Dr. Alex E. Blazer

Department of English

Georgia College & State University

Milledgeville, GA 31061




"the dolls are real, but not that real":

Chuck Palahniuk's Haunted and Postmodern Horror

“No, the dolls are real, but not that real"

(Chuck Palahniuk, Haunted 168)

2005 saw the publication of two horror novels by two popular postmodern authors. Bret Easton Ellis's Lunar Park stays true to the genre's conventions of haunted houses, possessed pets, serial killer stalkers, and the return of repressed family history while introducing postmodern metafictionality and intertextuality: the author, Bret Easton Ellis, is the narrator, Bret Easton Ellis, and the killer(s) is/are Patrick Batemen from Ellis's own American Psycho and Ellis's own father. Chuck Palahniuk's Haunted, the focus of this essay, takes Mary Shelley's writing of Frankenstein as its premise; however, while a bonfire of Romantics resulted in The Modern Prometheus, the starving/tortured artists writers' retreat that composes the frame of Haunted deteriorates into an everyone for herself horde of narcissistic and cannibalistic, camera-wielding and royalty-grubbing writers self-obsessed with “the Mythology of Us," i.e., the media legends that they will become, as they stage supposed memoirs about masturbation gone awry into abject disembowelment (“Guts"), the fantasy of betrothed pornography degrading into repulsive if not painful touch (“Post-Production"), the doubly ironic objectification of sex dolls by social workers of abused children (“Exodus"), and other tales of perversely stimulating simulation evolving into traumatic (corpo)reality. Like The Rocky Horror Picture Show before it, the book campily and disgustingly parodies the horror genre, particularly its sexual anxieties. In the outer frame narrative of the writers' retreat, Haunted suggests that the narcissist will endure any amount of abject sexual degradation in order to win recognition and fame for all is fodder for recuperative memoir. The stories themselves skirt the boundaries of simulation and sexuality: upon realizing that her being is devalued to “just a skin tube with a hole at either end," just like the anatomically correct dolls routinely molested by her callous social services coworkers, the protagonist in “Exodus" takes the dolls on a high speed chase from the depraved culture in which “human beings . . . turn objects into people, people into objects." Palahniuk's collection of stories seeks to satirize and save. First, it lampoons our Laschean culture of narcissism that breeds the conceit of image-centered self-love over the biological imperative of self-preservation─and the existential mandate of compassion. Second, it rehabilitates reality from the scourge of simulation pervasive in postmodern culture by horrifying readers with traumatic images so terrifying to their own body image that they are shocked from the show back into their skin.


This abstract summarizes my presentation, "'the dolls are real, but not that real': Chuck Palahniuk's Haunted and Postmodern Horror," Mid-Atlantic Popular/American Culture Association, Niagara Falls, ON, Canada, November 1, 2008.