Mendelsund’s Theories Represented in Palahniuk’s Invisible Monsters Remix
Chuck Palahniuk’s Invisible Monsters Remix reflects multiple theories presented in Peter Mendelsund’s What We See When We Read. Throughout Palahniuk’s episodic novel, the reader is taken, nonlinearly, through the life of protagonist, Shannon McFarland. McFarland, a former fashion model, purposely injures her face in attempt to start a new life for herself. Her friend, Brandy Alexander, an exuberant transgender whom Shannon realizes was her brother, teaches Shannon that a person’s past should not be crucial to their future. In the novel, Palahniuk tells the reader what to see and what to imagine, a theory which is reinforced in Mendelsund’s What We See When We Read. Because Invisible Monsters Remix is organized asynchronously and the reader is told what to see when reading, the story is made into a mere, fast-paced spectacle, but is only meaningful in the end as the climax begins to fall and the story’s pace diminishes.
According to Peter Mendelsund, “every narrative is meant to be transposed” or “imaginatively translated” (Mendelsund 207). Although, in Invisible Monsters Remix, instead of letting you imagine the story independently, Palahniuk instructs you on how exactly you should. At the beginning of almost every chapter, for instance, Palahniuk tells the reader “where you’re supposed to be is Spitefield Park” or “some big West Hills wedding reception” or “with cameramen and actors and stuffed mushrooms all over [a] church” (Palahniuk 66, 284, 293). Palahniuk instructs the reader on where to situate himself within the story and what exactly they should be envisioning. In the Introduction, for example, Palahniuk tells the reader to “imagine the entire internet printed on paper and bound along one edge” (v). He asks the reader to imagine these instances so explicitly to ensure that his audience is able to fully immerse themselves into what Palahniuk wants his readers to see. In What We See When We Read, Mendelsund explains how we picture “what we are told to see”, but simultaneously, “we are picturing what we imagine we will be told to see” (Mendelsund 94). It is true that in Invisible Monsters Remix the reader pictures what they are told to see. However, because of how episodic the novel is, it is difficult for the reader to imagine what they might be told to see next. Palahniuk askes the reader to imagine the internet printed on one page, bounded along the same edge, to illustrate how with technology, there will always be a reflection of yourself. On paper, though, there is no reflection, allowing you to completely lose yourself within its pages. Palahniuk found himself lost within the Sears catalogue. It was organized in no particular order, but because it was “a little unknowable”, Palahniuk loved it (Palahniuk vii). With the Sears catalogue in mind, he wrote Invisible Monsters Remix in a way that would “not unspool as a continuous linear series”.
An Invisible Monsters Remix reader, therefore, is instructed to jump to and from different chapters in the novel. Palahniuk tells the reader at the end of a chapter, for example, to “now, please, jump to Chapter Thirty-Eight” (30). And when the reader flips from Chapter Four to Thirty-Eight the first sentence is Palahniuk’s protagonist telling you to “jump way back to last Thanksgiving” or in the instance of Chapter Twenty-Nine, you are told to “jump to this one time, nowhere special, just Brandy and [Shannon]” (242, 179). Here, Palahniuk attempts to make the story clearer for his audience by helping them decide what they should be visualizing. Palahniuk tries to have the same effect with his readers that the Sears magazine had on him; he wants his audience to become lost within the story. The nonlinearity of this makes it difficult for the reader to imagine what they might be told next. However, this episodic arrangement keeps the story spectacular and the reader engaged as Palahniuk provides them with a sense of anticipation. This sense of anticipation, according to Mendelsund, affects the speed at which we read. When reading something especially stimulating, we tend to “gulp words and phrases” at a faster pace, thus affecting one’s recollection of the text (Mendelsund 96). Mendelsund uses the example of walking along the side of the road on which you normally drive. Doing this, he claims, uncovers details you wouldn’t normally see at high speeds. This is applicable to Palahniuk’s main intent; to have the reader feel as if they haven’t read the whole text or that they missed a major point or detail in the story. Palahniuk wants the reader to be able to open Invisible Monsters Remix again and again “and find something – as with the Sears catalogue” that hadn’t been seen before. To do this, Palahniuk supplied the story with “jumps”, “hidden secrets”, and “buried treasure[s]”, all of which contribute to the reader’s anticipation (Palahniuk viii).
The anticipation that Palahniuk initiates in his readers, causes his audience to read at a faster pace. This pace, along with the story’s nonlinear form, mirrors the content of Invisible Monsters Remix. As dramatic, intense, or compelling things happen throughout the story, the reader is flipping through chapters that are either further apart from one another or flipping through chapters more frequently. The confusing or complicated flipping of chapters mirrors what might be happening in Invisible Monsters Remix. Dissimilarly, as chapters become closer in time, they become positioned or situated in proximity to one another. Throughout the beginning of the novel, there is a noticeable pattern of flipping between chapters near the back of the book and chapters closer to the front. As you continue to read back and forth from the front to the back, during which the pace seems fast, it feels as if you are nearing the middle of the book. However, because Palahniuk wants the reader to feel lost, the pattern will often change, but usually only one chapter at a time. This change of pattern tends to increase the story’s pace, while it, simultaneously, represents what is happening in the story. The closer the reader becomes to the middle of the book, the slower the pace becomes. Chapters that took place in different times are starting to come together and make more sense to the reader. In Chapter Thirty-Eight, for example, Shannon, before she purposely ruins her face, spends time with her family over Thanksgiving. Shannon explains to her parents how Shane, her brother who transforms into Brandy Alexander, is “bad and mean”, and “dead” (245). Here, the reader does not know that Shannon’s brother is alive and that Brandy Alexander was once Shane. At the end of the chapter when you are instructed to turn to Chapter Five, though, Shannon tells the reader about how she kept her accident a secret from her parents. Instead, she tells them she is “going on a catalogue shoot in Cancún” (31). What happens in Chapter Thirty-Eight is not in the correct, chronological order with what happens in the next chapter, Chapter Five. Having these chapters arranged nonlinearly leaves major gaps in the story. However, as the reader nears the end of Palahniuk’s novel, these pieces are filled and the reader slows down to insure they don’t miss anything else that could possibly be pieced together.
When the reader slows in pace in Palahniuk’s Invisible Monsters Remix, the story that had been a simple, entertaining spectacle starts to wind down and turn to something of more significance. Certain details, which had been made confusing to understand because important context was not given, are now beginning to make sense. As the chapters near each other, empty gaps are filled allowing the story’s events to be made meaningful and significant.
Mendelsund, Peter. What We See When We Read: A Phenomenology; with Illustrations. New York: Vintage , a Division of Random House LLC, 2014. Print. Palahniuk, Chuck. Invisible Monsters Remix. New York: W.W. Norton, 2012. Print.