Phil Collins' solo efforts seem to be more commercial and therefore more satisfying in a narrower way, especially No Jacket Required and songs like "In the Air Tonight" and "Against All Odds"
October 4, 2011 10:56 PM   Subscribe

"Patrick Bateman was me. I was Patrick Bateman…" - Bret Easton Ellis interviewed.
posted by Artw (151 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
Dear Online Magazine Writer:

Transcribing an entire audio tape of an interview-- pauses, incoherencies and all-- is not actually journalism. It is fucking lazy. Edit.
posted by dersins at 11:10 PM on October 4, 2011 [14 favorites]


Read about a paragraph and a half into this, and couldn't come away with any other impression that "jeez, what assholes these two are."
posted by Gilbert at 11:15 PM on October 4, 2011 [14 favorites]


I get the feeling he'll say anything for press.
posted by roger ackroyd at 11:20 PM on October 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


Coke? check. Gay sex? check. Groupies? check. Casting couch? oh yeah. And yet, still so detached and boring.
posted by msalt at 11:49 PM on October 4, 2011


Why all the harshness against BEE?

Yeah - the guys kind of out there - but its fascinating stuff to me. Perhaps because he and I are roughly the same age, and I've seen some of the same things - though definitely from the far edge of the periphery.

But for all of the stylistic quirks - to me, his book always has this kernel of yearning - yearning for more, to grow up, to feel alive. It's heartbreaking. For many guys of a certain age, there are no longer those markers of what it means to be a man, to be a grown up. Being gay, until very recently, complicated matters - cause marriage and kids were not avaialble to you. BEE is at once repellent for being fascinated by some of more puerile aspects of surface and appearance - but give the guy some credit for not shying away from the ugly side of our culture's obsession with appearance and youth.

BTW - I could not finish American Psycho. How different people react to it always fascinate me. I've know women who thougt it was laugh out loud funny and genious, and I've know guys who idolize Patrick Batement (one of whom sent me a naked picture of his fiance as part of their wedding invitation - needless to say, we are no longer friends), but most people seem to have my reaction - utterly repelled - but know that its a great work of satire and commentary.
posted by helmutdog at 11:57 PM on October 4, 2011 [2 favorites]



Why all the harshness against BEE?


Because he's so much less than the significance that's been attributed to him. Because the most interesting thing about Less Than Zero was the fact that the credits rolled over a song written by Glenn Danzig and sung by Roy Orbison. Because it took Mary Herron to make something out of American Psycho, and arguably not possibly without the help of Guinevere Turner and Christian Bale. Because the meaning that you impute unto it is not echoed by just about anyone else, and now he's mining his past work for the nostalgia factor, basically.
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:12 AM on October 5, 2011 [11 favorites]


one of whom sent me a naked picture of his fiance as part of their wedding invitation - needless to say, we are no longer friends

Why all the harshness against that dude?
posted by uncanny hengeman at 12:34 AM on October 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why all the harshness against BEE?

I just read the linked interview that was posted and reacted to it honestly. Am I doing it wrong?
posted by msalt at 12:35 AM on October 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's not that he's out there. It's that he made inherently gripping topics still somehow dull. I guess that's some kind of an achievement.
posted by msalt at 12:36 AM on October 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


I loved BEE's books. I was a huge fan. Still am if you discount the fact I stopped reading him a decade or more ago. I must have read Less Than Zero ten times and there was something in that hopeless nihilistic decadism that spoke completely to me. I don't know if I saw myself in the books or if I was just happy that rich people had shit lives but I loved it.

And I'm resisting the temptation to get all grar with those who feel otherwise and express their subjective feelings about his books as objective fact. Even though you're wrong.
posted by seanyboy at 12:56 AM on October 5, 2011 [4 favorites]


For those who don't wish to be sullied by clicking on a link to something connected with Mr. Ellis ... a key chunk of the interview:

Patrick Bateman was me. I was Patrick Bateman…

J: You say that now…?

B: Yeah I admit it now. I never admitted it the first 10, 15 years after publication of that book, I was very defensive about it, but I was writing about myself.

J… not your father, as you suggested in your last book Lunar Park?

B: My father a little bit but I was living that lifestyle, my father wasn’t in New York the same age as Patrick Bateman, living in the same building, going to the same places that Patrick Bateman was going to – I was, I was doing all of that stuff. Now of course you want to write a novel, you’re a novelist and I’m not going to publish my journals, and writing about myself was not going to be particularly interesting. But the impetus to write that book came out of my lifestyle and how unhappy it made me, and how the idea of becoming an adult seemed frustrating, absurd, disgusting, and I was kind of enraged, and that’s how American Psycho started, that was the genesis of it.

So if you’re going to ask me if I’m ever going to write about someone I like… I kind of like Patrick Bateman and I kind of like Victor Ward, and I kind of like the Bret Easton Ellis character. I like some of the kids in Rules of Attraction and Clay I have empathy for. I don’t know. Actually you might look at this depraved cast of characters and go ‘my God, what are you talking about?’ but out of the narrators, I have to like the narrators in order to write them. I finally have discovered this – I have to like them.


What a horrible, horrible man.
posted by philip-random at 12:56 AM on October 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


I like some of BEE's novels, but that interview is really dull. I guess it does take some art to turn cocaine and sex stories into something readable. It's more interesting to me when an author interview or biography reveals something you can't get from the work. For example, I was just reading about L.M. Montgomery, and it turns out she hated (most) people. It isn't what one might expect from Anne of Green Gables. The image of BEE, with only a pile of cocaine for company, watching as other people have porno sex on his couch, doesn't tell me anything new or give me a reason to get excited about reading Imperial Bedrooms.
posted by betweenthebars at 1:14 AM on October 5, 2011


Never read the book, but the business card scene would possibly[?] be in my top 25 favorite movie scenes.

I worked for 7 years in the CBD in a service type industry, smack next door to the Australian Stock Exchange building. Met lots of stockbrokers, lawyers, upper management types. THESE PERSONALITIES EXIST! I've been a fly on the wall to dozens of such circle-jerk conversations.

That scene was true to life for me.

Wow. On preview, I just remembered I was working in a book store when that came out. Australian censors deemed it could not be displayed. You had to ask a staff member for it, and it was sold, get this: IN SHRINK WRAP!
posted by uncanny hengeman at 1:18 AM on October 5, 2011 [8 favorites]


Douches douching. This is why I left LA four years after having been born there, I was already too cool for that crap. I find it pretty telling that Ellis moved from Brooklyn to LA and not the other way around - only lazy people prefer I Wish It Were Still the Stupidest Part of the 90s City over Awesomeville.
posted by Mooseli at 1:36 AM on October 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Transcribing an entire audio tape of an interview-- pauses, incoherencies and all-- is not actually journalism. It is fucking lazy. Edit.

Isn't the writer James Brown, ex-editor of Loaded?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 2:32 AM on October 5, 2011


Patrick Bateman was me. I was Patrick Bateman…
You fucking wish mate, you fucking wish.
posted by fullerine at 2:52 AM on October 5, 2011


Wow...I've always felt BEE was better off simply writing and not attempting to talk about his writing, which I have genuinely enjoyed, because he comes across as such a pompous ass (and in that, I do see the Bateman)...but the blogger/journalist/fanboy with the cool name that conducted this interview comes across as a much bigger douche and BEE simply seems hungover and neurotic and slightly pathetic.

I'm sure I'm imagining it, but it even seemed like he'd opted to slightly enlarge the font he used for his questions as well as boldtyping it.
posted by squasha at 3:03 AM on October 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


I loved Less than Zero and reread Rules of Attraction many many times. I saw BEE in person when the RoA movie (TERRIBLE) came out, and like almost every single time I've encountered/heard someone famous in 'real life', it was a disappointment. I just want to hear musicians' music, and read authors' writings- I don't think I necessarily want to hear from them in other contexts. It tends to Always be disappointing.

(Although I would like to find the misanthropic LMM article!).
posted by bquarters at 3:36 AM on October 5, 2011


I like BEE's writing, but the article was boring and James Brown continues to come across as an ass. His self-centred form of writing is why I stopped reading magazines such as Loaded and GQ over a decade ago. Maybe it's time for him to grow up.
posted by arcticseal at 3:57 AM on October 5, 2011


most people seem to have my reaction - utterly repelled - but know that its a great work of satire and commentary

It is a completely fatuous and empty work that thinks it is satirizing what it merely desensitizes the reader to.
posted by Diablevert at 4:04 AM on October 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


I would love to hear an argument as to whether or not BEE is a nihilistic author, and not much else, other than bells and whistles and the whatever it takes to write about Bateman having sex with a decapitated head. I mean WHY WHY. As a writer, it creeps me the fuck out, because you write because you love to write, you know? I do not like to write about people having sex with a decapitated head, and anybody who does -- I don't know. I would not like to be their neighbor.
posted by angrycat at 4:27 AM on October 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


I guess it does take some art to turn cocaine and sex stories into something readable ... For example, I was just reading about L.M. Montgomery

More like Anne of White Mounains, amirite?
posted by Horace Rumpole at 4:34 AM on October 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


I do not like to write about people having sex with a decapitated head, and anybody who does -- I don't know. I would not like to be their neighbor.

Thank God some writers go to the dark places. I think Stephen King talks about this "how can you write about such terrible things. You must be terrible yourself" reaction, but memory being what it is - I can't remember what he said.

