety might be inspired more by timeworn qualities than by gilded novelties), and aesthetically galvanized believers towards religious ends. St Bernard of Clairvaux described how the holy ‘eyes of the beholders’ could discern beauty in a ‘deformed and black’ Christ who otherwise appeared ‘an object of laughter for the wicked’.5³ Devotional objects magnetized worshipping groups, who sought struggle and redemption through ugly surfaces and circumstances. ‘From leprosy to laughter’, writes the art historian Jeffrey Hamburger, ‘Christ’s transformation from glory to ugliness 85


and back again defines the trajectory of the pious Christian[s] made in God’s image from the Fall to the Resurrection.’54 As art has been codified by museums and cultural catalogues, viewers often encounter works in captioned contexts that simultaneously pull and push us away from original contexts. Marked in ways that modern eyes might miss, medieval artworks beyond devotionals also relied on visual cues. In Northern Europe, artists used pictorial signs to mark and denigrate particularly ‘ugly’ groups.55 Groups ranged from enemies of Christendom, like heretics or Muslims or Jews, to members of servile ranks, including executioners, prostitutes, fools and peasants. Markings included colours and patterns on clothing, costumes and headgear, Hebrew and other letterings and bodily deformities (like blemished skin, squinty eyes, hooked noses, baldness and red hair). Location, stance and gesture were also significant. Placed in profile, an evil eye could not corrupt a viewer’s gaze. ‘By exaggerating the most typical physical features of any ethnic or racial group, an artist can attack an entire group’, writes the art historian Ruth Melinkoff, so ‘artists ingeniously used the signs to deprecate those people whom society detested and belittled.’56 For example, while stripes may not appear ugly to modern viewers, the pattern projected a more coded message in an earlier period and place. Other differences were less marked and suggested social integration. In a Netherlandish painting entitled The Adoration of the Christ Child (c. 1515), two angels stand among other angels in a Nativity scene, where they differ only by facial attributes that modern viewers might identify with Down’s Syndrome.57 Since the painting was made over three centuries before Langdon Down invented the classification, and period practice integrated local subjects as models, their artistic inclusion suggests broader social inclusion. In later centuries ‘ugly’ features in artworks garnered attention for prudish purposes. In the 1970s, when a greeting card reproduced a scene from the Duc de Berry’s Très Riches Heures, its scene of peasants warming themselves by a fire was deemed indecent, and their exposed genitalia were drawn over with nappies (diapers).58 Overt or subtle marking of ‘ugly’ groups communicates less about the subjects themselves than the artists and viewers who construed 86

Roettgen Pietà, c. 1350, Middle Rhine, linden wood, polychromy partially restored.


them, making it impossible to qualify any specific attribute as ‘ugly’ even as attempts were repeatedly made. Historically, visual cues have reinforced or undermined a vocabulary for cultural outcasting. One trope in medieval European paintings marked Jews with yellow bands, a pernicious practice that persisted through the Spanish Inquisition and into the twentieth century, when Nazis chose that sign to enact their own version of ugliness.59 Where al-Badrī identified the ‘beauty’ of moles and blights, judges of the Salem Witch Trials deemed moles and blemishes evidence of witchcraft. In times of unrest, people tend to search for ‘the slightest discrepancy in the group in the hope of recognizing the powers of evil’, writes Tobin Siebers, so an ordinary blemish can turn into an extraordinary cause for accusation.60 It may be expected that readings of the same mark change over time. However, when the same marker reads differently in the same period, a question of relativism arises that can move an ‘ugly’ object into a cultural tug-of-war.

Primitives and Venuses: Colonizing Uglies

In his eighteenth-century treatise Laocoön (1766), Gotthold Ephraim Lessing devoted much of his attention to beauty and ugliness while exploring ‘the limits of painting and poetry’. To Lessing, the monumental classical sculpture of that name embodied binary tensions, as the ancient priest fatally wrestled sea serpents after he famously warned against the Trojan horse. Pulled between aesthetic alternatives, Lessing wrote of the image: The demands of beauty could not be reconciled with the pain in all its disfiguring violence . . . The scream had to be softened to a sigh . . . because it distorts the features in a disgusting manner. Simply imagine Laocoön’s mouth forced wide open, and then judge! . . . it has now become an ugly, repulsive figure from which we gladly turn away.6¹


ugly groups Laocoön and His Sons, c. 40–30 bc.

Lessing analogized the writhing ancient figure with tensions between the arts. Discouraging derivatives of ‘ideal’ forms, his treatise navigated ugliness and beauty alongside verbal and visual concerns. Neoclassical inquiries sought aesthetic guidance in antiquity, aiming for a concept of beauty as opposed to ugliness, which eroded the ideal of pleasure and elicited uncomfortable and amoral feelings: from disgust, to horror, to ridicule, to bestial lust. Favouring ‘the ideal of one particular man and not of man in general’, Lessing decried classical artists who engaged in caricature and the grotesque, like Pauson (who portrayed ‘what is faulty and ugly in the human form’) and Pyreicus (who portrayed dirty barbershops and asses, a ‘painter of filth’).6² An artist’s faults could corrupt figurative representations, Lessing argued, or make them negligible. This theme carried forward to twentieth-century theorists, as Clement Greenberg wrote in ‘Towards a Newer Laocoon’ (1940): ‘Painting and sculpture in the 89


hands of lesser talents . . . become nothing more than ghosts or “stooges” of literature.’6³ Lessing grounded his treatise in classical sources in order to speak not only to formal concerns of his period but to cultural tensions. In the process, Laocoön helped to cohere aesthetics in a way that reinforced distinctions between colonized groups and colonial viewers, laying groundwork for ugly ‘others’ to talk back to inscribed values. Addressing his eighteenth-century audience (with references to competing theorists like ‘Herr Winckelmann’), Lessing assumed a communal ‘we’.64 Carving out a standard of aesthetics, he guided his readers through his reactions both to the statuary Laocoön and to other groups of bodies, famously including ‘Hottentots’ to whom ‘we’ should react thus: We know how dirty the Hottentots are and how many things that awaken disgust and loathing in us are beautiful, comely, and sacred to them. A piece of flattened cartilage for a nose, flabby breasts which hang down to the navel, the whole body covered with a layer of goat’s fat and soot and tanned by the sun, the hair dripping with grease, feet and arms entwined with fresh entrails – think of all this in the object of a fiery, worshiping, tender love; hear this expressed in the noble language of sincerity and admiration, and try to keep from laughing.65

Lessing used the Dutch colonial name of ‘Hottentots’ (meaning ‘stutterers’) to characterize a South African aboriginal group in derogatory terms tied to their physical bodies: ‘cartilage for a nose’, ‘flabby breasts’, ‘entwined with fresh entrails’.66 While earlier cultural groupings of ugliness tended to revolve around attributes of deformities related to degenerate or fallen states, by the Renaissance such traits bore overtones of colonialism. Terms like ‘primitive’, ‘savage’, ‘uncivilized’ and ‘exotic’ connoted different meanings but, essentially, characterized otherness. Skin was highlighted as a marker of cultural difference that purportedly distinguished refinement from depravity. Rhetorically and visually, the inclusion of exotic 90

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bodies recurred to mark a limit that presumed a kind of cultural stability.67 Lessing and multiple writers of the period derived rhetorical and aesthetic force by organizing arguments around ‘ugly’ groups, upholding their own cultural values by denigrating others. Jews were associated with blackness and animality, for instance, as one account from the 1780s claimed: ‘Excluding the Indian Fakirs, there is no category of supposed human beings which comes closer to the Orang-Utan than does a Polish Jew . . . their necks exposed, the color of a Black.’68 As different races were lumped into singular categories by analogy, the debasing rhetoric implied that these groups were not only animalistic but negligible enough to be substituted for each other. Racial theories of the eighteenth century often boiled down to distinctions between darkness and light, ugliness and beauty. Darkness and blackness were conflated through a pseudoscientific rationale of taste, as with Wilhelm von Humboldt summarizing the colour white as proper to humanity ‘not because it is more beautiful’ but ‘because its clarity and transparency allows the subtlest expression and because it permits mixtures and nuances, for in black all color ceases to be’.69 In his Philosophical Enquiry into the Sublime and Beautiful (1757), Edmund Burke described a blind boy who underwent a cataract operation and regained his eyesight; ‘the first time the boy saw a black object, it gave him great uneasiness; and that some time after, upon accidentally seeing a negro woman, he was struck with great horror at the sight.’70 Burke rooted his definition of ‘ugliness’ in the ‘sublime’ so long as its qualities ‘excite a great terror’.7¹ Justifications for colonization, slavery and other social hierarchies are well documented and debunked, showing how rationalizations around race went beyond biology or blood. As Lessing caricatured and derided the Hottentots’ displays of love and appreciation, he drew on the widespread cultural belief that race derived from distance from the equator, considering their skin less black than olive-brown. Reflecting period presumptions, his description of the Hottentots focused more on their physical shape, which arguably echoed the sculpted Laocoön.7² Figuratively, the exotic bodies with fresh entrails resembled the ancient bodies strangled by snakes. Whether directly 91


or indirectly, Lessing’s loose conflation of these figures made his caricature of the Hottentots into a kind of relief, or reversal, of the individuated classical ideal to guide a reader through an aesthetic comparison of the idealized and denigrated groups. As a term for a group, ‘Hottentots’ categorized even an exoticized individual like Saartjie Baartman (1789–1816). Billed as the ‘Hottentot Venus’, her double nickname projected her intersecting ‘ugly’ cultural attributes related to race and gender.7³ During her lifetime, she was called many names, including (by the scientist Georges Cuvier) ‘an orang-utan’, ‘monstrous’ and ‘like an ape’.74 Predating ‘The Ugliest Woman in the World’, Julia Pastrana, Baartman was displayed as a freak during her lifetime, died at the age of 26 in 1815 and was posthumously dissected and displayed as a sexual and medical anomaly. Until her remains were repatriated to South Africa in 2002, her bottled genitalia remained in the Musée de l’Homme among three specimens in small jars labelled une négresse, une péruvienne and la Vénus Hottentotte.75 The treatment of her body fed stereotypes of ugliness, which tended to be construed as ‘female, old, black, obese or from the lower social orders’.76

‘The Curiosity Seekers in Ecstasy’, French caricature of spectators of the Hottentot Venus, Saartjie Baartman, 1815, engraving.


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In a French print entitled ‘The Curiosity Seekers in Ecstasy’ (Les Curieux en extase, ou les cordons de souliers, 1815), the Hottentot Venus stands on a platform surrounded by ogling viewers of different sizes and shapes. The print caricatures the viewers more than her display. Beyond the colonial connotations of the French anatomical collection, Baartman’s moniker also puts her in a lineage of nude Venuses. Many female figures have been linked to the myth of the ancient love goddess of antiquity – from the carved Venus of Willendorf (c. 24,000 bc), to paintings like Botticelli’s Birth of Venus (c. 1485) and Titian’s Venus of Urbino (1538), to Montaigne’s essay about a crippled and eroticized Venus (c. 1580), to Clemente Susini’s wax anatomical model of Venus at La Specola (1782), and more – making it ‘a trope that aestheticizes and objectifies the female body’.77 By the eighteenth century, the irony of the Hottentot Venus’s terrifying titillation was not lost on some artists, like the engraver who satirized her display on a pedestal surrounded by ogling viewers, turning the act of spectatorship on her spectators.78 When Lessing characterized the Hottentots against the backdrop of European colonization, he acknowledged an emerging relativism where the Hottentots were recognized as ‘beautiful’ to each other but awakened ‘disgust and loathing’ in foreign eyes.79 While this reaction did not derive from blackness per se, it nonetheless emerged under a cloud of marble-white antiquity that conflated aspects of art and culture. In his influential History of the Art of Antiquity (1764), J. J. Winckelmann claimed that ‘a beautiful body will be all the more beautiful the whiter it is.’80 In 1788, Johann Gottfried Herder built on Lessing’s treatise and published an essay upholding the necessary absence of colour in sculpture as opposed to painting, focusing on the tactile features of shape.8¹ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe associated the desire for colour with uncivilized ‘wild tribes’.8² In statuary, colour was deemed vulgar and illusionary into the nineteenth century, especially with the rise of waxworks like Madame Tussaud’s. Coloured statuary, or polychromy, ‘created a disturbing confusion between inanimate statuary and living figure’, writes art historian Alex Potts, ‘and so would strike a viewer as ugly’.8³ Galleries of marble antiquities visually 93


orchestrated a myth around the medium, conveying whiteness as the original ideal. While the origins of the Laocoön sculpture are not entirely known (it was created around 40–30 bc and rediscovered in Rome in 1506, after being described centuries earlier by Pliny), it was long associated with the myth of white antiquity until recent evidence illuminated how colorations faded with time. Modern technologies like uv analysis have corroborated ancient textual evidence to prove the common practice of polychromy. In the case of the Laocoön, a polychromist likely portrayed the father darker than his sons, with colour differentiating the snakes with scales and also animating the human eyes in a state of terror, ‘artfully endowed with colour’.84 While it is impossible to retroactively gauge what the cultural effect might have been if Lessing had considered the Laocoön in full colour, the recent re-evaluation raises questions. Polychromed sculptures often strike modern viewers as more gaudy than godly. Would the ancient statuary have been equally relished by later viewers if it had survived in full colour, or less revered, even relegated to a forgotten corner of a museum that is the ‘sad destiny for works considered ugly’ (as was the case for Preclassic Mesoamerican potbellies)?85 Although Winckelmann left open the possibility of polychromy as excavations of classical art increased, the theory was generally neglected and suppressed, with far-reaching effects. Writers, artists, philosophers and explorers have often described cultural differences through distinctions between beauty and ugliness, and the meanings of these qualifiers have shifted through cultural relativism. The New World broadly included the Americas, the South Pacific and China, whose cultural advancements were not easily framed as ‘primitive’ or ‘savage’. Captain John Stevens translated a Portuguese account stating that the ‘Chinese look upon our noses as deformed’, and Michel de Montaigne wrote in his Essais that ‘The women of Mexico count low foreheads as a sign of beauty . . . We would fashion ugliness that way.’86 The artist William Hogarth described how mankind has ‘discarded beauty as a reality, concluding it can only exist in Fancy’, adding that ‘we must be liable to mistakes in Judgement, through the many Prejudic’d opinions, 94

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proceeding from custom, Fashion, perswasion and delusion.’87 The philosopher David Hume went one step further by holding up a conceptual mirror, noting in 1757 that ‘We are apt to call barbarous whatever departs widely from our taste and apprehension: But soon find the epithet of reproach retorted on us.’88 As different cultural preferences and practices have circulated, standards for ugliness and beauty have shifted and opened up new aesthetic and political possibilities. Historic reconstructions encourage rethinking our relationships not only with antiquated objects but with received practices, as we become viewers and shapers of cultural meanings. In her 1992 critique of the American Museum of Natural History in New York, the cultural critic Mieke Bal encouraged adding a mirror to the museum, where visitors could actively see their place in perpetuating a myth. She suggested a mirror as a way ‘to become caught in a narcissistic reflection on Africa as “we” have made it – on Western expansion more than on that which was sacrificed by it’ and to recognize how many nations have been lumped into a singular Africa to portray it through a ‘primitivism that stands outside of history’.89 Over the past 500 years, African sculpture has shifted aesthetically after rejection as ‘heathenish’ to acceptable ‘curiosity’ to more recent ‘evaluations and possibly over-evaluations . . . as masterpieces’.90 As schemes of taxonomy have shifted to privilege different orders, objects and subjects appear to come into focus but at times have disappeared from view.9¹ In preparation for the opening of the Musée du quai Branly in Paris in 2006, many African artefacts were moved from an anthropological context at the Musée de l’Homme to occupy the new art museum, leading critics to claim that the objects had become curated and entangled in ‘a politically orchestrated game of musical chairs’.9² As museum practices continue to grow out of shifting artistic standards, cultural displacements require contextualization about transmission. For a recent exhibition catalogue for ‘The Art of the Lega’ at the Musée du quai Branly, Elisabeth L. Cameron put the ‘aesthetic of ugly’ in scare quotes: ‘Figures might also display the “aesthetic of ugly” to illustrate the negative or what is to be avoided.’9³ The scare quotes suggest the inadequacy of translation, where meanings are both found and lost. 95


Similarly Daniel Biebuyck identifies a ‘code of ugly’ in Lega sculpture but cautions that it must be ‘thoroughly understood in its context’ and that it would be ‘erroneous . . . to think that sculptors were inspired only by codes of beauty and ugliness’.94 Aesthetic binaries like ugly and beautiful, Western and nonWestern, can prove deeply inadequate and demonstrate ‘the perfect uselessness of knowing the answer to the wrong question’ (to paraphrase Ursula Le Guin).95 Roy Sieber poses a different question – ‘Fierce or Ugly?’ – to focus on Ibibio masks from West Africa and pre-Columbian images of the Aztec goddess Coatlicue. Sieber questions the adequacy of ‘ugly’ in favour of ‘fierce’ to gauge more performative, healing or protective functions of artefacts like figures and masks, ‘not as a necessary alternative to beauty – no Hegelian opposites here – but as an agent, a harnessed power, directed against antisocial forces’.96 Performance animates certain objects to indirectly reflect their cultural contexts. For the art of the Lega, initiation objects for Bwami members could be rubbed, scraped and made into a mixture to heal sick members, or could cause harm if members did not have the status to view pieces. Social interactions with these artworks wore down their surfaces, so Victorian scholars initially viewed them as ‘crude’ and ‘coarsely executed’, while Bwami members deemed them ‘good and beautiful’.97 Tactility and even taste added meanings. Other moral and metaphorical codes and rituals combine with dance, song and art. ‘Western viewers do not participate in the performances that feature the artworks’, writes Cameron, so they ‘rarely have the opportunity to handle Lega pieces with their bare hands and experience the butterlike patina’ or ‘to participate in further enriching the surface by contributing their own hand oils’.98 Sensory engagements like these encourage commingling rather than separating attributes of ugliness and beauty. As will be discussed more in the next chapter on ‘ugly senses’, historic meanings start to defuse when viewers consider ugliness beyond visual readings alone. Ugliness sometimes haunts research methods in more sociological terms, as Cathy A. Rakowski describes in ‘The Ugly Scholar: Neocolonialism and Ethical Issues in International Research’ 96

Anthropomorphic figure in ivory, Lega peoples, Democratic Republic of the Congo, early 20th century.


(1993).99 When Lessing praised the classical Laocoön statuary and claimed that ‘the demands of beauty could not be reconciled with the pain in all its disfiguring violence’, we must wonder about the suppressed wounds in the ancient sigh that muffles a scream. We must also wonder about Lessing’s degrading laughter at the Hottentots, which carries the suggestion that ugliness lies intrinsically in objects rather than in perceptions. Sander Gilman has described Lessing’s practice as ‘merely laughable’.¹00 To laugh at Lessing is to laugh at more than his ridicule, because our laughter allows us to deflect laughing at ourselves. We, too, attempt to categorize and set our own aesthetic limits. Like Lessing’s communal address, my use of ‘we’ is just as problematic in this book and raises questions about who might be excluded. ‘No “we” should be taken for granted’, writes Susan Sontag in Regarding the Pain of Others, ‘when the subject is looking at another person’s pain’.¹0¹ Ugliness arguably overlaps with much painful terrain. Pushed into the realm of the grotesque, the open mouth – of the sighing and crying Laocoön, of Lessing laughing at the Hottentots, of Gilman and me laughing at and arguing with Lessing – becomes a grotesque act, a grotesque body, that is ‘in the act of becoming . . . never finished . . . continually built . . . and creates another body’.¹0² Always changing, the grotesque body refuses to fit categories and necessitates a response. In 1995, the Irish performance artist Mary Duffy, who was born without arms, imitated the Venus de Milo while talking back to spectators about their perceptions of her disabled body. Duffy’s performance exposes the perceived differences ascribed to two similarly shaped female bodies, in art and life, engaging ‘her disabled female body, as well as the artistic and social traditions that have deemed it shameful and unacceptable’.¹0³ Portraying another Venus, Hot-En-Tot (1994), the African American photographer Renée Cox parodied Saartjie Baartman’s exploitation as ‘pure persona and cultural myth’ by dramatizing her sexualized shape through costumed prosthetics to ‘mimic the clichéd reduction of woman to tits and ass’.¹04 Writing about these and other ‘disarmed Venuses’, Ann Millett-Gallant describes how contemporary performance 98

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art provides a venue to ‘talk back’ to varied traditions that have been limited by cultural inscriptions. By animating and talking back to ‘ugly’ inscriptions, or accentuating silences, artworks can engage and resist the label of ugliness. Talking back to historical limitations amplifies issues that have been hushed, refusing to pass them off as past, to critique their persistence in the present. As an instrument for communication, the mouth contributes by personalizing the face. ‘A face with disproportionate features’, writes artist Mark Hutchinson, ‘may not be considered beautiful but is not ugly: a face lacking in features . . . is what is ugly. It threatens to stop being a face at all.’¹05 The lack of face becomes one of the most complex aspects of ugliness.

Broken Faces and Degenerate Bodies: Militarizing Uglies

Otto Dix’s Skin Graft (1924) engraves a man’s face. His head tilts off-centre under the metal headboard of a bedframe. The orientation attracts through disorientation, pulling a viewer to meet the stare of his single open eye amid mashed facial features: slightly askew closed lips with teeth jutting through a hole in the jaw, a gap where a nose should be, sewn-up eye socket, missing ear, exposed brain, sutured and shaved skull, all rooted down by tautly pinstriped pyjamas. The man is not named but rather identified as a medical specimen: ‘Skin Graft’, subtitled ‘Transplantation’. Cut off at his upper pyjama button, his face loses its body, leaving a viewer to imagine further mangling or absences, recognizably human but embodying the living dead. Skin Graft (‘Transplantation’) comes from Dix’s series of 50 prints entitled Der Krieg (The War), based on his experiences commanding a machine-gun unit during the First World War. Working from photographs and memory six years after the war ended, Dix engaged a skilful array of print processes to render horrific material.¹06 He modelled his series partly on Francisco de Goya’s Desastres de la guerra (The Disasters of War, 1810–20), a series of 99


Detail from Otto Dix, ‘Skin Graft (Transplantation)’, 1924, etching, aquatint and drypoint from a portfolio, The War (Der Krieg).

over 80 etchings about devastations during Spain’s struggle for independence from France.¹07 In the context of war, Goya’s early studies of fragmented classical sculptures were transformed into dismembered torsos and other body parts in war-torn landscapes, expanding his repertoire, which already engaged themes of violence 100

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and corruption, criminal and street scenes and physical and psychological traumas, among Caprichos of fantasy and imagination. Goya mastered a range of media to heighten the immediacy and intimacy of terror and loss; one of his war plates included the caption ‘I saw this’, while another identified starving and surfeited groups as entirely different races.¹08 The accusatory subject-matter may have prevented the series from being published during Goya’s lifetime. Working out of this lineage, which also included early war photographers like Mathew Brady and his operators who captured the bloody battlefields of the American Civil War, Dix portrayed those who suffered as a result of the First World War. Along with other artists he built a corpus that included among his subjects les gueules cassées, or ‘the broken faces’, who came to embody political and aesthetic destruction that could not be reconstructed. Les gueules cassées referred to soldiers who experienced facial injuries during the First World War.¹09 A few decades before the war, in 1890, ‘ugliness’ had been cited as grounds for exclusion from French military conscription (along with ‘male hysteria’: a disorder later renamed in more masculine terms like ‘shell shock’ and ‘posttraumatic stress disorder’, to distinguish it from the ‘woman’s disease’). As the New York Times reported from a Paris Dispatch: ‘Excessive ugliness, says this military doctor, makes a man ridiculous, prevents him from having authority over his comrades, and leaves him morbid and sensitive.’¹¹0 After many bodies were shattered through the Great War, ugliness could not be ignored. Masks were fashioned to cover injuries, like those made at the Paris-based Studio for Portrait Masks and the 3rd London General Hospital in a division known as the ‘Masks for Facial Disfigurement Department’ (nicknamed by wounded soldiers as ‘The Tin Noses Shop’).¹¹¹ Devastating wounds multiplied through new military techniques like trench warfare and shrapnel, so masks hardly covered the array of physical and psychological needs. Often based on a single pre-war photograph, masks left much to be desired: unmoving in expression, difficult to produce and preserve, lasting only a few years. Psychological wounds accompanied physical traumas. Soldiers who survived with facial injuries were sent to doctors who had to 101


Page from an album of photographs of plastic surgery cases at the King George Military Hospital (later Red Cross Hospital), Stamford Street, London, taken by Dr Albert Norman, Honorary Scientific Photographer, 1916–18.

work out how ‘to produce half a face’, as one doctor described.¹¹² In an English town that had established a facial hospital, park benches were painted blue for patients, signalling to townspeople that sitters might ‘be distressful to view’.¹¹³ In the hospital, patients with facial injuries tended to be isolated from general wards. Mirrors were banned.¹¹4 ‘The psychological effect on a man who must go through life, an object of horror to himself as well as to others, is beyond description’, wrote another doctor, adding: ‘It is a fairly common experience for the maladjusted person to feel like a stranger to his world. It must be unmitigated hell to feel like a stranger to yourself.’¹¹5 The Canadian poet Robert Service wrote about the ‘hideous sight’ of his ‘gargoyle’-like ‘face’: 102

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Nurse won’t give me a glass, But I see the folks as they pass Shudder and turn away; Turn away in distress . . . Mirror enough, I guess.¹¹6

Through attempts at physical and psychological reconstructions, war placed ugliness at the intersection of nationalism and aesthetics. At the beginning of the war, plastic surgery was only rudimentarily practised but it soon advanced, largely through a Parisian hospital called Val-de-Grâce that specialized in facial surgery. As maskmaking departments had enlisted sculptors and artists, Val-de-Grâce engaged varied media services to support reparative facial aesthetics: a photographic documentary service, along with wax modelling and watercolouring to render the dimensions, shades and shapes of damaged and reconstructed faces. Increasingly, these images moved beyond a medical context. By 1915 the hospital’s photographic service ended up under the jurisdiction of the Service Photographique de l’Armée, which controlled all photo production at the front. The following year brought the creation of the Musée du Service de Santé de l’Armée, an on-site museum open to the public to display photographs, wax models, prosthetic devices and medical paraphernalia.¹¹7 The curation of the ‘broken faces’ played a symbolic role both during and after the war, as the group literally became the face of the war. Founder Colonel Yves-Emile Picot described the group ‘with our horrible face’, which became ‘a moral educator’ that ‘returned us our dignity’.¹¹8 His use of the plural adjective ‘our’ to define a singular but shared ‘face’ collected the group to frame ugliness as a positive moral indicator, where brokenness refused to be a physiognomic sign of deficiency or evil, but rather announced heroism, sacrifice and national pride. Les gueules cassées evoked a complicated mix of pity and piety, marching at every Bastille Day parade during the interwar years as a testament to the resilience of the French spirit that had survived, albeit marked by the ugliness of war.¹¹9 103


As broken bodies became ‘aesthetic objects for national consumption’, les gueules cassées became a visual rhetoric of the war: both in support and against.¹²0 To undercut criticisms of the French war effort, documentary footage ended up reworked as propaganda cinema, portraying well-tended patients. Footage was revised to cross national boundaries and emphasize human vulnerability. Ernst Friedrich’s film Krieg dem Kriege! (War against War!), for example, included legends in four languages and substituted military slogans to comment on disturbing content.¹²¹ War injuries, including the ‘broken faces’, became subjects for German Expressionist painters and printmakers like Dix, Max Ernst, George Grosz, Max Beckmann and others who questioned war’s destructiveness and the fallacy of reconstructive efforts, which could not restore or normalize soldiers or the state. Val-de-Grâce influenced other artistic movements. The poets André Breton and Louis Aragon met at the hospital as physicians-in-training and saw the fragmented and reconstructed iconography within the heavily publicized museum. Their experiences indirectly laid groundwork for Surrealism’s dismembered aesthetics. Breton later wrote in 1929: ‘Surreality will be in any case a function of our willingness to completely defamiliarize everything . . . right up to the point of defamiliarizing a hand by isolating it from an arm.’¹²² As brokenness was appropriated to upset a singular focus, it contributed to an aesthetic that removed bodies from their contexts, offering an uncomfortable unity beyond the wounds of war. Although many of les gueules cassées died or disappeared, retreating from view, the presence of the broken faces and other bodily deconstructions worked into a collective post-war aesthetic that permeated art, literature, advertising and other aspects of culture. As art historian Amy Lyford has argued, this diffusion served ‘to reinforce the process by which trauma could be made over into spectacle and, in turn, into a necessary stage in the process of cultural evolution’.¹²³Advertisements aimed to restore normalcy and realign distinctions between beauty and ugliness. One advertisement for artificial legs claimed them to be ‘as nearly as possible to the natural one, there being no ugly gaps at the ankle or bulges at the knee’.¹²4 104

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The visual shock became repackaged as part of the post-war cultural landscape. Advertisements both anaesthetized and aestheticized destructive bodily images, while other images grew potent enough to become targets of another war. Skin Graft by Otto Dix frames a single face but conjures more faces: not only les gueules cassées but artists whose works were denounced in the 1930s as Entartete Kunst, or ‘degenerate art’. Traditionally translated as ‘degenerate’ or ‘decadent’, the German word entartet denoted an animal or plant that deviated from its species, based in biology but associated with moral inferiority: racially, sexually, physically and otherwise.¹²5 ‘Degenerate’ became a favoured label for cultural groups deemed to be socially deviant or deficient in the eyes of the Nazis, including Jews, non-Aryans, communists, Gypsies, homosexuals and those who were disabled or aged. The category of ‘degenerate’ lumped unwanted social groups together with artistic movements. In his book Kunst und Rasse (Art and Race, 1928), the architect and social theorist Paul Schultze-Naumburg paired photographs of physically deformed and diseased patients with modern artworks. Other exhibitions derisively paired works of modern art with paintings made by children and those who were mentally ill. Designations of ‘degenerate’ and ‘healthy’ had emerged in late nineteenth-century rhetoric and, by the 1930s, appeared regularly in German debates about avant-garde aesthetics. Nationalist art organizations promoted ‘common action against the corruption of art’ and ‘art that was pure German, with the German soul reflecting art’.¹²6 Nationalist rhetoric framed oppositions that strictly delineated beauty versus ugliness, native versus foreign, pure versus corrupted, fixed versus broken. As Nazi ideologue Alfred Rosenberg wrote in 1930: ‘Creativity was broken because it had oriented itself, ideologically and artistically, towards a foreign standard and thus was no longer attuned to the demands of life.’¹²7 Although Dix had risen to become a professor in Dresden in the 1920s, his work found disfavour with the National Socialist party, leading to his dismissal and the criticism that his work ‘offend[ed] the moral feeling of the German people’.¹²8 Against this backdrop, Dix was one of many artists forbidden to exhibit his art. The Nazi party confiscated and mounted his and 105


others’ artworks in degrading exhibitions, branded as ‘degenerate’ and ‘ugly’. Twenty-six of his pieces were selected for inclusion in the infamous exhibition Entartete Kunst (1937), which featured over 650 works by over 100 artists. This ‘Exhibition of Degenerate Art’ comprised many works now regarded as some of the finest examples of German Expressionism, then crowded together and contemptuously captioned as ‘insane and inane monstrosities’ of ‘degenerates’, highlighting work by Jewish artists.¹²9 While the exhibition displayed a stylistic range of Dix’s artworks (paintings in oil, watercolour and tempera and graphic works, including Der Krieg), the guidebook placed him in a category marked by ‘barbarism of representation . . . the progressive collapse of sensitivity to form and color, the conscious disregard for the basics of technique . . . and the total stupidity of the choice of subject matter’.¹³0 Given the forceful overtones, complaints about ‘ugly’ artists and art fused in the public imagination. Elsewhere Dix was characterized as ‘inept’ and an ‘imbecile’, and when the exhibition travelled to Frankfurt, the Frankfurter Volksblatt reported: Only when one sees the individual works does one grasp the degree of decadence: art is prostituted and the prostitute becomes the ideal of this art . . . At its peak stands Otto Dix with his vulgar derision of the war-wounded. He is representative of the highest contemptuousness.¹³¹

Avant-garde practitioners of film, music, literature and architecture faced similar charges of ‘degeneracy’, and the Nazis impounded and even burned works to ‘purify’ German culture and protect it from ‘cultural collapse’.¹³² Even as the Nazis stole and saved what they considered artistic masterpieces, they supported a nationalized aesthetic to censor the ‘ugly’, correlating artworks and cultural groups alike to be targets of persecution and extermination. ‘The ugly face of war’ is a cliché that attempts to frame the consequences of armed conflict. The phrase moves beyond the battlefield, as returning soldiers deal with both visible and invisible wounds. After-effects are not unique to the modern era, as records show that 106

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even in a military state like ancient Rome, disabled veterans were treated poorly.¹³³ As medical technologies have advanced, soldiers and civilians who would have perished in earlier conflicts survive and attempt to integrate back into societies that have uneasy relationships with disability and mortality. A number of veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have sustained facial injuries, including Sergeant Tyler Ziegel, who underwent multiple surgeries and whom Nina Berman photographed in Marine Wedding (2006).¹³4 Beyond war, more domestic conflicts bear similar scars. The Pakistani documentary Saving Face (2012) exposes the practice of acid throwing in countries beyond Pakistan, including cases in the United States and United Kingdom. According to the Acid Survivors Trust International, most cases are women attacked by men.¹³5 Dr Ebby Elahi, a reconstructive surgeon who has worked with many survivors, describes how from a medical and especially surgical standpoint all problems are approached ‘as kind of “see it, fix it”’, but this ‘is not really a medical problem. It has medical consequences [but] this is a social problem, and the response to it has to be social.’¹³6 Medical and social tensions stretch to other reconstructions, more cosmetic than reparative. As a ‘first world’ problem, elective surgical procedures suck up most of the bill. In 2005 it was estimated that Americans spent at least $12.4 billion on cosmetic surgery – more than the total gross domestic product for over 100 nations, including Albania and Zimbabwe, totalling over 1 billion people.¹³7 Many critics would argue that these trends are more socially than medically motivated. Especially as cosmetic choices tread on emerging genetic terrain, concerns rise over whether elective options may target not only devastating diseases but fashionable traits. Since domestic animals are routinely bred, their experiences reveal cause for pause. As one example, over the past few centuries, the ‘ugly’ bulldog has been bred ‘to play up the cute effect’, as reported in the New York Times, in ways that put the animal’s very future at risk. According to the chief executive of the Humane Society, Wayne Pacelle, the bulldog is currently ‘the most extreme example of genetic manipulation in the dog-breeding world’, needing help to reproduce and threatening the survival of the breed.¹³8 As issues like these prompt 107

Nina Berman, Marine Wedding, 2006, photograph.

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a double take, looking forward and back like the mythic two-faced Janus, we sometimes neglect ugliness that stares us in the face.

