Reading the chapter entitled “Hands” in Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio made me think of Stromae’s music video for “Quand C’est,” which also makes use of wandering, restless hands to represent the abject.
In “Hands,” the restless hands of Biddlebaum are the abject objects of self. Due to his past troubles, his wandering hands have become objects of an interiorized grotesque and he keeps them hidden from the public eye. In Stromae’s video, the hands are not the abject objects. Instead, they represent the abject object, which is cancer, quietly creeping into the body and violating order and form. This violation of order and form is not only represented through the hands, which seem to have taken on a life of their own, but also through the alien-like dance moves and movements. The way he moves and the way shadows react create the illusion of inhuman juxtapositions of limbs. It is likely that you didn’t even notice Stromae’s extra set of arms that make a brief appearance at 1:34, or his third leg at 1:42, subtly furthering the distortion of the figure, as it is being violated by the otherness.
According to Harpham, “The sense of the grotesque arises with the perception that something is illegitimately in something else.” This idea is clearly illustrated in the video as cancer tries to illegitimately make its way into Stromae’s body, bringing about a grotesque merging of “I” and the “Other.” In the end, the aesthetically grotesque representation of cancer reverses the perception of the subject and the object by consuming Stromae. Stromae, who was the subject, becomes the object as his soul is yanked from his body and becomes entangled in the vines of the almighty cancer creature.
The end of the video seems to have elements of the Sublime, as well as the grotesque. The massive, grotesque creature is seemingly just a frightening eye belonging to an endless maze of vines and spider-like legs. As the camera moves through the maze of souls entrapped in the creature’s vines, it reminds me of the “Star Gate” scene in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, with unusual intricacies, vastness, and sense of infinity. The representation of cancer also has many of the aesthetic characteristics of Burke’s Sublime, with its terror, power, vastness, and magnitude.
Another interesting aspect of this video is the song’s lyrics. Stromae plays on the similarity of the French pronunciation of “cancer” and, “Quand c’est?” (When is it?) It’s nearly impossible to tell which phrase he is saying. Ambiguity is a typical characteristic of the grotesque, and the lyrical ambiguity compliments the grotesque aesthetics of this video quite well. The whole video is a hauntingly grotesque representation of one of the greatest evils that exists in the world today.
Works Cited: Anderson, Sherwood. “Hands.” In Winesburg, Ohio (1919). Bartleby.com, 1999. Web. Clarke, Arthur C. “Part VI: Through the Star Gate.” In 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). 25th ed. 207-236. 1993. New York: Penguin/ROC Books. Print. Harpham, G. G. On the Grotesque : Strategies of Contradiction in Art and Literature. Aurora, Colorado: Davies Group Publishers, 2006. Copy. Kant, Immanuel. Critique of Judgement (1790). Trans. With Introduction and Notes by J.H. Bernard (2nd rev. ed.). London: MacMillan, 1914. Web. StromaeVEVO. “Stromae – Quand C’est?” Online video clip. Youtube. 14 Sept. 2015. Web. 20 Nov. 2015. < https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8aJw4chksqM.>