Sherry Truffin deposited ‘This is what passes for free will’: Chuck Palahniuk’s Postmodern Gothic in the group American Literature on Humanities Commons 2 years ago
Literary Gothic emerged in the eighteenth century, the so-called Age of Reason, and takes as its subject the enemies of reason: superstition, madness, barbarism, taboo, etc. In the Gothic, these adversaries are engaged and often defeated. At the same time, however, the Gothic is a claustrophobic, paranoid literature, both profoundly skeptical of the Enlightenment faith that humanity can be perfected and anxiously aware of the damage caused by its schemes for bringing about that perfection. Chuck Palahniuk’s novels fit solidly in this Gothic tradition but update it for the postmodern age, which, despite some awareness of the Enlightenment’s shortcomings, seeks perfection in miracle “makeovers” of all kinds. The protagonists of Survivor, Lullabye, and Invisible Monsters, like all Gothic characters, are haunted by the past (both personal and cultural) and beset by traps of all kinds (particularly consumerism). In response to a variety of traumatic experiences, these characters inevitably become paranoid and monstrous, ultimately transgressing the bounds of law, reason, and good taste. Their desperate bids for freedom and control in a suffocating, dehumanizing commodity culture are usually violent and destructive both to themselves and to others, and they are always partial and compromised. Nevertheless, they represent the only prospect for authentic human agency in the novels. Ultimately, the only hope for these protagonists is to acknowledge that there are curses that cannot be eluded, traps that cannot be escaped, damage that cannot be undone, and inner monsters that cannot be defeated—and to accept and embrace the monstrosity of others.