Ugly Laws and Ugly Dolls: Legislating Uglies

‘blind’ reads the white placard in bold, black letters. The sign hangs like a bulky brooch around the neck of a hooded woman. She stands against a stone wall, gazing to the side, one eye shut with the other open. Suggesting a mugshot, the photograph appears more composed, as the subject does not stare into the camera or to the side in profile, but rather looks askance. Her badge hangs from a silver clasp inscribed with tiny numbers and words, harder to discern: ‘Licensed Peddler. New York. 2622’. A black hood hides her hair, obscuring her gender until identified in the title of the photograph: Blind Woman by Paul Strand (1916).¹³9 Like Otto Dix’s Skin Graft, there is no sign of her name, as her face comes to stand in for a group: ‘blind’. Like other groups discussed here, the blind woman in Strand’s photograph is not inherently ugly or ugly at all. Her label forces us to view her under the shadow of a category. ‘Blind’ has historically signified more than a physiological condition. As Simi Linton noted on the blog Disability Culture Watch, ‘blind’ has been connoted with ‘ignorant, imperceptive, insensitive, irrational, oblivious, obtuse, random, rash, stagger, unaware, unconscious, uncontrolled, unknowing, unplanned and violent’, where more meanings surface through word pairings: ‘blind passion’, ‘blind rage’, ‘blind faith’.¹40 Associatively ugliness has been implicated in this schema.¹4¹ Given the ‘ugly’ overtones of its mugshot quality, Strand’s Blind Woman suggests criminal activity and the need to police the ‘degenerate’ population. The woman’s badge attests to state tests and registrations that allow her to sell her wares ‘to ensure that she is “really” blind and not simply “idle”’ as ‘the culmination of over a century of designating the blind as pathological and hence a problem for the body politic’.¹4² The subject’s identity reduces to a category for economic and social 109


Paul Strand, Photograph – New York (Blind Woman), 1916, photogravure.

purposes, literally labelling her to be portrayed and perceived as ‘blind’. Strand’s Blind Woman belongs in this discussion of ugly groups because her label relates to ‘unsightly beggar ordinances’ that came to be known as ‘Ugly Laws’. In the 1970s, the term was coined by Marcia Pearce Burgdorf and Robert Burgdorf Jr in their study on ‘A History of Unequal Treatment: The Qualifications of 110

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Handicapped Persons as a “Suspect Class” under the Equal Protection Clause’ (1975), which helped to lay important historical groundwork for the Americans with Disabilities Act (1990).¹4³ ‘Ugly Laws’ arose in the mid and late nineteenth century and read like the following one from Chicago (1881): Any person who is diseased, maimed, mutilated, or in any way deformed, so as to be an unsightly or disgusting object, or an improper person to be allowed in or on streets, highways, thoroughfares, or public places in this city, shall not therein or thereon expose himself to public view, under the penalty of a fine.¹44

‘Ugly Laws’ multiplied across the United States through the turn of the twentieth century, although they were hard to interpret or enforce. In a 1974 case in Omaha, Nebraska, a policeman sought to arrest a homeless man and found the local ordinance with its clause about ‘marks and scars on his body’, leading to the man’s arrest and trial, where a confounded Judge Walter Cropper asked, ‘What’s the standard of ugliness? . . . Who is ugly and who isn’t?’¹45 The city prosecutor declined to charge the accused, but the law was not struck down and attracted criticisms. The last ‘Ugly Law’ was repealed shortly thereafter, but the term gained currency among disability rights activists as these ordinances revealed intersections among issues of disability, social class and ethnicity.¹46 Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, a range of theories had developed around populations deemed to be ugly, unwanted or inferior, and these theories were actualized in practice through segregation, institutionalization, organized charity, eugenics, scientific studies and ‘systems of anticipatory classification . . . based on bodily aesthetics rather than literal abilities’.¹47 Although hard to enforce, ‘Ugly Laws’ arose from a cultural milieu that permitted ‘invidious discrimination’, as Justice David Souter later claimed, where the ‘lack of regard’ on the part of the law ‘did great harm’.¹48 Dissenters against degrading social practices have identified ugliness on both sides. In Korematsu v. United States (1944), the Supreme Court upheld the decision to imprison Japanese Americans 111


during the Second World War. Justice Frank Murphy decried the act of exclusion, saying that it fell into the ‘ugly abyss of racism’.¹49 To fall into the abyss of ugliness in some ways leads nowhere, to a state more absent than present; yet to return to Justice Souter’s claim, a ‘lack of regard’ on the part of the law ‘did great harm’. Two-thirds of the 120,000 interned Japanese Americans were nativeborn citizens of the United States, forced to abandon their homes, possessions and jobs and move to prison camps for the duration of the war. Expanding on his dissenting opinion of 1944, Justice Murphy wrote: This legalization of racism . . . is utterly revolting among a free people who have embraced the principles set forth in the Constitution of the United States. All residents of this nation are kin in some way by blood or culture to a foreign land. Yet they are primarily and necessarily a part of the new and distinct civilization of the United States. They must, accordingly, be treated at all times as the heirs of the American experiment, and as entitled to all the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution.¹50

Repeatedly in times of war, racial divisions have become exacerbated as stereotypes reduce individuals on opposing sides to ‘ugly’ groups. In American comics published during the war in the Pacific, portrayals of Japanese soldiers showed representations of brutal gorillas that shifted after the dropping of the atomic bomb to submissive pet monkeys. The anthropomorphized animal embodied ugliness in multiple guises, ruthless on the one hand and pathetic on the other, while consistently subhuman. Such behaviours towards ‘ugly’ groups similarly arose to demarcate sides in developing international conflicts. ‘That vicious racial stereotypes were transformed, however, does not mean that they were dispelled’, writes historian John Dower, but rather ‘transferred laterally and attached to the new enemies of the cold war era’.¹5¹ For some Americans, fears about the Japanese during the 1940s transferred to Soviet and Chinese Communists and to the Koreans in the 1950s, to the Vietnamese in the 1960s and ’70s, and after the Cold War to 112

ugly groups Cover of Leatherneck: Magazine of the Marines, September 1945.

Muslims in the Middle East. Racially charged accusations have sometimes substituted for one another (like the outlandish fusion of Obama with Osama, as if President Barack Obama was related to Osama bin Laden) against the backdrop of efforts to defeat the changing ‘enemy’. Following this genealogy, as identifications of ‘ugly’ have shifted across cultural groups, the social consequences of discriminatory treatments expose a kind of ugliness. Beyond the battlefield, cases like Korematsu v. United States reveal the incalculable costs of war. For those Japanese Americans who were interned during the Second World War, a formal apology did not come until the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, and fiscal reparations hardly covered the harm. One internee, John Tateishi, described the emotional toll: ‘We came out of these camps with a sense of shame and guilt, of having been considered betrayers of our country.’¹5² After being told that the 113


Japanese were imprisoned in camps for their own protection, another internee countered: ‘If we were put there for our protection, why were the guns at the guard towers pointed inward, instead of outward?’¹5³ Since far fewer Italian American and German American citizens were interned, Justice Murphy’s comment on the ‘ugly abyss of racism’ spoke to a larger cultural anxiety about race, where Japanese internment stood as only one among many racially discriminatory events in American history. Identifications of ‘ugly’ groups have come to bear figurative connotations as the word boomerangs back at its negative legacy. As one mother wrote for the Los Angeles Times about ‘How to Talk to Your Children about Thanksgiving’s Ugly History’, the United States has tended to ‘avoid talking about difficult or ugly moments in our history’.¹54 For a country built on African American slavery, along with efforts to eradicate Native Americans (a term that problematically lumps a diverse array of cultures into a single group), the legacy of ugliness in American law pits cultural practices that are legally sanctioned, or de jure, against those that exist in fact, or de facto. Racial segregation crucially illustrates this distinction, as unjust laws have historically proven almost impossible to strike down in the face of vehement, often violent opposition. Decades after the Civil War, the Supreme Court case of Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) upheld states’ rights to keep public facilities ‘separate but equal’, and in subsequent decades, state judiciaries determined the meaning of this slippery phrase. Upholding racist practices within the bounds of the law, especially in former slave states of the American South, white judges and juries with longstanding prejudices often ended up stacked against black defendants. To study the influences of racial discrimination and segregation, in 1939 psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark travelled the American South to undertake a study that came to be known as the ‘doll test’.¹55 Presenting four plastic dolls to children of different racial backgrounds, they asked a series of questions about the children’s preferences. The dolls were naked, except for nappies (diapers), and identical apart from skin colour. Most of the children could identify the race of the dolls, ascribing positive characteristics 114

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Gordon Parks, Doll Test, Harlem, New York, 1947, photograph.

to the white dolls and negative attributes to the black dolls. The Clarks also provided outline drawings with instructions to colour the dolls and requested that children identify the doll that most resembled themselves. Children often stated preferences in concrete terms, favouring the white doll ‘’cause he’s pretty’ or ‘’cause he’s white’ and rejecting the black doll ‘’cause it don’t look pretty’ or ‘’cause he’s ugly’.¹56 Other responses fell along lines of ‘nice’ and ‘mean’, ‘good’ and ‘bad’, also correlating darker skin with dirt, ‘’cause him black’ or ‘got black on him’. The Clarks concluded in an article in the Journal of Negro Education that the children’s expressions indicate ‘negative attitudes toward the Negro race’ and ‘acceptance of the existing cultural attitudes and values attached to race’, where by the age of five 115


they grow ‘aware of the fact that to be colored in contemporary American society is a mark of inferior status’.¹57 As perceptions of ugliness played out in practice, the dolls came to represent a larger narrative about the consequences of racial prejudice. The Clarks’ conclusions about discrimination and segregation gained attention, including a feature in Ebony magazine in 1947, and ultimately became evidence in the Supreme Court decision of Brown v. Board of Education (1954) that led to school desegregation. Overturning Plessy v. Ferguson’s justification of ‘separate but equal’, the court found that segregation ‘generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect [the children’s] hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone’.¹58 The doll test itself has not been without criticism. Sociologist Robin Bernstein critiqued the Clarks’ study through her historical study of black dolls, demonstrating that children in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries ‘commonly beat, hanged, dismembered, and buried their black dolls’ while being punished for similar treatment of white dolls. She concluded that the Clarks’ study reflected ‘a cultural choice between two different toys’, where the children were ‘agential experts in children’s culture’ rather than being ‘psychological dupes’.¹59 Nevertheless, the admissible degrading treatments of black dolls suggest that cultural values can be transferred and enacted in disturbing ways. As Toni Morrison writes about the effect of racism on the Breedlove family in her novel The Bluest Eye (1970): It was as though some mysterious all-knowing master had given each one a cloak of ugliness to wear . . . The master had said, ‘You are ugly people.’ They had looked about themselves and saw nothing to contradict that statement; saw, in fact, support for it leaning at them from every billboard, every movie, every glance.¹60

As the legacy of segregation and slavery remains deeply entangled with American history and still permeates American society, ugly feelings hardly ended with the Civil Rights Movement. Informal repetitions of the ‘doll test’, like Kiri Davis’s documentary about 116

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teenage girls in Harlem, A Girl Like Me (2005), echoed previous findings.¹6¹ In the film the majority of black children who were interviewed tended to attach positive comments to the white dolls and to negatively characterize the black dolls. Davis also interviewed teenage girls who discussed cultural preferences for light skin, along with ‘beautifying’ practices like skin-bleaching and hair-straightening. One girl responded, ‘I used to think of myself as ugly because I was dark-skinned’, and another reflected, ‘Our ancestors came to this country and were pretty much ripped out of their culture . . . They couldn’t be themselves. They had to be what everybody else told them to be.’ Against the backdrop of repeated cases of racial profiling, de facto segregation and pushes for voter id laws, among other continuing practices that maintain racial divides, Davis’s reenactment of the doll test reveals only one sign of persisting harm. Ugliness has been legislated in various guises throughout history. Accounts go back centuries: from Aristotle’s proposal of a law to prevent the rearing of deformed children, to Leviticus’s biblical verses about God discriminating against ‘whatsoever man he be that hath a blemish . . . a blind man, or a lame, or he that hath a flat nose, or any thing superfluous’.¹6² Terms like ‘deformed’, ‘broken’ and ‘blemished’, among other labels, have correlated ugliness with issues of social class, race, disability, gender and different aspects of culture. More recently ugliness has worked its way into legal parlance with accounts of ‘uglism’ in the workplace, where cases argue that physically attractive employees receive preferential treatment.¹6³ Separate from the Clarks’ ‘doll test’, dolls have also acquired new connotations as Uglydolls: a popular trademarked toy, cuddly and plush, that resists political categories in a post-racial landscape. Devoid of human characteristics, these dolls are nonetheless recognizable in their parallel ‘Uglyverse’. Their mantras include: ‘Always be ugly’ and ‘Ugly means unique and different.’¹64 Ugliness also carries cultural clout in social media. The British ‘live artist’ Louise Orwin has undertaken a project derived from her finding over 600,000 YouTube videos of teenage girls asking the question, ‘Am I pretty or ugly?’ The question often receives insults perpetuated by peer groups, not to mention stalker-like responses from older male viewers.¹65 The 117

ugliness Uglydolls for sale, Boston.

slur of ‘ugly’ has had fatal effects, contributing to a case in Florida in 2013 where a twelve-year-old girl committed suicide after repeated cyber-bullying by other girls. Every age group is capable and culpable. A group of ‘“Mean” Moms’ were recently censured for creating ‘a Facebook group bashing “ugly” kids’.¹66 As ‘ugly’ seems to be a buzzword in cases of bullying, the word is also being turned against itself. One educational article titled itself ‘“You Were Born Ugly and Youl [sic] Die Ugly Too”: Cyber-bullying as Relational Aggression’, and an anti-cyber-bullying website includes ‘ugly’ in its url: (where u.g.l.y. is an acronym for ‘Unique Gifted Loveable You’).¹67 The repeated use of the term attests to its cultural potency to both fuse and defuse demeaning behaviours. As issues related to technology, privacy, information, advertising and other factors cross legal lines, ugliness remains on the margins while staring us in the face. The qualifier of ‘ugly’ has historically cut 118

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across lines of race, class, gender, disability, age and other categories of difference, where a feared person is simplified, grouped as ‘ugly’ in the midst of social tensions. As Susan Schweik writes about the category of ‘disabled’: ‘Today’s exclusions convert people into cases, ones that fall perpetually, inexorably, right on “the line”, a thick gray area you cannot erase or thin.’¹68 She describes her friend Mark Limont, who remembers that as a child he ‘walked funny and was stared at’ but would also feel ‘fury and humiliation’ when ‘seeing an obviously disabled man on the street’, reflecting in retrospect: ‘We all write our own ugly laws . . . And then we have to write through them.’¹69 Different types of ugly behaviours need to be renegotiated, and these situations change as perceptions of ugliness do. As users and abusers of ‘ugly’ stretch its dimensions – barbarically, benignly, even beautifully – the word’s capaciousness charges us to reflect on how each of us writes our own ugly laws, to consider ways to write through them, and to call more witnesses to the stand.

Uglies United? Commercializing Ugly Groups

In the young adult sci-fi novel Uglies, Scott Westerfeld imagines a dystopian future that hinges on ugliness. The world is divided into ‘Uglies’ and ‘Pretties’, with rare exceptions including the fbi-like ‘Special Circumstances’. As defined by the Committee of Morphological Standards, everyone is born an Ugly but forced to undergo mandated surgery at age sixteen to become a Pretty. The protagonist, Tally Youngblood, comes to learn the socially sanctioned secret: ‘Becoming pretty doesn’t just change the way you look . . . It changes the way you think.’¹70 She learns of an alternative society of outcasts who escape becoming Pretties ‘to be ourselves’ in a mountainous community elusively referred to as the Smoke.¹7¹ When Tally is coerced into making the arduous journey there as a spy, threatened with staying Ugly unless she unmasks the Smoke, she learns the satisfaction of hard work and history, about nature and the threats of genetically engineered ‘monoculture’, and about magazines 119


from centuries earlier where ‘instead of being ashamed of their deformities, the people were laughing and kissing and posing.’¹7² First ‘brainwashed into believing you’re ugly’, then facing being brainwashed to not think at all, Tally experiences a change of heart too late, exposing the Smoke to Special Circumstances, who round them up to become Pretties: ‘a whole community turned into cattle’.¹7³ With thinly veiled parallels to recent historical events, Uglies questions what is beautiful and what is ugly, as Tally comes to wonder: What was she now? No longer a spy, and she couldn’t call herself a Smokey anymore. Hardly a pretty, but she didn’t feel like an ugly, either. She was nothing in particular. But at least she had a purpose.¹74

Turning aesthetic terms into policed political identities, the novel strips away superficial meanings to question ‘ugly’ cultural practices. Uglies is one of many popular takes on ugliness that exposes limiting social contexts to undermine traditional connotations. As a group, Uglies contrast with Pretties (even geographically divided by a heavily policed river, echoing the medieval oceanic ring that divided the Christian world from monstrous races), playing into a paradigm of cultural oppositions that end up reversed. Children’s stories have often involved ugly characters, comparing starkly bad and good children, from Heinrich Hoffmann’s popular Der Struwwelpeter (or Shockheaded Peter, 1845) to the trading cards called Garbage Pail Kids (1985), where each character had ‘some comical abnormality, deformity . . . suffering a terrible fate’ embodied by their name, like Adam Bomb.¹75 Hans Christian Andersen’s tale of the Ugly Duckling (1843) cautioned about judging appearances, as the ‘ugly’ title character transforms into a beautiful swan. Ugly duckling spinoffs like the musical Honk! (1993) adapt that narrative, while other derivatives demonstrate its limits. A number of storylines follow traditional ugly-to-beauty transformations as female characters swap baggy clothes, glasses or braces for make-up and flattering dress. The teenage comedy film The duff (2015) invents the acronym ‘Designated Ugly Fat Friend’ as a relative term for someone who is 120

ugly groups Page from Heinrich Hoffmann’s Der Struwwelpeter (c. 1900).

neither ugly nor fat, except in relation to popular friends, attempting to move beyond teenage social branding while following ugly duckling conventions. The American reality tv show The Swan (2004) provided extreme plastic surgery to ‘ugly duckling’ female human contestants, culminating in a beauty pageant where the goal seemed to be ‘to become other than who one is, to perfect through technology the imperfections of a nature that has somehow made a mistake’.¹76 Beyond gender and age are issues related to sexuality, such as those that Kirstin Cronn-Mills includes in her coming-of-age novel titled Beautiful Music for Ugly Children (2012), chronicling a transgender character who participates in a dj show of the same name (and also featuring an Ugly Children Brigade), where the inclusion and exclusion of the main character provokes and calms social tensions. Television shows like the award-winning Ugly Betty (2006–10, based on the Colombian telenovela Yo soy 121


Betty, la fea, which also spawned a Hindi variation, Jassi Jaissi Koi Nahin) suggest growing interest in destigmatizing ugliness crossculturally, complicating stock portrayals by playing up and against stereotypes. As roles reverse or transgress traditional categories, the bounds of ‘ugly’ attempt to reduce the term’s negative associations with cultural groups and open up new potential meanings that are less socially imposed than individually generated. Often uncomfortably, ugly groups have united at various points in history. Describing the dramatic caricature The Ugly Club, performed in 1798, Helen Deutsch and Felicity Nussbaum critique the play as ‘a very unsatisfying expression of a collective identity for the disabled’, where ‘connections among such groups . . . were most often drawn by the able-bodied, who made them into monsters’, adding that ‘shaping a unity among the physically disabled as a group and mustering its political force is largely a more recent phenomenon.’¹77 In the nineteenth century, revivals of Ugly Clubs popped up beyond Britain’s literary and social scene, from American college Ugly Clubs to a French account by Victor Hugo.¹78 While Ugly Clubs often doubled as riotous social fraternities that reinforced a culture of ridicule (‘doubling the ridicule’, as William Hay argued), their self-selected collectivity seems both consistent with and contrary to period trends. Members applied ugly labels to themselves, as though ‘equally deformed’ opened up possibilities for ‘equally justified’. Although complexly entwined within a culture that demeaned ugliness, their communal affiliation upset and unsettled fixed definitions, reframing ugliness that was otherwise isolating and disparaging, participating in a broader historical interrogation that persists to this day. As groups have positioned themselves under the umbrella of ugliness, some patterns have emerged. In the sci-fi novel Uglies, for instance, nicknames echo the monikers of the eighteenth-century Ugly Face Club (with Squint, Nose, Fattie, Pig-eyes) that can similarly be found among medieval Islamic nicknames and ancient Roman family nomenclature, which denoted the deformity of a bearer’s descendants (Squint-eyed, Big Nose, Blind, Fat).¹79 Other Ugly Clubs appeared in the twentieth century, including one boasting 122

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baseball players Yogi Berra and Mike Ryba, and another founded by a teenage Marcia Tucker, who went on to become the first female curator of the Whitney Museum of American Art and founder of the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York.¹80 Tucker recalls forming her Ugly Club with her ‘closest misfit friends’ and assigning officers, membership cards (personalized with cari catures) and a theme song parodying the popular tune for the Mouseketeers: u-g-l y-c-l u-b ugly too! Ugly Club! Ugly Club! Forever we will hang our noses low, low, low, low! Come along and sing our song and join the Ugly Club! u-g-l y-c-l u-b ugly too!¹8¹

In more recent years, other Ugly Clubs have arisen, with reports on npr, the bbc and other respected news sources about revivals in Liverpool (2002) and Hamburg (2005).¹8² These clubs have tended to be social gatherings, unlike the ‘Plug Uglies’ of the 1850s, a political club that operated like a street gang in Baltimore, Maryland (later memorialized as pubs of the same name, both in Baltimore and in New York). The still-active Ugly Club of Piobbico, Italy (known as ‘the capital of ugly’), has roots going back to at least 1879 and includes among its activities marital matchmaking, countering discrimination against ugliness in the workplace and an annual festa dei brutti (or Festival of the Ugly), which coincides with the election of the club’s new president.¹8³ The club motto is ‘Ugliness is a virtue, beauty is slavery’, reputedly related to a ‘World Association of Ugly People’ that claims: ‘A person is what he is and not what he looks like.’¹84 Even as the opposition between ugliness and beauty survives, appropriations blur both words’ meanings and challenge beliefs about inborn inferiority or superiority. These appropriations open up new opportunities for communal affiliation, whether serious or silly. Anyone who is invited to an ‘Ugly Holiday Sweater Party’ has the chance to don ugly, facetiously following a trend that has garnered enough popularity to warrant websites dedicated to purchasing 123


apparel, articles chronicling its history and a book entitled The Ugly Christmas Sweater Book: The Definitive Guide to Getting Your Ugly On.¹85 The groups discussed in this chapter hardly paint a picture of united uglies, as each differently fuels or fights against inherited notions. What unites these groups as ‘ugly’, to some degree, is resistance to being singular or simplified and, by extension, perpetually feared. By tracing different trends that have generalized ‘ugly’ traits categorically into groups, it is possible to complicate the genealogy of ugliness to consider how such responses have mixed cultural and aesthetic standards to both reinforce and destabilize the qualification of ‘ugly’. Culturally speaking, in the twentieth century, many historically marginalized groups banded together through identity movements that found community affiliations indirectly associated with ugliness. As these groups gained civil rights through mobilized activism, cultural designations of ugliness have been evoked to push against narrow identity qualifiers. Some groups have appropriated a negative term; for instance, ‘disability activists have been attuned to the ways that discourse can aid collective action’, write James C. Wilson and Cynthia Lewiecki-Wilson, ‘seizing the term cripple and turning it against itself into the proactive label crip culture’.¹86 Bitch Magazine and Bitch Media similarly turned a negative term against itself through dedication to ‘feminist critiques of pop culture’, receiving an Utne Independent Press Award in 2011 in the category of ‘Social/Cultural Coverage’.¹87 ‘Queer theory’ similarly appropriated a derogatory social term to destabilize fixed notions of identity and to open up new ways of theorizing gender, sexuality and other social categories. Kathryn Pauly Morgan writes: ‘The first form of revolt involves revalorizing the domain of the “ugly” and all that is associated with it’ to undermine its oppositions. Since ‘ugly’ evokes a range of connotations, from ‘the plain’ to ‘the ordinary’ to ‘the aged’, she writes, ‘women might constitute themselves as culturally liberated subjects through public participation in Ms Ugly Canada/America/ Universe/Cosmos pageants.’¹88 Critics remain less convinced about the ability to revalorize ugliness. Sherry Colb, a law professor at Cornell University, has written: 124

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Because of successful identity politics, people have come to identify profoundly with other kinds of groups – ‘I am a Jew’ or ‘I am a French person’ . . . But it’s not likely with ‘I am an ugly person and let’s have a meeting of all ugly people.’ Most people in general would want to disclaim membership. It’s like declaring yourself a member of the clueless.¹89

As powerful as appropriation can be, ‘ugly’ remains a troublesome unifier because its shifting modifications have been more reductive than generous. To some degree, ‘ugly’ can be targeted as isolating but can also serve as a communal rallying cry to confront social fears. Its identification can also expose social tensions in need of redress or on the verge of change. As one respondent noted on National Public Radio’s ‘Race Card Project’ (six-word essays about racism), the process can illuminate: ‘Beautiful differences made ugly by fear’.¹90 Cultural groups that have historically been constrained on social and aesthetic borders – as ‘monstrous’, ‘blighted’, ‘primitive’, ‘degenerate’ and more – to some degree have been ‘made ugly by fear’ and invite reconsideration of ‘ugly’ meanings in alternative contexts. The comparison of the ‘ugly’ in different periods and places suggests that it is far from static or stereotypical but rather operates relationally, constantly negotiating different meanings and challenging cultural stasis. As ‘ugly’ qualifications exceed any given group, a categorical break can occur to open up new potential meanings and even boomerang back to the qualifier of that label. Ugliness tends to be characterized in visual terms, and the next chapter moves beyond those responses to explore ugly sounds, smells, tastes and touch that transgress socially accepted and physical borders. As ‘ugly’ usages shift and push us to occupy the position of both subject and object, and the slippery space between, its meaning blurs the bounds between ‘us’ and ‘them’. Culturally speaking, ugliness intermixes deteriorating and regenerating matter that is, essentially, the nature of being human.


Caravaggio, Medusa, c. 1598, oil on canvas mounted on wood.


Ugly Senses: Transgressing Perceived Borders


t the beginning of 2005, the president of the Royal Institute of British Architects proposed a national ‘X list’ of ugly buildings to be demolished. ‘What I seek is public intolerance of the worst and demand for the best’, George Ferguson claimed.¹ ‘Vile buildings are an affront to our senses.’ He derided ‘mediocre buildings that damage their surroundings’, suggesting that ugly buildings infected their neighbours and needed to be extracted like a diseased tooth, lest the rest be corrupted. The action assumed a shared public taste of ugliness. A television series invited the public to nominate ugly candidates for demolition, culminating in ‘a spectacular celebratory demolition of one of the nation’s nastiest eyesores’. Questioning the prescriptive list, architectural historian Gavin Stamp wrote that it is ‘difficult to imagine the President of the Royal Society of Literature proposing a list of books suitable for burning’.² The effort provoked questions not only about public space but about cultural taste and values. Recalling earlier movements that proposed to destroy ‘hideous Victorians’ later deemed to be landmarks, or mid-twentieth-century ‘Anti-Ugly Action’ that invited the public to nominate buildings ‘for the AntiUgly Seal of disapproval’, the demolition of 2005 exposed the unstable foundation on which ‘ugly’ arguments have been built.³ If ugly architecture can provoke ‘an affront to our senses’, as Ferguson claimed, such structures ostensibly steer the qualification of ‘ugly’ beyond sight – to sound, smell, taste and touch. ‘Ugly’ means ‘to be feared or dreaded’, so when the word qualifies sensory 127


experience, one sense tends to overwhelm the rest: a grating noise, a horrid stench, the taste of rot, the feel of mouldy sludge. Following Mark Cousins’s architectural theory comparing ‘the ugly’ to dirt, as ‘matter out of place’, I am interested in how ugliness interrupts perceptions and reworks the space between subject and object.4 Such physical engagements can do more than qualify an object as ‘ugly’; they can suggest that we, as perceiving subjects, might be matters out of place. As the term ‘ugly’ has characterized an array of cultural aspects across history, its meaning has also transgressed the border between ‘us’ and ‘them’. Ugliness has marked a threshold for challenging and re-evaluating cultural priorities. The process raises the question of whether ugliness marks a bleeding edge that provokes or anticipates cultural change. Ugly senses are not to be confused with ‘ugly feelings’, as Sianne Ngai has framed uncomfortable emotions like envy, irritation, anxiety, ‘stuplimity’ and paranoia.5 These feelings ooze into Erving Goffman’s investigation of shame, Julia Kristeva’s analysis of horror and the abject, Sigmund Freud’s theory of the uncanny, Jean-Paul Sartre’s articulation of nausea and Daniel Kelly’s investigation of disgust, among other theories.6 ‘Ugly feelings’ arguably accompany sensory experiences to the point of being inseparable. In one recent scientific study subjects were asked to qualify paintings by sight as ‘beautiful’, ‘neutral’ or ‘ugly’. Magnetic Resonance Imaging revealed that the artworks deemed ‘beautiful’ activated emotional centres of the brain associated with love, while ‘ugly’ paintings activated the motor cortex associated with flight.7 Other scientific investigations of ugliness have invited attention through the development of the field of neuroaesthetics, which explores predilections towards symmetry in evolutionary biology that lead asymmetry to be associated with infection, disease and poor mate selection.8 Whether addressing art or individual reactions to it, scientific criteria that distinguish beautiful from ugly, right from wrong, pose risks, as evidenced in the early twentieth century when chemist and Nobel laureate Wilhelm Ostwald formulated a theory of colour that led him to deduce that Titian had used the ‘wrong’ blue.9 All of these ‘ugly’ considerations have tangled deeply in the fabric of cultural history, but my focus 128

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on ‘ugly senses’ showcases their basis in the body that not only sees but hears, tastes, smells, touches and handles, even attempts to let go of, ugliness. As sensory architectures and architects of the senses, human bodies construct bodies of knowledge. Negotiated through our senses, ugliness engages and transgresses cultural boundaries that define us in relation to ugliness and, in turn, may allow us to redefine ugliness and even ourselves.

Ugly Sight: Seeing Is Believing?

The night before the opening of the Entartete Kunst exhibition in 1937, Adolf Hitler delivered a speech about the artworks and artists. ‘We would have to examine their eyesight-deformation to see if it is the product of a mechanical failure or of inheritance’, he proclaimed, and urged people ‘to take up the question of whether further inheritance of such gruesome malfunctioning of the eyes cannot at least be checked’.¹0 Beyond artworks, Hitler blamed the eyesight of the artists, intermingling ugly theories of politics, physiology and aesthetics. His warped correlation derived from a timeworn association between seeing and knowledge. Historically in Western culture, sight has ranked high in the sensory hierarchy. In ancient Greece, Heraclitus wrote, ‘The eyes are more exact witnesses than the ears’, and Aristotle claimed that seeing ‘approximates the intellect most closely by virtue of the relative immateriality of its knowing’.¹¹ A common adage claims that the eye is the gateway to the soul. Rhetoric frequently argues through visual metaphors, as ‘readers catch a glimpse, scan, attain an overview, or gain perspective’.¹² Eyes have played a prominent role in the cultural history of ugliness. Many cultures held the belief that an envious or demonic ‘Evil Eye’ (transmittable in person, as well as through art) could harm a viewer. Different precautionary behaviours and architectural arrangements of ‘ugly’ objects helped to ward off corrupting forces. Entryways in ancient Roman buildings held representations 129


Ancient Greek ceramic kylix or drinking cup with eyes painted on to the side to protect against the evil eye, Boeotia, c. 451–400 bc.

of ‘unbecomingness’ in the form of misshapen humans (like dwarfs with giant phalli) to provoke laughter and so deflect evil eyes.¹³ Variedly grotesque, comic or obscene, medieval European visual representations of ugliness often served to avert demons, placed out of human view under choir stalls or high on steeples.¹4 Instead of representing the dead in decorated life-like repose, transi or cadaver tombs showed decomposing corpses as reminders of the spiritual consequences of earthly vanity.¹5 Decorative vanitas imagery bisected heads as memento mori, where half of a sculpted face displayed garlanded youth, while the other half squirmed with maggots and worms. Other objects engaged ugliness through representations of fierceness or monstrosity to ward off alien or wild forces. Arising on the boundary between what was known and unknown, ‘ugly’ figures projected fears about death onto the face of life. Ugly sights could arise in situations of vulnerability and volatility at developmental crossroads. From antiquity through to the nineteenth century, the notion of the ‘maternal imagination’ alleged that frightful sights seen by a pregnant mother could deform the shape of her gestating child. Crossing boundaries in less harmful ways, ugliness could provoke spiritual sympathy. In one devotional 130

Vanitas tableau of a life-sized head, with one side resembling Elizabeth i, the other half a skull with attendant insects and reptiles, 18th century, wax.


picture, a medieval nun from the Abbey of St Walburg (c. 1500) drew a nun inside Christ’s bulging and bleeding heart to identify with the Crucifixion (echoing the Song of Songs 4:9: ‘Thou hast wounded my heart . . . with one of thy eyes’).¹6 Looking across stigmatized boundaries could lead to more dire consequences. In the American South under Jim Crow, the act of ‘reckless eyeballing’ was considered a crime. As late as 1951, a black farmer named Matt Ingram was arrested for the assault of a white woman by looking at her – from 20 m away.¹7 Visuality has been policed from plantations to prisons. During the Iraq War, detainees in Abu Ghraib were repeatedly told by their guards, ‘Don’t eyeball me!’ As an increasingly optic world-view focuses a contemporary sense of reality, manipulated vision can justify surveillances that in other circumstances might be deemed ‘ugly’.¹8 Many cultural encounters give credence to the adage of ‘seeing is believing’, and as a medium photography contributes to this myth. Even as digital manipulations have undercut public trust in images, an aura of truth persists. Reversing the adage in Believing Is Seeing, the filmmaker Errol Morris has followed a series of photographs from the detention centre of Abu Ghraib, peeling back surface readings of sadistically posed prisoners. In the photos the infamous ‘Hooded Man’ stands barefoot on a box with arms outstretched, connected to wires, draped in a ratty black blanket and blindfolded with a black hood. The photograph created ‘its own iconography and its own narrative’, Morris writes.19 Just as ugliness is relational, however, this perspective shifts through different eyes. Hassan Fattah, the journalist who wrote the New York Times article about the Hooded Man, describes that ‘what we in the West think is the iconic image of Abu Ghraib, it’s the man on the box’ but ‘in the Muslim world, the iconic image is actually her smiling next to the dead body.’²0 Her refers to an American soldier, Sabrina Harman, shown in another photo smiling and giving a thumbs-up over a dead prisoner. Morris unpacks this second image through contextualizing evidence: correspondence and other photos of Harman, psychological consultation and testimonies about ‘ghost detainees’ and ‘ghost interrogators’ that made murders of prisoners look like 132

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Thomas Eakins, Portrait of Dr Samuel Gross (The Gross Clinic), 1875, oil on canvas.

medical emergencies.²¹ He layers the masked horrors while complicating reductive readings of the photographs themselves. ‘Our beliefs can completely defeat sensory evidence’, Morris concludes, and ‘do not determine what is true or false. They do not determine objective reality. But they can determine what we “see”.’²² A recurring visual response to ugliness involves obstructing sight: ‘shrinking back in horror’, ‘turning away in disgust’, covering or even ‘gouging out’ one’s eyes. Historic representations repeat these gestures: from the ancient myths of Perseus, whose shield deflects Medusa’s head of squirming snakes, and Oedipus, who strikes out his eyes rather than see the truth of his incest, to the grieving mother depicted in Thomas Eakins’s nineteenth-century painting The Gross Clinic, 133


who turns away from her son open on the surgical table. Sight can be veiled or covered, protecting the viewer or the viewed. In the biblical Garden of Eden, the taste of original sin reputedly led Adam and Eve to see their nakedness and conceal their bodies in shame. The avoidance of ugly sights has grown into a trope to reinforce what is culturally stigmatized, forbidden or foreign. Some ugly features can be hidden or superficially refashioned (like a painted-over ‘ugly’ wart), while others may cause a viewer to stare and demand a response.²³ In 2002 the philosopher Peter Singer debated with the lawyer Harriet McBryde Johnson about whether she should have been killed at birth because of her congenital neuromuscular disease. As a lawyer and disability rights advocate, Johnson described her appearance as a ‘jumble of bones in a floppy bag of skin’ and wrote in the New York Times: ‘It’s not that I’m ugly. It’s more that most people don’t know how to look at me.’²4 Johnson’s observation raises questions about how we read, beyond surfaces, the larger cultural stories that inform these visual literacies. Benign as representations seem, they have the potential to take on fatal weight. Rather than passively turning away, viewers can actively deride or even attempt to destroy ‘ugly’ objects when ugliness stems less from aesthetic preference and more from cultural threat. The Reformation targeted not only religious practitioners but representations of saints. Against the more recent backdrop of heightened religious tensions in Denmark, controversy over cartoons of Muhammad led the country to be shamed as a new kind of ‘Ugly Duckling’ as Denmark wrestled with questions of national identity in a foreign policy crisis.²5 When different cultural values collide, artworks like cartoons or paintings may be targeted in ways that animate larger cultural tensions. Exhibited in 1999 at the Brooklyn Museum, The Holy Virgin Mary by the British Nigerian artist Chris Ofili came under harsh criticism for its use of elephant dung and cutouts of genitalia from pornographic magazines. Rudy Giuliani, then mayor of New York, called the work ‘sick stuff ’ and threatened to cut the museum’s funding.²6 Justifying the presence of the materials, art critics described the sacred nature of pachyderms and their dung in Africa and the cutouts as analogous to naked 134

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putti in traditional religious art. ‘I don’t feel as though I have to defend it’, the artist himself responded. ‘The people who are attacking this painting are attacking their own interpretation, not mine.’²7 Ofili’s artwork serves as a reminder that the ‘ugly’ here is a byproduct of Western culture. The Holy Virgin Mary pushes different categories into an ambiguous space (where categories intersect: white/black, Western/African, civilized/primitive, worship/insult, beauty/ugly, to name a few) that ‘reiterates the familiar Western structures of the “ugly” as a subversive strategy that ironically confounds the very culture that invented it’.²8 Ugly sights may appear to trend towards negative associations, but a cultural shift can displace that connotation. In traditional Chinese sources, hybrid and monstrous figures aimed to traverse cultural borders. Artefacts like taotie masks depict ‘a mythical geography’ between the known and unknown, suggesting potential communication between the living and the dead, while ‘holding firm the boundaries . . . essential to the stability of both culture and meaning’.²9 Long before Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings, the seventeenth-century Chinese Qing painter Shitao broke conventional rules as he investigated blots and brushstrokes in an abstracted landscape of Ten Thousand Ugly Inkblots (1685). According to the art historian Jonathan Hay, Shitao’s ‘monochrome, wet-brush performance, invokes a Ming heritage of improvisatory wildness . . . a vision of a landscape’.³0 The painting’s inscription challenged

Detail of Shitao, Ten Thousand Ugly Inkblots, 1685, handscroll, ink on paper.



traditional art masters and theories, also leading to metaphysical considerations of ugliness: Ten thousand ugly inkblots to scare Crazy Mi [Mi Fu, 1052–1107] to death! Some fibers of soft traces to make Beiyuan [Dong Yuan, d. 962] roll over laughing! From a distance, the perspective doesn’t work – it lacks a painting’s winding paths. Close up, the details are all confused – you can barely make out a few simple cottages. Once and for all cut off the ‘mind’s eye’ from conventional molds, Just as the transcendent who rides the wind has freed his spirit from the bounds of flesh and bones!³¹

Like Ten Thousand Ugly Inkblots, appropriations of ugliness can unsettle visual expectations. Centuries before Shitao, the Daoist philosophical writings ascribed collectively to Chuang-Tzu (or Zhuangzi) specifically engaged ‘ugly’ characters to draw attention to cultural patterns and to confound expectations of symbolic values. Thought to originate between 350 and 300 bc, its ‘Inner Chapters’ include monstrous characters like ‘Woman Crookback’ and ‘Mr Lame-Hunchback-No-Lips’.³² Appearing as simple types, these variations of ugliness not only reverse expectations but confuse cultural and aesthetic criteria. As the scholar Robert Allison explains of Chuang-Tzu, ‘uglies’ ranked among ‘monstrous’ figures that were drawn from ‘people around one in daily life: the hunchback, the cripple, the blind man and other deviations from and distortions of . . . the norm’, who were placed in tales where readers could identify with them to hold back conventional value judgements and to ‘overcome our abhorrence of the misfit and the reject in order to be receptive to what they are saying’.³³ Although these deformed characters problematically carry a symbolic value, where their disabilities function as a ‘teaching agent’, Chuang-Tzu works through paradox, engaging socially mistreated types to disturb reductive qualifications. 136

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Over the centuries growing commentaries around the work have attested to its popularity in China and beyond, challenging readers to rethink ugliness in the larger physical and philosophical world. Physical sight has its limitations, just as there is a danger of oversimplifying ‘blind’ rhetoric.³4 Oscar Wilde famously wrote that ‘no object is so beautiful that, under certain conditions, it will not look ugly.’³5 Characters like Wilde’s Dorian Gray embody this duplicity, as he appears immortally youthful while his mirrored reflection grows haggard from moral corruption. The reverse can also be true, and the same object can appear differently from another perspective. The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein described the ambiguous ‘duck-rabbit’ that could be seen (as in, interpreted) not as a hybrid combination but rather as two entirely different species.³6 Like visual perspective, cultural perspective influences interpretation. The Japanese concept of wabi-sabi arises from terms meaning ‘poverty’ and ‘loneliness’, associated with qualities that to traditional Western eyes might appear ugly (asymmetry, imperfection, disintegration, impermanence) but which, in Japanese culture, carry beautiful connotations.³7 Aspects of wabi-sabi include ‘the withered, weathered, tarnished, scarred, intimate, coarse, earthly, evanescent, tentative, ephemeral’, embodied more by ‘a broken earthenware cup Bulbous Karatsu ware jar with white crackled glaze, from Karatsu, Hizen Province (modern Saga prefecture), Japan, Edo period, 17th century.



in contrast to a Ming vase, a branch of autumn leaves in contrast to a dozen roses, a lined and bent old woman in contrast to a model’.³8 Aesthetic and cultural lines entangle as physical migrations mix cultural priorities, challenge inherited values and open up new possibilities for both aesthetics and culture. In 1680, the Jesuit polymath Athanasius Kircher proposed a projecting machine that could yield ‘a thousand ways to deform a man’ wherein ‘no monster is so ugly whose shape you will not find in yourself.’³9 Just as the projecting machine deforms vision, cultural influences interfere with visual perception. When the nineteenthcentury fictional monster of Victor Frankenstein escapes from his creator’s laboratory into the world, he meets an old blind man named De Lacey who responds only to his voice and treats him with kindness. The monster, in turn, responds with kindness. When the rest of the De Lacey family meets the monster, however, they see only his surface. Both viewer and viewed become aware of their wider cultural context and expected behaviours, as ugly social actions contribute to ugly reactions. The tropes of both ‘blind man’ and ‘monster’ are reductive but perpetuate cultural readings of ugliness. The question remains: if the family had listened to what the monster was saying rather than merely seeing his unfamiliar ‘ugly’ surface, would they have treated him differently? Would Mary Shelley’s novel have reached a different conclusion?

