Destruction and the discourse of deformity: invisible monsters and the ethics of atrocity

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Palahniuk’s Invisible Monsters (1999) criticizes and investigates the way in which postmodern urban culture contributes to identity formation or deconstruction. As in his first novel Fight Club (1996), here again subjects are portrayed as resisting cultural interpellation, thereafter redesigning their being-in-the-world through techniques of brutality performed upon and against their own bodies. In this chapter, I want to explore such masochistic performances and argue for their potential “ethical” dimensions. By meditating on Giorgio Agamben’s observation of contemporary culture as one which demotes experience as a means of authenticating subjective position, and then appropriating this thesis to Palahniuk’s narrative, I argue that the novel’s preoccupation with modeling, artifice and makebelieve-all of which suggest that experiences are often designs of the culture industry invested onto bodies-directly realizes Agamben’s fear that a particular mode of postmodern culture is emptying subjects of meaning. To counter this effect, the principle characters in Invisible Monsters perform violence upon their own bodies as a desperate resort to experience “aliveness.” Advertently, the configuration of “beauty” in the culture industry is a paramount motif in Invisible Monsters, but is exposed not only for its “devoiding” capacity, but for its monstrous qualities as well. Yet, such a monstrosity inheres an “ethical dimension” for it is only by “turning monstrous” that subjects may be able to redeem their identity from a culture saturated with constructed and over-determined semblances of self.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationReading Chuck Palahniuk
Subtitle of host publicationAmerican Monsters and Literary Mayhem
EditorsCynthia Kuhn, Lance Rubin
Place of PublicationNew York NY USA
Number of pages12
ISBN (Electronic)9781135254681
ISBN (Print)9780415998109
Publication statusPublished - 13 Sept 2009

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