Thought on “American Psycho” (the novel)

  • shocking
  • partly compelling – by being unreliable and confusing
  • not challenging – until you consider Bret Easton Ellis‘ views Bateman appears as a caricature
  • is Bateman in fact there to be mocked? Should the reader feel appalled by him? Should he appeal? Should the reader feel complicit in his actions? (by playing the part of the voyeur in the same way that he does… recording his actions in writing and in film. He watches back as the reader can read back.)
  • interesting in what it could say about middle class excess/complacency
  • author is misogynist?
  • most shocking/memorable part is still the first attack on the two prostitutes Christie and Sabrina with the “sharpened coat hanger, a rusty butter knife,” and “an empty carton of Italian seasoning salt [he] picked up at Dean & Deluca” (note that the name-dropping never ends)* – The more graphic, explicit, outrageous the masochistic scenes become the less shocking the narrative.
  • What does it say about women that Christie the prostitute returns?
  • What does it say about women that Bateman is most shaken up/violent/angry/shouting (“You bitch” “You fucking cunt”** with his old childhood sweetheart? What does it say that he had to cut her tongue out? It is a personal attack against her; “Remember this?” and not about instant gratification, there is a lot more behind this particular attack.

What is the body in this text?

  • experimented upon – often scientifically by means of acid, dissection, lab rats (think about ways in which writers dissect women? can parallels be drawn between Donne etc, especially if Bateman is inventing all of his violence then it is all fictional; about desire, ownership, power. Is it instructive like Elegie XVII: Love’s Progress? Is it about ownership and dissection as in Elegie XIX: On his mistress going to bed eg. “My kingdom safeliest when with one man man’d”
  • to be controlled – the women are puppets, even those who are of his status eg Evelyn – there is no difference between them and prostitutes
  • never sexualised (does not have to be about intimacy to be sexual, rather the focus of Bateman’s descriptions is elsewhere, on instant gratification, fantasy rather than sex). Of course, he does have sex with the women he kills, and others besides, but the descriptions are brutal, pornographic – especially in the sense that he sets things up (see point about about puppets) and watches. Bateman is the male voyeur and so these sex scenes become about the male gaze, the male need, the exploitation of the women rather than the act of sex – in fact it is worth noting that sex is often unsatisfactory: “After attempting to have sex with her for around fifteen minutes, I decide not to continue trying”***, “then I try to fuck her in the mouth once more but I can’t come so I stop”**** (one exception being just before injuring Christie and Sabrina – what is the difference here?)
  • the sex and violence ceases to shock the reader and it becomes less satisfactory to Bateman too, by the end
  • sex scenes written with childish sentence structure, no punctuation, very detailed, observatory, this then this then this then this happened, loses any sensuality/tension it could have, just sensory overload and so the reader is put into the position of Bateman where something more is needed to make this exciting – for him this is the fantasy of violence
  • Does it matter if this is all in his head? What is important and at the heart of this novel, is wish fulfillment and fantasy – be this in angry whispers to someone at a bar who refuses to serve him, or all-out attacks on tramps or prostitutes. However there is always a clever blend of fantasy and reality throughout eg no-one else seems to notice what he says, or if he is explicit “”I think I might .. hurt you.” […] “I don’t think I can control myself.” then the person he is speaking to always takes it in a banal way: “”I don’t want to get too involved anyway.”*****

Next, the film. While I’m worried that this will spoil the image of the book that I have in my head, seeing another interpretation I think will help me work out how I feel about this and how it can be interpreted. Because this novel brought up many different ideas for me, and the idea of whether or not he was crazy was least among them.

*Easton Ellis, Bret, American Psycho, (London: Vintage, 1991), p.176
** Easton Ellis, p. 245
*** Easton Ellis, p. 24
**** Easton Ellis, p. 247
***** Easton Ellis, p. 214

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