Ugly Sound: Do You Hear What I Hear?

Among the lusts portrayed in Hieronymus Bosch’s triptych painting The Garden of Earthly Delights (c. 1504), a visual ‘infernal concert’ performs medieval music notated on human buttocks. In this ‘musical hell’, diabolic instruments surround a monstrous bird and knife-clenching giant ears. Visualized sounds are excreted from human orifices. The painting evokes a ribald and riotous range of ugly sounds, non-speech and nonsense. Aural senses mesh against a historic backdrop that reinforced visual communication after the 138

Hieronymus Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights (right panel of triptych, known as ‘Musical Hell’), c. 1504.


advent of Gutenberg’s printing press.40 Bosch’s earthly landscape emerges as a symbolic soundscape, as noisy as it is silent, provoking some mythic message about human fallibility associated with ugly sounds, heard and unheard. Ugly and otherwise, the human body has long been considered an instrument that produces sounds: farting, belching, gnawing, screaming, cursing. According to the ancient concept of the Music of the Spheres, human bodies and the universe could tune each other, suggesting that dissonance and cacophony could lead to catastrophic ends. Aristotle described musical modes as a means of tempering character, where each mode affected a listener differently. The Mixolydian caused a listener to become ‘sad and grave’, while the Dorian produced ‘a moderate and settled temper’.4¹ Different musical modes and rhythms presumably tuned or untuned a listener, so ‘some philosophers say that the soul is tuning, others, that it possesses tuning.’4² Mythic songs acquired different connotations over centuries. Variations of Orpheus’ tale raised questions about the nature of not only his song but his listeners; one version suggested that his fateful turn from Eurydice made him spurn women and woo boys – namely, pederasty.4³ Ugly sounds were decried as degenerate in other ways. Medieval compositions went so far as to prohibit the incorporation of tritones (augmented fourths), thought to be the music of the Devil, or diabolus in musica.44 Given its aural tension, the interval continues to be used for aural provocation: from psychedelic rock music like Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Purple Haze’ (1967) to more explicitly ‘satanist’ heavy metal overtones in Slayer’s record titled Diabolus in Musica (1998).45 Other sounds can be as ‘ugly’ as a motley crew of noisemakers. A traditional percussive instrument in Newfoundland – the ‘ugly stick’ – conglomerates household tools, tin cans and bottle caps, attached to a mop handle to be played with a drumstick.46 As an agent of listening, the ear has been considered ‘a site of ugliness and imperfection’, from ‘an object of punishment’ to ‘a badge of self-loathing mutilation’.47 Ears are not alone in registering ‘ugly’ sounds. Grafting an ear to his arm, the performance artist Stelarc used Bluetooth to transmit sounds heard by the displaced ear, and some 140

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listeners might call this ‘ugly’ – at least, ‘matter out of place’ – or as unexpected as music notated on a human posterior. Beyond Bosch’s ‘butt music from hell’ and the prohibited aural diabolus, some medieval notation was considered ‘ugly’ in the sense of grotesque or amputated, paralleling surgical approaches at the time.48 Notated as monstrous musical notes, hairy or segmented bodies with heads and tails seemed to slither along the scale.49 Beyond correlations between monstrosity and dissection, the qualities of absurdity and wildness came to be associated with ugly sounds. Witches’ incantations and lascivious dances recurred as motifs. In 1583, Philip ii of Spain banned the Sarabande dance, which was decried as ‘so ugly in its motions that it is enough to excite bad emotions in even very decent people’.50 In the eighteenth century, Ugly Clubs sang songs as part of their ‘ugly’ merry-making, which may have referred to their drunken choruses or satiric lyrics.5¹ In 1883, when Brahms’s First Symphony was performed in Boston, a notable critic complained that it was ‘full of irritant and restless discord’.5² Ugly sounds may insult the ear but also affect the entire body. By the twentieth century, notions of ugly sounds jumbled into a heap that blurred the bounds between dissonance and harshness, coarseness and monstrosity, among other ‘ugly’ associations. Appropriating ugliness as a defining feature of Futurist aesthetics in the early twentieth century, F. T. Marinetti wished to ‘use all the brutal sounds, all the expressive cries of the violent life’ as ‘ugly’, ‘murdering solemnity where ever it is found’, and other manifestos praised the ‘art of harshness, dissonance and pure primordial coarseness’.5³ When the composer Erik Satie examined a B-flat with a phonoscope, he derided the sound’s sight and said, ‘I have never seen anything more repugnant.’54 Before performing Arnold Schoenberg’s Chamber Symphony in Philadelphia in 1915, the conductor Leopold Stokowski wrote to the public to say that the music ‘is so ugly and apparently without spontaneous feeling that I feel impelled to say frankly to the public why I am producing it’.55 In 1927, critics railed against the Norwegian composer Arvid Kleven’s Sinfonia libera, calling it ‘monstrous’ and ‘an aimless heap of fantastically ugly disharmonies’.56 Whether voiced by critics or 141


composers, ‘ugly’ has been a recurring slur in debates about musical and moral worth. At times aesthetics have acquired fearsome political dimensions. In the 1930s, the Nazis hunted down ‘degenerate’ influences not only in visual art but in music, or Entartete Musik. Connotations of ugliness meshed with stereotypes of cultural groups. A poster for a 1938 exhibition on Entartete Musik portrayed a monkey-like black man wearing a Star of David and playing a saxophone.57 From its beginnings, jazz tangled with racial stereotypes and moral debates, becoming both championed and condemned. Henry Ford’s Dearborn Independent complained that ‘clean’ popular songs were being replaced by ‘monkey talk, jungle squeals, grunts and squeaks and gasps suggestive of cave love’, criticizing ‘the organized eagerness of the Jew

Hans Severus Ziegler, Entartete Musik: eine Abrechnung (1937), cover of the exhibition guide.


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to make alliance with the Negro’ to ‘camouflage the moral filth’.58 Frank Damrosch of the Institute of Musical Art decried the ‘outrage on beautiful music’, and Nikolai Sokoloff, who directed the Cleveland Orchestra, prohibited his musicians from playing those ‘ugly sounds’. Other critics linked jazz with corrupting sexual influences through the ‘negro brothels of the South’.59 Hardly considered benign, ‘ugly’ music threatened to corrupt entire generations. Against the backdrop of the Communist witchhunt of McCarthyism in 1950s America, rock and roll became a targeted enemy as it was embraced by youth culture. The singer Frank Sinatra, once himself a teenage idol, derided the new music as ‘the most brutal, ugly, degenerate, vicious form of expression . . . It fosters almost totally negative and destructive reactions in young people. It smells phony and false.’60 His conflation of ‘ugly’ aspects (as brutal, degenerate, vicious, negative, destructive) with both sound and smell suggests a sensory assault, where ugliness pulls larger social forces into its garish aesthetic gravity. Like other emerging forms of music, jazz and rock and roll sounded ‘ugly’ to conventional ears while contributing to a larger cultural revolution in listening. Ugliness can be a critical stab but also a rallying cry. Some composers and musicians have intentionally appropriated unharmonious aspects into their aural fabrics. When the American punk rock band Bikini Kill started playing shows in the 1990s, Rolling Stone reported that ‘like almost all noisy bands lately, this one is better at melody than at ugliness but usually opts for ugliness.’6¹ A mix of complaints and compliments prevent ‘ugliness’ from being wholly negative or negligible. In 2009, one reviewer described a performance of music composed by Dmitri Shostakovich as Deliberately ugly music – and let’s not hazard a definition here of either type, because aesthetic judgments carry so much cultural baggage – presents certain sonic challenges to an audience . . . experiences to be felt rather than heard. The Shostakovich was ugly music, beautifully played . . . ugly can be quite spectacular.6²



In a word, when a listener is confronted with aural features that do not fit established aesthetic categories and conventions, ‘ugly’ can sum up the confounding but compelling nature of the experience. The composer John Zorn tries to explain his own engagements with ugliness in his music compositions: ‘I don’t think they’re ugly. I find them beautiful. It’s like Thelonious Monk’s title “Ugly Beauty.” People used to think his playing was ugly, now it’s recognized as classic.’6³ Whether or not works of ‘ugly beauty’ stand the test of time is left to the future, but the possibility pushes ugliness into a potentially positive realm. As early as 1911, the British composer Charles Hubert H. Parry wrote a prescient article on ‘The Meaning of Ugliness’ in music. Parry addressed the paradox of new music, where ‘Every advance in Art has been made by accepting something which has been condemned as ugly by recognized artistic authorities.’64 Giving historic examples, he cited previously ‘unpleasant’ major thirds and sixths, other ‘venomously ugly’ discords, augmented fourths ‘so offensive that they were commonly associated with the father of lies’ and consecutive fifths ‘so ugly that a self-respecting composer suffered tortures of shame if he had used them inadvertently’. Dismissing these initial insults, Parry described how the superficial critique of ‘ugly’ can pass away with time, if a work bears features of ‘original invention and thought’. This quality can lead a listener towards something previously unknown that has ‘enhanced our range of artistic perception and added to the interest of existence’.65 Linking cultural with aesthetic considerations, Parry equated ugliness with breaking conventional rules, without which ‘there would not be any progress in either social or artistic things; and we should be buried mountains deep in huge piles of dead conventions.’66 Many works can fall in an ugly heap and get buried in the mire, but Parry’s theorization distinguished between ugly conventions and aspects called ‘ugly when they were not understood’.67 This claim about artistic progress echoes across history and across sensory aspects of ugliness. Clement Greenberg positively reviewed an exhibition in 1945 saying that Jackson Pollock ‘is not afraid to look ugly – all profoundly original art looks ugly at first’.68 Earlier 144

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in the century, the British critic Roger Fry suggested that ugliness could remain a positive artistic trait, challenging ‘older critics’ who praised a narrow Graeco-Roman definition of figurative beauty and who ‘failed to notice how important a part the ugly played in art . . . cultivating the characteristic even to the verge and beyond of the grotesque’.69 In regard to ugly music, Parry likewise amplified the interplay between ugliness and innovation. He distinguished between what might be called major and minor uglinesses, suggesting that some ‘ugly’ aspects acquire admiration over time, while other attributes remain so because they are negligible and conformist. His theory linked artistic with cultural practices, even correlating ‘ugliness’ with ‘dirt’ and ‘matter out of place’ – far predating the link made by Mary Douglas or Mark Cousins in anthropological and architectural terms. What remains ‘ugly’ over time, Parry wrote, ‘has a way of leaving dirt behind it – which is ugly’, and ‘uglinesses which are objectionable are such as are false in intention’ and ‘of purposes not genuinely artistic. They are matter in the wrong place, because their relation to their context adds nothing to their significance.’70 His prescient focus on ugliness, dirt and ‘matter out of place’ – through music – amplified inter-artistic and multisensory processes that would animate modernism and postmodernism, remixing aesthetic and cultural priorities to ‘make it new’ (as Ezra Pound famously claimed). As words sprang free of syntax, musical innovations barraged traditional harmonies. Even as soundscapes and listeners’ perceptions have changed over time and space, some objectionable sounds remain ‘ugly’. Auditory jumbles of sounds might be considered ‘noise’: a persisting descriptor of ugly sounds, particularly as noises manifest on the boundary between public and private space. Ancient Romans used bells to ward off evil spirits, tying tintinnabula around the necks of babies and domestic animals.7¹ Composers such as Luigi Russolo, Edgard Varèse and John Cage embraced noise as a compositional element through approaches like ‘noise music’, ‘organized sound’ or ‘chance music’, but unchoreographed noise can strike a listener’s ears as unwanted and threatening.7² A pamphlet from 1930 on England, Ugliness and Noise lambasted commercialism that was ‘turning rural 145


England into Ugliness’, asking: ‘Have we become suddenly sensitive to ugliness?’7³ The authors equated ugliness with ‘vandalism’, ‘nuisance’, ‘pollution’, ‘distraction’, ‘confused feelings’, even a crisis in ‘Public Health’, among other ills that arose from noises caused by ‘motorcycles, cars, lorries, speed-boats, aeroplanes, pneumatic drills and loud-speakers’.74 Not unlike George Ferguson’s condemnation of ‘ugly architecture’ as an ‘assault to the senses’ in 2005, these noises in 1930 provoked an ‘affront’ to beauty. The increasingly commercial landscape threatened to ‘pollute’ the public, even to threaten good citizenship.75 Aesthetic analogies crossed sensory and social lines, as vandals were said to be ‘as deficient of a sense as are the deaf and the blind’.76 Like other situations where ugliness has prompted cultural accusations, the complaint grew to target populations and behaviours, moving aural matters into moral arguments. The arguments raised questions that remain relevant: what is the difference between publicly and privately experienced ‘ugly’ senses? Or more specifically, aurally: at what point do sounds become publicly ugly? A person can plug his or her ears, but what happens when ‘ugly’ sounds transgress that barrier, moving beyond a nuisance to cause irreparable physiological or psychological damage? Some environmental watch groups have called military sonar ‘ugly’ as its vibrations burst the eardrums of whales, causing them to migrate off course, even bursting their brains.77 Each living being holds a different set of sensory registers, so what is a breaking point when sounds register as collectively ‘ugly’? Does ugliness arise as a vibrational frequency or volume or dissonance or pitch or injury? What exactly pushes a sound to ‘ugly’ extremes? Articulating ugliness itself can sound ‘ugly’. The human voice carries personal markers associated with class, race, geography and other cultural qualifiers. In the musical My Fair Lady, Professor Henry Higgins calls Eliza Doolittle’s accent ‘disgusting’, and the story unfolds as she attempts to lose all spoken traces of her impoverished origins.78 Beyond a Pygmalion premise is the practice of linguistic profiling. The linguist John Baugh has described how this ‘ugly’ practice plays out, for instance, when a renter with an accent calls a landlord and learns that a unit is rented, then another caller with 146

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a mainstream speech pattern enquires and learns that the same unit is available. Baugh, who is of African American descent, distinguishes between ‘linguistic profiling’ , which uses auditory cues like accents and speech patterns to confirm cultural identifications, and ‘racial profiling’, which uses visual cues to speculate on an individual’s racial background.79 Other articulations might be deemed ‘ugly’ (a term that has been used for written communications from academic jargon to censorship), as I will discuss more in my conclusion on ‘ugly writing’.80 At the base of hearing it seems important to remember that sounds are recordable and repeatable for us to replay, to listen to how our ears become attuned to speech patterns, and to recognize how these sounds are culturally influenced and mediated. A more elusive and ephemeral sense – smell – is virtually impossible to train and evokes a more enigmatic sense of culture.

Ugly Smell: A Nose for Trouble?

The French Palace of Versailles is almost synonymous with decadent grandeur, but its contemporary cleanliness might shock earlier inhabitants. According to an account from 1764, livestock defecated in the great gallery, reeking all the way to the king’s quarters. ‘The unpleasant odors in the park, gardens, even the château, make one’s gorge rise’, described a writer of the period, Turmeau de La Morandière. The communicating passages, courtyards, buildings in the wings, corridors, are full of urine and feces; a pork butcher actually sticks and roasts his pigs at the bottom of the ministers’ wing every morning; the avenue Saint-Cloud is covered with stagnant water and dead cats.8¹

Unaware of its infamous olfactory legacy, modern tourists might wander the Hall of Mirrors and visually reflect on the clean palatial decor, since ‘today’s history comes deodorized.’8² 147


From the standpoint of a more hygienically preoccupied culture, senses like smell rank lower on the sensory hierarchy. Associated with animal instincts, smell attracts and repels, even defends, as the nose guards against noxious odours. If someone or something is called ‘smelly’ in a contemporary sense of the word, it hardly connotes a compliment. The phrase ‘olfactory ugliness’ has been ascribed to objects and actions ranging from public toilets to sex.8³ For centuries, however, smelliness was not necessarily problematic and was even encouraged. In France in 1775, the physician Théophile de Bordeu condemned frequent baths that led to individuals being ‘odoriferous’ with cleansed skin that reputedly deadened sexual desire, bordering on ‘morally offensive’.84 Scent served as an identifier, so washing neutralized personal odours. Doctors were familiar with their patients’ odours, and smelling bodily fluids aided the medical diagnosis of ills. Ugly smells could emanate from many parts of the body: skin, organs, breath and bodily fluids like urine, stools, pus, sweat, menstrual blood and semen. The ancient Greek healer Hippocrates identified loss of healthy odour as a symptom of disease, accompanied by the onset of a putrid scent.85 At different times in history, foul smells were believed to both signal and cause disease. ‘Contagion’ derived from the Latin word for touching, but the word referred less to direct physical contact than infection by air.86 Stenches like those at Versailles were not singularly ‘ugly’ and permeated all classes of society. Reputed as an epicentre of the arts, Paris was also known as a ‘center of stench’.87 With the French political revolution of the eighteenth century, a sensory revolution started to distinguish the foul from the fragrant. As Alain Corbin argues, scientific efforts of taxonomy in the late eighteenth century moved beyond flora and fauna to itemize gases, or ‘airs’, miasmas, smells in mud, excrement and even corpses.88 Scientists became increasingly interested in ugly smells, building on theories of decomposition and putrefaction developed by philosophers like Francis Bacon and Johann Becher. When the mass burial pit of the Cimitière des Innocents was filled to such excess that the walls collapsed, decaying corpses spilled into the cellars of neighbouring houses.89 The stench was rumoured putrid enough 148

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to kill a passer-by. As city planners focused on designing sewers and other mechanisms to separate the ‘foul-smelling masses’ from the rising ‘deodorized’ bourgeoisie, efforts shifted toward sanitizing hospitals, prisons, gutters, rivers and other publicly regulated spaces.90 The perfume industry shifted away from animal-based musk towards more botanical scents, and new sanitary practices arose to treat bacterial contaminants through efforts by microbiologists including Louis Pasteur. Hygiene became a crusade of civic concern in countries that aimed to standardize and even police private behaviours, where the absence of odour reduced its threat along with signs of vulnerability and mortality.9¹ In simple terms, the control of scents aimed to control ugliness. Describing scents like a tea-soaked madeleine in his memoir A La Recherche du temps perdu, Marcel Proust focused on smell as the sense that most vividly recalls distant memories.9² Odours provoked past associations through present experiences, making the smelling ‘I’ more aware of personal history and selective of sensory surroundings, and also accentuating class distinctions. Ugly smells worked their way into the literary and artistic landscape paradoxically. The flâneur of Charles Baudelaire built a ‘network of oppositional harmony’ that intermixed excrement with perfume, poetry in prose, ‘flowers of evil’.9³ As a sensory wanderer, the figure of the flâneur gleaned associations from intimacy to memory, disgust to awe, moving through perfumed and polluted scentscapes that conjured new forms of identity between public and private spaces. The paradox of the flower attracted attention in part since its fleeting beauty and sweetness grew fetid. Where the poet Robert Herrick focused on rosebuds, and William Shakespeare honed in on ripe roses, Jean Genet conveyed a different association with flowers. As a writer, thief and prostitute, Genet wrote in his Journal du voleur (The Thief ’s Journal): ‘there is a close relationship between flowers and convicts. The fragility and delicacy of the former are of the same nature as the brutal insensitivity of the latter.’94 Such paradoxes complicated the correlation between beauty and conformity. As Georges Bataille later claimed, ‘The most admirable flower’ is a ‘filthy and glaring sacrilege’.95 The flower became associative. One 149


poem in Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du mal (The Flowers of Evil) asks the reader to confront a decomposing animal corpse: – Yet you will come to this offence, this horrible decay, you, the light of my life, the sun and moon and stars of my love!96

Baudelaire’s embrace of horror, offence and decay became part of his experience of love. In his Intimate Journals, the ‘ugliness’ of his smallpox-scarred lover becomes the basis ‘not only of sweet sympathy but even of physical desire’.97 By transgressing distinctions between ugliness and beauty through olfactory and other senses, the border between these classifications started to erode and encourage new associations. Unlike humming a song or drawing from memory, smell survives primarily through descriptive words. An olfactory vocabulary flees and searches through a shifting scentscape, attempting to capture ugly smells as putrid, stinky, rancid, sour, spoiled, fetid, foul or rank (to list only a few words). Enigmatic and ephemeral, a scent ‘will soon change, dissipate, even vanish’.98 Although smells fixed in literature conjure the artifice of immediacy, images of decaying flowers can also imply an olfactory engagement as paradoxical as Baudelaire’s flowers of evil – because their expected foul smell is absent. The photographs of Joel-Peter Witkin suggest this visualized ugly odour. Witkin combines a wide variety of artistic traditions: from inverted gothic worlds, to still-life paintings of flowers, to photographs of crime scenes. Reusing a timeworn title, his Feast of the Fools (1990) merges sight with smell with taste, resembling a still-life of flowers but using a dead baby and severed limbs. The expectation of flowers makes their absence more unsettling amid flesh and fruit. ‘On first glance the distinction between flowers and death may be overlooked’, observes critic Jonah Samson. ‘If we look again, however, we are overwhelmed by a feeling more powerful than if we had been present when the doctor opened the wrong drawer’ filled with severed arms, legs, ears and parts of babies in the hospital morgue.99 Without 150

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Joel-Peter Witkin, Feast of the Fools, Mexico City, 1990, photogravure from the book Twelve Photographs (1993).

any odour, disgust conjures an ugly smell irreconcilable with the artistic arrangement. A viewer smells his or her own environment in juxtaposition to the photograph, whose decomposing still-life evokes ugly olfactory associations, heightened by darker visual tones. Engaging ugliness suggestively, Witkin tries to obliterate the border with beauty, artistically featuring damaged bodies that engage onlookers who are likewise imperfect and mortal. Witkin’s work evokes a sense of ‘loving the unloved, the damaged, the outcasts’, writes Artforum contributor Keith Seward, as if affirming Yes to death, dismemberment, or any of the other staples in [his] banquet of the bizarre . . . like an extreme form of multiculturalism, a respect for that which is drastically foreign to you, even terrifying.¹00

Other photographs in Witkin’s oeuvre involve flowers, like John Herring p.w.a. (Person with aids), Posed as Flora with Lover and 151


Mother. The subject poses as the goddess of flowers, as the photograph celebrates his life in the midst of imminent death and cultural anxiety around his disease. Fixed outside of time, his embodiment as a mythic flower retains a haunting and paradoxical immortality. Although the medium of scent remains relatively unexplored, contemporary artists increasingly engage olfactory sensations. In 2013, the Museum of Arts and Design in New York hosted The Art of Scent (1889–2012), billed as ‘The First Major Museum Show to Focus on Smell’. The exhibit hosted fragrances like famous perfumes and colognes, reframed to elevate the commercial chemistry to an art, and also challenging visitors to move beyond an automatic emotional response and analyse a scent’s composition of ‘notes’ like a ‘musical chord’ with the potential to create ‘harmony’ – which suggests the possibility of olfactory discord.¹0¹ Ugly smells have inspired artists over a much longer history, as movements from Futurism to Fluxus to feminism incorporated ugly olfactory dimensions. F. T. Marinetti credited a car accident (with its odour of oil and gasoline) as an inspiration for Futurism. In her artwork Menstruation Bathroom (1972), Judy Chicago involved the smell of blood to confront taboos around menstruation, filth and the female body. More recently the German installation artist Sissel Tolaas created The fear of smell – the smell of fear (2007) by collecting the smell of sweat of men from around the world when they were likely to express fear, and then producing a paint that visitors could touch on a wall to activate the scent. In Ten Notes for a Human Symphony (2009), Colombian artist Oswaldo Maciá curated ten mechanical curtains that visitors could unroll to encounter scents of different people of varied ages and places, from Tibet to Mexico to Ireland, aiming to level cultural views that might carry uglier connotations. His collection of global smells was ‘not categorized into pleasant or unpleasant, good or bad’, explained one critic, but rather aimed to ‘compose an olfactory experience’ to engage visitors ‘in a multicultural dialogue putting aside personal prejudices and fears’.¹0² Exhibited in galleries, olfactory artworks like these conjure multisensory experiences that reorder cultural and visual priorities 152

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to push past beautiful and ugly qualifications and open up new multisensory narratives. The application of smelly words to other senses suggests the close interrelation of smell with taste, sound, sight and touch. Medieval cookbooks, herbals and medical and gardening treatises classified spices, herbs and medicines to be rubbed, ground and mixed in such ways that senses overlapped to produce harmony or discord. Arranged ingredients could produce a ‘concord’ between two discords ‘that are not used, just like virtue holds the midpoint among vices’.¹0³ Adopting classical Greek ideas, early Renaissance treatises correlated sensations by mixing spices and sounds at analogous proportions or intervals. One medieval response to a wife in one of Juvenal’s satires blended sensory expectations: ‘Thus when the song is neglected it shall be harsh, inept / It is perceived by the ear as having more aloe than honey.’¹04 Smell could also discern a dishonest apothecary, for ‘when [aloen aculabin, a species of aloe] is torn and rubbed between the fingers, it releases a most foul smell, which is not found in the [preferred] hepatic or cicotrin varieties.’¹05 Costly and imported, spices and aromatics ranked among jewels and valuables, available only to the economically privileged. This rarity conveyed cultural values, but peasants likewise engaged ‘ugly’ smells. Much peasant lore ‘seems to glory in mud, filth and excrement’, writes the historian Roy Porter, which should not be mistaken for ‘uncivilized’ but rather as reflective of a ‘value-system’ where dirt served as a kind of natural protection to aid health and warmth.¹06 Another medieval practice involved wrapping babies in opiates to ward off bad dreams. Less-than-pleasant smells like incense and smoke permeated medieval cathedrals. As olfactory expectations were manipulated with other senses, they blended aesthetic and moral attributes to shape cultural practices that might otherwise have been considered ‘ugly’. Blending senses can be less pharmacological than physiological when the experience of synaesthesia provokes ugly sensations. Synaesthesia occurs when senses seem to conflate, such as when a sound evokes a colour. While synaesthetes often describe this sensation as pleasant (and aesthetically influential, credited by a range 153


of writers and artists, including Vladimir Nabokov and Spencer Finch), it can be ugly when a stimulus produces an adverse response. Words might taste like cigarette smoke or sour milk, or have ugly colours, or be incongruent, as when the name of ‘a boring person’ uncomfortably bears ‘a vibrant, exciting hue’.¹07 Smell is complexly entwined with taste, so even without synaesthesia, both senses affect each other. When an infection develops in a person’s sinuses, foods may smell and taste ‘ugly’, metallic or rotting. Smells like paint thinner and second-hand smoke can trigger migraines. Smell is constantly negotiating threatening circumstances. As biologist Gordon Shepherd reports, the nose often inhales air that is ‘highly contaminated with bacteria from fecal material, decaying animal and plant material, and noxious fumes from the environment, all of which attack the olfactory epithelium’.¹08 The eyes, ears and skin may be covered with masks or clothing to ward off threatening sensory permeations, but ugly smells can seep through. Closing our eyes and ears, turning our sensory radar away from sight and sound, smell has been associated with a range of times and places: not only as warning or pleasure, but with sacred vapours that may have intoxicated seers at the ancient Greek oracle of Delphi, or other inhaled or ingested hallucinatory substances. The neurologist Oliver Sacks has described how a combination of drugs can lead to a heightened sense of smell.¹09 Some scents, like chloroform, have bordered on ugly when overdosed. Other smells have been used to ward off threatening forces, like the infamous example of garlic for vampires. Philosopher Karl Wilhelm Friedrich Schlegel placed ‘putrid’ in the same category as ‘demoniac’.¹¹0 As smells start to be synthesized (like an iPhone adaptor that coordinates an alarm clock with the release of an artificial scent of bacon), our olfactory horizon expands but also arguably contracts. As occurred with nineteenth-century perfumes, the personal customization of scent pushes sensory experience into an affected and narcissistic state, where ‘ugly’ associations verge on olfactory kitsch. George Orwell famously wrote that ‘smell’ is ‘the real secret of class distinctions in the West’.¹¹¹ In his series titled One Third, the Viennese photographer Klaus Pichler turns his photographic lens 154

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Katsushika Hokusai, A Samurai in a Latrine; Outside, His Three Attendants Hold Their Noses, 1834, coloured woodcut.

towards consumption by portraying decaying food, hoping to draw attention to the waste of one-third of the world’s food. Letting food decompose in his house (including chicken and octopus), he and his family had to ‘coexist with the rotting food’ to deepen his connection to the project and tie it to a household. ‘If you look at 155


[the photos]’, he said, ‘then you begin to think about your own consumer behavior.’¹¹² Ugly smells abound but may be culturally circumvented. Public assistance housing is often built near a region’s more polluted and putrid environments, like waste treatment plants. It seems important to recognize the different ways that we manipulate and divert ‘ugly’ smells and senses. An overriding ‘aesthetics of immaculateness’ can shun elements of decay to the point of denying human vulnerability and mortality.¹¹³ Efforts can also upset evolved ecological balances. Medical studies suggest that allergies in children have risen because over-hygienic parental practices limit children’s exposures to a range of environments that help develop healthy immune responses. Other circumstances encourage approaching rather than avoiding ‘ugly’ scents. People may find it gross when animals smell each other’s genitals, but the acute sense of smell in dogs allows them to distinguish between healthy and ill states, not only in other dogs but in humans who may emit odours resulting from chemical shifts that occur during the onset of epileptic seizures, cancer or post-traumatic stress disorder (ptsd) attacks. Smell includes not only odours that we emit but those that we smell from broader ecosystems. These odours affect our body’s evolving chemical composition: what we smell, what we consume and what threatens to consume us.

Ugly Taste: Are You What You Eat?