My point though is - If you're only going to hang out with those people who write good wholesome things, then you're doing yourself a disservice. I also find it hard to believe that you yourself could never imagine something as disturbing as having sex with a decapitated head.
posted by seanyboy at 4:54 AM on October 5, 2011 [5 favorites]


He's an overrated putz.
posted by jonmc at 4:56 AM on October 5, 2011


From David Foster Wallace's interview answer about Bret Easton Ellis comes some great lines about the function of art in dark times:
I think it’s a kind of black cynicism about today’s world that Ellis and certain others depend on for their readership. Look, if the contemporary condition is hopelessly shitty, insipid, materialistic, emotionally retarded, sadomasochistic, and stupid, then I (or any writer) can get away with slapping together stories with characters who are stupid, vapid, emotionally retarded, which is easy, because these sorts of characters require no development. With descriptions that are simply lists of brand-name consumer products. Where stupid people say insipid stuff to each other. If what’s always distinguished bad writing—flat characters, a narrative world that’s cliched and not recognizably human, etc.—is also a description of today’s world, then bad writing becomes an ingenious mimesis of a bad world. If readers simply believe the world is stupid and shallow and mean, then Ellis can write a mean shallow stupid novel that becomes a mordant deadpan commentary on the badness of everything. Look man, we’d probably most of us agree that these are dark times, and stupid ones, but do we need fiction that does nothing but dramatize how dark and stupid everything is? In dark times, the definition of good art would seem to be art that locates and applies CPR to those elements of what’s human and magical that still live and glow despite the times’ darkness. Really good fiction could have as dark a worldview as it wished, but it’d find a way both to depict this world and to illuminate the possibilities for being alive and human in it. You can defend “Psycho” as being a sort of performative digest of late-eighties social problems, but it’s no more than that.
posted by mbrock at 5:18 AM on October 5, 2011 [43 favorites]


Isn't the writer James Brown, ex-editor of Loaded?

Yeah, and former NME features editor.
posted by Infinite Jest at 5:46 AM on October 5, 2011


Nah, I ain't sayin' that writing about bad shit is bad. I've read most of King's stuff. But since you bring of King, in his last collection of stories there's one about a guy who (SPOILER) gets in this death scenario that involves drowning in feces. I decided that it was ridiculous when the man escapes and King describes in loving detail how the man was picking feces out of his navel. It added nothing to the story.

Ford Maddox Ford and David Foster Wallace, my two favorite authors, write about bad stuff. But there is a difference between that and saying, 'I am going to write about something so awful it will be an assault on my readers' brains, just for the fuck of it."

I mean, what is the fucking point? Would we NOT get the satire if Bateman didn't fuck a decapitated head?
posted by angrycat at 5:55 AM on October 5, 2011 [4 favorites]


Well one thing's for sure, he's a polarizing author. Many critics seem to be passionately interested in declaiming how passionately disinterested in his writing they are.
posted by jet_manifesto at 5:56 AM on October 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


Regardless of what one thinks of the book, the extras on the American Psycho dvd are beyond awesome. It's just so trippy to see the director and writer (both pretty heavy feminists) talking about their take on Bateman, and Bale's take too. It's damn funny in a good way.

The book was rough, but also really nails that it was all in his head, and Less than Zero has nothing to do with the movie, other than surface details. It also made American Psycho look like a sunny walk through a park. ;)
posted by usagizero at 6:24 AM on October 5, 2011


It's interesting to read this in tandem with the post about why US authors don't win Nobels. (Which I thought was a bit specious and kind of implied that neither Toni Morrison nor Doris Lessing deserved the award but instead got special girl treatment.) Bret Easton Ellis always seems very much in that US dude writer vein of "my life as a male white guy with money is not just about me; it's an important statement about everyone. I mean, whatever, Less Than Zero is okay.

He's a polarizing writer because he (or his press) plays this dumb game of "like my work or show that you are a naive, earnest person" and everyone else plays along. It's sort of the universal solvent of literary games, or the two party system - there's almost no way out of one response or another except to be completely uninterested.

I personally think that depiction and repetition condition people - that books are, in a sense, advertisements for a philosophy like magazines are advertisements for products. So if you spend all your time reading about gross people doing gross things, or all your time reading about shopping, that's what seems normal to you and that's what you notice about the world. Thus, I think reading stuff like American Psycho is actively bad for you, no matter how much meta-critique is built in at the level of formal narrative.

I mean, Ellis at least seems kind of empty and broken; there are definitely novelists who write creepy douchey stories because they genuinely believe that they're embracing the underlying truth of the world.

At least he's got money. There are plenty of guys who have been so damaged by patriarchy that they seem somehow to be missing a piece who can't afford the nice life and the sex and are much more miserable.
posted by Frowner at 6:26 AM on October 5, 2011 [5 favorites]


We sit down and have a conversation which was planned for half an hour but stretches to nearly two.

Failure to stick to a plan. Strike one.

We talk about books, sex, writing, therapy, glamour, the casting couch, New York, LA, skin disease, clothes, children, happiness, editing, fucking, pornography, being gay and more.

Thanks for the World's Most Vapid Table of Contents. Strike two.

He seems very happy, upbeat, he moves his legs about a lot whilst we’re talking. This is pretty much the full conversation.

Failure to edit. Strike three. I can't believe you're just admitting these things RIGHT IN THE ARTICLE.

But first something about Bret Easton Ellis and his books. His work has inspired millions of column inches and provoked masses of debate. Some people hate him, more people love him.

Holy shit! Tautology! Strike four! I've never seen such ba---

His career has felt more like that of a popular musician than a novelist. His work is both disposable yet lasting.

What?! Are you kidding me? Strike five, dude. Leave the plate.
posted by etc. at 6:31 AM on October 5, 2011 [7 favorites]


I loved BEE's books. I was a huge fan. Still am if you discount the fact I stopped reading him a decade or more ago. I must have read Less Than Zero ten times and there was something in that hopeless nihilistic decadism that spoke completely to me. I don't know if I saw myself in the books or if I was just happy that rich people had shit lives but I loved it.

You should read Lunar Park. This guy is right on about it. Fantastic, surreal, deep book.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:49 AM on October 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


I mean I know that Metafilter is individuals and not a monolithic entity but I find it deeply weird that Stephen King gets such a love-on here and Bret Easton Ellis gets such hatred.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:03 AM on October 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


I have a theory that modern American writing is dominated by Great Male Narcissists. Maybe I should write it down.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 7:04 AM on October 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


I mean, what is the fucking point? Would we NOT get the satire if Bateman didn't fuck a decapitated head?

The thing about Bateman is that, except for his hobby, he is the essence of what many people aspire to be; he is rich, successful, charismatic, and plugged into the fashions of his time. He's James Bond without the part where you get shot at. Sure he's shallow and vapid inside, but look at all the cool shit he gets to do!

So the hobby is there partly as satire, demonstrating how horrible such a person can be and still be rich, successful, and so on and nobody notices because of all the cultural blocks and assumptions. The further Bateman sails off the deep end, the more successful he becomes, until just as it seems the police will finally close in on him he scores an epic win. Which is darkly ironic and even funny if you aren't too bothered by the decapitated head, etc.

But that's only the first level. The reason BEE takes it so far is to contrast your discomfort with Bateman's casual ease toward his own proclivities. That is, Bateman is not just shallow and vapid because he is part of this empty culture, he is so shallow and vapid that he finds his own perversion unremarkable. So you were thinking you'd like to have Bateman's job, drive Bateman's car, eat at the restaurants Bateman does, even if you might be a little shallow -- but THIS is the monster that you'd be wishing to be. And that is a point whose impact is directly proportional to the depravity of Bateman's actions.
posted by localroger at 7:05 AM on October 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


"I am Patrick Bateman."

The final sentence of Imperial Bedrooms confirmed as much. Hell, the whole last chapter. The best description of BEE's books in my opinion is "amoral realism." I've never considered any of his books to be satire or social commentary. IRT David Foster Wallace on BEE: in Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself he talks about American Psycho and essentially says that BEE should be embarrassed and angry at his agent for allowing the book to be published. But I end up reading and quickly finishing BEE's books because there is something hypnotizing about the writing, like staring into the eyes of a cult leader and being unable to look away.
posted by thescientificmethhead at 7:27 AM on October 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


The first Google ad when not signed in was for Axe Body Spray.

Don't think Bateman/ Ellis ever uses that, but might be right on target for many of his readers.
posted by zeikka at 7:33 AM on October 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


If American Psycho had ended after Bateman killed the homeless man, would it still work? Would it be the same kind of story? I don't think so; after all, what makes the book cruelly funny (instead of just funny, like the comedy-of-manners stuff, or cruel, like the murders) is that we don't get to escape from the horror into the comedy - the social-world passages continue to move smoothly despite us knowing of Bateman's depravity. A much shorter book, in which Bateman's lunatic fantasy/nightlife arrives as the shocking twist to his vile daytime life, could only wave its hands at, y'know, The Duality of Man or whatever the fuck cliché everyone writes about all the time, everywhere, forever.

The longer the book goes on (pardon me, everyone, if I'm stressing the obvious here), the more Bateman's evil acts become just part of life, part of that world. Which is the actual satirical point of the novel - not the smallish notion that We Are All Shallow Consumerists, nor the common knowledge that Wall Street Sucks, but rather the ongoing (readerly) experience of living with the awful shit that fills Bateman's world.

A less extended, less outlandishly vile version of Ellis's book - one that cut off before the murders got too graphic - would (I think) be content to inform the reader about Bateman's world, to ask for notice. (How very like the characters in the book!) But American Psycho is an intoxicating thing; the 'social mores' stuff comes as a welcome relief from the depravity, even though all those characters are in their way just as disgusting as Bateman (the novel's other satirical punch). You still wanna laugh, y'know?

Ellis manages to make our eager-then-shocked-then-relieved-then-squeamish-then-??? acceptance of his fictional premise a concern within the book (i.e. as Bateman wonders whether his crimes really occurred). Without that self-awareness, the book would be gross, but not poisonous. Its attractiveness is the scary thing, and the guilt-inducing thing.

I gotta say, though, the bit with the rat is maybe the worst thing I've ever read in print - worse indeed than THAT MOMENT in The Wasp Factory. I admire Ellis's writing but I have no interest in the man himself. Pity that the distinction gets harder and harder to maintain. 'The More You Know...' and all that.
posted by waxbanks at 7:41 AM on October 5, 2011


If you didn't read "Less Than Zero" around the time it came out, you haven't actually read "Less Than Zero".

