Academic journal article The Irish Journal of Gothic and Horror Studies

The Mindfreak: Monstrous Memory in McGrath's the Grotesque (1989) and Nolan's Memento (2000)

Academic journal article The Irish Journal of Gothic and Horror Studies

The Mindfreak: Monstrous Memory in McGrath's the Grotesque (1989) and Nolan's Memento (2000)

Article excerpt

Introduction

Marked by difference, the freak does not conform to natural, social, or scientific norms. Whether monster, mutant, or undead, the abhuman body retains traces of human identity but has become, or is in the process of becoming, something quite different. According to Patrick McGrath, the 'New Gothic' foregrounds the workings of the psychotopia. This 'turning inward' of the gothic from landscape to mindscape places the emphasis on 'minds and souls haunted by the urge to transgress and do evil, crippled with distortions of perception and the moral sense, and obsessed with death and morbidity', all in instances of 'interior entropy - spiritual and emotional breakdown'.1 The mind is entropie as it cannot think outside of itself and constantly reinforces what it thinks, resulting in psychosomatic states like obsessive compulsion, claustrophobia, neurosis, paranoia, schizophrenia, and psychosis.

The New Monster of the gothic is the psychopathological freak, or 'mindfreak'. The perception, reception, and conception of our reality are products of one's state of mind, from which there is no escape. This essay analyses Patrick McGrath's novel The Grotesque (1989) and Christopher Nolan's film Memento (2000), and examines the existential incarceration that both their narrator-protagonists suffer.2 Although they are set in different contexts and are expressed through different forms, both texts study the interior entropy of aberrant mental states in the act of re-membering narrative. In The Grotesque, Sir Hugo, after a 'cerebral accident', becomes a quadriplegic who suffers from locked-in syndrome.3 Although he continues to possess the faculty of memory, imagination, thought, and will, he has no expression or psychomotor ability. He is 'able to see, know, and evaluate the world, yet lift not a finger, nor even blink at will' [emphasis in original].4 Memento is about Leonard Shelby who wants to remember the motivation for his actions but suffers from anterograde amnesia, meaning that '[he has] no short-term memory [and] can't make any new memories'.5 Both The Grotesque and Memento are thus inherently interested in the workings of the brain, particularly the faculty of memory.

Both mindfreaks are doomed to repeat indefinitely the cycle of their warped perspectives. From Edgar Allan Poe to Neil Gaiman, the New Gothic perceives the mind itself as 'a kind of supernatural space, filled with intrusive spectral presences'.6 Memento is a gothic film because 'Gothic is the terrain on which we are never sure what - if anything - we have remembered' .7 Similarly, in the fiction of McGrath, 'we find a mordant glee in the failings of taxonomic classification and the futility of all attempts to establish an objective, orthodox version of reality.'8 To Botting, 'the internalization of Gothic forms represents the most significant shift in the genre' as 'psychological rather than supernatural forces became the prime-movers in worlds where individuals could be sure neither of others nor of themselves.'9

With no reference point to anchor any interpretation, the uncertainty of self and reality threatens to reveal the fictionality of one's being, compelling a fabrication of some semblance of coherence and credibility from shreds of imposture, assumption, and speculation. Trapped within the entropy of their mental states and its self-conceived simulacra, the isolation of both their conditions requires Sir Hugo and Leonard to devise coping mechanisms to make sense of their world. They re-create, re-present, and recover the narrative of memory by imposing order and stability on their histories and allowing the past to be rewritten 'in a fashion acceptable to the conscious mind'.10 This loss of a sense of history results from an inaccessible past that has become a 'multitudinous photographic simulacrum', a contrived text that is open to indeterminacy, misinterpretation, and self-deception.11 Thus what the viewer or reader has to accept as the only historically accurate point in the narrative is also thrown into question. …

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