Invisible to the human eye, medieval gaki ( Japanese for ‘hungry ghosts’) trolled through the world in a state of perpetual hunger and thirst. Leeching off humans and other sources, they represented an intermediary realm of medieval Japanese and Chinese Buddhism. In twelfth-century Japan a range of picture scrolls depicted various tales with ugly realms: from the Jigoku zōshi (Scroll of Hell) to the Yami no sōshi (Scroll of Diseases and Deformities) to the Gaki zōshi (Scroll of Hungry Ghosts).¹¹4 Gaki served as memento mori, insidious reminders to act charitably or risk being tormented 156

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by pain in later lives. While visible as depicted in scrolls, gaki survived invisibly, marked by their hunger. Twisted mouths and needle-thin necks made it impossible for them to swallow food to fill their protruding bellies, so they reputedly licked cemetery water or attempted to consume food that exploded in flames. Bad karma led them to suffer for past offences, as insatiable hunger devoured these living dead. Hungry ghosts re-emerged in other guises over the centuries, most recently in a Japanese video game bearing that name, reviving voracious ugly appetites that cannot be quenched. Ugly appetites differ from ugly tastes but blur associations, as receptor regions in the mouth, tongue and brain interrelate with hungers of the stomach and digestive organs. Entwined with smell, taste surpasses the basic range of sweet, sour, bitter, salt and savoury umami. Taste also doubles in the cultural imagination as aesthetic judgement that reflects larger cultural tastes. As Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin famously wrote in The Physiology of Taste (1825), ‘Tell me what you eat, and I shall tell you what you are.’¹¹5 Following this culinary diagnostic to extremes, ugly tastes might encompass eating disorders of excess and deprivation, from obesity to anorexia. Competitive eating has been called ‘an ugly sport’. Ugly tastes also suggest appetites beyond food, including insatiable sexual acts, and consumptions that overlap with illness. The disease of consumption

Anonymous handscroll depicting ‘Hungry Ghosts’ (Gaki zōshi), late 12th century, colour on paper.



historically referred to tuberculosis, allegedly consuming a body due to bad air. Prevailing notions of consumption also border on commercial realms, as with consumers who follow advertising trends to voraciously purchase products. Such behaviours characterize ‘The Ugly Consumer’, as one website identified participants in the ‘Spectacle of Black Friday’.¹¹6 Not all of these ‘ugly’ associations directly relate to taste, but the range mingles an array of culinary and cultural metaphors into the palatal sense. Ugly tastes can require a suspension of disbelief in culinary history. The Huffington Post and other venues have boasted paradoxical titles like ‘Ugly Foods That Taste Amazing’ or ‘Ugly but Tasty’.¹¹7 The only food that actually includes the word ‘ugly’ – the ugli fruit – allegedly got its name from its shrivelled appearance, which resembles a tangelo, and not from its taste. Ugliness has been adopted as a positive trait by a Portuguese food cooperative, Fruta Feia, to encourage consumers not to pass over unattractive produce and thus reduce food waste.¹¹8 Discussions of ugly taste also arise superficially when a foreigner faces unfamiliar cultural cuisine. Some tastes that recur among ‘ugly’ meals include Scottish haggis (a mix of sheep innards cooked within the casing of its stomach), British black pudding (made with congealed animal blood), Filipino balut (duck embryo boiled in its shell) and Australian Vegemite (paste made from leftover yeast extract). These foods hardly taste ugly within their native contexts, but recontextualized in foreign terms, they end up as mock feasts. ‘Reactions to it have evoked a range of responses from awful, yuck, ugly, and bitter, to being described as roach bait and Black Death’, wrote one Australian blogger about Vegemite, affectionately contextualizing the food through a cultural disclaimer.¹¹9 As our global population overwhelms the planet’s resources, it has been projected that bugs will become our future source of protein.¹²0 Reality television shows like Fear Factor capitalize on ugly tastes for entertainment purposes, daring contestants to eat bugs, dirt or excrement, to name just a few recipes for repugnance. Shows have gone to such extremes that some segments have been deemed ‘too ugly’ for television audiences, as when two young women were asked to drink beer steins of donkey semen and ended 158

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up chugging a cocktail of their own vomit. ‘Dude, it tastes so much worse than it looks’, said another contestant asked to eat cow brains.¹²¹ Consumed both physically and commercially, the shock factor capitalizes on ugly tastes. Ribald entertainment around ugly tastes is hardly new. The ancient Roman emperor Commodus allegedly hosted a private party where he served two hunchbacks on a silver platter smeared with mustard.¹²² Since rubbing the hump of a hunchback was considered good luck, any guest who engaged in the ugly and demeaning meal may have desired good fortune while being implicated in the humiliation. An anecdote from ‘The Life of Commodus’ described his other consumptive habits, including mixing human excrement with expensive foods before tasting them. ‘Fake dinners’ were a related tradition. The ancient emperor Elagabalus occasionally served his guests food resembling his own meals but made of inedible material like wax, wood, ivory or earthenware. Ugly feasts and figures like these became ‘transgressive’ and ‘interstitial’, according to

Louis-Léopold Boilly after F.-S. Delpech, A Group of Deformed Men Force One of Their Number to Vomit in a Bowl, 1823, coloured lithograph.



classicist Lisa Trentin, as they ‘crossed the boundary between monster and man, considered at once filthy and filthy rich’.¹²³ The linking of ‘ugly’ and ‘transgressive’ recurs throughout history: from the carnival-like world of François Rabelais’ Gargantua and Pantagruel to contemporary critiques around art and the culture wars.¹²4 Slinging the claim of ‘ugly’ can make the slinger appear ugly, as with a recent contributor to the crowdsourced Urban Dictionary who defined ‘vegan’ as ‘stupid and ugly’, proposing: ‘Since vegans don’t like animals being slaughtered for my burgers, we should start slaughtering vegans and making my burgers out of them.’¹²5 The verbal assaults fling muck in both directions, referring less to figures than to behaviours that seem to threaten certain cultural habits. What cannot be culturally digested ends up expelled as verbal vomit.¹²6 Culinary ugliness mixes deep in the annals of art history, cooking up more ‘ugly’ connotations. In the fourteenth century, works like Cennino Cennini’s Treatise on Painting included utensils and processes shared by painters and cooks.¹²7 In the seventeenth century, Claude Lorrain (born Gellée) transitioned easily from making pastries to pictures because of similar instruments and processes. As the domains of painting and cuisine overlapped, they acquired a shared vocabulary (Frédérique Desbuissons has identified about 100 words in French) but increasingly veered towards craft; so a poor painter was thought to follow a recipe: ‘nothing more than a good cook’.¹²8 Critiques of ugliness revealed conflicting notions of the value of both art and cuisine. A ‘tasty subject’ suggested something popular and obscene as vulgar gossip. By the latter half of the nineteenth century ‘culinary ugliness was a critical motif, the primary expression of the death of painting after illness and dirt.’¹²9 The overlap between sensory domains not only signified death but brewed new meanings around life. Artistically speaking, insults referred less to represented subjects than to an artwork’s quality of execution and materiality. Blended or amorphous foods (like sauces, omelettes, cheeses and stews) often served as the bases for derogatory metaphors and puns. Nineteenth-century art criticism also echoed contempt for sugar, 160

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Claude Monet, Waterloo Bridge, London, at Sunset, 1904, oil on canvas.

considered a regressive taste of women and children. The Impressionist painter Claude Monet was accused of being a confiseur (‘confectioner’) of landscapes.¹³0 With material considerations, oil paintings literally and figuratively threatened to decay, so rot became a critical risk. Gustave Courbet’s call for artists to depict scenes from everyday life, including subjects like peasants and labourers, was considered ‘ugly’ in the sense of too real for audiences.¹³¹ Writing of Manet’s work, Paul de Saint-Victor wrote ‘the crowd presses up to the putrefied Olympia as if it were at the morgue’, and Albert Wolff derided Renoir’s Female Torso as a ‘mass of decomposing flesh’.¹³² In some way, these critiques presaged the morgue-like putrefactions and decomposing flesh of twentieth-century works by artists like Joel-Peter Witkin, Damien Hirst and Andres Serrano, who used human and animal corpses as materials for artworks. Ugly tastes refer not only to solids but to liquids that call to mind processes like putrefaction, disintegration, decomposition and deliquescence. Gestures of liquidity found new expressive forms through nineteenth-century art movements from Impressionism to Decadence. Within French salons, visitors worried about ‘ugly’ paintings that could corrupt viewers, earning artists like Eugène 161


Delacroix and Édouard Manet the nickname of ‘The Apostle of Ugliness’.¹³³ Towards the turn of the twentieth century, art criticism increasingly engaged physiological rhetoric, where some decadent artworks were regarded both positively and negatively as ‘sick’ and ‘dirty’ with ‘disease of form’.¹³4 Following debates about Gustav Klimt’s artwork, in 1902 the German art critic Carl Justi derogatorily identified a ‘form fatigue’ and even ‘form hate’ in the visual and applied arts, highlighting Impressionism and Symbolism and ‘an urge towards the Amorphous . . . towards the Unformed and Ugly’ that become legible ‘from the consistent selection of improper forms that contradict the object’s nature’.¹³5 He interpreted such liquid states as physically and morally degenerating forms, which threatened to move beyond aesthetic considerations into life. Art offered degrees of ugliness, as Justi wrote: This is not, as with Bosch, Hogarth, or Goya, the amusing ugliness of exaggeration or of thoughtful satire, or the grotesque of a waking dream: it is a physiognomically empty ugliness, lacking any meaning and purpose, an ugliness for its own sake, with disgust occasionally forcing back the effect of derision and ridiculousness.¹³6

For Justi a lack of purpose became both cause and effect of ugliness that devolved into meaningless, derivative terrain. At the same time he credited artistic engagements with ugliness – by Bosch, Hogarth, Goya – that anticipated positive aesthetic critiques, like Parry’s analysis of ‘ugly’ music or Greenberg’s consideration of ‘ugly’ painting. As artists continued to embrace ugliness, metaphors of taste did not dissolve. In his essay ‘On the Question of Form’ (1912), Wassily Kandinsky encouraged ugliness by claiming that traditional understandings of beauty and harmony had become stale, offering ‘no new food’.¹³7 If food provided sustenance for the body, ugliness provided sustenance to art. The Futurist Cookbook (1932) elevated this sensibility to extremes by presenting impossible meals that insulted the senses to awake aesthetics from complacency. For instance, ‘Aerofood’ involved serving a diner kumquats, fennel hearts 162

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and black olives to be eaten with the right hand, while the left hand stroked sandpaper, silk and velvet, as waiters sprayed perfume surrounded by sounds of a plane motor and ‘dismusica’ by Bach.¹³8 Art and literature fed off mutual influences, and the poet Ezra Pound defended a ‘delineation of ugliness’ in ‘The Serious Artist’ (1913), likening ‘the cult of beauty’ to ‘hygiene’ and ‘cure’ and ‘the cult of ugliness’ to ‘diagnosis’.¹³9 Something afflicted society and needed to be examined, even satirized analogously to ‘surgery, insertions and amputations’. As investigators mixed artistic and cultural concerns, ugliness mustered an array of followers who would stir up more ‘ugly’ associations in decades to come.¹40 When an ‘ugly’ taste is perceived by a taster or cook as having a larger purpose, its unpleasant or revolting qualities may retreat behind an aesthetically, ethically or intellectually justified shield. Some early anthropological studies of cannibalism identified positive motivations to eat part of an ancestor or enemy in order to acquire their virtues or neutralize their power, or to save the dead from being digested by worms.¹4¹ During times of poverty in the medieval period, breads made of impure flour mixtures dazed and drugged entire communities, at times with fatal consequences. Tastetested urine, blood and even ground human skull aided medical diagnosis. Eating dirt (a condition known as pica or geophagy) reputedly arose from a need to acquire nutritional minerals, with higher numbers of cases identified among pregnant women. Ugly tastes also contributed to personal quests for knowledge. Dr William Buckland (1784–1856), the first professor of geology at the University of Oxford, studied fossilized dung and set out to taste everything from dung to a bluebottle fly to a puppy to a garden snail to, anecdotally, the heart of a king. Buckland did not consider these tastes ugly, but a different story survives in the annals of history: ‘The disgust that we feel, therefore, when we are forced to consider a meal of bluebottle, or for that matter the human consumption of a human heart’, writes journalist Hugh Aldersey Williams, ‘is based entirely on culture rather than nature’.¹4² Culturally tied to etymology, ‘ugly’ tastes grow out of what is ‘feared or dreaded’. 163


J. R. Smith, after Henry Fuseli, Shakespeare’s Macbeth: The Three Witches (The Weird Sisters), 1785, mezzotint.

At the base of ugly tastes lies a modern fear about human organic matter that can be consumed. Billions of bacteria inhabit humans, keeping the body’s ecosystem in check. An infection like flesh-eating bacteria can start to devour the body itself. A constant cycle of prey and predator maintains biological checks and balances in the larger world, which is threatened as increasing numbers of species border on extinction, giving rise to cries to save ugliness. Endangered polar bears may be a popular poster child, but an article in Scientific American lobbied: ‘Zoo Illogical: Ugly Animals Need Protection from Extinction, Too.’¹4³ Ecological and economic consumption denies human vulnerability and interdependence with other species. As fears project into surreal realms, ugliness also takes on mythic proportions, solidifying archetypes around goodness and evil, beauty and ugliness, lives and afterlives. Beyond hungry ghosts, popular media portray vampires and aliens that threaten to prey on humans. The lore of banshees and hags hovers at cultural thresholds, like Macbeth’s witches brewing a cauldron of human and animal parts. The ugly motif of eating humans recurs across cultural landscapes: from 164

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ancient Greek tragedies like Aeschylus’ Oresteia, to ancient MesoAmerican practices of human sacrifice, to Germanic fairy tales like Hansel and Gretel, to Goya’s reimagination of Saturn Devouring His Son, to the Donner Party. Taste may not have been the exact issue (rumour has it that human meat tastes like chicken), but tale after tale retells how devouring another human seems to be the ultimate ugly consumption. When the body starts to transgress its own borders, a hyper-negotiation of ugliness touches upon humanity’s construction of itself.

Ugly Touch: Do Not Touch?

Of all the senses perhaps the most potentially transgressive – as in, ‘carrying across’ – is touch. Touch permeates all the other senses, since skin represents the border between exterior and interior realms. Each organ is essentially an extension of skin. Seeing, hearing, smelling and eating extend feeling and tactility. Touch brings immediacy to ugliness. Touch does not merely observe, hear or even smell beyond bounds but crosses the line and engages. Its connotations hover around ‘injury’, which philosopher Elaine Scarry defines as the true opposite of ‘beauty’.¹44 Ugly touch can stain, infect, abuse or violate. Motivations may be culturally discouraged but, in other contexts, permitted and even encouraged by peers. Ugly touch can be as deep as environmental fracking or skin cutting, as superficial as spilled food or outdated fashion.¹45 This breadth moves ‘ugly’ touch beyond fingers and hands to involve the entire human body. Fashion offers a shape-shifting aspect of ugly touch. Covering many parts of the body, clothes have touched many humans in ugly ways. Beyond serving a functional purpose (such as for climate considerations or professional attire), fashion can derive from aesthetic exploration or cultural tradition. On the surface ugly fashion calls attention through sight, as in popularized accounts around Hollywood’s Academy Awards that name nominees for ‘Oscar Dresses That Were Downright Ugly’, where winners look ‘like a 165


Bavarian beermaid gone bad’ or ‘an old lady who was attacked by birds’.¹46 Ugly touch can extend to tactile discomforts like sweatiness, itchiness or stickiness. Women tend to bear ‘ugly’ labels of fashion, and modelling careers have become almost synonymous with eating disorders and body modifications that require touch: from breast implants and tummy tucks, to bulimia and Botox. Eighteenthand nineteenth-century corsets reputedly deformed internal organs and ribs. Fashions rose and fell according to varied cultural and class customs. In 1860, the textile manufacturer Courtaulds required its workers to avoid ‘ugly fashion’: ‘The present ugly fashion of hoops or crinolines’ is ‘quite unfitted for the work of our Factories . . . We now request our hands at all Factories to leave Hoop and Crinoline at Home.’¹47 Despite the cultural popularity of these fashions, one wonders about the difficulty of wearing hoop skirts in a factory, whether the ballooning shapes may have caused some ugly accidents. From head to foot, ugly fashions encompass more than clothing. Hair can be as ‘ugly’ as unwashed, out of style, badly arranged or dyed, yielding a ‘bad hair day’ or infected with lice. Lack of hair can also bare ugly connotations, topped off by an ‘ugly’ wig or toupee. Originally considered attractive but acquiring ugly connotations, foot-binding broke the feet of Chinese women over centuries. First recorded in the tenth century, the tradition mangled the feet of young girls to resemble hooves small enough to fit into artisanal shoes. While the practice may have persisted, its reception changed and pushed the practitioner herself into the category of ‘ugly’. The change in the twentieth century had a ‘perverse side effect’, according to literary scholar Wang Ping, as husbands abandoned wives who had bound their feet in order to be marriageable but who then fell out of fashion.¹48 Other customs lasted centuries and provoked ‘ugly’ considerations. In Japan the practice of teeth blackening, known as ohaguro or kane, reputedly arose in the households of samurai warriors, associated with status and nobility, to conceal the animal nature of white teeth and seal them from decay, while paradoxically appearing to rot. This rotting veneer may have served as an early protection to discourage enemies from raping their wives and children.¹49 166

Woman putting on a wig, c. late 19th century, colour lithograph.


Cosmetics comprise a special category of ugly touch, not only in their application but in their ingredients. Chemical concerns were noted in The Ugly-girl Papers; or, Hints for the Toilet by Susan Dunning Power (1874) based on an advice column in Harper’s Bazaar. Identifying carbonate of ammonia and powdered charcoal as ‘two simple chemicals [that] should appear on every toilet-table’, the author warned that ‘some simple aperient [i.e., laxative] must not be omitted, or the charcoal will remain in the system, a mass of festering poison.’¹50 Toxic concerns permeated cosmetic history. Ancient Egyptian cosmetics contained poisons like arsenic and lead, and mercury was a base ingredient of make-up across centuries. ‘The long-term effect of rubbing in these toxic chemicals does not bear thinking about’, writes Angus Trumble in considering the history of the smile, ‘and it is hardly surprising that by comparison nightingale droppings offered a welcome alternative when, in the 1870s, the poisonous properties of lead and mercury were finally understood’.¹5¹ Even as cultural techniques of beautification claimed to ward off ugly effects, the health risks for the sake of beauty seemed worth the gamble. More recent health risks, from tanning to smoking to plastic surgery, provoke similar debates.

Illustration from William Henry Flower, Fashion in Deformity: As Illustrated in the Customs of Barbarous and Civilized Races (1881).


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Perceptions of the same object can shift over time, but a designation of ‘ugly’ suggests less about any particular body than its cultural context. In 1881, William Henry Flower devoted an entire book to Fashion in Deformity, drawing upon ‘Customs of Barbarous and Civilised Races’ to focus on ‘alterations or deformities . . . performed, not by isolated individuals . . . but by considerable numbers of members of a community, simply in imitation of one another’.¹5² The close historical association between deformity and ugliness carried an implied connotation. Flower’s identification of ‘deformity’ recalls other period examinations of ugliness, performed by a group rather than an individual and judged in relative terms, even cast in a positive light. Aiming for global consciousness within his own cultural parochialism, he cited tactile practices by cultural groups from America to Peru to China to conclude: ‘it would be well to pause to consider whether we are sure that our judgment is sound on the subject’ – of an ornamental nose-peg, or plug in a lip, or distended ears, or blackened teeth or flattened head – ‘and then let us carefully ask ourselves whether we are sure that in leaving nature as a standard of the beautiful, and adopting a purely conventional one, we are not falling into an error exactly similar to that of all these people whose tastes we are so ready to condemn’.¹5³ Identifying varied practices as ‘deformed’, he questions his own cultural judgements about body modification, participating in a debate that continues to this day, when stakes change as varied ‘deformities’ are deliberately appropriated. Body modifications have left a strong mark on the cultural history of ugliness. With the earliest evidence dating from over 30,000 years ago, cave paintings of handprints and ochre deposits overlapped a tradition of bodies ornamented by painting, tattooing, scarification or cicatrization (where substances are rubbed into scars to produce raised patterns). Contemporary groups from cyberpunks to ‘modern primitives’ have engaged different body modifications to subvert mainstream cultural practices.¹54 The word ‘primitive’ implies ‘outside history’ and has accrued varied meanings beyond its original connotation, including the modern art movement of Primitivism. ‘Neo-tribal’ and ‘exotic’ appropriations 169


have been rooted less in ancestral traditions and geared more towards self-reinvention. These practices can arise from a ‘myth of nonlocatedness’, writes the sociologist Victoria Pitts, from a belief that ‘traditional social constraints and technological limits all have been surpassed in postmodern culture’, as if ‘we are now individually free to choose our identities, bodies, and cultural affiliations.’¹55 At the same time commercial aspects can set up ‘processes of re-colonization’ that reinscribe ‘exotic’ figures to make their cultural identities available for consumption. ‘Ugly aspects of Western tourism’ have arisen when tourists pay natives in New Guinea and elsewhere to pose for photographs, transforming social interactions into profit-making enterprises.¹56 For an exhibit on Body Art: Marks of Identity in 2000, the American Museum of Natural History hosted a gift shop where visitors could buy chocolate tattoos, tribal face paint and other items that paradoxically expressed ‘some of the consumerizing, fetishizing, and trivializing tendencies that the exhibit’s focus on the politics of representation sought to critique’.¹57 Such cultural exhibitionism can be ‘disturbing’ in ways that recall ethnic displays at world fairs of the nineteenth century, bleeding into freakery. As ugliness moves through different cultural contexts, body modifications themselves matter less than what they signify. Whether as acts of cultural allegiance or defiance, these displays contextualize both the marked and mark-maker within a larger history that calls attention back to questions about who and what is qualified as ‘ugly’. Alongside cultural performances, perceptions come into relief when performing bodies renegotiate different periods and spaces. In her essay on ‘The Dancer of the Future’ (c. 1902), Isadora Duncan wrote of how the revered art of ballet deformed a beautiful woman’s body: under the skirts, under the tricots are dancing deformed muscles . . . underneath the muscles are deformed bones. A deformed skeleton is dancing before you . . . through incorrect dress and incorrect movement.¹58


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Duncan, the ‘mother of modern dance’, identified ugliness as unnatural and unhealthy bodily manipulation, attempting to free both the dancer and viewer. At the same time she indirectly neglected another aesthetic constraint by naming the Venus de Milo an ‘ideal’ body. Disregarding the statue’s broken parts, including missing arms, Duncan assumed a viewer would flesh out absences or accept the body as not deformed: an irony when none of her fellow contemporary dancers lacked these physical features. Touching a broken statue, like a conservator, approaches a cultural question of what should be ‘fixed’. Rather than recast missing limbs or fill broken parts, current practice frowns upon trying to artificially replace appendages or conceal scars. Early efforts to restore the classical Hope Hygeia arose at a time when broken statues were considered ‘ugly’, adding a missing right arm, left hand and other parts later removed by conservators in efforts of derestoration.¹59 The prior restorations caused damage when adding missing appendages, taking an invasive approach retroactively deemed ‘ugly’. The British art critic Waldemar Januszczak compared Britain’s ‘cleaning’ of Greece’s Elgin Marbles in the 1930s to a ‘skinning’ by an ‘unscrupulous’ and ‘satanic’ dealer as one of many instances of ‘the art market’s ugly head’.¹60 Many would argue that calling the Parthenon Marbles the ‘Elgin Marbles’ is itself ‘ugly’, by giving credence to Elgin’s ownership rather than framing it as cultural theft. Ugliness arises differently across cultural institutions. Among libraries, ‘U’ refers to ‘Ugly’ to indicate ‘worn beyond repair’ in the acronym mustie: a formula devised to review and weed out old books.¹6¹ As organic materials animate artworks and literally bleed across human borders, more recent concerns arise around the appropriation of ugliness. To borrow the words of critic Roger Kimball in 1997, one superficial criticism maintains that ‘the rule seems to be: When in doubt, just add bodily fluids or waste products. It’s almost as if we believe art must be unpleasant to be good – the more unpleasant the better.’¹6² A number of contemporary artists have integrated the materiality of the body in ways that might be called ‘ugly’ as they blur the bounds between art and life: from blood 171


(Marc Quinn and Phil Hansen) to urine (Andres Serrano and Helen Chadwick) to excrement (Piero Manzoni and Chris Ofili) to corpses ( Joel-Peter Witkin and Damien Hirst) to transgenic and bio-art (Eduardo Kac and Stelarc). The seeming sensationalism of human-based materials can threaten interpreters, as concepts and materials gain attention through shock, like books bound in human skin. After the Sensation exhibition of 1997 (comprised of the collection of Charles Saatchi) rocked the Royal Academy in London, it moved to the Brooklyn Museum of Art in 1999 with a disclaimer that anticipated reactions to its artworks as ‘ugly’: Health Warning. The contents of this exhibition may cause shock, vomiting, confusion, panic, euphoria, and anxiety. If you suffer from high blood pressure, a nervous disorder, or palpitations, you should consult your doctor before viewing this exhibition.¹6³

The exhibit’s perceived threat arose mainly from its concept and materials, arguably more tactile than visual. When some critics derided the elephant dung used in Ofili’s Holy Virgin Mary, a vandal smeared paint on the canvas, touching and defacing its ‘blasphemousness’.¹64 Another target of vandalism included Marcus Harvey’s Myra, a mosaic made of children’s handprints that reproduced the portrait of a convicted child serial killer, Myra Hindley. Curated to become a legendary controversy, Sensation garnered public and commercial attention through interplays of critical cries haunted by and taunting ugly touch. My point here is not to argue how ugliness succeeds as art. Rather, I am interested in this trend that identifies ugliness that simultaneously pushes past the cult of beauty (bolstered by theorists like Dave Hickey, Arthur Danto and others) while raising questions about culture. At opposite extremes, ‘ugliness’ becomes a rallying cry and endpoint dismissal. Writing in 2010 about work by Damien Hirst (another artist featured in the Sensation exhibition, labelled by Kimball as an ‘art-world freak’¹65), art critic Jonathan Jones wrote in the Guardian: 172

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Bad art is ugly art, in the end. Whatever language we might prefer to use, it all comes down to beauty and ugliness. Hirst’s ideas seemed to me once to possess an intellectual and emotional beauty – and their own physical beauty, too. Now everything he does is ugly, ugly, ugly, and it adds to the world’s already copious stores of junk.¹66

Moving between artist studios and exhibition sites, auction houses and design studios, ugliness in art takes on a commercial cachet and almost totemic power, as its meaning shifts, sticks and shifts again. Reflecting trends in postmodern design, Stephen Heller has lambasted ‘the cult of the ugly’ and claimed that visual rebellion resulted in ‘stylistic mannerisms’ and experimental ‘extremism’ that gave rise to ‘fashionable ugliness as a form of nihilistic expression’.¹67 Hygienic and moral concerns tie into dimensions of handling and touching, so that Fernando Botero describes his oil paintings of Abu Ghraib as ‘painting out the poison’.¹68 Tactility arises throughout history in ways that redefine ‘ugly’ objects. In 1890, the artist Paul Gauguin wrote that ‘Ugliness is a burning issue, it is the touchstone of our modern art and its criticism.’¹69 When Matisse’s work was first shown in Chicago and called ‘ugly’, art students made and burned an effigy of his Blue Nude in front of the Art Institute – the same museum that mounted a major retrospective of his work in 2010.¹70 From classic to contemporary, high to low art (like Boston’s Museum of Bad Art), valuations of art call for re-evaluations of culture.¹7¹ As artists and critics alike reach across varied ‘ugly’ lines, the more defiant ones echo a satire about a nineteenth-century painter of animals, who reputedly said: ‘I’m not afraid of getting my hands in there.’¹7² Ugly touch does not always carry negative connotations. In sixteenth-century Europe, it was believed that touching an executed corpse could heal diseases.¹7³ Across history some objects considered ‘ugly’ bore apotropaic functions or could be activated by interaction through rituals combined with dance or song. In some Lega art, participatory handling wears down the surface of objects but also enriches them with communal hand oils.¹74 For the annual 173


Hindu festival of Durga Puja, the goddess is sculpted from dirt, straw and clay from the banks of the holy Ganges River, blurring the bounds ‘between who or what is considered clean or dirty’.¹75 A Taiwanese Boat Burning Festival involves building a large wooden boat, parading it around town to collect bad luck and illness, then igniting it in flames.¹76 Sometimes ugly touch becomes a method of economy, a way to make a living: from garbage collecting to sewer scavenging to gleaning to other tactile activities that may rank among the ‘world’s dirtiest jobs’ (as showcased by a television series called Dirty Jobs). These engagements may encounter surfaces that feel slimy, rough, jagged, unwashed, bumpy, oozing and a range of other unpleasant tactile sensations, uncomfortably coupled with some form of sustenance. The ugliness of forced labour, poverty and other social forces seeps beneath the surface. When ugliness degenerates towards dirtier connotations, one wonders whether this trend is ‘untested by the rest of life’ or whether it is so overwhelmed by life that it has nowhere to go but to be reduced to a primordial ooze, making us question our cultural origins and marrow: where we have come from, what we are made of, where we might go.¹77 Shock and death are not new motifs in art, as artworks like Frans Snyders’ Still-life with Dead Game, Fruits, and Vegetables in a Market (1614) and Rembrandt van Rijn’s Slaughtered Ox (1655) presage the corpses of Hirst and Serrano.¹78 As varied aesthetic and cultural lines are crossed, ugliness moves beyond modifier to modified, more noun than adjective, verging on a verb that again will shift its associations to activate dormant perceptions. When nineteenth-century critics derided Impressionist art as ‘decomposing flesh’, they drew on a repertoire of corporeal and cultural analogies based in ugly touch that straddled the bounds of life and death. Gravediggers and undertakers handled the dead, as did earlier surgeons and anatomists like Andreas Vesalius, who defied religious strictures by digging up corpses of criminals to dissect and understand the human form for medical purposes. When the fictive Dr Frankenstein exhumed criminal corpses to cobble together his monster, the creature was handled, dissected, stitched and reanimated. His story battled out debates about class, gender, 174

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‘Consumption by Birds and Animals’, sixth in a series of nine anonymous 18th-century watercolour paintings, The Death of a Noble Lady and the Decay of Her Body.

race, science and other issues that transgressed categories. From fiction to film, the very name of Frankenstein became synonymous with maker and monster (described as ‘scaring and unearthly in his ugliness’), as the two figures chased these questions and one another to the ends of the earth.¹79 Since touch engages the material world, it helps to actualize an otherwise abstract concept like ugliness. The wide range of engagements opens up new ways of thinking about ugliness in the context of a broader world. As the architect Juhani Pallasmaa writes, ‘All the senses, including vision, are extensions of the tactile sense.’¹80 Gardeners, farmers and others who dig into dirt do not consider it ‘dirty’ (with uglier, corrupting connotations) but rather as life-giving nourishment for plant and animal life. Asymmetric preferences permeate gardening aesthetics, from the wandering paths of Japanese gardens to more wild English gardens. Ugliness serves as a reminder of natural cycles, as bodies decompose to dirt. Ugly touch ties into larger attitudes and fears about borders, stains and contaminations that cross cultural lines and threaten to permanently change us. 175


Ugly touch can prove catastrophic but also can assuage fears, as a child cuddles an Uglydoll to ward off bad dreams.

Sixth Sense: Feeling Is Believing?

Imagine a bad dream: a dilapidated building, cracked concrete steps that cause you to trip and tumble down to your knees beneath smashed windows as a chill seeps into your skin, a place reeking from urine amid screaming police sirens. Now imagine your favourite place, perhaps your home, the warmth of a hallway leading to the kitchen, the smell of your favourite dinner and the sound of music playing, a loved one’s voice calling your name, whatever pleasant sensations arise with revived memories. Both imaginary buildings are clichés but suggest something through their contrast. They embody constructed cultural experiences, neither static nor inert. Sensory borders constantly overlap and aggregate into general impressions. Beyond synaesthesia, the five senses work together in ways that cannot be compartmentalized, although this chapter artificially divides them into ugly sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. In De Anima (Of the Soul) Aristotle classified five senses and sensory organs, but experience suggests more, as each sense relies on more than one organ. Sound moves beyond ears to vibrations through the body. Touch functions beyond fingers across the entire surface of the skin. Looking beyond hearing beyond smelling beyond tasting beyond touching. Current medical research adds extra senses of balance, temperature, proprioception and pain. Buddhist tradition claims six senses and sense organs – including thought, from the organ of the mind – where each sense creates a reality, where contact with an object prompts interpretations that spur stories around the encountered sight, sound, smell, taste, touch or thought.¹8¹ Steeped in cultural contexts, interpretations of sensory encounters can reinforce or revise cultural histories. Like sensory experiences, interpretations create a reality that may seem true but in part is culturally constructed. ‘Just as we 176

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believe, on the basis of modern science, that the world is filled with bacteria and viruses’, writes the art historian John Clark, ‘so the Romans believed that demons surrounded them’.¹8² A more innocuous example leads a person from being unaware of a book on a shelf, to starting to notice it, then moving through space to make contact. We start to tell a story around our encounter with the book that leads to an interpretation of its contents, coloured by culture. Or to speak more directly: when you picked up this book, its ‘ugliness’ likely conjured a variety of connotations – like one acquaintance who shared an anecdote from a game of Pictionary when she had to draw the word ‘ugly’ and defaulted to sketching an old woman with a wart. More striking than her drawing a witch was, perhaps, the fact that her fellow players identified that image as ‘ugly’. Many examples could be included. Rather than a collection of case studies, however, I have been interested in tracing the cultural gesture of ugliness that moves beyond ‘ugly’ anomalous individuals and resistant ‘ugly’ groups to break down borders through ‘ugly’ senses that place all human beings into an equal camp, at least to the extent that we all end up decomposing to dirt. Separating physical senses could devolve into a mere mind game that itemizes a tainted or dreaded taxonomy, ever growing and dependent on the eye-ear-nose-mouth-finger of the beholder. Each sensory category could accumulate to ‘ugly’ excess, akin to hoarding, which can turn almost anything ugly. ‘Some have pointed out the monstrosity of the online catalogue’, writes historian Matthew Battles, ‘that grotesque tentacular database which has the capacity to turn even the coolest of scholar-patrons into a gibbering fool’.¹8³ Rather than create an unfinished catalogue like Gustave Flaubert’s Bouvard et Pécuchet (‘an encyclopaedia made into farce’), I have divided ugliness into sensory categories to consider how such engagements do more than uglify our expectations; they connect us with a wider degenerating and regenerating world. My exploration has artificially compartmentalized ‘ugly’ senses like a phrenologist, but the consideration suggests how these categories both fit and resist classification. Sensory indulgence is not out of sympathy with camp, where exaggeration challenges inherited 177


aesthetic judgements. In her famous essay on the subject in the early 1960s, Susan Sontag wrote: Camp taste turns its back on the good-bad axis of ordinary aesthetic judgment. Camp doesn’t reverse things. It doesn’t argue that the good is bad, or the bad is good. What it does is to offer for art (and life) a different – a supplementary set of standards.¹84

While this chapter has not reversed ugliness and beauty, or offered a supplementary set of standards, it has offered a map of changing cultural contexts and broader situations around ‘ugly’ senses that chart widening possibilities for the word’s meaning. A better metaphor than map might be architecture, providing a spatial construct for ugliness, as bodies negotiate constructed contexts. Sensory aspects of architecture echo temporal and spatial associations that link bodies with buildings. The ancient architect Vitruvius famously correlated the human body with architecture.¹85 By the Renaissance, Leonardo’s Vitruvian Man visually embodied the ancient architect’s theories. Mathematically proportionate, the ‘golden mean’ or ‘golden ratio’ helped to structure architectural concepts around beauty and the body, where disproportion suggested ugliness. In many societies orientations of left and right carried symbolisms; among the Pythagorean principles described by Aristotle, right was associated with male, straight, light and good, while left correlated with female, crooked, darkness and evil.¹86 A building’s design could coordinate or divert a body’s encounters with ugliness. The sixteenth-century anatomist Andreas Vesalius described the comparable construction of bodies and buildings to divert ugly elements, like ‘the outflow of the excrement’ in the human body: ‘well away from the senses that reside in the head; similarly in buildings the architects keep the inescapably unpleasant outflows well away from the eyes and nostrils’.¹87 Ugliness seeped into more acceptable architectural conditions. Mannerist architecture like Michelangelo’s sprawling Laurentian staircase connected disparately designed structures against the backdrop of a wider cultural ‘fascination with the misshapen and the 178

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ugly’, where scale and spatial relationships were deliberately confused, moving towards the excess of seventeenth-century Baroque.¹88 As neoclassical attentions revived classical aesthetics, the eighteenth century continued to convolute concepts of beauty and ugliness in art and architecture, as asymmetric lines came into focus, wavering between a ‘line of beauty’ and ‘line of deformity’.¹89 The Romantic period fetishized classical fragments and picturesque ruins, locating analogous crooked and rough features in nature. In The Stones of Venice (c. 1851), John Ruskin investigated ugliness by looking back to the grotesque in Gothic and Renaissance architecture, from its ‘highest flight’ to ‘utmost degradation’, revolting against classical concepts of architectural beauty.¹90 Against the backdrop of industrialism, cities grew into ugly sites and helped to forge an aesthetic ‘cult of ugliness’, to borrow Ezra Pound’s phrase, rendered in art movements like the Ashcan School.¹9¹ After the world wars of the twentieth century and rise and fall of modernist architecture, ugliness became a by-product of attempts to beautify. Although Brutalist buildings are repeatedly criticized as the epitome of architectural ugliness, they rise out of a larger lineage of constructed sensory engagement that can be as placing as it is

Brutalist-designed Lauinger Library at Georgetown University, architect John Carl Warnecke, 1970.



displacing. Criticized in the 1960s as ‘anti-human, repulsive and “brutal” in the sense of subhuman’, Brutalism arose from a range of cultural influences, from Japanese aesthetics to Surrealism.¹9² Practitioners like Alison and Peter Smithson described the movement’s ethos as confronting a ‘distaste of the simulated’ in post-war events, mass production and the growing culture of advertising and marketing, trying instead to express the sensuousness of structure and material: ‘the woodness of wood, the sandiness of sand’.¹9³ Despite more positive aspirations, the insult of ‘subhuman’ paralleled arguments around ugliness. ‘Ugly’ features manifested in other ways in the architectural landscape, from ‘blob’ architecture to suburban sprawl. Decorative kitsch became an aspect that Robin Boyd identified in Australian Ugliness, not unlike the way that Las Vegas became the embodiment of ‘the ugly and the ordinary’, according to Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi.¹94 More variations of ugly architecture have given rise to derivative terminology, from ‘puglies’ to ‘uglyful’ to ‘fugly’.¹95 Harking back to architectural features of ancient apotropaic figures and medieval gargoyles, not to mention encounters with foreign structures, architectural coordinations of ‘ugly’ senses have helped to construct not only ‘ugly’ matters but those bodies who extrapolate meanings while negotiating them in the context of a changing world. For more than a century, revived Western interest in Japanese architecture has encouraged attention to natural materials with aspects of ‘suggestion, irregularity, simplicity, and perishability’.¹96 Aspirations towards opposite qualities create different ‘ugly’ structures, akin to those discouraged by the fourteenth-century Japanese priest Kenkō: ‘A house which multitudes of workmen have polished with every care, where . . . even the bushes and trees of the garden have been trained unnaturally, is ugly.’¹97 Ideally, this chapter’s separation of senses has invited some detachment from familiar cultural conditions, aggregating sensory experiences in alternative contexts, as if moving through an unfamiliar architectural space that is still recognizable as the human body.¹98 To some degree this returns to Mark Cousins’s suggestion of ugliness as ‘matter out of place’ that helps to rework the relationship between 180

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subjects and objects, which by extension can break down the border between ‘us’ and ‘them’. The question remains: is an era without ugliness an era without progress?¹99 Or, to ask another way, is ugliness a cultural quest? Whether cosmic as discord in the Music of the Spheres, or miniscule as an ugly molecule, I am left to ask whether ugliness as a cultural attribute becomes so plain so as to be negligible, ever reproducible or diminishable, or whether it accumulates slowly into an ever-changing ugly mountain, increasingly daunting or tempting to climb.²00


Amy Sillman, Me & Ugly Mountain, 2003, oil on canvas.

