Schizoid Masculinity and Monstrous Interiors in American Haunted House Narratives
Keywords:Schizoid, R.D. Laing, toxic masculinity, Bachelard, Gothic setting, haunted house, The Shining, House of Leaves
Resonating with these pandemic times, Catherine Spooner has described the Gothic as a ‘malevolent virus’. In my paper, I will propose that the haunted house narrative, so central to American Gothic, has itself mutated in response to a backdrop of post-millenial social, political and financial collapse in a manner quite different to developments in the rest of the Gothic literary world. The narrative strand which has emerged, presents the reader with a new form of the Gothic male protagonist, whom the British psychologist R.D Laing in The Divided Self (1960), would describe as a ‘schizoid’ subject. Fragile, failing and fragmenting, he escapes a failing career, marriage and parenthood by removing his family to a quasi-domestic space which promises repair. House or hotel, these ‘haunted houses’ are different from the earlier ‘hungry houses’ identified by Gothic writer Stephen Graham Jones in his introduction to Robert Marasco’s classic haunted house novel, Burnt Offerings. This new quasi-domestic space, often combining work and home, rises up to meet the male schizoid, not merely as the traditional Gothic setting, but as a sentient being; a monster in its own right. His entrapment in this new Gothic labyrinth that is constantly shifting, expanding and shrinking, provides a performative stage on which the schizoid male is forced into an existential crisis beyond that of the trauma of spousal and parental failure, ultimately forcing him to confront what it is to exist in space and time. A reaction to the rise of neo-liberalism and toxic masculinity, this important strand to American Gothic embraces the multiplicity of the Gothic’s new forms and is evident in texts such as Steve Rasnic Tem’s, Deadfall Hotel, Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves, Thomas Liggotti’s, The Town Manager, Jac Jemc’s, The Grip of It and Shaun Hamill’s A Cosmology of Monsters. Developing from their deeper roots in the Calvinist Gothic tradition of Hawthorne, Brockden Brown and Poe via the mid-century works of Stephen King and Robert Marasco, these new post- millennial narratives provide a space in which notions of masculine subjectivity are fundamentally challenged.
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