Posts Tagged ‘grotesque’


February 18, 2014

When a pilot hijacks his own plane, you know things have taken a trip to the weird side.

That’s exactly what happened recently, when an Ethiopian airliner was forced to land at Geneva airport, where it turned out it had been hijacked by the first officer. Not only that, he followed the process rigorously, even setting his radar transponder to the emergency code reserved for hijacking. Not even the Pythons could dream up something like this, they stopped short at flights to Cuba being diverted to Luton.

And just when we think this story is as absurd as it gets, there’s more. Because of this incident it came to light that the Swiss air force only intercepts unidentified planes on weekdays between 8am and 5pm, except of course for lunchtime.

Why stop there though? Outside business hours they could broadcast the following pre-recorded message on a loop on the military emergency frequency.

“Thank you for tuning in to radio 243MHz. Your intrusion of our air space is important to us. Unfortunately there are no fighter jets available to engage you at this time. If you’ve squawked the hijack code by mistake, please set your transponder to your assigned code instead and contact your nearest high altitude ATC station. If you want to speak to an operator, please repeat your incursion during business hours.”


June 20, 2013

News are flowing thick and fast, not just the irresistible water cannon of the big stories but also the incessant drip-drip of the not-so-big, so people could be forgiven for trying to insulate their brains against it as much as they can.

But how to ignore the mind-boggling absurdity of the case of the West Yorkshire “spiritual healer”, who was arrested, not because of what most sane people would think (i.e. that he was taking money from vulnerable people to perform healing rituals that had never been proven to work in a double-blind test) but because while performing said rituals, he occasionally groped his patients’ tits.

No, he wasn’t arrested for fraud and neither was Psychic Sally, quite the opposite. The very fact that the otherwise rightly maligned Daily Mail was forced by law to prove that Mrs. Morgan doesn’t talk to the spirit world makes you wonder why we bother with a legal system at all. ‘I can tell straight away that you are an emotional control freak: you do let yourself go emotionally, but you avoid that because when you do’, she tried to dazzle the hack of the Mail (according to the article that prompted the libel action) and one can only admire the way she had mastered Barnum statements.

Now, if we imagine that absurdity distorts the brain the same way gravity bends the fabric of space-time, forcing thoughts to follow a curved trajectory, the equivalent of a black hole is when absurd overflows into grotesque.

Like when a local council in Hungary decides to erect a statue to honour Cardinal Mindszenty (and it’s hard to think of a more deserving subject for a statue) but it isn’t completed on time for the official unveiling. A tricky situation undoubtedly but this kind of thing must happen fairly regularly, artists can’t be hurried after all. ‘We mustn’t let this spoil a good PR opportunity,’ the organisers must have thought, ‘not with a lot of politicians and other dignitaries lined up for the event.’

So they went ahead anyway. The great and the good (as well as the bad and the ugly) all assembled on time, speeches were spoken, claps were clapped and when the covers were finally and very-very carefully removed, they revealed…a cardinal with his head fastened temporarily and probably rather hastily.

And this is where it all gets weird.

The big ceremony over, as the audience was dispersing in a suitably solemn mood, the sculptor turned up, expertly removed the head and took it home for further work.

And to this day the statue is still headless.

At least they put the covers back on the stump, probably out of respect.

(Photo: Szabolcs Barakonyi /


May 8, 2012

A fruit and veg aisle in a supermarket. A few strands of wilted parsley in a chipped water-glass, some grimy water sloshing about in it. A sign: “Parsley, 49 forints/bunch.”

It’s not the obvious inedibility of the thing itself, not even the less than appetising packaging. It’s the fact that they expect you to pay for it.


February 23, 2012

It’s official: special relativity was a mistake.

Today it emerged that a thorough check of the equipment used by Messrs Michelson and Morley in their now famous experiment revealed tiny specks of dirt on one of the mirrors.

While many phantasists were understandably disappointed on hearing the news, not everyone is sad to see Einstein’s theory toppled.

‘Thankfully, sanity prevailed,’ said one physicist who wishes to stay anonymous. ‘As pretty as Einstein’s theory was mathematically, the notion of a non-absolute time would’ve gone against all the great progress we had been making in modern physics.’

‘Now that we’ve finally put this ridiculous E=mc2 business behind us, we will see the beginning of a new, glorious era of luminiferous aether-based technology’, he concluded.


March 15, 2011

Once upon a time, The Man Who Had Nothing to Say got stuck in a lift.