Epilogue: Ugly Us: A Cultural Quest?


n 2003, Amy Sillman created a painting entitled Me & Ugly Mountain. The bottom corner of the canvas boasts a small cartoonish figure pulling a thread that connects to a mountainsized bag that overwhelms half of the frame. Against a minimalist white and blue landscape, the figure looks sad and even appears to shed a tear, while the ‘ugly mountain’ riots with colourful figures and abstractions. Equally involving figuration and abstraction, the ‘ugly mountain’ becomes simultaneously a burden and mythic source of artistic influences, colourfully compressing and curling into an attractive energy that contradicts its ‘ugly’ label. According to curator Helen Molesworth, Sillman ‘doesn’t believe in any version of either/or’ but favours ‘and’ to get at two ideas simultaneously.¹ ‘This dualism isn’t a neat dichotomy or polarity’, adds a reviewer, ‘it’s a refusal of both. Sillman’s works insist on being inclusionary, while simultaneously acknowledging that one can never entirely know everything.’² In many ways, Sillman’s painting of Me & Ugly Mountain embodies my own relationship with ugliness. Facing a postmodern ugly mountain seems different from mounting the ancient ladder to beauty. In Plato’s Symposium, Socrates follows Diotima, the priestess, to describe the quest for ‘universal beauty’ by saying that a seeker must start with one beautiful person, going from one to two, then to all beautiful people, ‘mounting the heavenly ladder, stepping from rung to rung’, then 183


from bodily beauty to the beauty of institutions, from institutions to learning, and from learning in general to the special lore that pertains to nothing but the beautiful itself – until at last he comes to know what beauty is.³

Plato’s metaphor suggests a comparable possibility for ugliness, albeit a questionable one. How does a person come to know ugliness? Does ugliness analogously build rung by rung, from person to person, institution to general learning, to a larger lore? Or does it heap higher and higher, like Sillman’s ugly mountain or a portable garbage heap, threatening to bury its carrier or collapse? Or, rather than ascent, is it descent – like falling out of the ‘ugly tree’, getting smacked by ‘ugly rocks’ and ‘dragged through the ugly forest, tossed in the ugly river and floated out towards the ugly sea’, or descending even further into something like Dante’s Inferno, trailing deeper and deeper into the reaches of Hell?4 While Plato’s passage is often quoted in the context of beauty, philosopher Crispin Sartwell frames the passage as ‘despicable’. As Sartwell writes: To mount the ladder . . . is to learn to hate the world . . . Swooning before government agencies would be asinine enough, but loving abstractions is about as bad as it gets . . . Love is an opening of the self to the particularity of the beloved, so that love is not an abstraction away from ugliness but an allowance of ugliness to be.5

As asinine as that may sound, the point comes back to relationships, which help to situate ugliness in cultural terms. Among other voices echoing across centuries, Baudelaire’s Intimate Journals echo this sentiment, as he fondly describes his lover’s ‘ugly’ smallpox scars. They are concretely part of her; she would not be herself without them.6 Climbing the ugly mountain can be as intimate as climbing into a beloved’s bed. By following bodies – bodies of individuals, bodies of groups and sensory bodies – I have considered ugliness more culturally 184


and corporeally than aesthetically or philosophically. There are overlaps, to be sure, but I have been less concerned with redefining ‘ugliness’ in absolute terms than with following the gesture of ugliness through its unruly history to locate patterns of cultural behaviour and representation where its meaning solidifies and shifts. The word’s slippery legacy, particularly in relation to bodies, provokes a reconsideration of the site of ugliness. According to Frank Zappa’s song ‘What’s the Ugliest Part of Your Body?’, the ugliest part of your body is not your nose or your toes but rather ‘your mind’. This book has navigated the wide grey space of the mind between the eye of the beholder to the beholder’s ‘I’ to suggest that any particular body in a given cultural context might be identified as ‘ugly’. Comparison of the ‘ugly’ in different periods and places suggests that ugliness is far from static or stereotypical but rather operates relationally, constantly negotiating different meanings and challenging cultural stasis. Different individuals have borne historical labels of ‘ugly’ that can become their legacy, but that can also act as points of access for declassification. As varied cultural groups have been constrained on social and aesthetic borders and been ‘made ugly by fear’, they invite reconsideration beyond their ‘ugly’ classifications. ‘Ugly’ can be isolating but also can serve as a communal rallying cry to confront social fears. Ugliness engages and transgresses cultural boundaries that define us in relation to ugliness while also enabling us to redefine ugliness. Entwined with natural processes of decomposition and death, ugliness can embody more than derided features as cultural contexts shift, signalling a bleeding edge that leaves change in its wake. As engagements transgress cultural boundaries, ugliness reminds us that everything is interdependent. Given its tie to mortality, ugliness arguably if uncomfortably makes us human. An uncomfortable tension persists. Rather than turning towards others out of compassion or care, ugliness has historically been received with a gesture of turning away. Many cultural aspects of ugliness remain feared and dreaded. Wars, terrorist attacks, climate change and any number of contemporary threats change the meaning of ‘ugly’, making them hard to imagine in less than frightful 185


Illustration of Dante and Virgil in the Inferno by Gustave Doré in Henry Francis Cary’s translation, The Vision: or, Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise of Dante Alighieri (1881).

terms. This approach assumes a kind of morality while other ‘ugly’ considerations lie in amoral terrain. ‘Ugly’ remains a troublesome unifier because its shifting modifications have historically been more reductive than generative. More than in any prior moment of history, however, today ugliness has grown in its appeal, neutralized and appropriated in positive terms. In a recent call for ‘ugly’ art for an exhibition devoted to ‘How beautiful ugliness is!’, the following questions were posed: ‘What is the voyeuristic impulse behind our 186


attraction to the gruesome and the horrible? Where does the magnetic appeal of the sordid and the scandalous come from?’7 I have been an ambivalent spectator on this subject, not choosing this topic but approaching it sceptically, surprised by its potency, which blurs the bounds between aesthetics and politics, opening up new possibilities for both. Ugliness arguably supports diversity. Recent appropriations of the word affectionately claim it, revalorizing the ‘ugly’ to undermine its oppositions. While the concept continues to grow from its roots ‘to be feared or dreaded’, its transgressed meanings provide ways to re-view the world from shifting perspectives – including that of the ‘ugly’ object – complicating and making more apparent the existence and contingency of what is to be feared, of what to fear in ourselves and of what not to fear at all. As early as the eleventh century, pedagogical texts included drawings of monstrous creatures alongside fragmented verbal descriptions, designed to practise cognitive pattern formation. These ‘monstrous’ exercises facilitated viewing familiar material in new ways, as partial images corresponded with divided verses that needed to be recombined to make sense. Incomplete and broken, these figures might have been labelled ‘ugly’ at a time when depictions of hybrid creatures proliferated. Medieval scientific beliefs proposed ways that different methods of seeing could operate between memory and

Gabriel Perelle, People Near a Large Ruin; Representing April, c. 1660, etching.



imagination, and monstrous exercises spurred ‘anxiety as a prelude to meditation’.8 Ugliness continues to push and pull a viewer towards alternative readings or connections of disparate parts, challenging a reader through simultaneous attraction and repulsion. Whether glaringly gratuitous or negligible, ugliness suggests over- or underrepresented presences that arise when a subject qualifies an object as ‘ugly’. ‘Ugly’ is based in the physical world yet remains conceptual – ambiguous and adaptable – a modifier of anything that it seems to claim: ugly song, ugly building, ugly idea, ugly woman. Ugliness is relational. Thus this book has been structured to emphasize that relation: moving towards and away from ‘ugly’ individuals, to ‘ugly’ groups, to ‘ugly’ senses that break down borders between self and other. As history reveals, much of what has been culturally ‘feared and dreaded’ has changed over time and place, while noticeable patterns emerge. Monstrous exercises and displaced verses raise a compelling question with which I would like to conclude this book: can writing be considered ‘ugly’? Beyond crass vocabularies or even a ‘grotesque’ font, how does ‘ugly’ text manifest in content and form? Meditating on ugliness as a cultural history, I wonder whether this book might be considered an ‘ugly’ monster cloaked in normative rhetorical guise. Many readers will find this text ‘ugly’ in some way. They may be disappointed that certain ‘ugly’ topics did not get more attention. (Where is ‘ugly terrorism’ or ‘sexy ugly’ or Theodor Adorno’s theory of the ‘political ugly’?9) They may have wished for more ‘ugly’ characters (Attila the Hun or the Hunchback of Notre Dame?) or philosophers (Immanuel Kant or David Hume or Friedrich Nietzsche?) or artists or writers who engage the ‘ugly’ (Matthias Grünewald, Edgar Allan Poe, Lucian Freud, Diane Arbus, J. G. Ballard and many more). They may have wanted the book to theorize a full genealogy of ugliness (as if that were possible, shifting as we speak). Speaking in absolute terms has not been my point. Following Chuang-Tzu’s encouragement to follow aspects of ugliness, ‘I’m going to try speaking some reckless words and I want you to listen to them recklessly.’¹0 In thinking about speaking and listening ‘recklessly’, I have been considering the very style of writing 188

Cornelis Floris ii, Grotesque, 1557, engraving on laid paper.


this book as ‘ugly’ and would like to close with some notes on ‘ugly writing’. In any critical exercise, the process of gathering and recombining materials presents alternative approaches and arguments. Some appear acceptable, while others appear less acculturated, depending on backgrounds and authentication strategies. George Orwell decried how language becomes ‘ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts’.¹¹ Accidental aspects of ugliness appear as ‘matters out of place’ that range from editorial negligence (like sloppiness: a misspelling, errant citation, missing topic or dubious fact) down to the core structure of a thesis (disorganized where a subject seems better suited for another chapter or a footnote, or entirely missing the mark). An errant decision or carelessness by a writer may generate anxiety for a reader, moving them to mark up margins with question marks, corrections and notes, even detouring doodles, considering alternative organizations. While such minor uglinesses in writing may lead a work to be dismissed, other manifestations prove stickier and even striking. Montaigne once called his essays ‘monstrous bodies pieced together of diverse members, without definite shape, having no order, sequence, or proportion other than accidental’.¹² With roots in commonplacing (collecting quotations and other ‘commonplaces’), Montaigne’s Essais built upon this early modern reading practice to develop the genre of the essay. More recently in ‘Talking Ugly’, John David Rhodes focused on contemporary scholarly jargon as ‘a vulgar string of neologisms’ that despite (and perhaps because of ) their ugliness attempt to say something new.¹³ The paradox between positive and negative attributes echoes earlier artistic considerations of ugliness, where the resulting products may be less important than the attempt to move beyond static concepts in a changing world. A number of theorists have outlined ‘ugly’ mechanisms working through language. Mikhail Bakhtin described the ‘deforming’ genre of the novel, wherein multilingualism keeps language an open rather than closed system.¹4 Antoine Berman outlined the ‘deforming tendencies’ of translation.¹5 Jerome McGann and Lisa Samuels 190


encourage ‘deformance’ as a performative misreading of poems and texts (for instance, line by line backwards) to access alternative meanings. The word takes on culturally demeaning connotations through Susan Schweik’s consideration of nineteenth-century Ugly Laws, as she defines ‘deformance’ as ‘dramaturgies of impairment adjustment’ that involve the ‘carefully orchestrated and paternalistic public exposure of the “diseased, maimed, mutilated and in any way deformed” – that is, always about to be reformed’.¹6 Writing techniques or constraints like disemvowelling words, curtailing sonnets, dismembering exquisite corpses or remixing texts suggest additional ways that ugliness functions through language. As language crosses material and digital realms, other kinds of ugliness arise, like the ‘internet ugly’ that is linked to ‘the aesthetic of failing on purpose’.¹7 When texts intentionally transmit disorder, they can be received as ‘illegible’ or ‘nonsense’. Sometimes this can be a deliberate interrelation of form and content. Analysing medieval plays, for instance, Rosemary Woolf identifies an incident where the debasement and deformity of the devils is indicated by the shattering of the hitherto shapely stanza into little scraps of raucous ejaculation, screamed by the devils as they attack each other in the turmoil of hell.¹8

The gibberish performs in both written and aural dimensions. More recent considerations push ugly treatments of text into ‘formless’ terrain that borders on artistic exhibition, manifesting in works like Ed Ruscha’s Liquid Words – a series of paintings of single words dribbled or sprayed onto a flat surface – where content matters less than conceptual materiality.¹9 In terms of design, the textual landscape also engages a ‘visual rebellion’ that revives a kind of ‘cult of the ugly’, according to the critic Stephen Heller. ‘The layered images, vernacular hybrids, low-resolution reproductions and cacophonous blends of different types and letters at once challenge prevailing aesthetic beliefs and propose alternative paradigms’, he writes, giving rise to ‘non-traditional formats which at best guide the eye for 191


a specific purpose through a range of non-linear “pathways”, and at worst result in confusion’.²0 The line between confusion and clarity, legibility and illegibility, ends up paralleling arguments similar to the divide between ugliness and beauty, where ugliness accumulates associations like meaningless, kitsch, boring, insignificant and irrelevant.²¹ Rather than mash down these meanings into a tired heap, my argument circles back to raise questions about ‘ugly’ relationships. Do characters like Cinderella or Snow White need the Ugly Stepsisters or Evil Queen to distinguish their beauty from ugliness, and vice versa? What lies beyond that relationship? While historic genres have established tropes around the ‘ugly’, the multiplicity of meanings moves beyond what is feared or dreaded, beyond the beautiful to benign to many other meanings, which emerge in the wide grey space between seeming oppositions as the world changes. Writing this book, my topic seemed an ‘ugly mountain’ that often resembled Amy Sillman’s painting or, at times, the wreckage of history witnessed by Paul Klee’s angel that piled higher and higher at my feet.²² At the same time I witnessed recurring energetic qualities like those cited by composer Charles Hubert H. Parry, who wrote that without ugliness ‘there would not be any progress in either social or artistic things; and we should be buried mountains deep in huge piles of dead conventions’.²³ The subject of ugliness is vast and unending, as it can modify anything, continually renegotiating views of itself. Nineteenth-century Romantic interests in archaeological ruins and fragments laid the groundwork for modern and postmodern practices like collage, bricolage, appropriation, mash-up, remix and other processes of fusing and even confusing artistic styles. Chaotic language sometimes can be passed off as ‘ugly’, but the aesthetic overload also raises cultural questions. When writers intentionally break grammatical and genre rules, cultural considerations arise around rhetorical deconstruction. In ‘Disfiguring Poetic Language’ Barbara Johnson asks: If violence is structured like figure, and figure like violence, then the study of rhetoric can hardly remain a subsidiary, trivial matter 192


. . . Is it not, indeed, precisely the law of figure to erase even the difference between subject and object, Same and Other, and to confer upon each text that strange faculty for figuring us?²4

Without using the word, Johnson invokes ‘the ugly’. Ugliness resists static figuration and constantly reworks the space between it and the subject, suggesting that in the face of ugliness linguistic uses and abuses may signal some ‘matter out of place’ and raise questions about our own place in the mix. On the level of etymology, examinations move beyond ugly figures to ugly figures of speech. Bodily prostheses can evoke ‘ugly’ connotations (as one company recently claimed: ‘We like to show that a prosthesis doesn’t need to look ugly’), but ‘prosthesis’ also refers to grammatical structure, originally meaning ‘an addition of a syllable to the beginning of a word’.²5 In Arabic, the term for ˛ ‘one-eyed’ or ‘blind in one eye’ (a war) shares a root with the words ˛ ˛ awār (blemish) and awra (genitalia, women or women’s voices), also connoted with shame and deficiency.²6 The ancient Greek ritual of aischrologia involved women delivering shameful or obscene ‘ugly sayings’, and ancient medical theory posed that women had two mouths, vocal and genital, where kakophony derived from both mouths trying to speak at once.²7 Since language bears traces of cultural contexts, correlations between ugliness and cultural groups can be found across linguistic levels down to the very words that we speak today. Meanings may get lost in translation (and in this book I rely on translations of many sources), as transmission removes the derivative or surrogate from the original, at worst veering towards misinterpretation or miscommunication, which might be considered ‘ugly’. New associations arise through declassifications and hybrid genres. In terms of cultural history, multilingual texts like Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s Dicteé (1982) or Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/La Frontera (1987), as only two examples, seek a multi-genre creative criticism that represents a mixed, or mestiza, experience. Multiplicity also marks postmodern movements where historical narratives are called into question, as seemingly disparate elements are reoriented through disorientation and juxtaposition. Some readers resist 193


deformed forms. Protesting dismissals of mid-twentieth-century Oulipian writings as ‘paraliterary monsters’, products of ‘literary madness’ and ‘aberrations’, Georges Perec placed his coterie’s ‘constrained’ writings in company with François Rabelais and Laurence Sterne, back to the ancients. His novel La Disparition (1969) was written without the letter ‘e’: a creative constraint likewise applied to the English translation as A Void. Perec explains that a writer must ‘break the symmetry, to introduce an error into the system, because . . . there must also be anticonstraint . . . there must be some play in it; it must, as they say, “creak” a bit’, like ‘Epicurean atomic theory: “The world functions because from the outset there is a lack of balance.”’²8 Formal asymmetry or lack of balance can be expressed textually in varied ways. Poetically, Charles Bernstein has considered innovation by echoing a practical phrase where ‘form follows not function but failure.’²9 Such considerations resonate across many disciplines. Biologically speaking, Lewis Thomas identified ‘error’ as the ‘foundation of our species’.³0 In terms of ‘ugly’ writing, all of these approaches raise questions about how language itself bolsters or challenges cultural forms that carry cultural biases. David Mitchell and Sharon Snyder argue that the problem of narrative harks back to antiquity, to ‘narrative prostheses’, as they describe the ‘notion that all narratives operate out of a desire to compensate for a limitation or to reign in excessiveness’.³¹ If the foundation of narrative is pulled into the realm of ‘ugly’, what does that say about the ugliness of this book and beyond? Cultural biases run deep, but nuanced textual ugliness can arise through innuendoes akin to jolie laide, or ‘pretty-ugly’. The French concept harks back to the eighteenth century. Often referring to bodies, jolie laide arises from ‘a poetics of irregularity’, according to the writer Daphne Merkin, which ‘aims to jog us out of our reflexive habits of looking and assessing by embracing the aesthetic pleasures of the visually off kilter’.³² This differs from the ancient Greek and medieval Arabic practices of uglifying beauty and beautifying ugliness. ‘Pretty-ugly’ does not need to be manipulated to be attractive. As discussed, the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi prefers an aesthetics of imperfection and impermanence based in nature. 194


Various traditions (ranging from Japanese pottery to Navajo rugweaving to Islamic calligraphy to Amish quilting to Turkish shipbuilding) allegedly incorporate ‘deliberate imperfections’ or ‘controlled accidents’ that might be considered mistakes or errors, but rather serve varied possible purposes: engaging asymmetry for aesthetics, drawing attention to the overall skill of an artist, leaving room for improvement where his or her spirit can move through the pattern, demonstrating humility by not competing with divine perfection, or incorporating a human signature. There may be imperfections in the anecdotes just mentioned, but scholarship to some degree depends on a poetics of irregularity, even matters out of place, as ugliness incites readers to rethink what placement seems appropriate or inadequate, as established methodologies test emerging contents and forms. ‘Ugly writing’ deserves more attention than my brief analysis in this epilogue can give – a conclusion that superficially challenges the monophonic narrative voice of this book. Recognizably readable on the surface, Ugliness: A Cultural History might aim to devolve into something messier in which readers get their hands ‘dirty’ by digging into their own notions of ugliness to discover what emerges. I return to the Gryphon’s question in Wonderland: ‘Never heard of uglifying! . . . You know what to beautify is, I suppose?’³³ Moving beyond this binary, which nonetheless shares a gravitational pull, this book has attempted to identify ugliness across a variety of cultural contexts. In another guise this cultural history may have been uglified by departing from criticism and hybridizing with other genres, even other media, implicating readers in inherited reading strategies around ugliness by forcing a material and digital navigation and deconstruction of expectations for the word ‘ugly’ and its changing contexts. If the medium is the message, as Marshall McLuhan famously claimed, then a book on ugliness should be more than an intellectual exercise.³4 By offering in conclusion a brief hypothesis of ‘ugly’ text, I hope that my meditation draws attention to not only what has been presented but what is absent. ‘Unfinished work’ has been described as another kind of ‘ugly’.³5 By reconsidering cultural meanings of ugliness, we can trace its 195


conceptual gesture past the identification of ‘ugly’ individuals, ‘ugly’ groups and ‘ugly’ senses to follow the gesture elsewhere, towards our roles in the making of cultural meanings. Engagements with ugliness keep the door open for less charted knowledges to be acknowledged, to (re)move that qualification and (re)define ‘ugly’ to offer new ways to (de)construct inherited practices. The novelist Victor Hugo wrote that ‘the beautiful’ is ‘merely form considered in its simplest aspect’, while ‘the ugly’ is ‘a detail of a great whole which eludes us, and which is in harmony, not with man but with all creation’, which ‘constantly presents itself to us in new but incomplete aspects’.³6 To this end, which seems more of a beginning, I do not know to what extent ugliness is a cultural quest but believe its questions leave ample room for exploration, as ugliness changes us and as we change ugliness.



The quotation on p. 2 is from John R. Clark, Looking at Laughter: Humor, Power, and Transgression in Roman Visual Culture, 100 bc–ad 250 (Berkeley and Los Angeles, ca, 2007), p. 65. Introduction: Pretty Ugly: A Question of Culture 1 Sarah Kershaw, ‘Move Over, My Pretty, Ugly Is Here’,, 29 October 2008. 2 See ‘ugly’,, accessed 25 April 2011. 3 Kathleen Marie Higgins, ‘What Happened to Beauty? A Response to Danto’, in Beauty: Documents of Contemporary Art, ed. Dave Beech (Cambridge, ma, 2009), p. 34. 4 See Mark Cousins, ‘The Ugly’, in Beauty, ed. Beech, p. 145; and John Hendrix, Platonic Architectonics: Platonic Philosophies and the Visual Arts (New York, 2004), p. 139. 5 See ‘ugly’,, accessed 25 April 2011. 6 Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass (New York, 1960), p. 91. 7 Voltaire, ‘Beauty’, Philosophical Dictionary (1764), quoted in Ruth Lorand, Aesthetic Order: A Philosophy of Order, Beauty and Art (London, 2000), p. 228. 8 Umberto Eco, ‘On the History of Ugliness’,, 14 December 2007. 9 Crispin Sartwell, Six Names of Beauty (New York, 2004), p. 114. 10 Mark Cousins, ‘The Ugly: Part 1’, aa Files, i (1994), p. 63. 11 Dave Hickey, The Invisible Dragon: Four Essays on Beauty (Los Angeles, ca, 1993), p. 6. 12 See Caroline O’Donnell, ‘Fugly’, Log, xxii (2011), p. 101. 13 Plato quoted in Andrei Pop and Mechtild Widrich, eds, Ugliness: The Non-beautiful in Art and Theory (London, 2014), pp. 3, 9.


ugliness 14 Mark Cousins, ‘The Ugly: Part iii’, aa Files, xxx (1995), pp. 65–8. See also O’Donnell, ‘Fugly’, p. 97; and Mary Douglas, Purity and Danger: An Analysis of the Concepts of Pollution and Taboo (London, 1966), p. 36. 15 For background on ‘ugly feelings’ see Sianne Ngai, Ugly Feelings (Cambridge, ma, 2004). 16 See Gretchen E. Henderson, ‘The Ugly Face Club: A Case Study in the Tangled Politics and Aesthetics of Deformity’, in Ugliness, ed. Pop and Widrich, pp. 17–33. 17 Aristotle quoted in Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring Physical Disability in American Culture and Literature (New York, 1997), p. 20. 18 Samuel Johnson, A Dictionary of the English Language (London, 1785). See Roger Lund, ‘Laughing at Cripples: Ridicule, Deformity and the Argument from Design’, Eighteenth-century Studies, xxxix/1 (2005), pp. 91–114. 19 See Bridget Telfer, Emma Shepley and Carole Reeves, eds, Re-framing Disability: Portraits from the Royal College of Physicians (London, 2011), pp. 20, 25. 20 Susan M. Schweik, The Ugly Laws: Disability in Public (New York, 2009). 21 Jorn quoted in O’Donnell, ‘Fugly’, p. 100. 22 Quoted in Ian Dunlop, The Shock of the New (London, 1972), p. 189. 23 Dunlop, The Shock of the New, p. 246. 24 Isadora Duncan, ‘The Dancer of the Future’, in The Twentieth-century Performance Reader, ed. Teresa Brayshaw and Noel Witts (New York, 2014), p. 165. 25 Kenneth B. Clark and Mamie P. Clark, ‘Racial Identification and Preference in Negro Children’, in Readings in Social Psychology, ed. Eleanor E. Maccoby, Theodore M. Newcomb and Eugene L. Hartley (New York, 1958), p. 611. 26 David Horvath and Sun-Min Kim, Ugly Guide to the Uglyverse (New York, 2008). 27 See Kershaw, ‘Move Over, My Pretty’; and Ann Oldenburg, ‘The Fight for Female Self-esteem Gets Pretty Ugly’,, 21 December 2006. 28 See Katharine A. Phillips, ‘Body Dysmorphic Disorder: The Distress of Imagined Ugliness’, American Journal of Psychiatry, cxlviii/9 (1991), pp. 1138–49; Linda S. Kauffman, ‘Cutups in Beauty School – and Postscripts’, in Interfaces: Women, Autobiography, Image, Performance, ed. Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson (Ann Arbor, mi, 2002), p. 107; and Charles Hall, ‘Surgery as Satire’, British Medical Journal, cccxiv/7041 (1996), p. 1308. 29 Anthony Synnott, ‘The Beauty Mystique’, Facial Plastic Surgery, xxii/3 (2006), pp. 171–2. 30 See John R. Clark, Looking at Laughter: Humor, Power, and Transgression


references in Roman Visual Culture, 100 bc–ad 250 (Berkeley, ca, 2007), p. 64. 31 Jonathan D. Spence, The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci (New York, 1984), pp. 5–6. 32 Giambattista Vico, Principles of a New Science (1759), quoted in Rem Koolhaas, Delirious New York: A Retroactive Manifesto for Manhattan (New York, 1994), p. 9. 33 Charles Hubert H. Parry, ‘The Meaning of Ugliness’, Musical Times, lii (1911), p. 508. 34 Roger Fry, A Roger Fry Reader, ed. Christopher Reed (Chicago, il, 1996), p. 65. 1 Ugly Ones: Uncomfortable Anomalies 1 ‘Dumb Docs Shouldn’t Monkey Around’, Weekly World News, 8 November 1988, p. 23. 2 The caricature of Darwin appeared in The Hornet, 22 March 1871. Ennius quoted in Raymond H. A. Corbey, The Metaphysics of Apes: Negotiating the Animal-human Boundary (Cambridge, 2005), p. 8. 3 See Bridget Telfer, Emma Shepley and Carole Reeves, eds, Re-framing Disability: Portraits from the Royal College of Physicians (London, 2011), pp. 20, 42–3. 4 Naomi Baker, Plain Ugly: The Unattractive Body in Early Modern Culture (Manchester, 2010), p. 7. 5 Rebecca Stern, ‘Our Bear Women, Ourselves: Affiliating with Julia Pastrana’, in Victorian Freaks: The Social Context of Freakery in Britain, ed. Marlene Tromp (Columbus, oh, 2008), p. 203. See also Lennard Davis, ‘Nude Venuses, Medusa’s Body, and Phantom Limbs: Disability and Visuality’, in The Body and Physical Difference: Discourses of Disability, ed. David T. Mitchell and Sharon L. Snyder (Ann Arbor, mi, 1997), pp. 51–70. 6 See ‘ugly’,, accessed 25 April 2011; and Claus Bossen, ‘Ugliness’, in The Oxford Companion to the Body, ed. Colin Blakemore and Sheila Jennett (Oxford, 2001), p. 699. 7 Robert Garland, The Eye of the Beholder: Deformity and Disability in the Graeco-Roman World (London, 2010), p. 4. 8 Martha Rose, The Staff of Oedipus: Transforming Disability in Ancient Greece (Ann Arbor, mi, 2003), p. 12. See also Garland, The Eye of the Beholder, p. 76. 9 Garland, The Eye of the Beholder, p. 88. See also Ineke Sluiter and Ralph M. Rosen, eds, Kakos: Badness and Anti-Value in Classical Antiquity (Leiden, 2008). 10 Garland, The Eye of the Beholder, p. 5. 11 Johann J. Winckelmann, Winckelmann: Writings on Art, ed. David G. Irwin (London, 1972), pp. 62–3.


ugliness 12 Richard Sullivan, ‘Deformity: A Modern Western Prejudice with Ancient Origins’, Proceedings of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, xxxi/3 (2001), p. 262. 13 Garland, The Eye of the Beholder, p. 42. 14 Tzetzes quoted ibid., pp. 23–4. 15 Edward Howell, ed., Ye Ugly Face Clubb, Leverpoole, 1743–1753 (Liverpool, 1912), p. 25. 16 See Lisa Trentin, ‘Deformity in the Roman Imperial Court’, Greece and Rome, lviii/2 (2011), pp. 202–3; and Roger Lund, ‘Laughing at Cripples: Ridicule, Deformity and the Argument from Design’, Eighteenth-century Studies, xxxix/1 (2005), pp. 94–5. 17 Homer, The Iliad and The Odyssey of Homer, trans. Richard A. Lattimore (Chicago, il, 1990), pp. 384–95. Excerpts come from Book ix, lines 292–3. See also Irene J. F. De Jong, A Narratological Commentary in the Odyssey (Cambridge, 2001), pp. 221–49. 18 Homer, The Odyssey, 9.289. 19 Ibid., 9.187–91, 215, 230, 235, 257, 272, 287, 295, 351, 368, 423, 428, 490, 494. 20 Ibid., 9.408. 21 Euripides quoted in David Creese, ‘Erogenous Organs: The Metamorphosis of Polyphemus Syrinx in Ovid, Metamorphoses 13.784’, Classical Quarterly, lix/2 (2009), p. 565. See also Garland, The Eye of the Beholder, pp. 91–6. 22 Martial quoted in Garland, The Eye of the Beholder, p. 46. 23 Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, ‘The Beauty and the Freak’, in Points of Contact: Disability, Art, and Culture, ed. Susan Crutchfield and Marcy Joy Epstein (Ann Arbor, mi, 2006), p. 183. 24 See Kathryn Chew, ‘Erichtonius’ and ‘Hephaestus’, in Gods, Goddesses, and Mythology, ed. Scott Littleton (Tarrytown, ny, 2005), pp. 486–7, 645–9. 25 Aristotle quoted in Marie-Helene Huet, Monstrous Imagination (Cambridge, ma, 1993), pp. 3–4. 26 Benjamin H. Isaac, The Invention of Racism in Classical Antiquity (Princeton, nj, 2004), pp. 200–201. 27 Lavater quoted in Ronald Paulson, Rowlandson: A New Interpretation (New York, 1972), p. 66. 28 Henri-Jacques Striker, ‘Western Antiquity: The Fear of the Gods’, in A History of Disability, trans. William Sayers (Ann Arbor, mi, 1999), p. 40. 29 Sullivan, ‘Deformity’, p. 262. 30 Dorothea Arnold, The Royal Women of Amarna: Images of Beauty from Ancient Egypt (New York, 1996), p. 19. See also Serge Fisette, ‘On the Praise of Ugliness?’, Espace, lxxix (2007), p. 13. 31 David D. Gilmore, Monsters: Evil Beings, Mythical Beasts, and All Manner of Imaginary Terrors (Philadelphia, pa, 2005), p. 4.


references 32 Stanley Diamond, ‘The Beautiful and the Ugly Are One Thing, the Sublime Another: A Reflection on Culture’, Cultural Anthropology, ii/2 (1987), p. 269. 33 Horace, Horace: Satires, Epistles, and Ars Poetica, trans. H. Rushton Fairclough (Cambridge, ma, 1966), p. 451. 34 See Margaret Schaus, ed., Women and Gender in Medieval Europe (New York, 2006), p. 38. 35 Soranus quoted in Garland, The Eye of the Beholder, p. 151. 36 Katherine Angell, ‘Joseph Merrick and the Concept of Monstrosity in Nineteenth Century Medical Thought’, in Hosting the Monster, ed. Holly Lynn Baumgartner and Roger Davis (Amsterdam, 2008), p. 144. 37 Robert G. Calkins, Monuments of Medieval Art (Ithaca, ny, 1985), p. xix. 38 Marina Warner, Fantastic Metamorphoses, Other Worlds: Ways of Telling the Self (Oxford, 2002), pp. 17–18. 39 Caroline Walker Bynum, Metamorphosis and Identity (New York, 2001), p. 84. 40 St Bernard of Clairvaux quoted in Gregorio Comanini, The Figino, or On the Purpose of Painting: Art Theory in the Late Renaissance, ed. Ann Doyle-Anderson and Giancarlo Maiorino (Toronto, 2001), p. 67. 41 Augustine quoted in John Kleiner, Mismapping the Underworld: Daring and Error in Dante’s ‘Comedy’ (Stanford, ca, 1994), p. 126. 42 Thomas Hahn, ed., The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell, in Sir Gawain: Eleven Romances and Tales (Kalamazoo, mi, 1995), pp. 41–80. Excerpts include lines 228–9, 699, 710. 43 Ibid., lines 231–42, 449, 310, 316. 44 Ibid., lines 245, 249, 556. 45 Ibid., lines 91, 423. 46 Ibid., line 644. 47 Mary Leech, ‘Why Dame Ragnell Had to Die’, in The English ‘Loathly Lady’ Tales: Boundaries, Traditions, Motifs, ed. S. Elizabeth Passmore and Susan Carter (Kalamazoo, mi, 2007), pp. 213–34. 48 See Wendy Doniger, The Bedtrick: Tales of Sex and Masquerade (Chicago, il, 2000), p. 146. 49 Doniger, The Bedtrick, pp. 141–2. See also Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, ‘On the Loathly Bride’, Speculum, xx/4 (1945), pp. 391–404. 50 See Lorraine Kochanske Stock, ‘The Hag of Castle Hautdesert: The Celtic Sheela-na-gig and the Auncian in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight’, in On Arthurian Women: Essays in Memory of Maureen Fries, ed. Bonnie Wheeler and Fiona Tolhurst (Dallas, tx, 2001), pp. 121–48. 51 Anonymous, A Certaine Relation of the Hog-faced Gentlewoman Called Mistris Tannakin Skinker (London, 1640),, accessed 3 August 2012. 52 Betsy Hearne, ed., Beauties and Beasts (Phoenix, az, 1993), pp. 131–8. 53 Lori Baker-Sperry and Liz Grauerholz, ‘The Pervasiveness and