By which I mean, that novel was fucking of its time like a motherfucker. And like its time, its shelf life was not that long. But during that time? Step off, haters.
posted by Aquaman at 7:43 AM on October 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


Replace "Patrick Bateman" with "Batman" and suddenly this article becomes readable.
posted by hellojed at 7:46 AM on October 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


*s/readable/funny
posted by hellojed at 7:47 AM on October 5, 2011


Detached bourgeois narcissism.

I'd probably hate most, if not all, of Ellis's characters if I'd meet them, and feel it's no tragedy when they come to uncertain ends in his books, but I really think watching this archetype be punished by endless uncertainty makes for some readable stories.
posted by mikeh at 7:51 AM on October 5, 2011


I'd be shocked if nobody has done an American Psycho like reading of Batman where he's just a rich guy who fantasizes about beating up "crooks" all the time.
posted by Artw at 7:53 AM on October 5, 2011 [7 favorites]


The first Google ad when not signed in was for Axe Body Spray.

Don't think Bateman/ Ellis ever uses that, but might be right on target for many of his readers.


Axe Body Spray, you came to my party wearing Axe body spray? I can not believe you, do I look at the kind of person who willingly tolerates people wearing Axe body spray around them? Do I? Do I want to smell people who have unpainted apartment walls and white leather couches? Do I want to be friends with people who smell like their father works in sanitation? Why don't I just get a big bag that says GUCCI on it like every other rich Chinese peasant who was told what "condo" means not but five minutes ago?

No. Don't answer the question. Just think about how you're going to make it up to me.
posted by The Whelk at 8:01 AM on October 5, 2011 [6 favorites]


I have a big love for Stephen King, even though I find some aspects of his writing dope-slappingly bad (and I think with the right editor, King would get a lot more lit cred than he does). I've read enough of King's non-fiction and seen his endorsement on enough books that he seems like a genuinely good guy.

BEE seems like the neighbor you'd not want to ever meet in the hall.
posted by angrycat at 8:18 AM on October 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


The longer the book goes on (pardon me, everyone, if I'm stressing the obvious here), the more Bateman's evil acts become just part of life, part of that world. Which is the actual satirical point of the novel - not the smallish notion that We Are All Shallow Consumerists, nor the common knowledge that Wall Street Sucks, but rather the ongoing (readerly) experience of living with the awful shit that fills Bateman's world.

But you see, this is really shallow and trivial! Honestly, when I read all this Ellis stuff after there was the feminist furor about American Psycho, I expected there to be more.

I skipped the rat part by carefully informing myself of where it was likely to be in the plot, though, because just hearing about it made me think that it would make me very, very angry at Ellis.

Did anybody notice the ultra-fucked-up part in the interview where he's like "yeah, all these young women want me to sign their copies of American Psycho because they learned to masturbate by reading it? Seriously, this is the Day That Frowner Accepts That She Is Old - back when I was a young 'un, the really sexually explict stuff (unless you actually went to an actual porn shop) was all Susie Sexpert's Lesbian Sex World, and Hot Pictures of Racially, Age And Bodily Diverse Butches and fanzines. I had hoped, back in those days, that we would have a greater diversity of sexually explicit materials, but that it would be a positive diversity rather than the recuperation of sexual stuff by skeevey dudes.
posted by Frowner at 8:18 AM on October 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


I was hoping that somewhere in this thread I would learn why American Psycho was important and worth the time I spent reading it. Sadly, no.
posted by nevercalm at 8:18 AM on October 5, 2011



Patrick Bateman was me. I was Patrick Bateman…


Christ, I can understand why he'd be defensive about that. Even as a relatively callous young man, I found American Psycho (the book, of course) to be stomach churning and disturbing. My impression was very much that he'd made his point in about a chapter, and from there it was just an extended wallow in violent, depraved misogyny.

To say that book reveled in violence against women would be a terrible understatement. I've never read anything else he's written, but after that I can't imagine why I would. It's probably the only book that I'm actually embarrassed to have read cover to cover.
posted by Stagger Lee at 8:32 AM on October 5, 2011


I mean I know that Metafilter is individuals and not a monolithic entity but I find it deeply weird that Stephen King gets such a love-on here and Bret Easton Ellis gets such hatred.

It probably helps that King doesn't have a smidgen of the overweening self-importance that BEE displays(King has said in the past that he doesn't give a shit what people think of him as long as he can get to sleep at night).

Did anybody notice the ultra-fucked-up part in the interview where he's like "yeah, all these young women want me to sign their copies of American Psycho because they learned to masturbate by reading it?

First reaction: Ewwww. Second reaction: either BEE is making it up, or one woman made it up and told him that at a signing, and now he repeats it to flatter himself. Third reaction: I've had a woman tell me that she learned to masturbate from the scene in Rosemary's Baby where the devil impregnates the protagonist. So, who knows?
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:41 AM on October 5, 2011


I am embarrassed to say that scene in Jacobs Ladder where his girlfriend gets taken from behind from the devil was sort of hot (until it became GAH).
posted by angrycat at 8:46 AM on October 5, 2011


I think that interview would have been worthwhile if it was not conducted by a bad beta version of Nathan Barley.

A celebrant of not the ephemeral, but the gleefully Dumb. Loaded made late 80s Playboy seem like The Economist.

Brown deserves no quarter, just shamed memory holing, like a badly received fart joke in a colon cancer ward. Delivered by some knuckle dragger in expensive football kit.

But BEE...

I read all His stuff up to American Psycho. Then got bored. And felt conned – especially when I checked out Hubert Selby’s The Demon. Lost track of him except when his name would come up in the context of wastes of skin like Candace Bushnell, who he alleged to dig. About a year ago, I was staying at a friend’s and picked up a Picador paperback of American Psycho and flipped around to some bits. Some shocking, some not.
I was overcome with the majesty of it – like a prose version of a late Francis Bacon triptych. Or a Portrait of Dorian Gray for the post Reagan era. And beyond.

A wasted talent, who sins against it, but then, pops up again with some wonders. I’ll get to Imperial Bedrooms and Lunar Park someday.

Cut BEE some slack.

Flush Brown down though, please.
posted by The Salaryman at 8:58 AM on October 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't think I necessarily want to hear from them in other contexts. It tends to Always be disappointing.

Having gone to a lot of sf cons and readings and such, I've encountered most of my favorite living writers. I have only rarely been disappointed by the public persona of a writer whose works I've liked. Heck, I'd say it's more often the case that I've found someone interesting whose works I didn't like then the other way around.
posted by Zed at 9:14 AM on October 5, 2011


We should really be listening to Whitney while we read this thread.
posted by seanyboy at 9:24 AM on October 5, 2011


but I find it deeply weird that Stephen King gets such a love-on here and Bret Easton Ellis gets such hatred.

Because the latter cuts so much closer to home? His horror comes directly from looking in the mirror, with little in the way of filters. Lunar Park, restrained for Mr. Ellis, was a particularly disturbing read for me, because the soul it depicted was just so shattered, divided, haunted.

Replace "Patrick Bateman" with "Batman" and suddenly this article becomes readable.

I'm still waiting for that mashup. Batman takes his mask off and ... it's not Bruce Wayne, it's Patrick Bateman.
posted by philip-random at 9:24 AM on October 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Because the latter cuts so much closer to home? His horror comes directly from looking in the mirror, with little in the way of filters.

Yeah, I think that's it. King's horror is premised on being fun.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:30 AM on October 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm still waiting for that mashup. Batman takes his mask off and ... it's not Bruce Wayne, it's Patrick Bateman.

I think it's called Iron Man.
posted by localroger at 9:32 AM on October 5, 2011 [4 favorites]


This is like when i read Dry and was all, 'Oh what a scathing parody of a vapid egoist with no inner life outside brands!" but no it was serious.
posted by The Whelk at 9:33 AM on October 5, 2011


He's James Bond without the part where you get shot at.

Interestingly, you're not the only person to have made this comparison:

"I suppose there are actually a number of character traits that are similar between Bond and Patrick Bateman. [They both exhibit] a complete lack of remorse in killing people, both are utter misogynists."
- Christian Bale, on what it would be like to play Bond
posted by naoko at 9:39 AM on October 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


About the only good thing I could possibly say about that horrible, useless book is that I saw a comparison between it and the movie "American Beauty", the latter of which seemed to be saying that American beauty is, like so many American things, superficial (see the build up and take down of a frankly hideous looking Mena Suvari as the doe-eyed innocent, or the superficial concerns of Lester's wife and her paramour). In the same way, I suppose, Bateman's "American Psycho" is also classically modern American: showy, wealthy, but ultimately empty and unreal.

The ironic thing about American Psycho- which I foolishly read back around '95 not knowing anything about it- is that after reading it, I kinda wanted to hurt Bret Easton Ellis. I honestly don't think that book can be justified, any more than when some mentally ill sociopath writes snuff porn in some dank corner of the internet. Actually- that's all it is, snuff porn, with only the Shyamalan-like twist at the end. And I'm firmly of the moral belief that there is nothing but a legal difference between someone who does the things that Bateman did, and those who write about them. To me, their minds are one and the same, even though we don't and shouldn't punish people for the contents of their minds. I see no distinction between the Bateman character and Ellis, in that both I think are sociopaths who pose a danger to their communities (except Bateman is just a fictional character, whereas Ellis is alive and rich).

Not long after I read it I had a friend tell me about this great book they were reading... "American Psycho". I told him he wouldn't like it, that it was awful, and he said "No, no, it's so funny and sarcastic...". A couple of days later he told me he thought the book was complete trash. I think he must have gotten to the rat scene.
posted by hincandenza at 9:51 AM on October 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I think that's it. King's horror is premised on being fun.

That is true, they are like ghost stories. A ghost story might be creepy, but it isn't disturbing.

