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American Studies
Film Studies
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14 Feb

Chapter on Writing Monsters

Written by Michael Fuchs
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Monstrous Writing—Writing Monsters: Authoring Manuscripts and the Ontology of Monstrosity

When Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto was published in 1764, the book claimed to be a manuscript "translated by William Marshal … from the original Italian of Onuphrio Muralto" (as the original subtitle had it). In this way, the novel (or, rather, document) established its authenticity on the basis of its (fictional) genealogy. The book, which became the urtext of the Gothic, thus employed a rhetoric gesture that would characterize the genre it defined. Indeed, haunted manuscripts have played an incredibly important role in the Gothic and in horror. Iconic novels such as Ann Radliffe's The Romance of the Forest (1791) and Charles Maturin's Melmoth, the Wanderer (1820) employ the trope to full effect, questioning their respective narrators' reliability in order to evoke the uncanny, while early movies such as Vampyr: Der Traum des Allan Grey (1932) utilize embedded manuscripts to remediate established media. Apart from anticipating the found footage phenomenon in horror movies, the significance of this genre trope has neither lost its appeal nor its effectivity, even sparking playful inversions such as the found video that takes center stage in Mark Z. Danielewski's cult book House of Leaves (2000).

In my proposed contribution to the volume Horror by the Book, I will focus on a specific kind of the 'book-in-horror-film' trope, the 'writing monsters' type; that is, (meta-)horror texts in which monsters are written into existence, metaphorically invading the 'real' world from the world of fiction, while metaleptically emerging from manuscripts in progress. These narratives make explicit that all monsters are human creations; that "monsters are our children," as Jeffrey Jerome Cohen remarks in his seven theses on monstrosity. However, texts in which monsters are created (and then usually cannot be controlled) emphasize the monsters' constructedness.

Thus, my proposed chapter will discuss the movies In the Mouth of Madness (1994) and New Nightmare (1994) and the video game Alan Wake (2010). In all three texts, manuscripts in progress precede and define 'reality,' as worlds—and the monsters inhabiting them—emerge from books. The explicit emphasis on the process of writing monsters into existence (i.e., their apparent constructedness) allows for inquiries into the natures of the respective media and the operating principles of the genre traditions these texts tap into. In addition, Mouth of Madness and Alan Wake draw on the established notion of questioning the reliability of specific characters. However, most importantly, these texts focus on monstrous becomings (and/or the process of becoming-monstrous), the ontology of monstrosity. Since "the monster exists only to be read" (as Cohen has it), my proposed contribution to this volume will focus on these cultural artifacts' meta-reflections on what monsters are and why we need them.