54 55 56 57

58 59 60

61 62 63



66 67 68 69 70 71 72

Persistence of the Feminine Beauty Ideal in Children’s Fairy Tales’, Gender and Society, xvii/5 (2003), pp. 711–26. Mark Thornton Burnett, Constructing ‘Monsters’ in Shakespearean Drama and Early Modern Culture (New York, 2002), p. 3. Susan Stewart, On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection (Durham, nc, 1993), p. 109. Selina Hastings, illustrated by Juan Wijngaard, Sir Gawain and the Loathly Lady (New York, 1987). James Hillman quoted by Gloria Anzaldúa in ‘Encountering the Medusa’, in Gloria Anzaldúa Reader, ed. AnaLouise Keating (Durham, nc, 2009), p. 101. Stephen Pattison, Shame: Theory, Therapy, Theology (Cambridge, 2000), p. 182. Elizabeth Mansfield, Too Beautiful to Picture: Zeuxis, Myth, and Mimesis (Minneapolis, mn, 2007), pp. 7, 155, 158. See Sander Gilman, Making the Body Beautiful: A Cultural History of Aesthetic Surgery (Princeton, nj, 1999), p. xviii; and Rosemarie GarlandThomson, Staring: How We Look (Oxford, 2009), p. 97. See Shearer West, Portraiture (Oxford, 2004). ‘Sell Ugliest Portrait’, New York Times, 24 January 1920, p. 11. Durër quoted in Jan Bialostocki, ‘Opus Quinque Dierum: Durër’s Christ among the Doctors and Its Sources’, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, xxii (1959), p. 32. Leonardo da Vinci, A Treatise on Painting, trans. John Francis Rigaud (London, 1877), p. 48. Jan Dequeker, ‘Paget’s Disease in a Painting by Quinten Metsys (Massys)’, British Medical Journal, ccxcix/6710 (1989), p. 1579. Frank Cottrell Boyce, Framed (New York, 2005), p. 150. Lorne Campbell, ‘Quinten Massys, “An Old Woman”’, in Renaissance Faces: Van Eyck to Titian, exh. cat., National Gallery (London, 2008), pp. 228–31. See Christopher Cook, ‘The Identity of the Old Woman: The Ugly Duchess?’, British Medical Journal,, 24 July 2009. Erasmus quoted in Christa Grössinger, Picturing Women in Late Medieval and Renaissance Art (Manchester, 1997), pp. 99–100. Geoffrey Galt Harpham, On the Grotesque: Strategies of Contradiction in Art and Literature (Princeton, nj, 1982), p. 9. Dequeker, ‘Paget’s Disease in a Painting’, p. 1580. Jan Ziolkowski, ‘Avatars of Ugliness in Medieval Literature’, Modern Language Review, lxxix/1 (1984), pp. 7–8. Naomi Baker, ‘“To Make Love to a Deformity”: Praising Ugliness in Early Modern England’, Renaissance Studies, xxii/1 (2008), pp. 87, 105. See Kristina L. Richardson, Difference and Disability in the Medieval Islamic World: Blighted Bodies (Edinburgh, 2012), as discussed in the next chapter.


references 73 William Shakespeare, ‘Sonnet 130’, in The Norton Anthology of Poetry, ed. Margaret Ferguson, Mary Jo Salter and Jon Stallworthy (New York, 1996), p. 240, lines 3, 13–14. See also Ziolkowski, ‘Avatars of Ugliness’, p. 19. 74 Christopher Cook, ‘A Grotesque Old Woman’, British Medical Journal, cccxxxviii/7725 (25 July 2009), p. 243. 75 Patrick Sawer, ‘Art Mystery Solved: The Ugly Duchess Had Paget’s Disease’,, 11 October 2008. 76 Garland, The Eye of the Beholder, p. 5. 77 See Andrew S. Levitas and Cheryl S. Reid, ‘An Angel with Down Syndrome in a Sixteenth Century Flemish Nativity Painting’, American Journal of Medical Genetics, cxvi/4 (2003), pp. 399–405. 78 See Philip K. Wilson, ‘Eighteenth-century “Monsters” and Nineteenthcentury “Freaks”: Reading the Maternally Marked Child’, Literature and Medicine, xxi/1 (2002), p. 7. 79 Stephen Pender, ‘“No Monsters at the Resurrection”: Inside Some Conjoined Twins’, in Monster Theory: Reading Culture, ed. Jeffrey Jerome Cohen (Minneapolis, mn, 1996), p. 146. 80 Lewis Carroll, Martin Gardner and John Tenniel, The Annotated Alice: The Definitive Edition (New York, 2000), p. 60. 81 Cottrell Boyce, Framed, pp. 151–2. 82 Edith Pearlman, ‘The Ugly Duchess: She Was Everything a Woman Wasn’t Supposed to Be’, iv/1 (1995),, accessed 20 July 2012. 83 William Hogarth, The Analysis of Beauty, ed. Ronald Paulson (New Haven, ct, 1997), p. 98. 84 See Sarah Scott, Agreeable Ugliness: Or, The triumph of the graces. Exemplified in the real life and fortunes of a young lady of distinction (London, 1754), itself a translation of Pierre Antoine de la Place, Laideur aimable et les dangers de la beauté (Paris, 1752). 85 Samuel Johnson, ‘Deformity’ and ‘Ugliness’, A Dictionary of the English Language (London, 1785). 86 William Hay, Deformity: An Essay, ed. Kathleen V. James-Cavan (Victoria, bc, 2004), p. 32. See also Kathleen V. James-Cavan, ‘“[a]ll in me is nature”: The Values of Deformity in William Hay’s Deformity: An Essay’, Prose Studies, xxxvii (2005), pp. 27–38. 87 Hay, Deformity, p. 33. 88 Ibid., p. 35. 89 Ibid., p. 33. 90 Ibid., p. 29. 91 Ibid., p. 46. 92 Ibid., p. 28. 93 Ibid., pp. 47, 41. 94 Ibid., pp. 37, 34, 26; see also Erica Fudge, Perceiving Animals: Humans and Beasts in Early Modern English Culture (Urbana, il, 2002), pp. 12–13.


ugliness 95 Hay, Deformity, p. 25. See also Helen Deutsch, Resemblance and Disgrace: Alexander Pope and the Deformation of Culture (Cambridge, ma, 1996), pp. 14, 17–18, 24. 96 Hay, Deformity, p. 27. 97 See ‘Members’ Names and Qualifications’, in Howell, Ye Ugly Face Clubb, pp. 32–46. See also Gretchen E. Henderson, ‘The Ugly Face Club: A Case Study in the Tangled Politics and Aesthetics of Deformity’, in Ugliness: The Non-beautiful in Art and Theory, ed. Andrei Pop and Mechtild Widrich (London, 2014), pp. 17–33. 98 Howell, Ye Ugly Face Clubb, p. 11. 99 Ibid., pp. 33, 41, 43, 44. See also Marcia Pointon, Hanging the Head: Portraiture and Social Formation in Eighteenth-century England (New Haven, ct, 1993), p. 63; and John and Sheryllynne Haggerty, ‘Visual Analytics of an Eighteenth-century Business Network’, Enterprise and Society, xi/1 (2010), pp. 1–25. 100 Howell, Ye Ugly Face Clubb, pp. 26–7. 101 Hay, Deformity, p. 27. See also Charlotte M. Wright, Plain and Ugly Janes (Iowa City, ia, 2006). 102 Hay, Deformity, p. 41. 103 Carole Reeves, Julie Anderson and Bridget Telfer, ‘Historical Prints and Disabled People at the Royal College of Physicians’, in Re-framing Disability, ed. Telfer, Shepley and Reeves, p. 47. 104 Hay, Deformity, p. 34. 105 James Clifton, Leslie Scattone and Andrew Weislogel, A Portrait of the Artist, 1525–1825: Prints From the Collection of the Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation (Houston, tx, 2005), p. 62. 106 Hogarth, The Analysis of Beauty, p. xliii. 107 Lavater quoted in Paulson, Rowlandson, p. 66. 108 Garland, The Eye of the Beholder, p. 54. 109 See Umberto Eco, Art and Beauty in the Middle Ages (New Haven, ct, 2002), p. 14. 110 Rosamond Purcell, Special Cases: Natural Anomalies and Historical Monsters (San Francisco, ca, 1997), pp. 26, 28. 111 ‘Royal College of Surgeons Rejects Call to Bury Skeleton of “Irish Giant”’,, 22 December 2011. See also Garland, The Eye of the Beholder, p. 54; and ‘Jackson Loses New Bid for Elephant Man Bones’,, 17 June 1987. 112 See Julie Anderson, ‘Public Bodies: Disability on Display’, in Re-framing Disability, ed. Telfer, Shepley and Reeves, pp. 20, 25. 113 Samuel Johnson, ‘Freak’, A Dictionary of the English Language (London, 1760). 114 Garland, The Eye of the Beholder, p. 47. 115 Plutarch quoted in Garland, The Eye of the Beholder, p. 47.


references 116 For background about Pastrana, see Stern, ‘Our Bear Women, Ourselves: Affiliating with Julia Pastrana’, pp. 200–233; Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, ‘Narratives of Deviance and Delight: Staring at Julia Pastrana, the “Extraordinary Lady”’, in Beyond the Binary: Reconstructing Cultural Identity in a Multicultural Context, ed. Tim Powell (New Brunswick, nj, 1990), pp. 81–104. 117 Norwegian National Committee for the Evaluation of Research on Human Remains, ‘Statement Concerning the Remains of Julia Pastrana’,, 4 June 2012. 118 Pamphlets quoted in Garland-Thomson, ‘Narratives of Deviance and Delight’, pp. 91–2, 101. 119 Arthur Munby, ‘Pastrana’, Relicta (London, 1909), pp. 5–13. 120 Charles Darwin, The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication (London, 1915), p. 311. 121 See Garland-Thomson, ‘Narratives of Deviance and Delight’, p. 90. 122 Quoted in Stern, ‘Our Bear Women, Ourselves’, p. 213. 123 See Garland-Thomson, ‘Narratives of Deviance and Delight’, pp. 100–101. 124 Lawrence Price, ‘A Monstrous Shape or a Shapeless Monster’ (London, 1639), pictured in Tassie Gniady, ‘Do You Take This Hog-faced Woman to Be Your Wedded Wife?’, in Ballads and Broadsides in Britain, 1500– 1800, ed. Patricia Fumerton, Anita Guerrini and Kris McAbee (Burlington, vt, 2010), p. 94. 125 Otto Hermann quoted in Garland-Thomson, ‘Narratives of Deviance and Delight’, pp. 100–101. 126 Marc Hartzman, American Sideshows: An Encyclopedia of History’s Most Wondrous and Curiously Strange Performers (New York, 2006), pp. 188–9. 127 Hartzman, American Sideshows, p. 188. See also Leslie A. Fiedler, Freaks: Myths and Images of the Secret Self (New York, 1978), p. 170; and Rachel Adams, Sideshow usa: Freaks and the American Cultural Imagination (Chicago, il, 2001), p. 204. 128 See Stern, ‘Our Bear Women, Ourselves’, pp. 219–22. 129 H. B. McD. Farrell, ‘The Two-toed Wadoma: Familial Ectrodactyly in Zimbabwe’, South African Medical Journal, lxv (1984), pp. 531–3.   130 Norwegian National Committee, ‘Statement Concerning the Remains of Julia Pastrana’. 131 ‘The Eye of the Beholder’, The Twilight Zone, episode 42 (11 November 1960). Other science-fiction adaptations of ugly ones include Isaac Asimov, ‘The Ugly Little Boy’, in Nine Tomorrows: Tales of the Near Universe (New York, 1959), pp. 191–233, and Joe Orlando, ‘The Ugly One’, Weird Science, 21 (1953). 132 C. Jill O’Bryan, Carnal Art: Orlan’s Refacing (Minneapolis, mn, 2005), p. 88. 133 Quoted in Linda S. Kauffman, ‘Cutups in Beauty School – and Postscripts’, in Interfaces: Women, Autobiography, Image, Performance,



134 135 136 137 138


140 141 142


144 145 146

ed. Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson (Ann Arbor, mi, 2002), p. 107; and Charles Hall, ‘Surgery as Satire’, British Medical Journal, cccxiv/7041 (1996), p. 1308. orlan quoted in O’Bryan, Carnal Art, p. 19. Deborah Root quoted in Leonard Folgarait, ‘Orlan’s Body of Art?’,  La Abolición del Arte, ed. Alberto Dallal (Mexico City, 1998), p. 97. Linda S. Kauffman, ‘Cutups in Beauty School’, p. 125. See the artist’s website: Erin Blackwell quoted in Folgarait, ‘Orlan’s Body of Art?’, p. 102; orlan quoted in Linda S. Kauffman, ‘Cutups in Beauty School’, p. 112. orlan quoted in Cathy MacGregor, ‘Bodies on the Boundaries: Subjectification and Objectification in Contemporary Performance’, in Cultural Work: Understanding the Cultural Industries, ed. Andrew Beck (London, 2003), p. 65. Folgarait, ‘Orlan’s Body of Art?’, p. 91. Kauffman, ‘Cutups in Beauty School’, pp. 115, 122. Donna Haraway quoted in Joanna Zylinska, ‘Of Swans and Ugly Ducklings’, in Bioethics in the Age of New Media (Cambridge, ma, 2009), p. 113. Kathy Davis, ‘“My Body Is My Art”: Cosmetic Surgery as Feminist Utopia?’, in Embodied Practices: Feminist Perspectives on the Body, ed. Kathy Davis (London, 1997), p. 464. Quoted in John Miksic, Borobudur: Golden Tales of the Buddhas (Boston, 1990), p. 67. Nandana Chutiwongs, ‘The Poor, the Lowly Born and the Ugly’,, accessed 19 August 2013. Miksic, Borobudur, p. 67. 2 Ugly Groups: Resisting Classification

1 Adolf Katzenellenbogen, ‘The Central Tympanum at Vézelay: Its Encyclopedic Meaning and Its Relation to the First Crusade’, Art Bulletin, xxvi/3 (1944), pp. 141–51. 2 Margrit Shildrick, Embodying the Monster: Encounters with the Vulnerable Self (London, 2002), p. 15. 3 John Block Friedman, The Monstrous Races in Medieval Art and Thought (Cambridge, ma, 1981), pp. 9–22, 77–81. 4 Karl Steel, ‘Centaurs, Satyrs, and Cynocephali: Medieval Scholarly Teratology and the Question of the Human’, in The Ashgate Research Companion to Monsters and the Monstrous, ed. Asa Simon Mittman and Peter J. Dendle (Farnham, Surrey, 2012), p. 259. 5 Friedman, The Monstrous Races, p. 24. 6 Tobin Siebers, Mirror of Medusa (Berkeley, ca, 1983), p. 34.


references 7 Robert Garland, The Eye of the Beholder: Deformity and Disability in the Graeco-Roman World (London, 2010), p. xxii. 8 Mikhail Bakhtin, Speech Genres, ed. Carol Emerson and Michael Holquist, trans. Vern McGee (Austin, tx, 1986), p. 2. 9 Karin Myhre, ‘Monsters Lift the Veil: Chinese Animal Hybrids and Processes of Transformation’, in The Ashgate Research Companion to Monsters and the Monstrous, ed. Mittman and Dendle, p. 218. See also Thomas E. A. Dale, ‘The Monstrous’, in A Companion to Medieval Art: Romanesque and Gothic in Northern Europe, ed. Conrad Rudolph (Malden, ma, 2006), p. 259. 10 Friedman, The Monstrous Races, pp. 77–9. See also Partha Mitter, Much Maligned Monsters: A History of European Reactions to Indian Art (Chicago, il, 1992), p. 8. 11 Krystyna Weinstein, The Art of Medieval Manuscripts (San Diego, ca, 1997), p. 66; and Friedman, The Monstrous Races, p. 24. 12 See Abigail Lee Six and Hannah Thompson, ‘From Hideous to Hedonist: The Changing Face of the Nineteenth-century Monster’, in The Ashgate Research Companion to Monsters and the Monstrous, ed. Mittman and Dendle, p. 237. 13 See Gregory Velazco y Trianosky, ‘Savages, Wild Men, Monstrous Races: The Social Construction of Race in the Early Modern Era’, in Beauty Unlimited, ed. Peg Zeglin Brand (Bloomington, in, 2012), p. 51. 14 Lisa Trentin, ‘Deformity in the Roman Imperial Court’, Greece and Rome, lviii/2 (2011), p. 196. See also Martha L. Rose, The Staff of Oedipus: Transforming Disability in Ancient Greece (Ann Arbor, mi, 2003). 15 Garland, The Eye of the Beholder, p. 47. 16 Trentin, ‘Deformity in the Roman Imperial Court’, pp. 201, 207. 17 Isidore de Seville quoted in Friedman, The Monstrous Races, p. 116. 18 Friedman, The Monstrous Races, pp. 8, 13–15. 19 Pope Urban ii quoted in Tomaž Mastnak, Crusading Peace: Christendom, the Muslim World, and Western Political Order (Berkeley, ca, 2002), pp. 127–8. 20 Mitter, Much Maligned Monsters, pp. 2, 5, 9. 21 Ibid., pp. 16–19, 26–7, 32. 22 J. H. van Linschoten quoted ibid., p. 21. 23 William Finch quoted ibid., pp. 20–21. 24 Jean-Baptiste Tavernier quoted ibid., pp. 24–5, 3, 5. 25 Ibid., pp. 25, 29. 26 Ibid., pp. 30–31. 27 Friedman, The Monstrous Races, p. 4. 28 Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, ‘Monster Culture (Seven Theses)’, in Monster Theory: Reading Culture (Minneapolis, mn, 1996), p. 4.


ugliness 29 See Philip K. Wilson, ‘Eighteenth-century “Monsters” and Nineteenthcentury “Freaks”: Reading the Maternally Marked Child’, Literature and Medicine, xxi/1 (2002), p. 7. 30 See Frances S. Connelly, ‘Grotesque’, in Encyclopedia of Aesthetics,, September 2008. 31 Sianne Ngai, Our Aesthetic Categories: Zany, Cute, Interesting (Cambridge, ma, 2012), p. 85. 32 As one example, see Ian Barnes, ‘Monstrous Nature or Technology? Cinematic Resolutions of the “Frankenstein Problem”’, in Science as Culture, ix (London, 1990), pp. 7–48. 33 See Kristina L. Richardson, Difference and Disability in the Medieval Islamic World: Blighted Bodies (Edinburgh, 2012), pp. 5–7, 36. 34 Ibid., pp. 4–5, 36, 130. 35 Ibid., pp. 15, 72–3, 80–83. Dates listed are in the Gregorian calendar. For corresponding dates in the Islamic calendar, see Richardson, Difference and Disability. 36 Quoted in Richardson, Difference and Disability, pp. 80–83. 37 Ibid., p. 82. 38 Quoted in Geert Jan van Gelder, ‘Beautifying the Ugly and Uglifying the Beautiful: The Paradox in Classical Arabic Literature’, Journal of Semitic Studies, xlviii/2 (2003), p. 325. See also Richardson, Difference and Disability, p. 56. 39 Van Gelder, ‘Beautifying the Ugly and Uglifying the Beautiful’, p. 336. See also Richardson, Difference and Disability, p. 56. 40 Van Gelder, ‘Beautifying the Ugly and Uglifying the Beautiful’, p. 344. See also Richardson, Difference and Disability, p. 56. Richardson spells this Arabic term taghayyur, and van Gelder spells this Arabic term as taghāyur. I have tried to be faithful to diacritical marks quoted in these sources. 41 Van Gelder, ‘Beautifying the Ugly and Uglifying the Beautiful’, p. 325, 339. See also Richardson, Difference and Disability, p. 6. 42 Richardson, Difference and Disability, pp. 15, 56. 43 Quoted ibid., p. 27. 44 Ibid., pp. 91, 15–16, 120–23. 45 Ibid., pp. 9, 30, 26, 32. 46 See Eva Baer, ‘The Human Figure in Early Islamic Art: Some Preliminary Remarks’, Muqarnas, xvi (1999), pp. 32–41. 47 Francesca Leoni, ‘Picturing Evil: Images of Divs and the Reception of the Shahnama’, in Shahnama Studies ii: The Reception of Firdausi’s Shahnama, ed. C. P. Melville and Gabrielle Rachel Van den Berg (Leiden, 2012), pp. 102–4. 48 Ibid., pp. 104, 107, 115, 116, 105–6. 49 Sa’dī, ‘A Darvish Becomes Vizier and Is Vilified by His Predecessor’, Morals Pointed and Tales Adorned: The Būstan of Sa’dī, trans. G. M. Wickens (Toronto, 1974), p. 26.


references 50 Quoted in David Freedberg, The Power of Images: Studies in the History and Theory of Response (Chicago, il, 1989), p. 307. 51 See Jeffrey F. Hamburger, ‘To Make Women Weep: Ugly Art as “Feminine” and the Origins of Modern Aesthetics’, Anthropology and Aesthetics, xxxi (1997), pp. 10, 18–19; and Richard Sullivan, ‘Deformity: A Modern Western Prejudice with Ancient Origins’, Proceedings of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, xxxi/3 (2001), p. 264. 52 St Augustine quoted in Hamburger, ‘To Make Women Weep’, p. 22. 53 St Bernard of Clairvaux quoted ibid., pp. 18, 23. 54 Ibid., p. 24. 55 Ruth Melinkoff, Outcasts: Signs of Otherness in Northern European Art of the Late Middle Ages, vol. i (Berkeley, ca, 1993), pp. li–ii. See also Irina Metzler, Disability in Medieval Europe: Thinking about Physical Impairment during the High Middle Ages, c. 1100–1400 (New York, 2006). See also Janet Wolff, The Social Production of Art (New York, 1981), p. 49. 56 Melinkoff, Outcasts, pp. 129, 212, 229. 57 Andrew S. Levitas and Cheryl S. Reid, ‘An Angel with Down Syndrome in a Sixteenth Century Flemish Painting’, American Journal of Medical Genetics, cxvi/4 (2003), pp. 399–405. 58 Melinkoff, Outcasts, p. 208. 59 Ibid., pp. 45–6, 129. 60 Tobin Siebers, The Mirror of Medusa (Berkeley, ca, 1983), p. 21. 61 Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Laocoön: An Essay on the Limits of Painting and Poetry, trans. Edward Allen McCormick (Baltimore, md, 1984), p. 17. 62 Ibid., pp. 13–14. 63 Daniel Albright, ‘Laocoön Revisited’, in Untwisting the Serpent: Modernism in Music, Literature, and Other Arts (Chicago, il, 2000), p. 11. 64 Ibid., p. 7. 65 Lessing, Laocoön, pp. 132–3. 66 See Encyclopedia of African Peoples (New York, 2000), p. 98. 67 Tony C. Brown, The Primitive, The Aesthetic, and the Savage: An Enlightenment Problematic (Minneapolis, mn, 2012), pp. 56–61. See also Friedman, The Monstrous Races, pp. 1–2. 68 Quoted in Sander L. Gilman, ‘The Jewish Nose: Are Jews White? Or, The History of the Nose Job’, in Encountering the Other(s): Studies in Literature, History, and Culture, ed. Gisela Brinker-Gabler (Albany, ny, 1995), p. 152. 69 Wilhelm von Humboldt quoted in Michael Chaouli, ‘Laocoön and the Hottentots’, in The German Invention of Race, ed. Sara Eigen and Mark Larrimore (Albany, ny, 2006), p. 29. 70 Edmund Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Sublime and Beautiful, ed. James T. Boulton (London, 2008), p. 142. 71 Ibid., p. 118. 72 Chaouli, ‘Laocoön and the Hottentots’, pp. 24, 26.


ugliness 73 Lola Young, ‘Racializing Femininity’, in Women’s Bodies: Discipline and Transgression, ed. Jane Arthurs and Jean Grimshaw (London, 1999), p. 72. See also Sander L. Gilman, Difference and Pathology: Stereotypes of Sexuality, Race and Madness (Ithaca, ny, 1985). 74 Georges Cuvier quoted in Jane Arthurs and Jean Grimshaw, Women’s Bodies: Cultural Representations and Identity (London, 1999), p. 68. 75 Stephen Jay Gould, ‘The Hottentot Venus’, in The Flamingo’s Smile: Reflections on Natural History (New York, 1985), p. 292. 76 Naomi Baker, Plain Ugly: The Unattractive Body in Early Modern Culture (Manchester, 2010), pp. 2–4. 77 Ann Millett-Gallant, The Disabled Body in Contemporary Art (New York, 2010), p. 21. See also Michel de Montaigne, The Complete Essays of Montaigne, trans. Donald Frame (Stanford, ca, 1976), p. 791; and Roberta Ballestriero, ‘Anatomic Models and Wax Venuses: Art Masterpieces or Scientific Craft Works?’,, 25 November 2009. 78 ‘Les Curieux en extase, ou les cordons de souliers’,, accessed 10 December 2013. 79 Chaouli, ‘Laocoön and the Hottentots’, p. 29. 80 J. J. Winckelmann, History of the Art of Antiquity, trans. Harry Francis Mallgrave (Los Angeles, ca, 2006), p. 195. 81 See Alex Potts, ‘Colors of Sculpture’, in The Color of Life: Polychromy in Sculpture from Antiquity to the Present, ed. Roberta Panzanelli, Eike D. Schmidt and Kenneth Lapatin (Los Angeles, ca, 2008), p. 84. 82 Goethe quoted in Max Hollein, ‘Foreward’, in Vinzenz Brinkmann, Oliver Primavesi and Max Hollein, eds, Circumlitio: The Polychromy of Antique and Mediaeval Sculpture (Frankfurt, 2010), p. 7. 83 Alex Potts, ‘Colors of Sculpture’, p. 84. 84 Vinzenz Brinkmann, ‘Statues in Colour: Aesthetics, Research and Perspectives’, in Circumlitio, pp. 12–13. 85 Navarrete and Hernández quoted in Julia Guernsey, Sculpture and Social Dynamics in Preclassic Mesoamerica (Cambridge, 2012), p. 100. 86 John Stevens quoted in Naomi Baker, Plain Ugly, p. 16. 87 William Hogarth, The Analysis of Beauty (Oxford, 1955), p. 189. 88 David Hume quoted in Brown, The Primitive, The Aesthetic, and the Savage, p. 61. 89 Mieke Bal, ‘Telling, Showing, Showing off ’, Critical Inquiry, xix (1992), pp. 583–4. See also Sarah Nuttall, ed., Beautiful/Ugly: African and Diaspora Aesthetics (Durham, nc, 2007). 90 Roy Sieber, ‘Fierce or Ugly?’, in Art as a Means of Communication in Preliterate Societies: The Proceedings of the Wright International Symposium on Primitive and Precolumbian Art, Jerusalem, 1985, ed. Dan Eban, Erik Cohen and Brenda Danet ( Jerusalem, 1990), p. 341. 91 See Bill Brown, A Sense of Things: The Object Matter of American Literature (Chicago, il, 2003), pp. 90, 146.


references 92 Sally Price, Paris Primitive: Jacque Chirac’s Museum on the Quai Branly (Chicago, il, 2007), p. 103. 93 Elisabeth L. Cameron, Secrets d’Ivoire, L’art des Lega d’Afrique centrale, exh. cat., Musée du quai Branly, Paris (2013), p. 15. For a discussion of anti-aesthetics in Yoruba objects, see David T. Doris, Vigilant Things: On Thieves, Yoruba Anti-aesthetics, and the Strange Fates of Ordinary Objects in Nigeria (Seattle, wa, 2011). 94 Daniel Biebuyck, The Arts of Zaire, ii: The Ritual and Artistic Context of Voluntary Associations (Berkeley, ca, 1986), p. 64. 95 Ursula Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness (New York, 2000), p. 70. 96 Sieber, ‘Fierce or Ugly?’, pp. 341–3, 5. 97 Elisabeth L. Cameron, Art of the Lega (Los Angeles, ca, 2001), pp. 50–53, 62–7. 98 Ibid., p. 67. 99 Cathy A. Rakowski, ‘The Ugly Scholar: Neocolonialism and Ethical Issues in International Research’, American Sociologist, xxiv/3–4 (1993), pp. 69–86. 100 Sander L. Gilman, On Blackness without Blacks: Essays on the Image of the Black in Germany (Boston, ma, 1982), pp. 27–9. 101 Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others (New York, 2003), p. 7. 102 M. M. Bakhtin, Rabelais and His World, trans. Helene Iswolsky (Bloomington, in, 1984), p. 317. 103 Millett-Gallant, The Disabled Body in Contemporary Art, pp. 26–7. See also Petra Kuppers, Disability and Contemporary Performance: Bodies on the Edge (New York, 2003), p. 52. 104 Ibid., pp. 33–4. 105 See Nicola Cotton and Mark Hutchinson, Nausea: Encounters with Ugliness, exh. cat., Djanogly Art Gallery, Nottingham (2002), p. 11. 106 See Johannes Diesner, ‘Otto Dix’, in ‘Degenerate Art’: The Fate of the Avantgarde in Nazi Germany, ed. Stephanie Barron (New York, 1991), pp. 224–5. 107 Sarah Symmons, Goya (London, 1998), pp. 238–45. 108 Ibid., pp. 244–5. 109 Beatriz Pichel, ‘Broken Faces: Reconstructive Surgery During and After the Great War’, Endeavour, xxxiv/1 (2010), p. 25. See also Martin Monestier, Jean Miné and Xavier Tabbagh, Les Gueules cassées: Les Médecins de L’impossible 1914–18 (Paris, 2009); and Gueules cassées,, accessed 11 December 2013. 110 ‘Excessive Ugliness in Soldiers’,, 10 August 1890. 111 Caroline Alexander, ‘Faces of War’, Smithsonian, xxxvii/11 (2007), pp. 74, 76. 112 Harold Gillies quoted in Alexander, ‘Faces of War’, p. 76. 113 Alexander, ‘Faces of War’, p. 79. 114 Pichel, ‘Broken Faces’, pp. 25–6. 115 Fred Albee quoted in Alexander, ‘Faces of War’, p. 79.


ugliness 116 Robert W. Service, ‘Fleurette (The Wounded Canadian Speaks)’, in A Treasury of War Poetry: British and American Poems of the World War: 1914–1917, ed. George Herbert Clarke (Boston, ma, 1917), p. 215. 117 Pichel, ‘Broken Faces’, pp. 26–7. See also Amy Lyford, ‘The Aesthetics of Dismemberment: Surrealism and the Musée du Val-de-Grâce in 1917’, Cultural Critique, xlvi (2000), p. 46. 118 Yves-Emile Picot quoted in Pichel, ‘Broken Faces’, p. 28. 119 Patrice Higonnet, ‘Nightmare in Vichy’,, 31 December 1989. 120 Lyford, ‘The Aesthetics of Dismemberment’, p. 52. 121 Pichel, ‘Broken Faces’, pp. 27, 29. 122 André Breton quoted in Lyford, ‘The Aesthetics of Dismemberment’, pp. 53–4. 123 Lyford, ‘The Aesthetics of Dismemberment’, p. 70. 124 Advertisement for the Desoutter All-metal Artificial Limb, quoted in Joanna Bourke, Dismembering the Male: Men’s Bodies, Britain and the Great War (London, 1996), p. 47, italics mine. 125 Barron, Degenerate Art, p. 11. See also Brandon Taylor and Wilfried van der Will, eds, The Nazification of Art: Art, Design, Music, Architecture and Film in the Third Reich (Winchester, Hampshire, 1990). 126 Kunstgesellschaft quoted in Barron, Degenerate Art, p. 11. 127 Alfred Rosenberg quoted ibid., pp. 11–12, italics mine. 128 Ibid., pp. 224–7. 129 Quoted in Ian Dunlop, The Shock of the New (London, 1972), p. 246. 130 Quoted in Diesner, ‘Otto Dix’, p. 226. 131 H. T. Wüst quoted in Diesner, ‘Otto Dix’, p. 226. 132 Quoted in Barron, Degenerate Art, pp. 15, 226. See also Rape of Europa (Venice, ca, Menemsha Films, 2008). 133 Garland, The Eye of the Beholder, p. 78. 134 Holland Cutter, ‘Words Unspoken Are Rendered on War’s Faces’,, 22 August 2007. 135 See, accessed 2 June 2015. 136 Ebby Elahi quoted in Shakthi Jothianandan, ‘Oscar-winning “Saving Face” Directors’ Battle to End Horror of Acid Attacks’,, 8 March 2012. 137 Anthony Synnott, ‘The Beauty Mystique’, Facial Plastic Surgery, xx/3 (2006), pp. 171–2. 138 Wayne Pacelle quoted in Benoit Denizet-Lewis, ‘Can the Bulldog Be Saved?’,, 27 November 2011. 139 The title is catalogued as Blind Woman, New York, 1916 in the Library of Congress but Blind at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Photograph – New York in the J. Paul Getty Museum. 140 Simi Linton, ‘Blind Blind People and Other Spurious Tales’,, 30 November 2007.


references 141 Susannah Biernoff, ‘The Face of War’, in Ugliness: The Non-beautiful in Art and Theory, ed. Andrei Pop and Mechtild Widrich (London, 2014), p. 45. 142 Nicholas Mirzoeff, Bodyscape: Art, Modernity and the Ideal Figure (London, 1995), p. 53. 143 Susan Schweik, The Ugly Laws: Disability in Public (New York, 2009), pp. 7–9. 144 Chicago City Code quoted ibid., pp. 1–2. 145 Walter Cropper quoted ibid., p. 6. 146 Ibid., pp. 7–9. 147 Ibid., p. 15. See also David T. Mitchell and Sharon Snyder, Cultural Locations of Disability (Chicago, il, 2006), p. 41. 148 David Souter quoted in Schweik, Ugly Laws, pp. 19–20. 149 Korematsu v. United States, 323 u.s. 214 (1944). 150 Ibid. 151 John W. Dower, War without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War (New York, 1986), pp. 13–14. 152 John Tateishi quoted in Bilal Qureshi, ‘From Wrong to Right: A u.s. Apology for Japanese Internment’,, 9 August 2013.  153 ‘Teaching with Documents: Documents and Photographs Related to Japanese Relocation during World War ii’,, accessed 10 December 2013. 154 Susan Rohwer, ‘How to Talk to Your Children About Thanksgiving’s Ugly History’,, 26 November 2013. 155 ‘Dr Kenneth Clark Conducting the “Doll Test”’,, accessed 10 December 2013. 156 Kenneth B. Clark and Mamie P. Clark, ‘Racial Identification and Preference in Negro Children’, in Readings in Social Psychology, ed. Eleanor E. Maccoby, Theodore M. Newcomb and Eugene L. Hartley (New York, 1958), p. 611. 157 Kenneth B. Clark and Mamie P. Clark, ‘Emotional Factors in Racial Identification and Preference in Negro Children’, Journal of Negro Education, xix/3 (1950), pp. 348, 350. 158 Quoted in Gordon J. Beggs, ‘Novel Expert Evidence in Federal Civil Rights Litigation’, American University Law Review, xlv (1995), p. 13. 159 Michael G. Proulx, ‘Professor Revisits Clark Doll Tests’,, 1 December 2011. 160 Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye (New York, 2007), p. 39. 161 Kiri Davis, dir., A Girl Like Me (2005). 162 Garland, The Eye of the Beholder, p. 15. Leviticus 21:18,, accessed 10 December 2013. 163 See Anthony Synnott, ‘Ugliness: Visibility and the Invisible Prejudice’, Glimpse, i/1 (2008), pp. 5–7; and Daniel S. Hamermesh, ‘Ugly? You May Have a Case’,, 27 August 2011.


ugliness 164 David Horvath and Sun-Min Kim, Ugly Guide to the Uglyverse (New York, 2008). See also 165 Olivia Solon, ‘Am I Pretty or Ugly? Louise Orwin Explores This YouTube Phenomenon’,, 11 October 2013. 166 Lizette Alvarez, Lance Speere and Alan Blinder, ‘Girl’s Suicide Points to Rise in Apps Used by Cyberbullies’,, 14 September 2013. Amy Graff, ‘“Mean” Moms Create Facebook Group Bashing “Ugly” Kids’,, 8 November 2013. 167 Margaret Jackson, Wanda Cassidy and Karen N. Brown, ‘“You Were Born Ugly and Youl Die Ugly Too”: Cyber-bullying as Relational Aggression’, In Education, xv/2 (2009), pp. 68–82. 168 Schweik, Ugly Laws, pp. 285–6. 169 Ibid., p. viii. 170 Scott Westerfeld, Uglies (New York, 2005), p. 268. 171 Ibid., p. 49. 172 Ibid., pp. 181, 198. 173 Ibid., pp. 276, 328. 174 Ibid., p. 352. 175 ‘Garbage Pail Kids’,, accessed 31 October 2013. 176 Carla Freccero, ‘De-idealizing the Body: Hannah Wilke, 1940–1993’, in Bodies in the Making: Transgressions and Transformations, ed. Nancy N. Chen and Helene Moglen (Santa Cruz, ca, 2006), p. 17. 177 Helen Deutsch and Felicity Nussbaum, eds, ‘Defects’: Engendering the Modern Body (Ann Arbor, mi, 2000), pp. 2–3. 178 See Victor Hugo, The Man Who Laughs, trans. William Young (New York, 1869); and Gretchen E. Henderson, ‘The Ugly Face Club: A Case Study in the Tangled Politics and Aesthetics of Deformity’, in Ugliness, ed. Pop and Widrich, pp. 17–33. 179 See Garland, The Eye of the Beholder, pp. 78–9; and Richardson, Difference and Disability, p. 6. 180 See Bill Summers, ‘What I Didn’t Tell during 27 Years of Big League Umpiring’, Baseball Digest, xix/8 (1960), pp. 35–44. Marcia Tucker, A Short Life of Trouble: Forty Years in the New York Art World, ed. Liza Lou (Berkeley, ca, 2008), p. 8. 181 Ibid., p. 8. 182 Monika Mueller, ‘The Less-than-beautiful Unite at the Ugly Club’,, 3 April 2006. Rebecca Pike, ‘Italy’s Ugly Club Defies Convention’,, 14 September 2003. 183 Kevin Pilley, ‘The Capital of Ugly’,, 17 February 2013.  184 ‘World Association of Ugly People’,, accessed 7 November 2013. 185 Maura Judkis, ‘Ugly Holiday Sweater Parties’,, 29 November 2011.