Imperial Bedrooms was deeply disturbing to me, in a way that American Psycho wasn't. American Psycho was so obviously satire, and Patrick Bateman was unlikeable enough to be alienating. Imperial Bedrooms takes a "good" character, one you might even identify with if you read Less Than Zero and cruely slowly twists him into a horrible monster.
posted by Ad hominem at 9:55 AM on October 5, 2011


From the DFW quote way above:

Really good fiction could have as dark a worldview as it wished, but it’d find a way both to depict this world and to illuminate the possibilities for being alive and human in it. You can defend “Psycho” as being a sort of performative digest of late-eighties social problems, but it’s no more than that.

I disagree. Sometimes good fiction just goes as far as it must into the dark and sometimes the energy required leaves no stamina for illumination. Some of JG Ballard's stuff has this quality. Do I want CRASH to somehow justify itself? Maybe. Do I need it to? Apparently not. It affected me in a fierce way regardless.

Also, with regard to the 1980s. All I can say is that polluted, self-important decade deserved AMERICAN PSYCHO big time.
posted by philip-random at 10:13 AM on October 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


Frankly it seems like this thread is demonstrating that American Psycho is a book we still need.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:16 AM on October 5, 2011 [5 favorites]


David Foster Wallace... talks about American Psycho and essentially says that BEE should be embarrassed and angry at his agent for allowing the book to be published.

Simon & Schuster gave Bret Easton Ellis a million-dollar advance for his next book after the success of Less Than Zero, its film, and Rules of Attraction. American Psycho was a response to a publishing company giving such an unprecedented bonus to a 25-year old without knowing anything at all about what they were getting in return. It played out better than he could have expected; S&S refused to publish and sold it to Vintage, a really good film was made of it, and Ellis laughed all the way to the bank.

Now, Ellis answers questions about how he wrote the novel instead of how the novel came to be. I think it's an interesting work; the horrifying stuff, the misogynistic brutality, juxtaposed with spun sugar record reviews, is absolutely necessary for it to work in its intended role, as an object lesson for a somewhat foolish publisher.

I don't subscribe to the belief that a writer whose imagination reaches to twisted and sick lengths, is necessarily twisted and sick themselves. As a matter of fact, I wonder if people who do feel that way actually don't have violent, sadistic, or cruel thoughts play out in their imaginations. I think of nauseating, gruesome shit all the time, my imaginary victims are typically subway construction workers or honking drivers or sidewalk short-stoppers, and I don't think I'm a danger to my community. In a way, American Psycho comforted me, let me know that my imagined bloodlust is at least not a unique response to the empty hurly-burly.

I thought American Psycho was an excellent piece of art, and I got a lot out of it.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 10:44 AM on October 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'd really be curious to know Metafilter's take on Frisk by Dennis Cooper. Now that is a book I won't be reading again.
posted by Ad hominem at 11:00 AM on October 5, 2011


I'm disappointed, not once did BEE say "Empire" or "Post-Empire".
posted by MikeMc at 11:09 AM on October 5, 2011




Frankly it seems like this thread is demonstrating that American Psycho is a book we still need.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:16 AM on October 5 [1 favorite +] [!]



Can you explain what you mean?
(I'm actually curious, it's not a trap.)
posted by Stagger Lee at 11:10 AM on October 5, 2011


Isn't that just his Twitter thing?
posted by Artw at 11:11 AM on October 5, 2011


I'd really be curious to know Metafilter's take on Frisk by Dennis Cooper.

After reading The Sluts I was both entranced and I never wanted to read anything of his ever again.
posted by The Whelk at 11:13 AM on October 5, 2011


Isn't that just his Twitter thing?

Notes on Charlie Sheen and the End of Empire
posted by MikeMc at 11:16 AM on October 5, 2011


I was curious so I found that DFW quote from the Lipsky book just to make sure I wasn't misrepresenting his remarks:

"I thought Bret Ellis's first book, I thought it was very, very powerful. American Psycho - I thought he was really ill-served by his agent and publisher even letting him publish it, and those are the only two things of his that I read." (pg.22 of the paperback)
posted by thescientificmethhead at 11:18 AM on October 5, 2011


After reading The Sluts I was both entranced and I never wanted to read anything of his ever again.

Oh no. The first review calls it "A return to form -- in the sense of incorporating frank depictions of sexualized violence" I think I will pass on it. I don't even know what to make of Frisk, I feel a little strange even owning it. Like one day that fact that I read it will be used as evidence that I was always a terrible person. Maybe I should get rid of it.
posted by Ad hominem at 11:21 AM on October 5, 2011


It does this really neat thing of capturing the feeling of reading a forum thread where things are Developing and the particular thrills of the Internet Detective Squad but then just goes and gets really uncomfortable and scary with the whole sexualized super-violence and fantasy and reality and the walls between them and while I can say it had a big effect, I don't want to read it again, ever.
posted by The Whelk at 11:30 AM on October 5, 2011


Can you explain what you mean?

Aside from (or beneath) the specific trappings of the Reagan 80s and the smug WASPy assholes and corporate greed and everything, American Psycho and most of Ellis's work function as deconstructions of the deeply American need to confuse morality, authority, and success. It's possible that BEE is actually the superficial asshole that comes across in interviews, which is fine because the work(s) exist and function independently of their author; but everything, including his Twitter feed and every interview I've read (and especially the first chapter of Lunar Park) seem to be a pretty transparent joke on his part, an extension of his generalized critique of celebrity and projection.

A lot of this thread so far has consisted of people saying that BEE seems to be a generally terrible person, and I think that a lot of the thrust of like Less Than Zero and Glamorama and so forth is that judging people by how the consciously present themselves to the world doesn't get you very far in knowing about a person. Ellis's works are chock-full of people who everyone seems to think are swell and awesome and successful but are absolutely the most wretched, careless, misanthropic people possible (and potentially #1 on that list is the Ellis character in Lunar Park). The people who present themselves as successful or better than you are, pretty much by definition, despicable.

American Psycho in particular is a deliberately painful read that oscillates between unendurable scenes of assholes presenting themselves as exceedingly awesome and better than other people and unendurable scenes of a single asshole demonstrating how exceedingly awesome and better than other people he is, so much so that they are dispensable and rape-and-murder-worthy. Ellis has spent the better part of his public career making condescending remarks about bands, directors, actresses, beloved writers, and just generally trying to equate his successful self with the loathsome characters in his books.

Now, in an interview, he says, 'I was Patrick Bateman.'

And we talk about how loathsome he is.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:30 AM on October 5, 2011 [4 favorites]


He really just should of said he was Batman.
posted by The Whelk at 11:31 AM on October 5, 2011


@shakespeherian

Hey that almost directly responds to my own previous comment too. It's food for thought, thanks.

Two thoughts on that subject leap to mind:

1) I try fairly hard to separate my enjoyment of a work from what I know about the author, but the intent of the author almost always bleeds in. Obviously I reacted differently to Jonathan Swift's famous essay knowing what it was, than if I had believed it to be sincere. Judging the author's intended message is important, and you're clearly not disputing that. Sometimes though, you also don't take the author's claimed intent at face value. In this case, I find it hard to imagine that somebody would write five hundred pages of torture porn just for the message, without getting even the smallest bit of personal enjoyment from the process.

2) I'm not sure that I'd treat a truly loathsome person any differently from a person that's acting loathsome as a public statement.
posted by Stagger Lee at 11:44 AM on October 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


"I'm the goddamn Bateman"?
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 11:46 AM on October 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


after reading it, I kinda wanted to hurt Bret Easton Ellis. I honestly don't think that book can be justified, any more than when some mentally ill sociopath writes snuff porn in some dank corner of the internet. Actually- that's all it is, snuff porn, with only the Shyamalan-like twist at the end. And I'm firmly of the moral belief that there is nothing but a legal difference between someone who does the things that Bateman did, and those who write about them. To me, their minds are one and the same, even though we don't and shouldn't punish people for the contents of their minds. I see no distinction between the Bateman character and Ellis, in that both I think are sociopaths who pose a danger to their communities

My God, the projection. Look mate, please don't read my book.

The documentary Graphic Sexual Horror starts off with a voiceover by a woman who was a member of Insex. She is saying that when her boyfriend first showed her the site she was horrified, but then she kept stealing peeks at it (with his ticket LOL) while he was at work, and ultimately realized that she was so horrified because at some level, she imagined the things she saw being done on the computer being done to her.

So she went from horror to paying Brent Scott $60 a month.

I have written something with elements similar to the bad parts of American Psycho, and I am absolutely nothing like that in real life; in fact, I've never written myself into a story because most of my characters are either deeply fucked up or get deeply fucked over. But I write stuff like that sometimes because I perceive the Universe as a deeply fucked up place and I want to illustrate that, and sometimes the best way to do that is to reach down into the id and bring some horrible thing out into the light. You might think you don't have anything like that living in your brainstem, but you'd be wrong.

Also, while I've been read by about 0.01% of the number of people who read BEE, I have received thousands of fan emails over that book the vast majority of which are positive. And yes, I've had at least a few dozen queries from women about a printed version so they can *cough* read it in bed.
posted by localroger at 11:47 AM on October 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


I remember the one partial viewing of a Saw movie; it was the one where the killer guy explains that he discovered that life needed to be fought for because he was dying of cancer, or some total bullshit.

American Psycho strikes me as that. Out of morbid curiosity I googled the rat scene, and boy oh boy, I guess I give him props for pushing the envelope. Kind of like fucking Eli Roth and the Hostel movies.
posted by angrycat at 11:49 AM on October 5, 2011


All the "American Psycho made me want to hurt Ellis" and so on in this thread is more disturbing to me than reading the book could ever be. And this:

And I'm firmly of the moral belief that there is nothing but a legal difference between someone who does the things that Bateman did, and those who write about them.

