Dr. Alex E. Blazer

Department of English

Georgia College & State University

Milledgeville, GA 31061







"The Phony 'Martyrdom of Saint Me':

Choke, The Catcher and the Rye,

and the Problem of Postmodern Narcissistic Nihilism"

Reading Chuck Palahniuk: American Monsters and Literary Mayhem.

Eds. Cynthia Kuhn and Lance Rubin. London: Routledge, 2009. 143-56.


Reading Chuck Palahniuk


Victor Mancini, the millennial narrator of Chuck Palahniuk's Choke (2001), is an admitted but unreformed twenty-something sex addict who by day works in a living history museum, by night runs the "Victor Mancini Telethon," a scam in which he fakes choking in restaurants in order to collect not only heroic Heimlichs but also charitable donations, and on the weekends is forced to pretend to be his institutionalized mother's attorney (as well as a host of other senile citizens' scapegoats) because his mother refuses to talk to her actual son. Disillusioned by the fake world, by his paranoiac mother, and especially by his own malingering self, he indicts the postmodern condition of dissembling ("That’s pretty much how we get through our own lives, watching television. Smoking crap. Self-medicating. Redirecting our own attention. Jacking off. Denial" [61]) in a manner that recalls the depressive anxieties of the premier postwar protagonist Holden Caulfield in J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye (1951). Like Holden, Victor criticizes the phoniness of his hypermediated culture that forecloses upon authentic purpose-driven existence and seeks salvation. However, whereas Holden's depression over the phoniness of life, Guy Debord's The Society of the Spectacle, leads to his withdrawal from the vulgar world, Victor is a millennial postmodern subject for whom, after Jean Baudrillard, the boundaries between reality and image, authenticity and inauthenticity, and, finally, sanity and insanity collapse: Victor lives the very fictitious life he denounces, paradoxically compelled to find redemptive reality through meaningless sex, specious malingering, and make-believe scapegoating. Victor charges all the world for being a stage and yet casts himself as the star of the production, the mimicking martyr whose image will save the world from the plague of hyperreality. While it appears at the conclusion of the novel that Victor is a messiah seeking to build something real from the rubble of annihilated fantasy ("Maybe it’s our job to invent something better" [292]), in truth such redemption is a sentimental sham as the postmodern subject is part canny narcissist and part uncanny nihilist who believes in nothing, not even himself.


This abstract summarizes my forthcoming article, "The Phony 'Martyrdom of Saint Me': Choke and the Problem of Postmodern Narcissistic Nihilism." Reading Chuck Palahniuk: American Monsters and Literary Mayhem. Eds. Cynthia Kuhn and Lance Rubin. London: Routledge, 2009. 143-56.