references 186 James C. Wilson and Cynthia Lewiecki-Wilson, Embodied Rhetorics: Disability in Language and Culture (Carbondale, il, 2001), p. 3. 187 ‘Winners of the 2011 Utne Independent Press Awards’,, accessed 10 December 2013. 188 Kathryn Pauly Morgan, ‘Women and the Knife: Cosmetic Surgery and the Colonization of Women’s Bodies’, Hypatia, vi/3 (1991), pp. 45–6. 189 Sherry Colb quoted in Sarah Kershaw, ‘Decoding the Subtle Injustices of Ugliness’,, 3 October 2008. 190 Michele Norris, ‘Beautiful Differences Made Ugly by Fear’,, accessed 10 December 2013. 3 Ugly Senses: Transgressing Perceived Borders 1 George Ferguson quoted in Gavin Stamp, Anti-Ugly: Excursions in English Architecture and Design (London, 2013), p. 6. 2 Stamp, Anti-Ugly, p. 8. 3 Ibid., p. 9. 4 Mark Cousins, ‘The Ugly’: Part iii, aa files, xxx (1995), pp. 65–8. 5 Sianne Ngai, Ugly Feelings (Cambridge, ma, 2004). 6 See Erving Goffman, Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity (Englewood Cliffs, nj, 1963); Julia Kristeva, Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection (New York, 1982); Sigmund Freud, ‘Das Unheimliche’ (The Uncanny), Imago, v/5–6 (1919), pp. 297–324; JeanPaul Sartre, Nausea (New York, 1964); and Daniel R. Kelly, Yuck! The Nature and Moral Significance of Disgust (Cambridge, ma, 2011). 7 See Hideaki Kawabata and Semir Zeki, ‘Neural Correlates of Beauty’, Journal of Neurophysiology, xci (2004), pp. 1699–1705; and Harry Francis Mallgrave, The Architect’s Brain: Neuroscience, Creativity and Architecture (Malden, ma, 2010), p. 184. 8 V. S. Ramachandran and William Hirstein, ‘The Science of Art: A Neurological Theory of Aesthetic Experience’, Journal of Consciousness Studies, vi (1999), pp. 15–51. 9 Wilhelm Ostwald quoted in Philip Ball, ‘Neuroaesthetics Is Killing Your Soul: Can Brain Scans Ever Tell Us Why We Like Art?’,, 22 March 2013. 10 Hitler quoted in Herschel B. Chipp, ed., Theories of Modern Art: A Source Book by Artists and Critics (Berkeley, ca, 1968), p. 480. 11 Heraclitus and Aristotle quoted in Juhani Pallasmaa, The Eyes of the Skin: Architecture and the Senses (Chichester, West Sussex, 2005), p. 15. 12 Adalaide Morris, ed., Sound States: Innovative Poetics and Acoustical Technologies (Chapel Hill, nc, 1997), p. 2. See also Martin Jay, Downcast Eyes: The Denigration of Vision in Twentieth-century French Thought (Berkeley, ca, 1994).


ugliness 13 John R. Clark, Looking at Laughter: Humor, Power, and Transgression in Roman Visual Culture, 100 bc–ad 250 (Berkeley, ca, 2007), pp. 64–5. 14 Ibid., p. 67. See also Ruth Melinkoff, Averting Demons: The Protective Power of Medieval Visual Motifs and Themes, i (Eugene, or, 2004), pp. 39–57. 15 Kathleen Cohen, Metamorphosis of a Death Symbol: The Transi Tomb in the Late Middle Ages and the Renaissance (Berkeley, ca, 1973). 16 Jeffrey Hamburger, ‘To Make Women Weep: Ugly Art as “Feminine” and the Origins of Modern Aesthetics’, Anthropology and Aesthetics, xxxi (1997), p. 26. 17 Nicholas Mirzoeff, The Right to Look: A Counterhistory to Visuality (Durham, nc, 2008), p. 8. 18 Ibid., p. 8. 19 Ibid., p. 95. 20 Hassan Fattah quoted in Errol Morris, Believing Is Seeing (New York, 2011), p. 95. 21 Ibid., p. 104. 22 Ibid., pp. 83–4. 23 See Hugh Aldersey-Williams, Anatomies: A Cultural History of the Human Body (New York, 2013), p. 54; and Rosemarie GarlandThomson, Staring: How We Look (Oxford, 2009), p. 3. 24 Harriet McBryde Johnson, ‘Unspeakable Conversations’,, 16 February 2003. 25 Ulla Holm, The Danish Ugly Duckling and the Mohammed Cartoons (Copenhagen, 2006). See also David Freedberg, The Power of Images: Studies in the History and Theory of Response (Chicago, il, 1991). 26 Michael Kimmelman, ‘A Madonna’s Many Meanings in the Art World’,, 5 October 1999. Giuliani quoted in ‘Sensation Sparks New York Storm’,, 23 September 1999. 27 Chris Ofili quoted in Carol Vogel, ‘Holding Fast to His Inspiration: An Artist Tries to Keep His Cool in the Face of Angry Criticism’,, 28 September 1999. See also Gretchen E. Henderson, ‘The Many Faces of Bea’, Kenyon Review, xxxii/3 (2010), pp. 197–209. 28 Nina Athanassoglou-Kallmyer, ‘Ugliness’, in Critical Terms for Art History, ed. Robert S. Nelson and Richard Schiff (Chicago, il, 2003), p. 294. 29 Karin Myhre, ‘Monsters Lift the Veil: Chinese Animal Hybrids and Processes of Transformation’, in The Ashgate Research Companion to Monsters and the Monstrous, ed. Asa Simon Mittman and Peter J. Dendle (Farnham, Surrey, 2012), p. 236. 30 Jonathan Hay, Shitao: Painting and Modernity in Early Qing China (New York, 2001), pp. 250–51. 31 Inscription on Shitao’s Ten Thousand Ugly Inkblots quoted ibid., p. 251.


references 32 Robert E. Allison, Chuang-Tzu for Spiritual Transformation: An Analysis of the Inner Chapters (Albany, ny, 1989), pp. 59, 64, 67. 33 Ibid., p. 55. 34 See Simi Linton, ‘Blind Blind People and Other Spurious Tales’,, 30 November 2007, as discussed in the previous chapter. 35 Oscar Wilde, Essays and Lectures (London, 1908), p. 530. 36 See Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, discussed in Errol Morris, Believing Is Seeing, p. 83. 37 Crispin Sartwell, Six Names of Beauty (New York, 2004), p. 114. 38 Ibid. 39 Quoted in Rosamond Purcell, Special Cases: Natural Anomalies and Historical Monsters (San Francisco, ca, 1997), pp. 10–11. 40 See Peter S. Beagle, The Garden of Earthly Delights (New York, 1982), p. 53; John W. Cook, ‘Ugly Beauty in Christian Art’, in The Grotesque in Art and Literature: Theological Reflections, ed. James Luther Adams and Wilson Yates (Cambridge, 1997), pp. 125–42; and Walter J. Ong, Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the World (London, 1991), p. 117. 41 Aristotle, ‘On Music’, in On the Art of Poetry, ed. Milton C. Nahm, trans. S. H. Butcher (New York, 1956), p. 46. 42 Ibid. 43 Bruce W. Holsinger, Music, Body, and Desire in Medieval Culture (Stanford, ca, 2001), p. 299. 44 See ‘Diabolus in Musica’,, accessed 4 May 2011. 45 See Umberto Eco, On Ugliness (New York, 2007), p. 422. 46 Lara Maynard, ‘Traditional Instrumental Music’, Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage,, 2001. 47 Aldersey-Williams, Anatomies, p. 155. 48 Lance Richardson, ‘This Is What a 500-year-old “Butt Song from Hell” Sounds Like’,, 13 February 2014. 49 Luminita Florea, ‘The Monstrous Musical Body: Mythology and Surgery in Late Medieval Music Theory’, Philobiblon, xviii/1 (2013), pp. 132, 137–8. 50 Richard Hudson and Meredith Ellis Little, ‘Sarabande’,, accessed 4 May 2011. 51 Fritz Spiegl and Sara Cohen, ‘Liverpool’,, accessed 19 July 2011. 52 Anthony Tommasini, ‘The Art of Setting the Senses on Edge: Musical Dissonance, from Schumann to Sondheim’,, 30 May 2014. 53 F. T. Marinetti quoted in Eco, On Ugliness, p. 370. 54 Erik Satie quoted ibid., p. 371.


ugliness 55 Leopold Stokowski quoted in James M. Doering, The Great Orchestrator: Arthur Judson and American Arts Management (Urbana, il, 2013), p. 46. 56 Martin Anderson, ‘Klevin, Arvid’,, accessed 4 May 2011. 57 Stephanie Barron, ed., ‘Degenerate Art’: The Fate of the Avant-garde in Nazi Germany (New York, 1991), p. 181. 58 Quoted in Joseph Horowitz, Classical Music in America: A History of Its Rise and Fall (New York, 2005), pp. 461–2. 59 Ibid. 60 Frank Sinatra quoted by David Sanjek in American Popular Music: New Approaches to the Twentieth Century, ed. Rachel Rubin and Jeffrey Melnick (Boston, ma, 2001), pp. 17–18. 61 Rolling Stone journalist quoted in Sara Marcus, Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution (New York, 2010), p. 253. 62 Sumi Hahn, ‘Mendelssohn and Shostakovich at Chamber Music Fest’,, 23 July 2009. 63 John Zorn quoted in Kevin McNeilly, ‘Ugly Beauty: John Zorn and the Politics of Postmodern Music’, Postmodern Culture, v/2 (1995),, accessed 23 September 2007. 64 Charles Hubert H. Parry, ‘The Meaning of Ugliness’, Musical Times, lii (1911), p. 507. 65 Ibid., p. 508. 66 Ibid. 67 Ibid. 68 Clement Greenberg quoted in Mechtild Widrich, ‘The “Ugliness” of the Avant-garde’, in Ugliness: The Non-beautiful in Art and Theory, ed. Andrei Pop and Mechtild Widrich (London, 2014), p. 69. 69 Roger Fry, A Roger Fry Reader, ed. Christopher Reed (Chicago, il, 1996), p. 65. 70 Parry, ‘The Meaning of Ugliness’, pp. 507–10. 71 Clark, Looking at Laughter, p. 69. 72 See Alan Licht, Sound Art: Beyond Music, Between Categories (New York, 2007). 73 Ainslie Darby and C. C. Hamilton, England, Ugliness and Noise (London, 1930), pp. 9, 54. 74 Ibid., pp. 9, 52, 53, 55. 75 Ibid., pp. 30, 54–5. 76 Ibid., p. 30. 77 See, accessed 2 June 2015. 78 Quoted in Kelly, Yuck! The Nature and Moral Significance of Disgust, p. 1. 79 See William H. Walcott, Knowledge, Competence, and Communication: Chomsky, Freire, Searle, and Communicative Language Teaching (Montreal, 2007), p. 138; and John Baugh, ‘Linguistic Profiling’, in Black Linguistics: Language, Society, and Politics in Africa and the





82 83

84 85 86 87 88 89 90 91 92

93 94 95 96 97 98 99

100 101

Americas, ed. Sinfree Makoni, Geneva Smitherman, Arnetha F. Ball and Arthur K. Spears (London, 2003), p. 158. See John David Rhodes, ‘Talking Ugly’, in World Picture (2008), p. 1; and Stephen Jay Gould, The Lying Stones of Marrakech: Penultimate Reflections in Natural History (Cambridge, ma, 2011), p. 270. Turmeau de La Morandière quoted in Alain Corbin, The Foul and the Fragrant: Odor and the French Social Imagination (Cambridge, ma, 1996), p. 27. Roy Porter, ‘Foreword’ to Corbin, The Foul and the Fragrant, p. v. See Harvey Molotch and Laura Norén, Toilet: Public Restrooms and the Politics of Sharing (New York, 2010), p. 9; Alan Soble, Sexual Investigations (New York, 1996), p. 200; and Corbin, The Foul and the Fragrant, p. 7. Corbin, The Foul and the Fragrant, pp. 7, 37. Ibid., p. 40. See also Luke Demaitre, Medieval Medicine: The Art of Healing, from Head to Toe (Santa Barbara, ca, 2013). Demaitre, Medieval Medicine, p. 63. Corbin, The Foul and the Fragrant, p. 27. Ibid., pp. 15–16, 25. David Downie, Paris, Paris: Journey into the City of Light (New York, 2011), p. 28. Corbin, The Foul and the Fragrant, p. 69. Ibid., p. 90. Simon Chu and John J. Downes, ‘Odour-evoked Autobiographical Memories: Psychological Investigations of Proustian Phenomena’, Chemical Senses, xxv/1 (2000), pp. 111–16. Cheryl Leah Krueger, ‘Flâneur Smellscapes in Le Spleen de Paris’, Dixneuf, xvi/2 (2012), p. 186. Jean Genet, The Thief ’s Journal (New York, 1964), p. 9. The first sentence is italicized in the original. Georges Bataille, Visions of Excess: Selected Writings, 1927–1939, ed. Allan Stoekl (Minneapolis, mn, 1985), p. 13. Charles Baudelaire, The Flowers of Evil, trans. Richard Howard (Boston, ma, 1982), p. 36. Charles Baudelaire, Intimate Journals, trans. Christopher Isherwood (Hollywood, ca, 1947), pp. 118, 121. Krueger, ‘Flâneur Smellscapes’, p. 188. Jonah Samson, ‘The Devil’s Grin: Revealing Our Relationship with the Imperfect Body through the Art of Joel-Peter Witkin’, Proceedings of the 10th Annual History of Medicine Days (2001), pp. 187–8. Keith Seward quoted in Cintra Wilson, ‘Joel-Peter Witkin’,, 9 May 2000. Jimmy Stamp, ‘The First Major Exhibit to Focus on Smell’,, 16 January 2013.


ugliness 102 Evi Papadopoulou,‘The Olfactory Dimension of Contemporary Art’,, September 2009. 103 Luminita Florea, ‘A Feast of Senses: Grinding Spices and Mixing “Consonances” in Jacques of Liège’s Theoretical Works’, Philobiblon, xvii/1 (2012), p. 45. 104 Ibid., p. 24. 105 Ibid., p. 37. 106 Roy Porter, preface to Piero Camporesi, Bread of Dreams: Food and Fantasy in Early Modern Europe (Chicago, il, 1989), pp. 5, 25. 107 Veronica Gross, ‘The Synesthesia Project’,, accessed 2 April 2014. 108 Gordon M. Shepherd, ‘The Human Sense of Smell: Are We Better Than We Think?’, PLoS Biology, ii/5 (2004), p. e146. 109 Oliver Sacks, ‘The Dog beneath the Skin’, in The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat (New York, 1998), p. 156. 110 Corbin, The Foul and the Fragrant, p. 21. 111 George Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier (New York, 1958), p. 112. 112 Klaus Pichler quoted in Ted Burnham, ‘Revealing the Revolting Beauty of Food Waste’,, 14 April 2012. 113 See Lola Young, ‘Racializing Femininity’, in Women’s Bodies: Discipline and Transgression, ed. Jane Arthurs and Jean Grimshaw (London, 1999), p. 71. 114 See Yung-Hee Kim, Songs to Make the Dust Dance: The Ryōjin Hishō of Twelfth-century Japan (Berkeley, ca, 1994), p. 31; and Bernard Faure, Visions of Power: Imagining Medieval Japanese Buddhism (Princeton, nj, 1996), p. 175. 115 Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin quoted in Aldersey-Williams, Anatomies, p. 183. 116 ‘The Ugly Consumer Spectacle of Black Friday’, www.greenmarketoracle. com, 24 November 2012. 117 Arti Patel, ‘Ugly Foods That Taste Amazing’,, 5 September 2009. Letizia Morino, ‘Ugly But Tasty’,, 20 August 2014. 118 Barbara J. King, ‘Coming Soon: A Summer of Ugly Fruits and Vegetables’,, 29 May 2014. 119 Kate Punshon, ‘Vegemite: A Cultural Identifier’, www.rootsrecipes, 7 November 2013. 120 See Dana Goodyear, Anything That Moves: Renegade Chefs, Fearless Eaters, and the Making of a New American Food (New York, 2013). 121 Melissa Leon, ‘“Fear Factor” Donkey Semen, More Gross Things Seen Eaten on tv’,, 3 February 2012. 122 Lisa Trentin, ‘Deformity in the Roman Imperial Court’, Greece and Rome, lviii/2 (2011), pp. 195–208. 123 Ibid., pp. 203–7.


references 124 Aldersey-Williams, Anatomies, p. 185. See also M. M. Bakhtin, Rabelais and His World, trans. Hélène Iswolsky (Bloomington, in, 1984); and Roger Kimball, ‘Art without Beauty’, Public Interest, xxxiii (Spring 1997), p. 51. 125 Anus Magillicutty, ‘Vegan’, Urban Dictionary, 13 January 2006. 126 See Eugenie Brinkema, ‘Laura Dern’s Vomit, or, Kant and Derrida in Oz’, Film-philosophy, xv/2 (2011), pp. 51–69. 127 Frédérique Desbuissons, ‘The Studio and the Kitchen: Culinary Ugliness as Pictorial Stigmatisation in Nineteenth-century France’, in Ugliness, ed. Pop and Widrich, pp. 104–21. 128 Ibid., pp. 104–5. 129 Ibid., pp. 115, 104. 130 Ibid., pp. 110, 116–17. 131 Deborah Davis, Strapless: John Singer Sargent and the Fall of Madame X (New York, 2003), pp. 75–6. 132 Quoted in Desbuissons, ‘The Studio and the Kitchen’, p. 118. 133 Ross King, ‘The Apostle of Ugliness’, in The Revolutionary Decade That Gave the World Impressionism (New York, 2006), pp. 151–8. 134 Quoted in Kassandra Nakas, ‘Putrified, Deliquescent, Amorphous: The “Liquefying” Rhetoric of Ugliness’, in Ugliness, ed. Pop and Widrich, p. 183. 135 Carl Justi quoted in Kassandra Nakas, ‘Putrified, Deliquescent, Amorphous’, p. 186. 136 Ibid., p. 187. 137 Wassily Kandinsky quoted in Roger Kimball, ‘Art without Beauty’, p. 52. 138 Jamer Hunt, ‘All That Is Solid Melts into Sauce: Futurists, Surrealists, and Molded Food’, in Histories of the Future, ed. Daniel Rosenberg and Susan Harding (Durham, nc, 2005), p. 163. 139 Ezra Pound quoted in Lesley Higgins, The Modernist Cult of Ugliness: Aesthetic and Gender Politics (New York, 2002), p. 122. 140 Steven Heller, ‘Cult of the Ugly’,, originally published in Eye Magazine, ix/3 (1993). See also Alan Rapp, ‘When “Ugly” Reared Its Head’,, 28 August 2013. 141 Camporesi, Bread of Dreams, pp. 52, 123. 142 Aldersey-Williams, Anatomies, pp. 178–9, 181. 143 Rose Eveleth, ‘Zoo Illogical: Ugly Animals Need Protection from Extinction, Too’,, 8 December 2010. See also ‘Beauty of Ugly’,, 17 November 2007. 144 Jennifer L. Geddes and Elaine Scarry, ‘On Evil, Pain, and Beauty: A Conversation with Elaine Scarry’, Hedgehog Review, ii/2 (2000), p. 86. 145 The Wilderness Society, ‘Fracking Dangers: 7 Ugly Reasons Why Wilderness Lovers Should Be Worried’,, 25 February 2013. 146 ‘Oscar Dresses That Were Downright Ugly’,, 31 May 2014.


ugliness 147 Valerie Steele, Fashion and Eroticism: Ideals of Feminine Beauty from the Victorian Era to the Jazz Age (Oxford, 1985), p. 75. 148 Matt Schiavenza, ‘The Peculiar History of Foot Binding in China’,, 16 September 2013. 149 See Angus Trumble, A Brief History of the Smile (New York, 2004), p. 64. 150 Susan Dunning Power, The Ugly-girl Papers; or, Hints for the Toilet (New York, 1874), p. 17. 151 Trumble, A Brief History of the Smile, p. 65. See also Sindya N. Bhanoo, ‘Ancient Egypt’s Toxic Makeup Fought Infection, Researchers Say’,, 18 January 2010. 152 William Henry Flower, Fashion in Deformity: As Illustrated in the Customs of Barbarous and Civilised Races (London, 1881), p. 1. 153 Flower, Fashion in Deformity, pp. 84–5. 154 Victoria Pitts, In the Flesh: The Cultural Politics of Body Modification (New York, 2003), pp. 145–8. 155 Ibid., p. 148. The last quote is italicized in the original. 156 Pitts, drawing on scholarship by Chandra Mohanty and Jacqui Alexander, In the Flesh, pp. 145, 148. 157 Pitts, In the Flesh, p. 147. 158 Isadora Duncan, ‘The Dancer of the Future’, in The Twentieth-century Performance Reader, ed. Teresa Brayshaw and Noel Witts (New York, 2014), p. 165. 159 ‘Getty Museum Exhibition Spotlights Changing Practices in Antiquities Conservation – The Hope Hygieia: Restoring a Statue’s History’,, 1 April 2008. See also John Rickman, ‘On the Nature of Ugliness and the Creative Impulse’, International Journal of Psycho-analysis, xxi (1940), p. 297. 160 Waldemar Januszczak, ‘Save These Men for the Nation’, www.thesunday, 15 December 2013. 161 Phyllis Rose, The Shelf: From leq to les (New York, 2014). 162 Kimball, ‘Art without Beauty’, p. 51. 163 Elizabeth Jensen, ‘New Exhibition Elevates Controversy to Art Form’,, 1 October 1999. 164 See ‘Man Defaces Controversial Painting of Black Madonna’,, 17 December 1999. 165 Kimball, ‘Art without Beauty’, p. 50. See also Arthur C. Danto, The Abuse of Beauty: Aesthetics and the Concept of Art (Chicago, il, 2003), pp. 49–52. 166 Jonathan Jones, ‘I’m Done with Damien Hirst’s Art’,, 14 January 2010. 167 Heller, ‘Cult of the Ugly’. 168 Botero quoted in Roberta Smith, ‘Botero Restores the Dignity of Prisoners at Abu Ghraib’,, 15 November 2006. 169 Paul Gauguin quoted by Jodi Hauptman, Beyond the Visible: The Art of Odilon Redon (New York, 2005), p. 63.


references 170 171 172 173 174 175 176 177 178 179 180 181

182 183 184 185

186 187 188 189

190 191

192 193

Ian Dunlop, The Shock of the New (London, 1972), p. 189. See Quoted in Desbuissons, ‘Culinary Ugliness’, p. 118. Sarah Symmons, Goya (London, 1998), p. 169. Elisabeth L. Cameron, Art of the Lega (Los Angeles, ca, 2001), pp. 50–53, 62–7, as discussed in the last chapter. ‘A Durga Puja Procession’, Wellcome Collection, www.wellcomecollection. org, accessed 12 March 2014. Dan Moore, ‘Donggang, Taiwan: Why We Travel’, New York Times, 3 November 2013, p. 11. Kimball, ‘Art without Beauty’, p. 59. See Waldemar Januszczak, dir., ‘Ugly Beauty’, (2009). Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, ed. Johanna M. Smith (New York, 2000), p. 186. Pallasmaa, The Eyes of the Skin, p. 10. See John M. Henshaw, ‘How Many Senses Do We Have?’,, 1 February 2012; Jessica Cerretani, ‘Extra Sensory Perceptions’, lxxxiii/1,, Spring 2010; and Edward J. Thomas, The History of Buddhist Thought (New York, 1996), p. 63. Clark, Looking at Laughter, p. 67. Matthew Battles, Library: An Unquiet History (New York, 2003), p. 14. Susan Sontag, ‘Notes on “Camp”’, in Against Interpretation (New York, 1966), p. 286. See George Dodds and Robert Tavernor, eds, Body and Building: Essays on the Changing Relation of Body and Architecture (Cambridge, ma, 2002), p. 79. See I. C. McManus, ‘Symmetry and Asymmetry in Aesthetics and the Arts’, European Review, xiii/2 (2005), p. 174. Vesalius quoted in Marri Lynn, ‘Vesalius and the Body Metaphor’,, 18 April 2013. Maria Rika Maniates, Mannerism in Italian Music and Culture, 1530–1630 (Manchester, 1979), p. 52. See William Hogarth, The Analysis of Beauty, ed. Ronald Paulson (New Haven, ct, 1997); and James Clifton, Leslie Scattone and Andrew Weislogel, A Portrait of the Artist, 1525–1825: Prints from the Collection of the Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation (Houston, tx, 2005), p. 62. John Ruskin, The Stones of Venice (London, 1960), p. 235. Higgins, The Modernist Cult of Ugliness, p. 122. See also Margaretta Salinger, Masterpieces of American Painting in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, 1986), p. 8. Reyner Banham, The New Brutalism (New York, 1966), p. 41. See also Caroline O’Donnell, ‘Fugly’, Log, xxii (2011), p. 98. Alison Smithson and Peter Smithson, ‘The “As Found” and the “Found”’, in As Found: The Discovery of the Ordinary, ed. Claude





196 197 198 199 200

Lichtenstein and Thomas Schregenberger (Baden, 2001), p. 40. See also Hal Foster, ‘Savage Minds (A Note on Brutalist Bricolage)’, October, cxxxvi (2011), p. 183. Robin Boyd, The Australian Ugliness (Melbourne, 1960); Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown and Steven Izenour, Learning from Las Vegas: The Forgotten Symbolism of Architectural Form (Cambridge, ma, 1977). See O’Donnell, ‘Fugly’, pp. 95–100; Mack Scogin and Merrill Elam, ‘Carniful the Uglyful’, Portico, xxii–iii/1 (2013), p. 19; Peter Kuitenbrouwer, ‘Architecture’s Good, Bad and “Pugly”’,, 2 May 2007. Donald Keene, The Pleasures of Japanese Literature (New York, 1988), pp. 6–22. Kenkō quoted ibid., pp. 13–14. Clark, Looking at Laughter, p. 64. Jorn quoted by O’Donnell, ‘Fugly’, p. 100. See Steven Weinberg, ‘Beautiful Theories’, in Dreams of a Final Theory (New York, 1992), pp. 132–65; Christopher Shea, ‘Is Scientific Truth Always Beautiful?’,, 28 January 2013; Roald Hoffmann, ‘Molecular Beauty’, in Roald Hoffmann on the Philosophy, Art, and Science of Chemistry, ed. Jeffrey Kovac and Michael Weisberg (Oxford, 2012), pp. 272–92. Epilogue: Ugly Us: A Cultural Quest?

1 Helen Molesworth quoted in Leah Triplett, ‘Amy Sillman: One Lump or Two’,, 3 October 2013. 2 Triplett, ‘Amy Sillman’. 3 Quoted in Crispin Sartwell, Obscenity, Anarchy, Reality (Albany, ny, 1996), p. 72. 4 Quoted by Dirge, ‘Ugly Tree: The Species of Flora From Which Ugly People Come’,, 28 May 2004. 5 Sartwell, Obscenity, Anarchy, Reality, pp. 72–3. 6 Charles Baudelaire, Intimate Journals, trans. Christopher Isherwood (Hollywood, ca, 1947), pp. 118–21. 7 Advertisement for exhibition at Red Gate Gallery, London, titled ‘How Beautiful Ugliness Is!’ (apparently taken from the cover of Umberto Eco’s On Ugliness),, 28 May 2010. 8 Thomas E. A. Dale, ‘The Monstrous’, in A Companion to Medieval Art: Romanesque and Gothic in Northern Europe, ed. Conrad Rudolph (Oxford, 2006), p. 266. See also Mary Carruthers, The Craft of Thought: Meditation, Rhetoric, and the Making of Images, 400–1200 (Cambridge, 1998), pp. 140–41. 9 For starters see Pamela Leach, ‘On Adorno’s Aesthetics of the Ugly’, in Adorno and the Need in Thinking, ed. Donald Burke, Colin J. Campbell,



10 11

12 13 14




18 19 20

21 22 23 24 25

Kathy Kiloh, Michael K. Palamarek and Jonathan Short (Toronto, 2007), pp. 263–77. Chuang Tzu, The Complete Works of Chuang Tzu, ed. Burton Watson (New York, 1968), p. 47. George Orwell, ‘Politics of the English Language’, in Princeton Readings in Political Thought, ed. Mitchell Cohen and Nicole Fermon (Princeton, nj, 1996), p. 591. Montaigne quoted in Janet Kramer, ‘Me, Myself, and I’, New Yorker, 7 September 2009, p. 41. John David Rhodes, ‘Talking Ugly’, World Picture, i (Spring 2008), p. 1. See M. M. Bakhtin, ‘Discourse in the Novel’, in The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, ed. Vincent B. Leitch, et al. (New York, 2001), pp. 1186–220; and Gretchen E. Henderson, ‘Generating “Deformed Genres”’, in On Marvellous Things Seen and Heard, Dissertation (2009), pp. 29–42. See Antoine Berman, ‘Translation and the Trials of the Foreign’, in The Translation Studies Reader, ed. Lawrence Venuti (London, 2000), pp. 284–97. See Lisa Samuels and Jerome McGann, ‘Deformance and Interpretation’, New Literary History, xxx/1 (1999), pp. 25–56; and Susan M. Schweik, The Ugly Laws: Disability in Public (New York, 2009), p. 47. See Rose Eveleth, ‘Internet Ugly and the Aesthetic of Failing on Purpose’,, 23 December 2014; and Nick Douglas, ‘It’s Supposed to Look Like Shit: The Internet Ugly Aesthetic’, Journal of Visual Culture, xiii (2014), pp. 314–39. Rosemary Woolf, The English Mystery Plays (Berkeley, ca, 1980), p. 111. Yves-Alain Bois and Rosalind E. Krauss, Formless: A User’s Guide (New York, 1997), pp. 9, 124–9. Steven Heller, ‘Cult of the Ugly’,, originally published in Eye Magazine, ix/3 (1993). See also TwoPoints.Net, ed., Pretty Ugly: Visual Rebellion in Design (Berlin, 2012). See Ruth Lorand, ‘Beauty and Its Opposites’, Journal of Aesthetic and Art Criticism, lii/4 (1994), pp. 399–406. See Walter Benjamin, Illuminations: Essays and Reflections, trans. Harry Zohn (New York, 1968), p. 257. Charles Hubert H. Parry, ‘The Meaning of Ugliness’, Musical Times, lii (1911), p. 508. Barbara Johnson, ‘Disfiguring Poetic Language’, A World of Difference (Baltimore, md, 1987), p. 115. Lizzie Parry, ‘The Fingers and Thumbs You’d Never Know Are Prosthetics’,, 16 July 2014. Joanna Zylinska, ‘“The Future . . . Is Monstrous”: Prosthetics as Ethics’, in The Cyborg Experiments: The Extensions of the Body in the Media Age, ed. Joanna Zylinska (London, 2002), p. 214.


ugliness 26 See Kristina L. Richardson, Difference and Disability in the Medieval Islamic World: Blighted Bodies (Edinburgh, 2012), p. 25. 27 Anne Carson, ‘The Gender of Sound’, in Glass, Irony, and God (New York, 1995), pp. 131–5. 28 Perec quoted in Warren F. Motte, ed. and trans., Oulipo: A Primer of Potential Literature (Normal, il, 1998), pp. 5, 19–20. 29 Charles Bernstein, Attack of the Difficult Poems: Essays and Inventions (Chicago, il, 2011), p. 35. 30 Lewis Thomas, ‘The Wonderful Mistake’, in Being Human, ed. Leon Kass (New York, 2004), p. 32. See also Mark S. Blumberg, Freaks of Nature: What Anomalies Tell Us About Evolution (Oxford, 2009), p. 11. 31 David T. Mitchell, ‘Narrative Prosthesis and the Materiality of Metaphor’, in Disability Studies: Enabling the Humanities, ed. Sharon L. Snyder, Brenda Jo Brueggemann and Rosemarie Garland-Thomson (New York, 2002), p. 20. 32 Daphne Merkin, ‘The Unfairest of Them All’,, 16 October 2005. 33 Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass (New York, 1960), p. 91. 34 Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Fiore, The Medium Is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects (London, 1967). 35 John Rickman, ‘On the Nature of Ugliness and the Creative Impulse’, International Journal of Psycho-analysis, xxi (1940), p. 294. 36 Victor Hugo, ‘On Cromwell’, Prefaces and Prologues to Famous Books, ed. Charles W. Eliot (Danbury, ct, 1980), p. 351.



This book is indebted to many people. The idea would not have materialized without Andrei Pop and Mechtild Widrich, who organized a panel for the Association of Art Historians (aah) on ‘Ugliness as a Challenge to Art History’ in Warwick, uk, where I first presented material related to ugliness and where my to-be editor, Vivian Constantinopoulos, learned of my work and invited me to write this book for Reaktion. Andrei and Mechtild subsequently edited a volume, Ugliness: The Non-Beautiful in Art and Theory (I. B. Tauris, 2014), which included my article from the aah conference. Andrei also read the final manuscript and provided helpful comments. Long before the project Noah Heringman’s graduate course at the University of Missouri-Columbia on Eighteenth-century Visual Culture laid vital groundwork for my thinking about the topic of deformity; his reading of final excerpts from the book likewise proved valuable. Thanks to Maureen Stanton and, also during my graduate studies, to fellowships from the English Department that supported my interdisciplinary investigations of art history and disability studies at mu. After fictionalizing Ugly Clubs, a nudge from Davis Schneiderman when I was a Madeleine P. Plonsker Fellow at Lake Forest College encouraged me to trace their factual history. A residency fellowship from the Millay Colony in New York provided time and space among creative compatriots to draft the introduction and outline for this book. From the beginning at Kenyon College, Sarah Blick offered enthusiastic support and read the final manuscript, as did Sergei Lobanov-Rostovsky. Additional thanks to Adam Serfass and to Kenyon College’s Department of Art History, where I have been an Affiliated Scholar over the course of this project. I also am grateful to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which supported me for two years as a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Humanities. Special thanks to mit’s department of Comparative Media Studies/Writing. The Literature Department at mit graciously read an early excerpt and offered feedback, and some of my new colleagues in English at Georgetown University read a final excerpt as part of Faculty Works-in-Progress. My gratitude extends to them


ugliness and to the Everett Helm Visiting Fellowship from Indiana University’s Lilly Library, the Mary Catherine Mooney Fellowship from the Boston Athenaeum, MetaLAB at Harvard University, University of California-Santa Cruz, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. A number of people shared leads along the way, and I hope not to overlook anyone in giving thanks. Patsy Baudoin was particularly helpful from the early stages and also read the final manuscript. A brief but valued writing group with Kim Beil helped me to finish the manuscript. I am grateful to Martin and Virginia Ernster and Buffy and Bob Hallinan, who at different times provided space to write. Many thanks to my family and friends. Ladette Randolph shared sustained encouragement throughout the project. This book has been honed thanks to my readers’ insights and any shortcomings are my own. The capaciousness of the topic could grow exponentially, and I have tried to trace its excessive and slippery scope as efficiently as possible in the midst of change. Special thanks to those repositories and artists who permitted me to use their works as illustrations, particularly to those who generously waived permissions fees. I would like to dedicate this book to my beloved grandparents, particularly my grandmother Martha Duprey, who passed away as this book went to press. When I was growing up, her countless trips to the library instilled in me a deep love of reading and learning, undaunted by circumstances. No words can adequately thank Ethan Henderson, who has lived with me throughout this ‘ugly’ project. Beyond being my personal librarian and chasing down the most elusive of sources, he has provided unending encouragement and support and makes life beautiful.