Is insane. It's psychotic. Psychotic in the sense that the person writing this seems to have severe problems with distinguishing reality and fiction.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 11:50 AM on October 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


In this case, I find it hard to imagine that somebody would write five hundred pages of torture porn just for the message, without getting even the smallest bit of personal enjoyment from the process.

I also don't think any genuine attempt at a moral work should only point fingers at those other people-- I think self-indictment is an essential honestly.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:54 AM on October 5, 2011


Ellis's works are chock-full of people who everyone seems to think are swell and awesome and successful but are absolutely the most wretched, careless, misanthropic people possible

Which is why I think Imperial Bedrooms was such a mindfuck. Clay was maybe his only sympathetic character. We the readers always knew the truth about Patrick Bateman, even if everyone else was decieved. With Imperial Bedrooms he is finally showing us the truth about Clay, we the readers were decieved.

I know a guy, Levi Aron, who was recently arrested for killing an 8 year old. The guy wasn't swell, or successful, but he was just a normal guy. He seemed a little off kilter, but no more so than the dozens of nerdy guys I know. But it turns out that a guy I thought was just like me, was preying on children.

That is what Imperial Bedrooms did, even if you didn't like the book or the movie, Less Than Zero is part of the zeitgeist. He allowed it to become part of American Culture and then showed it for the wretched, careless, misanthropic that it is.
posted by Ad hominem at 11:55 AM on October 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


@shakespeherian

Thanks for clarifying. All in all, that's a defense that I can understand and respect, without necessarily having to agree with it on a personal level. If nothing else, it's nice to know that some people find positive qualities in that book, maybe that will make some meager recompense for its effect on my own mood.

To clarify, I do understand what he was trying to do. I understood in the first chapter. I'm still not sure what the next 455 pages were for, but again, if some people found value in the book, then that's a good thing.
posted by Stagger Lee at 12:01 PM on October 5, 2011


five hundred pages of torture porn

This is one of those things. Of people who actually read it all the way through, there are many who remember only the torture porn. Then there are those who remember the torture porn as part of a novel with quite a lot of other things going on in it.

I'm not gainsaying anyone's abhorrence of torture porn, nor am I saying that people should react to art or literature in any specific way. But to those who compartmentalize the violence and appreciate other aspects of the work, or who think its context and impact are interesting, or who just found something they like about the book, presenting it as nothing but torture porn is making an accusation, or at least asking the question, "So you support torture porn?"

I mean, I guess I do, if that's all there is to it. I like to think it was a five hundred-page novel with some pretty awful shit in it. I enjoy literature and art, some of which can be scary.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 12:04 PM on October 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Sorry about the above film analogies, I guess I'm just pretty passionately anti-Ellis.

I think a better analogy would be the movie Antichrist. I think that it's no argument that Lars von Triers is a talented filmmaker. But the scenes where Rampling tortures Defoe with various tools in the toolbox --

Even though Triers said he identified primarily with the Rampling character, I see no need for the scenes post-toolbox.
posted by angrycat at 12:09 PM on October 5, 2011


You know, I'd compare it to Peter Watts, who has had similar content in his books, although much, much less graphic.

Other than that stuff, I really enjoyed Watts' books, but found the torture dubious enough to turn me off of them anyway. Meh. That's me. I'm not indicting the author for it.

In the case of BEE, you're right, those scenes did make a much stronger impression on me than the rest of the book did. I am exaggerating the prevalence of those scenes in the book, but not by that much. I'm not sure what to say about that, I'd probably have to read it again to really assess the writing against my emotional reaction, and I'm not going to do that. ;)
posted by Stagger Lee at 12:13 PM on October 5, 2011


American Psycho strikes me as that. Out of morbid curiosity I googled the rat scene,

So you haven't read the book?

Other people have pointed this out, but the book isn't 500 pages of torture porn. One of the reasons they are so effective is that they are so jarring. They are almost an assault on the reader, the first scene is completely out of the blue. I can only imagine what it would be like reading that book if I had not known what I was getting into going in.
posted by Ad hominem at 12:28 PM on October 5, 2011


And I'm firmly of the moral belief that there is nothing but a legal difference between someone who does the things that Bateman did, and those who write about them.
@hincandenza

i in fact murdered over forty-one billion infants and preschoolers by yelling at them until they died of fright
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 12:32 PM on October 5, 2011


hincandenza: And I'm firmly of the moral belief that there is nothing but a legal difference between someone who does the things that Bateman did, and those who write about them.
Joakim Ziegler: Is insane. It's psychotic. Psychotic in the sense that the person writing this seems to have severe problems with distinguishing reality and fiction.
That was unnecessary. There's a space you can be in between "I disagree with you" and "You are psychotic and cannot separate reality and fiction". Unless... unless you feel you don't distinguish between the things I write, and who I... am? Hmm... interesting viewpoint, Joakim.

Not to "appeal to authority", but
Matthew 5:27-28 27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
So I don't think it's that shocking a notion to say what's in your head and what you actually act on are significant but translucent differences.

It's a mark of civility to tamp down on our basest instincts, drives, desires, and impulses. And that's a good thing. But if you have frequent fantasies of violent, even murderous action, against another human being then in your heart you are somewhat broken, and I'd argue broken in exact the same way as a Gacy or a Bundy. Or perhaps more accurately, their real malfunction is in not keeping a lid on the desires they and you share.

And maybe we all are broken, considering how easily the human animal can turn brutal in so many circumstances... but that's a separate point. I was just talking about Ellis, because on a continuum of moral thought and moral behavior between the idle moment of road rage, and killing prostitutes in a 30-year-spree along the I-5 corridor is someone spending the time to write, edit, publish, and defend 500 pages of torture porn. Sure, Ellis is probably closer to one end of that continuum than the other, but I'd say the mind is the same- it's just the willpower to not actually shove a rabid, hungry rat into a woman's body that's different from writing about it and reading it. So I guess I can give Ellis that much credit, then.
posted by hincandenza at 12:32 PM on October 5, 2011


No, I scanned the book, hence I know about the screwing the decapitated head sequence.

And of course the rat scene is jarring. How could that scenario not be? How is that art?

The best piece of writing I've read that was spectacular in terms of articulating a horror is the first story in Chuck Pahlihunik's Haunted. The rest of the book I didn't care for, but that first story -- at every reading he did, he writes in the aftermath, someone fainted.

He accomplished this somehow w/o the combination of starved rat + vagina + rape/torture.
posted by angrycat at 12:34 PM on October 5, 2011


And yet, and yet, and yet - everyone has such faith in themselves as readers. Like we can all read books (and heck, watch movies) about horrible, horrible violence against women (or about how women are horrible chthonic sexual things) and read and watch things that devote loving amounts of time to describing brands and rich-people stuff - and we're so confident that what we take away from those books is critique, and analysis, and a sophisticated understanding of American culture.

I don't have that much faith in myself as a reader, which is why I try not to read stuff that's sort of titillating-trendy-violent, and I gave up reading fashion magazines after I realized that they made me want to buy stuff all the time and made me spend too much time evaluating what other people wore. Every day we make decisions about what we read and watch and think about, and those decisions condition the next day's decisions, and so on. It's not that reading about violence makes you violent; it's that it makes you into a person who reads about more violence, and more and more and more. It's not that reading misogynistic novels makes you a misogynist; it makes misogynistic culture seem hardly worth fussing about, no matter how unpleasant it gets. The more books you read about misogynist rich fucks fantasizing/hallucinating about cutting up women, the less shocked you are by the idea that someone somewhere is a rich fuck who wants to cut up women. Whatevs, it's just the way of the world.

Funnily, I just now realized that there's a David Foster Wallace story in Girl With Curious Hair which parodies Ellis - the one about the stockbroker who runs around with the punks.
posted by Frowner at 12:38 PM on October 5, 2011 [5 favorites]


And of course the rat scene is jarring. How could that scenario not be? How is that art?

I don't see what precludes it from being art.
posted by shakespeherian at 12:43 PM on October 5, 2011


i personally am a horrible chthonic sexual thing thanks
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 12:47 PM on October 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


i personally am a horrible chthonic sexual thing thanks

We should talk.
posted by MikeMc at 12:49 PM on October 5, 2011


Funnily, I just now realized that there's a David Foster Wallace story in Girl With Curious Hair which parodies Ellis - the one about the stockbroker who runs around with the punks.

That wasn't a parody of BEE. It was Didicated to William F. Buckley, It was a riff on being a "rebel conservative".
posted by Ad hominem at 12:50 PM on October 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


I guess what I would say precludes it from being art is that it lacks any nuance, anything other than shock value. How does a woman being raped by a starved rat add to the satire?
posted by angrycat at 12:56 PM on October 5, 2011


This is a serious problem with metafilter. The constant moralizing makes it almost impossible to have any sort of conversation that is not all sweetness and light.

Let's just go back to lionizing DFW, would that make you all happy? We will ignore the end of Infinite Jest where people are ya know, tortured, and maybe ignore the fight at the halfway house where someone gets stabbed in the eye with a high heeled shoe.
posted by Ad hominem at 12:56 PM on October 5, 2011 [4 favorites]


I guess what I would say precludes it from being art is that it lacks any nuance, anything other than shock value. How does a woman being raped by a starved rat add to the satire?

Again, I'm not sure why that precludes it from being art. I'm perfectly willing to chalk that up to having a different rubric for 'art' than you, which I think is allowed.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:00 PM on October 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think we all accept Piss Christ as art here correct? What does that do besides shock?
posted by Ad hominem at 1:05 PM on October 5, 2011


Shhhhhh
posted by shakespeherian at 1:07 PM on October 5, 2011



Let's just go back to lionizing DFW, would that make you all happy? We will ignore the end of Infinite Jest where people are ya know, tortured, and maybe ignore the fight at the halfway house where someone gets stabbed in the eye with a high heeled shoe.


I personally don't like Wallace very much - he's extremely sentimental and has all these non-problematized ideas about "sincerity" and culture and community and so on.