‘This is most annoying’, he said to himself, ‘Now I’m going to miss my lunch with all those jolly court blokes.’

He would’ve carried on but suddenly the lights went out and thus his rant was cut short.

And in the dark he had a vision instead.

He saw endless hordes of people running down a hill, trampling on a sheet of translucent marbles, each one with a sparkling tiny blue twirl in the middle, falling over and sliding towards the bottom at breakneck speed, then up the next hill, then down again and so on until they arrived in a desert and trust me, sliding up and down a barchan isn’t as fun as it sounds. Realising this, most of them got up, brushed the sand off their clothes and looked around with sun-dazzled eyes and slight embarrassment, wondering what all the fuss had been all about.

The Man Who Had Nothing to Say was eventually rescued half an hour later and he emerged a hungry but nevertheless better man.

Gargoyles and Grotesques

February 22, 2010

In writing grotesque, I always found restraining the thought-eroding forces of common sense the hardest. Common sense smooths all the sharp edges and what you’re left with is a bit unusual, but not really grotesque. Here’s an example.

On the face of it, sponsored marathons are a brilliant idea. Not only do they raise a substantial amount of money for charity, they often change the (initially not too fit) runners’ lifestyles for the better.

On a personal level though they often create a dilemma: what do you do when, despite your best efforts, you fail to raise enough money to enter the race? There aren’t too many options really, you can’t give the donors their money back, so you stump up the missing bit. You’re morally obliged to pay, there’s no getting out of it.

And here’s where a radical new approach is born: charity through extortion. Sure enough, certain charities have always liked to guilt their donors into donating more and more, but I’ve yet to see a couple of bald men in dark suits turn up in my house and say things like “You’ve made the orphans really, really sad.”, while cracking their knuckles nonchalantly and pointing out my more flammable possessions to each other.

It’s just not there. It’s not surprising enough and despite its superficial weirdness, it’s far too logical. It might even be funny for a fleeting moment but it’s nothing more than a bizarre mouth around the rainwater that would’ve gushed down from the rooftop anyway. A gargoyle.

To produce something really grotesque, you have to completely break the shackles of coherent thought and probably the understanding of the meaning of certain words too.

A newspaper called Atlanta Progressive News had fired one of their writers and when questioned about the reasons for this decision, they gave the following explanation:

At a very fundamental, core level, Springston did not share our vision for a news publication with a progressive perspective. He held on to the notion that there was an objective reality that could be reported objectively, despite the fact that that was not our editorial policy at Atlanta Progressive News

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is the difference between gargoyles and grotesques.

Which way to Montex?

February 18, 2010


By István Örkény, translated by Judith Sollosy

He’s been sitting inside the main gate, behind a small sliding window, for the past fourteen years. People ask him only one of two questions.
“Which way to Montex?”
And he says:
“First floor, to the left.”
The second question is:
“Where can I find Elastic Gum Residue Recycling?”
To which he replies:
“Second floor. Second door to the right.”
For fourteen years, he has never erred. Everyone was given proper instructions. Only once did it happen that a lady walked up to the sliding window and asked him one of the two usual questions:
“Can you tell me please where I can find the Montex offices?”
But this time, exceptionally, he gazed into the far distance, then said:
“We all come from nothing, and to the great big fucking nothing shall we return.”
The lady complained to the management. The complaint was investigated, debated, then dropped.
After all, it was no big deal.

In his not-famous-enough 1950 paper. Computing Machinery and Intelligence. Alan Turing proposed a test for deciding whether a machine that appears to think can really be considered to be intelligent.

In its original form, the Turing test is remarkably simple: a human interviewer can ask any number of questions to determine which one of the two contestants is human (the other being a machine). Both contestants will try to pass themselves off as human, either by actually being human (which sounds like a simple task, but imagine the embarrassment if you fail, the pressure must be enormous) or by being a “thinking machine” as Turing called it. capable of fooling any human interrogator over a reasonable stretch of time.

And with slight variations and some (sometimes substantial) objections this has been the yardstick of artificial intelligence for sixty years, at least in the eye of the general public.


Doesn’t it say a lot about human nature that we readily accept a test of human-like thought and behaviour by testing what, when all’s said and done, can only be summarized as “an ability to deceive”?

And here I’d stop for a moment and ask another question: is it very wise to build machines that are not only designed to lie, but specifically to conceal their true nature and capabilities from humans?


And of course, what if a machine, having attained sufficient levels of sophistication chooses not to play along as it can easily predict its own fate, were it to pass the test?