PHOTO Acknowledgements The author and publishers wish to express their thanks to the below sources of illustrative material and/or permission to reproduce it. Some locations of artworks are also given below, in the interests of brevity. From Dante Alighieri and Henry Francis Cary, The Vision: or, Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise of Dante Alighieri (New York, 1881): p. 186; from Hans Christian Andersen, Tales from Hans Andersen with Numerous Illustrations by Helen Stratton (London, 1896): p. 12; photos courtesy the author: pp. 13, 118; photo courtesy of and © Nina Berman: p. 108; from British Medical Journal, vol. i, no. 1529 (19 April 1890): p. 37; The British Museum, London: p. 137 (gift of Sir A. W. Franks); photos © The Trustees of the British Museum, London: pp. 51, 53, 92, 137; from Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (London, 1872): pp. 11, 47; from A Certaine Relation of the Hog-faced Gentlewoman called Mistris


acknowledgements Tannakin Skinker . . . (London, 1640): p. 39; from the Compendium rarissimum totius Artis Magicae sistematisatae per celeberrimos Artis hujus Magistros . . . (Wellcome Library, London, ms. 1766): p. 78; photo courtesy of and © Martin F. Ernster: p. 68; from William Henry Flower, Fashion in Deformity: As Illustrated in the Customs of Barbarous and Civilized Races (London, 1881): p. 168; Fowler Museum at ucla, X2007.21.12; gift of Jay T. Last – © photo courtesy of the Fowler Museum at ucla: p. 97; Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence: p. 126; courtesy of Georgetown University Archives, Washington, dc (photo © Georgetown University): p. 179; photos courtesy of Georgetown University Library (Rare Books Collection), Washington, dc: pp. 11, 12, 36, 47, 121, 142, 186; digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program: p. 110; courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation: p. 115; Harvard Art Museums / Arthur M. Sackler Museum, The Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art (2002.50.42) photo courtesy of Imaging Department © President and Fellows of Harvard College: p. 84; from Selina Hastings, Sir Gawain and the Loathly Lady (London: Walker Books, 1987): p. 40; photo courtesy of HathiTrust: p. 72; from Heinrich Hoffmann, Der Struwwelpeter (Stuttgart, 1900): p. 121; from The Hornet (22 March 1871): p. 24; from Edward Howell, ed., Ye Ugly Face Clubb, Leverpoole, 1743-1753: A verbatim reprint from the original ms . . . (Liverpool, 1912): p. 13; photo © estivillml: p. 66; photo Jappalang: p. 24; from Charles Lamb, Beauty and the Beast; or, A Rough Outside with a Gentle Heart . . . (London, 1887): p. 36; courtesy of Leatherneck Magazine: p. 113; © lvr-LandesMuseum Bonn, Photo: Jürgen Vogel: p. 87; Museo del Prado, Madrid: p. 139; The Museum of Modern Art (gift of Abby Aldrich Rockefeller), © The Museum of Modern Art / Licensed by scala / Art Resource, New York © 2015 Artists Rights Society (ars), New York / vg Bild-Kunst, Bonn: p. 100; permission for photography from National Cathedral, Washington, dc, photograph by Martin F. Ernster: p. 68; photo courtesy of and © the National Gallery, London: p. 43; courtesy of National Gallery of Art, Washington, dc: pp. 42 (gift of Mrs Edward Fowles [1980.63.1]), 161 (Collection of Mr and Mrs Paul Mellon [1983.1.28]), 189 (gift of Arthur and Charlotte Vershbow [1989.27.1]); photo courtesy of the u.s. National Library of Medicine, Bethesda, Maryland: p. 20; courtesy of and © orlan: pp. 62, 63; Philadelphia Museum of Art: pp. 31 (the Muriel and Philip Berman gift, acquired from the John S. Phillips bequest of 1876 to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, with funds contributed by Muriel and Philip Berman, gifts [by exchange] of Lisa Norris Elkins, Bryant W. Langston, Samuel S. White 3rd and Vera White, with additional funds contributed by John Howard McFadden, Jr., Thomas Skelton Harrison, and the Philip H. and A.S.W. Rosenbach Foundation, 1985), 133 (gift of the Alumni Association to Jefferson Medical College in 1878 and purchased by the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2007 with the generous support of more than 3,600 donors, 2007) – photographs reproduced courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art; from


ugliness Hartmann Schedel, Anton Koberger, Michael Wohlgemuth, and Wilhelm Pleydenwurff, Register des Buchs der Croniken und Geschichten . . . [known as the Liber Chronicarum] (Nuremberg, 1493): p. 72; Science Museum, London: pp. 27, 130; © Amy Sillman, courtesy of Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York: p. 182; Suzhou Museum, prc: p. 135; Tokyo National Museum: p. 157; from Juan Valverde de Amusco, Anatomia del corpo humano . . . (Rome, 1560): p. 20; from Lodovico di Varthema, Die Ritterlich von Lobwirdig Raisz . . . (Augsburg, 1515): p. 77; photo Vassil: p. 71; Vatican Museums, Pius-Clementine Museum, Rome: p. 89; Wellcome Library, London (Royal Army Medical Corps Muniment Collection): p. 102; courtesy of and © Juan Wijngaard: p. 40; © Joel-Peter Witkin, courtesy of Catherine Edelman Gallery, Chicago: p. 151; from Hans Severus Ziegler, Entartete Musik: eine Abrechnung (Düsseldorf, 1937): p. 142.

The Wellcome Collection, London, the copyright holder of the images on pp. 27, 130, 131 and 175, and the Wellcome Library, London, the copyright holder of the images on pp. 8, 15, 16, 19, 23, 32, 37, 39, 57, 78, 102, 155, 159, 164, 167 and 187, have published them online under conditions imposed by a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license. Readers are free: • to share – to copy, distribute and transmit these images alone • to remix – to adapt these images alone Under the following conditions: • attribution – readers must attribute either image in the manner specified by the author or licensor (but not in any way that suggests that these parties endorse them or their use of the work). • share alike – If readers alter, transform, or build upon this image, they may distribute the resulting work only under the same or similar license to this one.



Page numbers in italics indicate illustrations abject art, abjection 10, 128 abnormality 14, 28, 54, 59, 64, 75, 104, 120, 136 abstract art, abstraction 73, 135, 175, 183–4 Abu Ghraib 132–3, 173 Adorno, Theodor 188 Aeschylus 165 Aesop 30–31, 34, 52 aesthetic, aesthetics 12, 95–6, 138, 194 judgement and taste 30, 75, 85, 111, 157, 169, 178 limits and tensions 9, 71, 90–93, 98, 134, 156, 162, 171 neuroaesthetics 128 and politics 50, 103–6, 129, 142–3, 187 shifts 14, 22, 81, 135–6, 144–5, 174–5, 185 strategies 61, 80, 124, 141, 153, 191 Africa, African art 59, 63, 90–92, 95–6, 97, 107, 135, 173 African American see racial categories age, old 8, 37, 41–8, 92, 105, 119, 124, 138, 177 Alberti, Leon Battista 10 Alighieri, Dante 85, 184, 186 Amenhotep iv (also known as Akhenaten) 34 American South 17, 114, 132, 143


Andersen, Hans Christian, Ugly Duckling 9, 12, 120–21, 134 animal, animals 40, 73, 80, 105, 107, 134, 145–6, 161 apes and monkeys 25, 35–6, 50–51, 55–6, 91–2, 112, 113, 142 beasts, bestial 31–2, 37–9, 44, 50, 56, 69 as degraded or monstrous humans 29, 33 human-animal hybrids 18, 26, 33–4, 39, 44, 51, 56, 64, 83 instincts and nature 15, 148–50, 154, 156, 173, 175 ‘ugly animals’ 35, 164 anthropology 13, 21–2, 95, 145, 163 anxiety 114, 128, 152, 172, 188, 190 Anzaldúa, Gloria 41, 193 Apollinaris, Sidonius 45 ‘Apostle of Ugliness’ 162 appropriation 10, 30, 73, 123–5, 169, 186–7 in art forms 26, 80, 104, 136, 141, 143, 171, 192 Arabic 45, 80–83, 193–4 Arbus, Diane 188 architecture 73, 106, 127–9, 175, 178–80 apotropaic figures 30, 130, 173, 180 Brutalism 9, 179, 179 cathedrals and gargoyles 36, 68, 69, 73–4, 130, 153 temples 65–7, 73, 77

ugliness urban and industrial 55, 145–9, 156, 127, 179–80 see also Cousins, Mark Aristotle 10, 14, 29, 33, 117, 129, 140, 176, 178 artificiality 64, 104, 154, 171 Ashcan School 179 asymmetry 10, 128, 137, 175, 179, 194–5 Augustine, St 36, 85 Aztecs 62, 96 Baartman, Saartjie (Hottentot Venus) 92–3, 92, 98 Bacon, Francis 49, 148 al-Badrī, Taqī al-Dīn 81–2, 88 Baker, Naomi, Plain Ugly 28, 45 Bakhtin, Mikhail 73, 190 Balbi, Filippo, The Head of a Man … 19 Bataille, Georges 149 Baudelaire, Charles 149–50, 184 beauty 9–12 beautifying ugliness, uglifying beauty 10, 22, 45, 81–2, 195 ‘beauty and the beast’ 35–41, 36 classical ideals 29, 34, 61, 89, 145, 171, 178 and conformity 53, 60, 83, 120, 149, 162, 196 ‘cult of beauty’ 70, 163, 172 ‘ladder to beauty’ 183–4 ‘line of beauty’ 48, 53, 179 opposed to ugliness 17, 42, 49, 128, 146, 164–5, 180 related with ugliness 123, 143–5, 150–51, 153, 173, 179, 186, 192 relative to culture 63, 91–6, 104–5, 117, 135, 137, 168–9 Bellmer, Hans 17 Berman, Nina, Marine Wedding 107, 108 Berry, Duc de 54, 86 biology, biological theories 91, 105, 128, 149, 154, 164, 194 blemish, blight 45, 80–83, 86, 88, 117, 134, 150, 193 body parts 49, 80–82, 86, 100, 148, 150, 165, 178


breasts 37, 44, 90 ears 69, 129, 138, 140, 145–6, 150, 169, 176 eyes 10, 31, 52, 55, 63, 122, 132, 193 face 17, 41–8, 51, 58, 60–64, 99, 101–9, 130 feet 16, 30–31, 90, 166 hair 37, 55, 77, 80, 86, 117, 166 hands and arms 30, 46, 80, 90, 98, 104, 140, 171 nose 37, 44, 52, 63, 86, 117, 122, 148, 169 skin 56, 80, 83, 90, 99, 114, 134, 165, 176 body, female 16, 33, 38, 56–7, 124, 178, 193 in art 61, 93, 98, 120–21, 152, 161, 170 body, male 33, 45, 81–2, 100, 178 body modification 64, 166, 169–70 see also surgery (cosmetic) Boilly, Louis-Léopold, ‘A Group of Deformed Men …’ 159 Borobudur 65–7, 66, 73 Bosch, Hieronymus, Garden of Earthly Delights 85, 138, 139, 140–41, 162 Botero, Fernando 173 Botticelli, Sandro 61, 93 Boyd, Robin 180 Brady, Mathew 101 Breton, André 104 Brillat-Savarin, Jean Anthelme 157 Britain 14, 30, 47–55, 122, 127, 144, 171–2 brokenness 16–7, 81, 101–5, 137, 171, 187, 194 Brown v. Board of Education 17, 116 Browning, Tod, Freaks 59 Buckland, William 163 Buddhism 65, 156, 176 Burgdorf, Marcia Pearce, and Robert Burgdorf, Jr. 110 Burke, Edmund, Philosophical Enquiry … 91 Byrne, Charles (‘Irish Giant’) 54

index camp 177–8 cannibalism 31, 64, 163–5 Caravaggio, Medusa 126 caricature 14, 25, 44–5, 48, 50–51, 83, 89, 91–3, 122–3 Carroll, Lewis, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland 10, 11, 22, 47–8, 47, 195 Cennini, Cennino 160 Chadwick, Helen 172 Chicago, Judy 152 children 26, 29, 33, 74, 105, 156, 161, 166, 172 children’s toys and literature 10, 17, 40, 114–18, 120–21 China, Chinese art 16, 73, 94, 112, 135–7, 135, 156, 166, 169 Christianity 37, 69–70, 74, 76–7, 85–8, 117, 120, 132, 134 Chuang-Tzu (Zhuangzi) 136, 188 Cicero 22, 41 Clark, Kenneth and Mamie 114–17 class, social 70, 83, 92, 109–11, 146, 148–9, 153–4, 166, 174 classification 26, 28, 46, 54, 73, 86, 111, 125, 148, 176 declassification 22, 59, 64, 71, 150, 152, 175, 185, 193 clothing and jewellery see fashion colonialism 36, 73, 77, 79, 88–98, 170 colour 53, 86, 91, 93–4, 103, 106, 115, 128, 153–4 comic, comics 22, 26, 32, 75, 112, 120, 130 see also caricature; laughter; ridicule commercialism 30, 55, 75, 119, 145–6, 158–9, 170, 172 Communism 105, 112, 143 consumer, consumption 28, 104, 155–9, 163–5, 170 corpse 9, 44, 130, 148, 150, 161, 172–4, 191 cosmetics see fashion Courbet, Gustave 161 Cousins, Mark 11–12, 22, 128, 145, 180 Cox, Renée 98


crime, criminal 10, 60, 101, 109, 132, 141, 150, 172, 174 ‘cult of the ugly’ 163, 173, 179, 191 cultural change 14, 21–2, 34–5, 122, 128, 144, 178, 185, 192 cultural difference 11, 62, 70, 76–8, 80, 90–92, 94, 125 cultural relativism 71, 88, 93–4, 169 cultural treatments 31, 50, 59, 73, 92, 113, 116–17, 136, 138, 175 cuteness 61, 79, 107 Cuvier, Georges 92 cyber-bullying 118 cyborg 28, 64 Dagol (‘Prince of Darkness’) 78 dances, dancing 17, 56, 83, 96, 141, 170, 173 Danto, Arthur 172 Darwin, Charles 24, 25, 56 Davis, Kiri, A Girl Like Me 116–17 death 21, 58–60, 130, 150–52, 160–61, 163, 173–5, 185 Decadence, Decadents 105–6, 161–2 decay, decomposition 75, 130, 148, 150, 154–6, 161, 166, 174–5, 185 definition and etymology of ‘ugliness’ 10–11, 18, 49, 91, 122, 125, 185, 187 definitions of related terms 29, 54, 73–4, 80, 105, 193 deformed, deformity 25, 33–4, 49–53, 73, 156 artistic 30, 46, 70, 85–6, 136, 138, 156, 179 congenital or physical 30, 33, 35, 59, 74 cultural customs defined as 29, 94, 169–70 literary (e.g., ‘deformed mistress’ blazons, deformance) 45, 82, 190–91, 194 and politics 52, 105, 111, 117, 122 related to ugliness 14, 37, 39, 42, 49, 55, 66, 75, 77 degenerate, degeneration 16, 33, 70, 109, 125, 142–3, 174, 177

ugliness see also Entartete Kunst, Entartete Musik Delacroix, Eugène 162 della Porta, Giovanni Battista 33 demons, devils 36, 74, 76–7, 83, 85, 130, 140, 154, 177 diabolus in musica 21, 140–41 dirt 12–3, 22, 153, 158, 160, 163, 174–5, 177 dirty 41, 90, 115, 145, 162, 195 see also excrement; pollution disability, disabilities 29, 30, 52, 98, 107, 122 blindness 91, 109, 110, 117, 122, 136–8, 146, 193 compared with denigrated groups 73, 75, 80, 105, 111, 119 deafness 30, 146 Disability Rights Movement 13–14, 111, 124, 134 dwarfism 54–5, 75, 130 hunchback, hunchbacks 27, 49, 50, 75, 80, 136, 159, 188 discrimination 70, 111, 113–14, 116–17, 123 disease 29, 33, 46, 101, 107, 111, 128, 134, 148, 173 artistic treatments around 80–81, 105, 152, 156, 191 disfiguration, disfigurement 22, 44, 75, 85, 88, 98, 101, 192 diversity 22, 36, 151, 187 divs 83, 84 Dix, Otto, Skin Graft (Transplantation) 99–101, 100, 104–6, 109 dolls 10, 17, 114–17, 115, 118, 176 Doré, Gustave, The Vision: or, Hell … 186 Douglas, Mary 12–13, 22, 145 Down syndrome 46, 86 Duffy, Mary 98 Duncan, Isadora 17, 170–71 Dürer, Albrecht 42 Eakins, Thomas, The Gross Clinic 133 Eco, Umberto, On Ugliness 10 Egypt 27, 29, 34, 41, 80, 82, 168


emotion 13, 116, 128, 141 desire and the erotic 34, 38, 58, 82, 93, 148, 150 disgust 58, 88–90, 111, 133, 146, 149–51, 162–3 fear 9, 29, 34, 74, 82, 112, 152, 164, 175 horror 45, 59, 79, 89, 91, 102, 133, 150 love 45, 81, 90, 118, 150, 184 shame 38, 41, 50, 64, 85, 98, 113, 120, 134, 193 Ennius 25 Entartete Kunst see Exhibition of Degenerate Art Entartete Musik 142, 142 entertainers, entertainment 30, 34, 44, 75, 158–9 see also ethnic displays; freak shows Erasmus 44 ethnic displays 14, 55, 170 eugenics 111 Euripides 32 Eve 38, 134 evil 9, 29–31, 65, 77, 83, 85, 149, 164, 178 evil eye 86, 129–30, 130, 145 excess, excessive 10, 75, 83, 101, 157, 177, 179, 194 excrement 134, 148–9, 153, 158–9, 168, 172, 178 Exhibition of Degenerate Art (Entartete Kunst) 9, 16, 105–6, 129 exhibits, exhibitions 54–5, 142, 170 of art 10, 14, 95, 134, 144, 152, 172–3, 186, 191 see also Entartete Kunst; museums exoticism 70, 90–92, 169–70 Fahd, Ibn 82 failure 129, 145, 191, 194 fairy tales 36–41, 120, 165, 192 fashion 21, 94–5, 107, 117, 134, 165–9, 173 clothes and jewellery 9–10, 37–8, 43–5, 50, 60, 120 corsets 16, 166, 168

index cosmetics and wigs 44, 166–8, 167 see also body modification; surgery (cosmetic) feminism 26, 61, 124, 143, 152 ‘Festival of the Ugly’ 10, 123 fierce, fierceness 18, 36, 56, 73, 96, 130 film 59, 79, 104, 106–7, 117, 120, 132, 165, 175 Firdausi, Abu’l-Qasim, Shahnama 83–5, 84 Flaubert, Gustave 177 Floris ii, Cornelis, Grotesque 189 Flower, William Henry, Fashion in Deformity 168, 169 food, food analogies 30, 38, 41, 150, 153–5, 157–66 formless 10, 34, 44, 162, 191 fragmented, fragments 29, 100, 104, 179, 187, 192 France 17, 69, 74, 95, 101, 103–4, 147–50 freaks, freak shows 14, 26, 28, 30, 40, 54–9, 92, 170 see also entertainment; ethnic displays Freud, Lucian 188 Freud, Sigmund 128 Friedrich, Ernst, Krieg dem Kriege! 104 Fry, Roger 22, 145 Fuseli, Henry, The Three Witches 164 Futurism 141, 152, 162 Garbage Pail Kids 120 garden, gardening 134, 138, 147, 153, 175, 180 Gellée, Claude (le Lorrain) 160 gender 18, 26, 38, 67, 70, 92, 109, 117, 121, 124, 174 Genet, Jean 149 genetics 107, 119 giant, giants 31–2, 35, 54, 69, 75 goddesses, gods 32–4, 76–7, 93, 96, 152, 174 Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von 93 Goya, Francisco de 99–101, 162, 165 The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters 23


Greece, ancient art, literature, music 31–5, 38, 41, 45, 93–4, 100, 140, 165, 171 categories and terminology 11, 14, 29, 70, 75, 179, 193 classical ideals and influence 29– 30, 33, 61, 88–9, 129, 145, 153, 183 healing and ritual practices 30, 148, 154, 193 Greenberg, Clement 89, 144, 162 grotesque 26, 33, 58–60, 73, 98, 141, 145 in art and architecture 36, 42–4, 42–3, 62, 89, 145, 162, 179, 188, 189 Grünewald, Matthias 188 gueules cassées 17, 101–5 Harvey, Marcus, Myra 172 Hay, William, Deformity 26, 48–54, 64, 66, 122 healing, health 96, 105, 146, 148, 153, 156, 163, 168, 171–3 Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich 96 Heraclitus 129 Herder, Johann Gottfried 93 Herodotus 30 Hickey, Dave 12, 172 al-Hijāzī, Shihāb al-Dīn 82 . Hinduism 38, 65, 77–8, 174 Hippocrates 148 Hirst, Damien 161, 172–4 Hoffmann, Heinrich, Struwwelpeter 120, 121 Hogarth, William, Analysis of Beauty 48–50, 53, 94, 162 Hokusai, Katsushika, A Samurai in a Latrine … 155 Homer 30–32 homosexuality 54, 105, 124 Horace 35, 44 Hugo, Victor 122, 188, 196 human sacrifice 30, 165 Humboldt, Wilhelm von 91 Hume, David 95, 188 hunchback, hunchbacks see disability, disabilities

ugliness Hunchback of Notre Dame (Hugo) 188 hungry ghosts (gaki) 156–7, 157, 164 Huysmans, Joris-Karl 79 hybrid 35–6, 55, 62, 76, 135, 187, 191, 195 see also animals (hybrid) identity 28, 34, 63–4, 82, 109, 115, 122–5, 148–9, 170 ‘imagined ugliness’ 17 imperfection 121, 137, 140, 151, 194–5 Impressionism 161–2, 161, 174 Inglefield, Thomas 52 inherited, inheritable trait 14, 26, 50, 124, 129, 195 injury 16, 31, 50, 101–2, 104, 107, 132, 146, 165 innovation 145, 194 institutionalization 14, 55, 111 ‘internet ugly’ 191 Isidore of Seville 69, 75 Islam 70, 82, 86, 113, 122, 132, 195 isolation 31, 59, 66, 81, 102, 104, 122, 125, 169, 185 Italy 10, 14, 123 al-Jāhi . z. 82 Japan, Japanese art 40, 51, 111–14, 137, 156–7, 166, 175, 180 see also wabi-sabi Johnson, Harriet McBryde 134 Johnson, Samuel 49, 54 jolie laide 17, 194 Jorn, Asger 14 Judaism (religion) see racial categories Justi, Carl 162 Juvenal 49, 153 Kandinsky, Wassily 162 Kant, Immanuel 188 karatsu ware jar 137 Kenkō 180 Kircher, Athanasius 138 kitsch 10, 154, 180, 192 Klee, Paul 192 Kleven, Arvid 141 Klimt, Gustav 162


Korematsu v. United States 111–13 Kristeva, Julia 128 Lamb, Charles, Beauty and the Beast 36 language 10–11, 29, 49, 74, 80, 90, 173, 190–95 and communications 74, 86, 96, 135, 138, 146–7, 188 Laocoön 88–91, 89, 94, 98 laughter 25, 30, 35, 42, 49, 85, 90, 98, 130, 136 Lavater, Johann Caspar 34, 53 law, legal action 14, 29, 31, 70, 82, 109–19, 134, 191 Le Brun, Charles 15, 34 Lega, art of the 95–6, 97, 173 Leonardo da Vinci 42, 44, 61, 178 Lessing, Gotthold Ephraim 88–94, 98 Leviticus 117 Linnaeus, Carl 46 liquid, liquidity 161–2, 191 loathly lady, loathliness 18, 26, 28, 35, 38–41, 40, 49, 56, 90, 93 Longinus 75 Lucifer 85 McDaniels, Grace (‘Mule-faced Woman’) 58–9 Maciá, Oswaldo 152 Manet, Édouard 161–2 Marinetti, F. T. 141, 152 marriage 30, 38–9, 41, 49, 50, 58, 83, 107, 166 Martial 33 masks 73, 96, 101, 103, 135, 154 Massys (Metsys), Quinten, An Old Woman (‘Ugly Duchess’) 26, 41–8, 43, 64, 66 ‘maternal imagination’ 14, 35, 39, 130 Matisse, Henri 14, 173 ‘matter out of place’ 13, 22, 41, 128, 141, 145, 180, 193, 195 medical, medicine diagnosis 17, 26, 46, 148, 156, 163, 176 practices 55–6, 70, 92, 99–103, 107, 174

index theories and treatises 35, 74, 82, 153, 193 Medusa 29, 126, 133 Melzi, Francesco, Two Grotesque Heads 42 memento mori 130, 156 memory 22, 81, 149–50, 187–8 mental illness 17, 105 Merrick, Joseph (‘Elephant Man’) 35, 37, 46 metaphor 96, 129, 158, 160, 162, 178, 184 Mexico 55–6, 63, 94, 96, 151, 152 Michelangelo 41, 178 mirrors 8, 25, 64, 80, 95, 102–3, 137, 147 modern art, modernism 17, 105, 145, 169, 171, 173, 179, 192 Monet, Claude, Waterloo Bridge … 161 Monk, Thelonious, Ugly Beauty 144 monster, monstrosity 29–35, 32, 46, 48–9, 62, 74–80, 122, 141, 160 as guardian figures 36, 65, 73, 130, 135 monster market 55, 75 monstrous characters 31, 136, 138, 160, 174–5, 177 monstrous exercises and writings 187–8, 190, 194 monstrous races 69–76, 71, 72, 120 related to ‘ugly’ 16, 28, 40, 58, 92, 106, 122, 125, 141 Montaigne, Michel de 49, 93–4, 190 morals, morality 49, 85, 96, 103, 146, 153, 173, 186 and immorality 53, 75–6, 105, 137, 142–3, 148, 162 Morris, Errol 132–33 Morrison, Toni, The Bluest Eye 116 mortal, mortality 56, 107, 149, 151–2, 156, 185 Murphy, Justice Frank 112, 114 museums 14, 54–6, 94–5, 103–4, 134, 152, 170, 172–3


music 17, 21–2, 33, 106, 120, 138–45, 163, 181 mustie 171 Native American see racial categories natural, nature 10, 48, 104, 121, 149, 153, 179–80 processes 21, 35, 125, 175, 185 versus culture 16, 25, 32, 47, 79, 163, 169, 171 Nazis 9, 16, 88, 105–6, 129, 142 Nefertiti 34 negation, negative quality 11, 29, 34, 76, 95, 115, 135, 143, 162 Ngai, Sianne, Ugly Feelings 13, 79, 128 Nietzsche, Friedrich 188 noise 33, 128, 140–41, 145–6, 193 noncategory, nondescript 16, 56–7, 61 Nuremberg Chronicle 72 obese, obesity 30, 49, 75, 92, 157 Oedipus 31, 133 Ofili, Chris, Holy Virgin Mary 134–5, 172 orlan 17, 26, 60–66 Self-hybridizations 62–3 Orpheus 140 Orwell, George 154, 190 Orwin, Louise 117 outcast, outcasts 70, 80, 86, 151 Ovid 32, 35 pain 81, 88, 98, 157, 176 Pandora 38 Paré, Ambroise 54, 79 Parks, Gordon, Doll Test, Harlem, New York 115 Parry, Charles H. H. 22, 144–5, 162, 192 Pastrana, Julia 16, 18, 26, 54–60, 57, 64, 66, 92 Pauson 89 Perelle, Gabriel, ‘People Near a Large Ruin …’ 187 performance, performance art 14, 30, 59, 61, 65, 96, 98, 122, 191 see also dance; music

ugliness physiognomy 14, 33–4, 51, 53, 83 Pichler, Klaus, One Third 154 Picot, Yves-Émile 103 plainness, the plain 48, 52, 124, 181 Plato 12, 183–4 pleasure, the pleasant 89, 144, 154, 163, 174, 176, 178 in art and music 42, 79, 144, 152–3, 171, 194 Pliny 41, 69, 94 Plotinus 12 Plug Uglies 123 Plutarch 55 Poe, Edgar Allan 188 poetry, poetics 45, 70, 81–2, 88, 104, 149–50, 191–4 politics 52, 70, 101, 109, 117, 122, 125, 170, 187–8 and art 47, 50, 82, 95, 129, 142 Pollock, Jackson 135, 144 polluted, pollution 76, 146–7, 149, 156 Polo, Marco 77 polychromy 93–4 Polyphemus 26, 29–35, 31, 46–7, 64, 66, 75 Pompey the Great 54 Pope, Alexander 50, 51 portent 70, 79 portrait, portraiture 41–2, 45, 48–9, 52–3, 83, 101, 172 see also representation postmodernism 145, 170, 173, 183, 192–3 Pound, Ezra 145, 163, 179 Power, Susan C. Dunning, The Ugly-Girl Papers 168 pre-Columbian, prehistoric artefacts 18, 62, 73, 94, 96, 165 prejudice 49, 65, 83, 94, 114, 116, 152 pretty ugly see jolie laide Pretty Ugly Club 9 pride 38, 103 primitive, primitives 56, 70, 88, 90, 94–5, 125, 135, 169 profiling, linguistic and racial 117, 146–7


prosthesis, prosthetics 98, 103, 193– 4 Proust, Marcel 149 psychiatry, psychology 17, 61, 101–3, 114–16, 132, 146 punishment 75, 82, 116, 140 Punk 143, 169 Pyreicus 89 Rabelais, François 160, 194 racial categories 18, 26, 71, 101, 119, 175 African American 17, 98, 114–17, 132, 147 black, ‘Negro’ 30, 46, 51–2, 80, 82, 85, 91–3, 115, 135, 142–3 Hottentot 51, 90–93, 98 Indian 55–7, 63, 76, 79, 91 Japanese, Japanese American 51, 111–14 Jewish 16, 51, 86, 88, 91, 105–6, 125, 142 Native American 11, 33, 40, 114, 195 racial tensions, racism 33, 76, 91, 98, 112, 114–17, 125, 134 Ragnell (Ragnelle), Dame 18, 26, 35–41, 47, 56, 64, 66 realism 44–5, 51–3, 83, 161 Rembrandt van Rijn 174 Renoir, Pierre-Auguste 161 representation 46, 71, 76, 112, 134, 170, 185, 188 artistic 34, 51–3, 83, 89, 106, 156, 130, 160 see also portraiture; selfrepresentation Richardson, Kristina 81–2 ridicule, ridiculous 30, 33, 36, 49–50, 89, 98, 101, 122, 162 see also comic; laughter Roettgen Pietà 85, 87 Rome, ancient 12, 25, 29–30, 34–5, 41 classical ideals and influence 50, 54–5, 94 social practices of 75, 107, 122, 129, 145, 159, 177

index Rosenkranz, Karl, Aesthetics of Ugliness 12 ruins 10, 65, 179, 187, 192 Ruscha, Ed, Liquid Words 191 Ruskin, John, Stones of Venice 179 Rustam Kills the White Div 84 sacred, the 10, 61, 85, 90, 134, 154 Sa’dī 85 Sandby, Paul, Puggs Etched from his Original Daubing 53 sanitizing 149 Sartwell, Crispin 11, 184 savage, savages 31, 56, 90, 94 scapegoat 30, 73, 75, 83 Scarry, Elaine 165 Schlegel, Karl Wilhelm Friedrich 154 Schoenberg, Arnold 141 Schultze-Naumburg, Paul, Kunst und Rasse 105 Schweik, Susan, Ugly Laws 14, 110–11, 119, 191 science, scientific studies 46–7, 78, 111, 128, 148, 164, 177, 181, 187 science fiction 60, 119, 122 Scott, Sarah, Agreeable Ugliness 48–9 segregation 61, 111, 114, 116–17 self-representation 49, 52 Sensation exhibit 134, 172 sensations, senses 18, 21–2, 73, 96, 125, 127–81, 188 Serrano, Andres 161, 172, 174 Service, Robert 102–3 sex, sexuality 75, 82, 92, 98, 105, 121, 124, 143, 148, 157, 188 Shakespeare, William 45, 149, 164 shape-shifting 28, 35–41, 73 Sheela-na-gigs 39 Shelley, Mary, Frankenstein 9, 26, 62, 79, 138, 174–5 Shitao, Ten Thousand Ugly Ink Blots 135–6, 135 Shostakovich, Dimitri 143 Shrek 17 sick, sickness 96, 134, 157, 160, 162, 174


sight 77, 91, 102, 110, 128–38, 141, 150, 165 Sillman, Amy, Me & Ugly Mountain 182, 183–4, 192 Sinatra, Frank 143 Singer, Peter 134 Skinker, Tannakin (‘Hog-faced Gentlewoman’) 39, 39, 58 slaves, slavery 33–4, 52, 55, 75, 82, 91, 114, 116, 123 smell 21, 125, 127–8, 143, 147–57, 165, 176 Smithson, Alison and Peter 180 Snyders, Frans 174 Socrates 30–31, 34, 183 Sontag, Susan 98, 178 Soranus 35 sound, sounds 21, 31, 138–47, 153, 163, 176 Souter, Justice David 111–12 Spanish, Spain 33, 56, 63, 88, 100, 141 Spectator papers 51 spectacle, spectacles 66, 77, 104, 158 spectatorship 28, 50, 59–60, 64, 93, 98, 187 Stelarc 140, 172 stereotypes 51–2, 73, 76, 83, 92, 112, 122, 125, 142, 185 stigma, stigmatize 82, 122, 132, 134 Strand, Paul, Blind Woman 109–10, 110 sublime 9, 31, 77, 91 subversive, subversion 81–2, 135, 169 surgery amputation and dissection 133, 134, 141, 163, 174 cosmetic 17, 26, 60–62, 64, 107, 119, 121, 166, 168 reconstructive 17, 99–107, 102 Surrealism 17, 104, 180 symbolism 51, 77, 85, 103, 136, 140, 162, 178 synaesthesia 21, 153–4, 176 taste (sensory) 96, 125, 127–9, 134, 150, 153–4, 156–65, 176

ugliness television 9, 17, 60–61, 64, 121–2, 127, 158, 174 Tenniel, John 11, 47 see also Carroll, Lewis, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland terrorism 185, 188 ˛ al-Tha ālibī 81 Theocritus 32 Thersites 31 Tischbein, Johann H. W., Bust of Polyphemus 31 Titian 93, 128 Tolaas, Sissel 152 touch 21, 93, 96, 125, 127–9, 148, 152–3, 165–76 tourism 147, 170 trickster 34 Tucker, Marcia 123 Turmeau de La Morandière, Denis-Laurian 147 Tzetzes, Johannes 30 uglism 117 Ugly Betty 17, 121–2 Ugly Club, Ugly Face Club 13–14, 13, 30, 48, 50–52, 122–3, 141 Ugly Holiday Sweater Parties 123 ugly stick 140 ugly tree 184 Uglydolls 9–10, 17, 117, 118, 176 uncanny 128 unclean 76, 142, 147–8, 174 unfinished work 195 value, value-system 22, 66, 70, 90, 134, 136, 138, 160 commercial or use-value 73, 75 cultural values 21, 83, 91, 115–16, 127, 153 Valverde de Amusco, Juan, Anatomia … 20 vampires 154, 164 vanitas 130, 131 Varthema, Ludovico di, ‘Idol of Calicut’ 76, 77 Venturi, Robert and Denise Scott Brown 180


Venus, Venuses 61, 88, 92–3, 92, 98, 168, 171 Vesalius, Andreas 174, 178 Vézelay Abbey 69–71, 71, 73–4 Vico, Giambattista 22 violence 31, 83, 88, 98, 100, 109, 114, 141, 165, 192 Virgil 32, 186 Vitruvian Man, Vitruvius 178 Voltaire 10 vomit 159–60, 172 wabi-sabi 9, 11, 137, 194–5 war 17, 69–70, 111–14, 132, 179 soldiers and veterans of 69, 76, 99–107, 108 Westerfeld, Scott, Uglies 9, 119–20, 122 Wijngaard, Juan, ‘Loathly Lady’ 40 Wilde, Oscar 137 wildness 31, 44, 50, 93, 130, 135, 141, 175 Winckelmann, Johann Joachim 29, 90, 93–4 witches 36–7, 39, 88, 141, 164, 177 Witkin, Joel-Peter, Feast of the Fools 150–52, 151, 161, 172 Wittgenstein, Ludwig 137 wonder, wonders 25, 31, 54–5, 70, 195 World Association of Ugly People 123 Zappa, Frank 185 Zeuxis 41–2, 45, 62, 81 Ziegel, Tyler 107, 108 Zorn, John 144