Neither Washington nor Moscow, that's what I say.
posted by Frowner at 1:19 PM on October 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


It's a mark of civility to tamp down on our basest instincts, drives, desires, and impulses. And that's a good thing. But if you have frequent fantasies of violent, even murderous action, against another human being then in your heart you are somewhat broken, and I'd argue broken in exact the same way as a Gacy or a Bundy. Or perhaps more accurately, their real malfunction is in not keeping a lid on the desires they and you share.

This is an interesting point; I often find myself marveling at the imagination, and how useful it may be. Does thinking through unreal things help people deal with reality? I think it does, and I think many or even most healthy people use it to sort out the right thing to do, or to find their muse, or to just give themselves a break. Exploring our own imaginations and those of others is a fascinating human activity, and on balance I think imagination, even imagined cruelties, prevent more real horror than they incite by giving people plenty of time to mull over cruelty's repercussions. Writers and artists have since the advent of criticism been portrayed as monsters for exhibiting their monstrous imaginations; often the level of outcry rises with the work's popularity and sometimes it's amplified for social or political gain. It's rare for authors who include violence in their work to actually go kill people, and it's also rare for readers to be inspired to kill based solely on having read a violent book.

But your interesting point is almost completely occluded by your insistence that someone describing an imaginary criminal act is in essence a criminal himself. Your "non-" appeal to authority is a weird dunk into a kind of morality that seems pretty far from universal, but it is useful in that it may indicate that you're approaching from a viewpoint preoccupied with smoking out evil thoughts not only in yourself, where you can hope to control them, but in others, most of whom don't share your didacticism and don't appreciate your judgment.

It's a mark of civility in discussing a literary work to describe it accurately. Repeating the phrase "500 pages of torture porn" will never make it so.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 1:25 PM on October 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


It ain't moralizing.

I have a great admiration for the film Irreversible, even though I could not watch it past the first ten minutes or whatever of the rape and bludgeoning scene. It had a project I could understand, an analysis of the human condition.

I've never been able to understand AP beyond the 'yuppies really fucking suck, rite?' and then rat rape.
posted by angrycat at 1:31 PM on October 5, 2011


hincandenza: "That was unnecessary. There's a space you can be in between "I disagree with you" and "You are psychotic and cannot separate reality and fiction". Unless... unless you feel you don't distinguish between the things I write, and who I... am? Hmm... interesting viewpoint, Joakim

Not to "appeal to authority", but

Matthew 5:27-28 27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

So I don't think it's that shocking a notion to say what's in your head and what you actually act on are significant but translucent differences.
"

Actually, you'll notice I said "This is psychotic", not "You are psychotic", so I'm actually addressing your statement, not your person.

Also, your use of the Bible quote goes to the heart of the misunderstanding. The idea of that quote is that desiring something sinful is in itself sinful. (Whether that's true, or whether adultery is sinful is a totally different debate). But that's not the same as a writer writing about sin.

You don't have to want something to happen to imagine it. Mystery and crime writers imagine all sorts of bad things, mostly to have something for the protagonist to go up against. But we don't assume Agatha Christie secretly wants to be a serial killer. So why do you assume Bret Easton Ellis secretly wants to butcher high-class prostitutes and have sex with their body parts, just because he writes a book where the protagonist does that?

It's the assumption that everything we write, all the characters we create, have to be expressions of our own hidden desires, and thus writing about something equals doing it, that I think borders on psychotic.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 1:46 PM on October 5, 2011


angrycat: " I have a great admiration for the film Irreversible, even though I could not watch it past the first ten minutes or whatever of the rape and bludgeoning scene. It had a project I could understand, an analysis of the human condition."

Funny, I thought those two scenes were the only things worth watching in that movie, the rest was pretentious, meaningless, and, worst of all, mind-numbingly boring.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 1:47 PM on October 5, 2011


Argh I am not making the argument that BEE wants to butcher women or even that he hates women (although I ask myself how somebody could write scene after scene of butchery and horror). I'm with those who say he could have made his point in the first chapter, or a short story.

Irreversible makes the point about the horror by putting you in a rape/beating in real time, and you feel every fucking second until it ends or, in my case, you say, I can watch this anymore. It makes you feel the point by taking the consequences of the rape first -- watch these awful guys kill somebody -- and then in the next scene they are looking for the supposed rapist -- and in the next scene they are grieving -- and in the next scene the most grueling violence I've seen as Monica Bertalucci is raped and beaten almost to death. Then (as I've read) you see Monica Bertalucci in health and happy, and these scenes are painful because we've seen the thing in reverse.

I've seen it as a study of violence, grief, and how happiness exists in relation to that. Like I said, I haven't seen the whole thing because I couldn't take it, but I read up on it.

I've read up on AP, too, and read at least one other of BEE's books (it might have been Less Than Zero; it is set in L.A. and there's one weird thing where a vampire or guy trying to be a vampire kills somebody). I thought it was nihilism w/o hope of anything else. Given the content of AP, I don't have a lot of hope -- even reading the arguments here -- that it is of any cultural consequence other than ZOMG Wall Street yuppies.
posted by angrycat at 2:17 PM on October 5, 2011


angrycat: "Argh I am not making the argument that BEE wants to butcher women or even that he hates women (although I ask myself how somebody could write scene after scene of butchery and horror). I'm with those who say he could have made his point in the first chapter, or a short story. "
You said:
hincandenza: "And I'm firmly of the moral belief that there is nothing but a legal difference between someone who does the things that Bateman did, and those who write about them"
So you're basically incapable of distinguishing between describing a thing in writing, and desiring it.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 2:37 PM on October 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Shakespearian nails quite a bit of it above, there is a common thread in all BEEs work about appearance/reality. In a way, I think Wall Street Yuppies were almost incidental to American Psycho, they were just the group most identified with success and superficiality at the time. His next novel, Glamorama, is BEE pretty much doubling down on American Psycho, except this time it is about supermodels. I don't think he has much interest in Yuppies, or models, except for the fact that they are two groups for which appearance is an indication of worth. As he says in the interview, he felt Yuppies were the first example he saw where, for men, physical appearance was it's own objective, it's own success. That physical appearance, and the appearance of success had begun to be the sole indicator of a parson's worth.
posted by Ad hominem at 2:37 PM on October 5, 2011


angrycat != hincandenza, although I have a certain affection for his screen name.
posted by angrycat at 2:38 PM on October 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


angrycat: "angrycat != hincandenza, although I have a certain affection for his screen name"

Oops, my apologies.

I was mainly talking to hincandenza.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 2:43 PM on October 5, 2011


@Frowner
he's extremely sentimental and has all these non-problematized ideas about "sincerity" and culture and community
i'm not saying you're wrong but don't they have enough problems already
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 2:51 PM on October 5, 2011


THESE PERSONALITIES EXIST!

Yeah, I understood the whole point was that pretty much every single character in the book was a psycho, and Bateman was only unique in that he thought he was killing people.


I decided that it was ridiculous when the man escapes and King describes in loving detail how the man was picking feces out of his navel.

So you didn't like that Jack Shaftoe scene in the Baroque Cycle where he's being held prisoner in a pit of manure? For shame!
posted by Evilspork at 2:57 PM on October 5, 2011


Why all the harshness against BEE?

Because he's so much less than the significance that's been attributed to him. Because the most interesting thing about Less Than Zero was the fact that the credits rolled over a song written by Glenn Danzig and sung by Roy Orbison. Because it took Mary Herron to make something out of American Psycho, and arguably not possibly without the help of Guinevere Turner and Christian Bale. Because the meaning that you impute unto it is not echoed by just about anyone else, and now he's mining his past work for the nostalgia factor, basically.
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:12 AM on October 5 [10 favorites +] [!]


So let me get this straight - you don't like him because his PR team is too good for his work. Okay - my observations come from reading his stuff. His movies were hard to make into movies? Is that bad? Cause that would make just about any DFW novel the worst ever. Or were there movies based upon his books badly done - cause I guess movie adaptions a validation of the novels? It seems like I got something from the book and interview you didn't - does that mean my opnion is invalid? I guess you took a poll about who's getting what from his work and I am in the tiny minority and therefore it doesn't matter - right?

The question I was asking about why all the dismissive harshness against BEE was that it seemed like Metafilter was extremely negative right out of the gate. I was willing to offer a different POV - based upon some personal experience. I think that's what Metafilter is for - sharing opinions. I don't need you validate my opinions - just cite something related to his work as a writer if you are going to disagree.
posted by helmutdog at 3:12 PM on October 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Uhhhhhhh there's hate for him because people are like, you wrote a scene about raping a woman with a starved rat because WHY?

Not having read that scene (only the decap head fucking one) I am not sure if it is described in loving detail or what. Is it? If BEE gets the point across without, say, describing how the rat is chewing her vagina, well, I will back down from my BEE hate.
posted by angrycat at 3:23 PM on October 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Angrycat, with respect, it seems like you keep voicing the same criticism based on something you heard about a book you haven't read. I'm not saying you need to read the book, because I acknowledge it's not for everyone, but I think you are focusing on one scene and ignoring that you are ignoring the context.
posted by shakespeherian at 4:12 PM on October 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


Sady Doyle on Bret Easton Ellis.
posted by pxe2000 at 4:13 PM on October 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Bret Easton Ellis is a writer whose early work has some nostalgia value for me -- I really enjoyed Less Than Zero when I read it at sixteen, but it was basically lifestyle porn to myself, a nothing kid from Cleveland whose family was chronically poor; essentially, it was my "Entourage" -- but once I realized how little there was really there, I was over it. This was around the time American Psycho came out. Jesus, what a lousy book...yes, the record reviews are funny, and some of the horror scenes work on a visceral level, but it's surrounded by all this self-indulgent bullshit that any halfway decent editor given a free hand would have slashed without mercy, and -- to be frank -- the point of this whole jeremiad? Kinda trite. DIE YUPPIE SCUM was a fucking bumpersticker back then. This was not exactly a revolutionary stance for an author to take.

But anyhow: What a bizarre, depressing interview. Like a lot of people who get rich and famous incredibly early in their lives, he sounds hung up on his youthful success and incapable of growing up. I'm sure he'd like to be Dostoyevsky or something, but the dude is basically a character from a Wes Anderson movie, minus the jokes. I hope he cleans up.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 4:19 PM on October 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


From pxe2000's Sady Doyle link above -

(T)o get the full effect, imagine what would happen if someone ate a copy of Rolling Stone, a copy of Hustler, and a copy of GQ, then puked them up all over a Saw IV DVD

That's funnier than anything in the book, for sure. Hell of a lot shorter, too- sprinkle the above with some confetti made out of old issues of Spy, and I think you've got a pretty good American Psycho substitute, but without having to wade through the entire sewer pipe of it.
posted by hap_hazard at 5:09 PM on October 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think we all accept Piss Christ as art here correct? What does that do besides shock?

That's a good analogy. Piss Christ = Marilyn Manson

A shock marketing exercise. I cannot believe the number of chumps [on both side of the fence] who fell for it, and the amount of free media publicity both it, and his Australian tours, generated.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 5:18 PM on October 5, 2011


Shakespearian, you have a very good point (and it is the one I always make to somebody who slags on DFW). But thing is: I want to understand the book's appeal. I want to know why it is worth reading.

I avoided the book for whatever reason and I saw the movie. And then I was like, huh, it IS an interesting piece of satire -- and it was directed by a woman, so I must be wrong.

Then I leafed through it in the bookstore. I guess the feeling I had reading passages was the same when, traveling out of the country shortly after 9/11, picked up a French mag that was full of photos of people jumping out of the towers. My feeling of anger at both texts could be boiled down to: There are some lines you don't cross unless you have a damned good reason.

Photos of people jumping and splatting -- serves no one. And I ask again: These detailed sections of almost unspeakably vile acts -- what artistic purpose does it serve?

This is a movie I didn't see, so take this with a grain of salt, but it reminds me of The Passion of Christ. Okay -- now exactly how does my seeing how Christ was killed and the pain he suffered -- what does that do? Artistically, spiritually, whatever.

Plus there's BEE the man. He sez that women told him they learned how to jack off to AP? If this is some weirdo Kaufmanesque bit, okay, interesting. But otherwise? That shit is fucked to the 100th degree.
posted by angrycat at 5:39 PM on October 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


the point of this whole jeremiad? Kinda trite. DIE YUPPIE SCUM was a fucking bumpersticker back then. This was not exactly a revolutionary stance for an author to take.

People who do not read the thread are doomed to repeat it.
posted by shakespeherian at 5:41 PM on October 5, 2011


There was an underground hit in Australia called Die Yuppie Die.

Shoestring one-take budget for the filmclip by the looks. I think they wanted to film yuppies, but they mostly got a bunch of office workers having lunch. Looking at it now, they were probably bigger wankers than the people they were railing against. But for whatever reason, yuppies were enemy number one in Australia, too.

Only drink imported beer
Tastes like the pits
But at least it's dear

posted by uncanny hengeman at 6:00 PM on October 5, 2011


In my gender studies class last year we read an article about the sexualized torture practices used by Latin American militaries in the 70s and 80s. The rat thing was among the practices she described (I think it was actually mice, but whatever). The article kept me awake for hours. When I read about it here, it was still gross but not terribly shocking anymore. Not entirely sure what my point is - a) something about densensitization and b) I wish it were too absurd to be real.

I haven't read any BEE, but I think this thread is really fascinating.
posted by naoko at 6:17 PM on October 5, 2011


If American Psycho were a better-written book, the violence would be unbearable. As it is, a bit sloppy and poorly done, the book is still pretty great in how unfettered the violence is. Mary Harron's movie version is also great, but it's obvious that it was impossible to bring the true violence of the book to film: maybe it would have had to be rated XXXX or something. And, for a funny and extremely witty take on the movie, you have to watch Miles Fisher.
posted by anothermug at 6:21 PM on October 5, 2011


Huh. So I wonder if the rat scene alluded to that torture practice. I'm going to charitable and go with that, that he was doing something more interesting than thinking about different ways to mutilate people.

But if the reader is not hip to the reference, what is the point? Actually, even with that reference, what is the point? Capitalism is as evil as Latin American torturers? Is that even where BEE is coming from?

Mind you, I ask what the point of Finnegan's Wake is, too.
posted by angrycat at 6:25 PM on October 5, 2011


But I love me some Pynchon. Even though Gravity's Rainbow has a graphic description of an adult having sex with a girl who, I think, is younger than ten. Truly fucked up. I still love him. So maybe I am full of it and my native Oregonian anti-LA biases are coming into play w/r/t BEE.
posted by angrycat at 6:29 PM on October 5, 2011


I just watched Amistad for the first time and the scene where the surplus slaves were chained to a rock and tossed overboard affected me a lot more than anythhing in American psycho.
posted by localroger at 7:45 PM on October 5, 2011



This is one of those things. Of people who actually read it all the way through, there are many who remember only the torture porn. Then there are those who remember the torture porn as part of a novel with quite a lot of other things going on in it.


-- Ice Cream Socialist


I read American Psycho this summer, and since have read Glamorama and I'm now reading Rules of Attraction. When I first starting reading AP, I posted some notes on Facebook about how I was reading it and I got a lot of "OMG wait till you get to THIS SCENE" from some people, which perplexed me. What were they reading it for? That didn't seem to be what I was reading it for, but I wasn't sure. I read over a hundred pages before I could even figure out what I thought of it. But turns out I really liked it, had a lot of thoughts about it, discussed it with friends, and decided to read more Bret Easton Ellis. I agree that it's not appropriate to Google one scene and ask why Ellis included it or to hate his writing because of it. I'm not going to convince anyone necessarily, but I think reading American Psycho, and his other books but especially AP ( in my reading of these three so far) is a sense of really diving into the book, getting into the world and getting to know it. There's a moment in American Psycho in which the narrative changes a bit -- Bateman lets you in to his mind a bit, in a way that he hasn't before. It's all breezy brand recognition and murder. But there's a few paragraphs that go just a tiny bit deeper, and I found it breathtaking.

Also, once you read some of his other books, and see the same characters, places, events ( even jokes repeat themselves), you see what a claustrophobic world he's created. I don't know how else to put it, it's a world he's created, and these miserable complicated people who move around in it. It's fascinating, but not for everyone.

If you don't think you'll like it, don't read the book, or any Ellis books. But if you're getting so sidetracked by the shocking scenes, maybe it's not for you anyway. But don't trot out some scene here and there and say he didn't have to write it that way, because he did, it fits with the book as a whole and his claustrophobic, difficult world.

Also, as an aside, I don't think Ellis is a misogynist or American Psycho is a misogynist piece of work. Patrick Bateman is a misogynist.
posted by sweetkid at 7:49 PM on October 5, 2011 [5 favorites]


But there's a few paragraphs that go just a tiny bit deeper, and I found it breathtaking.

When I write, that is what I want to do. I will use any tool at my disposal to do that to you.
posted by localroger at 7:57 PM on October 5, 2011


That's awesome, localroger. It's like a payoff of everything else in the novel, in a way -- not that the rest isn't interesting in itself. But getting to know a certain side of Bateman, it's startling to suddenly get something else.
posted by sweetkid at 8:04 PM on October 5, 2011


What was breathtaking about the passages? Not snarking at all.
posted by angrycat at 8:07 PM on October 5, 2011


You have to read the book. Like I said, it's a payoff, or it feels that way. Certainly a lot of readers don't even notice, because they're so shocked by the rest of it, and I don't say that to be negative to those readers, it's just a different reading and different taste. But like I said, to me, it's getting to know a different side of Bateman. It's getting to know something else about the character.
posted by sweetkid at 8:13 PM on October 5, 2011


People who do not read the thread are doomed to repeat it.

I've read the thread. I'm sorry if I don't agree with whatever more nuanced take you have on the book. It's not much of a book, as far as I'm concerned. I haven't in some way failed to comprehend whatever points you think you've made about it. I get it, I've listened to people defend this boring piece of shit for twenty years. It's preposterous to me that twenty years later people still care about it. I wish they'd try reading another book. They'd probably find they liked it better.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 8:20 PM on October 5, 2011


sweetkid: "Also, as an aside, I don't think Ellis is a misogynist or American Psycho is a misogynist piece of work. Patrick Bateman is a misogynist."

This.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 8:21 PM on October 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've read the thread. I'm sorry if I don't agree with whatever more nuanced take you have on the book. It's not much of a book, as far as I'm concerned.

Why read the thread, then? Art is subjective, no? It's fine if you don't like it, but that doesn't mean everyone needs to not like it?
posted by sweetkid at 8:29 PM on October 5, 2011


It's preposterous to me that twenty years later people still care about it. I wish they'd try reading another book. They'd probably find they liked it better.

You know, it was about fifteen years after I read American Psycho that I decided to try reading another book. Like most lovers of literature, I had read a book prior to that one, a book I really cared about, but the little paper handles that make the night scene flip to day were just about torn off from all the reading I had been doing (I sure love reading!) and I felt like trying something new. Anyway, I read American Psycho and it clearly made me think, I mean, it inspired me, you know? Through some special trick of nuance it convinced me to think that I had a point! That's powerful stuff right there.

I was so excited about books after fifteen years of American Psycho that I just had to try reading another one, but I wasn't so impressed. I think it was in a foreign language, or about cars or something else icky. So it's American Psycho or nothing for me, pal!

What book have you read?
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 8:52 PM on October 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


I haven't in some way failed to comprehend whatever points you think you've made about it.

I'm just curious about how your dismissiveness can be stated with such authority, as if no other alternative has been presented. It frankly seems condescending and rude.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:55 PM on October 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wow, this debate still going on?

Patrick Bateman is a misogynist.

This bears repeating.

In the interview, he says that he takes great pains to write from the point of view of the narrator, even if it means he can't include a cool detail, or turn of phrase, and the book suffers. He remains true to the narrator.
posted by Ad hominem at 11:04 PM on October 5, 2011


"At C.W. Post College, forty miles outside of New York City, Costello lashed out at the new generation's points of reference for him: Bret Easton Ellis's lethargic novel Less Than Zero ...."
Rolling Stone, 1989-06-01

I wonder what Elvis thinks of Ellis's latest output with a borrowed title?
posted by Cassford at 11:34 PM on October 5, 2011


Plus there's BEE the man. He sez that women told him they learned how to jack off to AP? If this is some weirdo Kaufmanesque bit, okay, interesting. But otherwise? That shit is fucked to the 100th degree.

This is the strangest part of the whole debate, that all women, everywhere are turned off by sexualized violence. Women can, and do, have fantasy lives and imaginations just as "fucked up" as men.
posted by Ad hominem at 2:07 AM on October 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think most people seriously miss the point of most of Ellis's work, which is somewhat understandable, because some of it is so shocking. But that's completely secondary to its real theme, the horrible and pervasive sense of post-modern dread that suffuses everything.

The characters are rich and surface obsessed, yet are constantly dependent on xanax to eliminate the constant anxiety that reality itself is slowly unraveling. In American Psycho Bateman is a narrator so unreliable, so wretched and fearful, it's almost impossible to take any of the violence seriously. He is stalked by a park bench, he finds bones in his candy bars, ATM's speak to him. Nobody seems concerned nor even perceives his obvious breakdown, and his entire violent fantasies seem to be a way of attempting to distinguish himself from his complete interchangeability with his other superficial, shallow, status obsessed peers. Nothing gets resolved however, ultimately he has no control over is position or even his tenuous grip on reality. Is he a murderous psycho, or just the terrified loser the other characters insinuate he may be? This Is Not An Exit. Much like Clay in Less than Zero's abject fear at seeing the advertising slogan "Disappear Here" these small signs litter Ellis's works, signifier of quiet terror that seem to provide small clues of a twisted existentialism that reality is not just indifferent, it may even be a sinister and malevolent force.

Ellis's characters may all be insane, but placed in context they seem to hint at the fact that these horrifying rents in the substance of being may actually be real. Lunar Park has got to be one of the most disturbing of his works, and while it's largely absent the shocking violence of his earlier novels it contextualizes them in a way that is thoroughly disquieting. It's fucking excellent writing, but yeah, not much fun.
posted by Thoth at 2:50 AM on October 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


What I don't understand (and this is based on my long-ago reading of BEE's other work) is why it is saying something interesting about the human condition, and a way of responding to that adverse human condition. Again, this is the point that I think DFW made (much more eloquently) and his exploration of the badness of the human condition goes on to find the grace in the human condition (in his novels, anyway; some of his stories in Oblivion were just bleak through and through).

Humanity is primarily motivated by fear and greed. This is nothing new; nor is it new that people often are horrible. I guess I honestly just don't understand why this is an area that benefits exploration. How to exist, how to be a moral person in the face of high odds -- that I get.

So those of you who read and appreciate AP -- did give you an insight into the human condition that you hadn't before?
posted by angrycat at 7:15 AM on October 6, 2011


(and yes, I have similar thoughts about Piss Christ and the work I know of by Jeff Koons.)
posted by angrycat at 7:19 AM on October 6, 2011


Yes, it did. But I also think that requiring a piece of art to say something new and insightful about the human condition is unnecessarily limiting and overlooks a lot of what the art that surrounds us does every day. I reject the idea that an artwork should be a bit of didacticism that communicates a singular idea from artist to audience, and I think that that understanding of art ignores how art is generally created. Ellis, like any writer, I am sure, sat down with some blank paper and a premise, and explored where that premise led his particular imagination-- which in this case happened to be some very dark places. Because Ellis is human, and I too am human, the way that his mind shaped and wandered around those places becomes accessible to me, the reader, and in reading his work I learn about the ways in which minds can explore this territory. The ways in which Ellis's prose and narrative are shaped by his working them evoke themes, questions, problems, and challenges in my head-- some of this shaping is almost certainly on purpose on Ellis's part, and some of it is almost certainly on accident. I'm not particularly interested in the difference. But I am interested in seeing an intelligent and skilled writer explore a particular bit of territory and seeing what there is to see. I think that, for the most part, Ellis is a pretty honest writer, and his books tend to evoke some very interesting ideas in my mind when I encounter them. They make me wonder things about my own morality, the structure of our culture, the nature of trust, honestly, and hatred. It is entirely possible that I could have had each of these same thoughts or experiences if Ellis had omitted certain paragraphs or pages or had changed the name of his character from Patrick to Tom or had written a nine-page sermon instead of a 500-page novel; but he did none of those things, and this is the book he made, and I read it, and the experience was interesting for me. That qualifies it as a good book in my aesthetic. YMMV.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:34 AM on October 6, 2011


ok, I'm close to convinced -- don't think I'm going to read it, mind you, but I have a better understanding as to why people appreciate his work.
posted by angrycat at 8:18 AM on October 6, 2011


First up, Piss Christ is actually a pretty nice thing to look at (assuming you're not offended by an idealized image of a man dying a slow, horrible death). If it were called Savior In Amber, it likely would've been forgotten long ago.

What I don't understand (and this is based on my long-ago reading of BEE's other work) is why it is saying something interesting about the human condition, and a way of responding to that adverse human condition.

I read American Psycho sixteen years ago, 1995, while traveling in Germany. Worth noting: the big American news of the moment (getting headlines even in Berlin) was the Oklahoma bombing. Anyway, I'd run out of English books to read and, just before hopping onto a bus for a long, slow milk run that would eventually get me to Calais, I ducked into a small bookstore and was confronted with maybe two dozen English language choices, most of which were standard crap, bestseller fodder. Except they did have American Psycho ...

I bought it and thus was the tone of my journey defined. I found it horrifying, hilarious (the scene at the U2 concert is one for the ages), thought provoking, hard not to read. And yes, being a long way from home (Vancouver, Canada) helped in this regard. It felt like I was in the perfect "place" to be wallowing through the very worst of the American Dream gone horribly, horribly wrong -- not just thousands of miles away from the continent of North America, but also removed from it culturally for more than two months, the last of which had mostly been spent in Germany with very, very little overt contact with anything American (or English or Canadian for that matter) ... though I did keep hearing the Allman Brothers. They really liked their Allman Brothers in Germany a decade and a half ago.

The bus drove all night and dawn found me in Brussels, killing time in a little hotel lobby, waiting for the connecting bus that would get me to Calais. They had CNN on (in English) so there I was, half awake, immersed in the twisted passions and confusions of Patrick Bateman, catching my first AMERICAN news (in AMERICAN English) in over a month ... and what should be the lead story but the Paul Bernardo Trial which was currently going down in Toronto. Talk about lurid, deranged, psychotic. To make things all the more strange, if I'd been in Canada I wouldn't even have got this news as there was a publication ban in place (which actually meant something in those days before internet ubiquity).

So yeah, long story made a little shorter: on a cool clear Belgian morning in 1995, I had no difficulty in grasping that American Psycho was a valid and powerful piece of work, that it had something important to offer, that it helped me to better understand the fucked up edge (or perhaps the heart) of the culture I'd grown up in.
posted by philip-random at 10:40 AM on October 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Humanity is primarily motivated by fear and greed. This is nothing new; nor is it new that people often are horrible. I guess I honestly just don't understand why this is an area that benefits exploration. How to exist, how to be a moral person in the face of high odds -- that I get.

I'm not sure why a novel must contain such an element to be considered worthwhile. Seems restricting, like you're looking for a particular type of novel and have difficulty accepting those which don't fit inside that framework.
posted by krinklyfig at 10:57 AM on October 6, 2011


This is nothing new

When BEE wrote American Psycho it was quite fashionable (particularly among people of the Ellis' and Bateman's class) to assert that greed was good, and it had only been a few years since Michael Douglas gave the famous Gordon Gekko "Greed is good" speech in Wall Street. So for a lot of these people, the fact that greed maybe isn't so good was in fact a new thing, and worth demonstrating in a way that might get their attention.
posted by localroger at 11:40 AM on October 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


I may have sort of a prescriptive attitude towards art. For various reasons I've been reviewing two 18th century novels: Moll Flanders and Clarissa. Both books were powered by authorial intent to provide a model of obtaining grace under perverse conditions.

Look, I assigned my class the short story by Ozick "The Shawl," where (SPOILER) a baby is thrown into an electrified fence. But even that had its moments of grace; the joy of the mother as her baby dies; the knowledge that there is an end to suffering. It's not all Nazissuckamirite?

I really enjoyed Phillip Random's description of reading it; it reminds me of when I read Doestvsky's Notes from Underground while traveling through Mexico.

Sexual assault is something that I have experienced, and this is most likely part of the reason why it is hard for me to accept BEE as a genius, while I give Pynchon a pass on including an erotic passage of pedophilia in Gravity's Rainbow. I don't know.

But thank you all for explaining.
posted by angrycat at 11:41 AM on October 6, 2011


Something touched above but usually missed in discussions of AP was the whole paranoid "Oh god, we've been doing really awful shit in public and getting away with it for years now, it can;t keep going on like this, right? right? Eventually we'll all get caught right? It's absurd no one notices all this naked evil!" feel of the book that the movie rightly picked up on and made into a more major theme.
posted by The Whelk at 11:44 AM on October 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


Every conversation about Bret Easton Ellis and Patrick Bateman eventually turns into this.
posted by pxe2000 at 1:58 PM on October 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have seen exactly zero conversations about Bret Easton Ellis and Patrick Bateman turn into that.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:12 PM on October 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


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