Paul Bryant's Reviews > American Psycho

American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
Rate this book
Clear rating

by
416390
's review
Oct 13, 2007

did not like it
bookshelves: the-misogyny-series, novels
Recommended for: men who really hate women

(another update incorporating comments about BEE's latest novel - apparently he's still at it!)

Before we start - a quote by Norman Mailer about Bret Easton Ellis : "How one wishes this writer was without talent!"


*********

People think the pages and pages of descriptions of hacking and chopping up women are ironic.
Well, in one sense they are, but in another sense they aren't.
People who like this book should ask themselves why they want to read pages and pages of descriptions of hacking and chopping up women (with the occasional man thrown in, but all the lavish descriptions with rats and nail guns and so on are just for the ladies).
I don't think people can tell what's misogynistic and what isn't any more.
Here's a real life anecdote. A couple of years ago I went into Waterstones in downtown Nottingham, and mooched around. In this shop (probably others too) the staff had put various books on display with their own handwritten enthusiastic recommendations underneath. Well, that was nice, I liked reading them, until I came to the handwritten card under American Psycho. It said something along the lines of : “after a night of getting knocked back by various women in Nottingham hostelries, what better than to pick up Bret Easton Ellis’s 80s classic and get some of my own back”. Wow! That was a little like a guy working for Waterstone's recommending “Commandant of Auschwitz” by Rudolph Hoess, with the comment “After a day of having to deal with members of the Jewish community, what better than to sink into an armchair with this book, and get some of my own back”. Believe it or not, my GR friends, I actually wrote a protest email to the manager, who wrote back with an apology and said he'd removed the tasteless comments.
You know, this book reveals how much of a different planet some people are on than the one I'm on. It's not a good feeling.

UPDATE : FROM THE PAGES OF YESTERDAY'S SUNDAY TIMES

there's this review of "Imperial Bedrooms" which is BEE's latest novel. The reviewer is Theo Tait, I never head of him and it isn't an anagram of Paul Bryant, and I am not Theo Tait, let's get that clear. So imagine how the following remarks warmed the cockles of my heart:

At 400 pages, American Psycho is probably unfinishable except by adolescents and sociopaths...[Imperial Bedrooms:] descends into a phantasmagoria involving torture, online snuff videos and the appalling abuse of prostitutes and rent boys. Ellis claims to be a moralist, by which I guess he means that it is the emptiness of the modern world that causes his characters to behave in a spectacularly louche and/or homicidal fashion. But as with many satirists, it is unclear whether he is criticising the horrors he depicts, or simply wallowing in them. Either way, Ellis's determination to rub the reader's face in the gore carriessome heavy costs. Many people have no strong desire to read sustained passages of pornographic and misogynistic violence, in which, for instance, masked men urinate on a bound actress...[other examples omitted:]... these sequences also chip away at the novel's realistic texture and leave you wondering if Imperial Bedrooms has any meaning beyond that of the average slasher film.
251 likes · flag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read American Psycho.
Sign In »

Reading Progress

01/31/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-50 of 265) (265 new)


message 1: by Dan (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:14PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Dan Martin wow... if you think this book is about killing women, you obviously didn't actually read it, or read it with a mind closed, locked, and double bolted shut.

"I don't think people can tell what's mysogynistic and what isn't any more."
only people who don't think about what's presented to them.
Ever wonder what the pages IN BETWEEN the murders were about?
The villian (yeah, patrick bateman) is a materialistic, mysogynistic, hallucinating psychopath. Does that promote mysogyny?
Read this book again mate. You missed it.


message 2: by Paul (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:15PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Paul Bryant Thanks for the comment. It's possible I missed the point but let me explain my own a little more. Suppose I write a novel about a paedophile. My main character is loathsome and is shown to be loathsome. Suppose then I include two or three scenes of uncensored description of sexual torture and killing of children. It's nasty stuff but it has to go in, that's the nature of the story. But then, suppose I continue with 50 more pages of detailed child rape and torture.
The reader might say after five or ten pages of this stuff "Okay, we get the point already! Enough!"
So : I would have to ask about the motivation of anyone who wants to a) write and b) read 50 pages of the untraviolence in American Psycho. Why so much? Why are all the very detailed scenes of ultraviolence in American Psycho reserved for women? The thing is, I get the idea that people who write and and read 50 pages of fantastically revolting violence against women are doing so because they actually quite enjoy it. It's kinda cool! It's funny!
But is it funny? Is it necessary for the novel? Wouldn't ten pages have done? After all, we get Ellis's point about the emptiness of acquisitive greed and the interchangeability of the people in Bateman's life and maybe it's all hallucinations anyway. We get that point after - say - five pages, so why 50? Is it because people get off on this stuff? If so, that's mysogynistic.


message 3: by Jessica (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:15PM) (new)

Jessica I'm on your team with this one, Paul, though I'm in that inevitably awkward position one gets into when refusing to read a book -- you're not allowed to trash on something you haven't read/seen/listened to, which is a rule I wish more people would follow.

That said, I feel qualified to comment on a general phenomenon which I suspect could be relevant here.

There are a billion examples of cultural products that legitimize abhorent actions and impulses by permitting people to feel titillated by something they'd normally avoid, while congratulating themselves on being extremely clever and sophisticated and capable of understanding that said cultural product is in fact a commentary on such abhorrent actions and impulses, which the high-minded consumer would themselves absolutely never participate in or condone. The classic, dumbed-down example of this is the image of morality police so dedicated to their mission that they will watch hour after hour after hour of the most "vile" and "distressing" pornography, in order to protect an unsuspecting public from exposure to such terrible material.

Is American Psycho an example of this kind of thing? Well, I don't know, and I'm not qualified to judge because I haven't read it, and I probably never will. This is because I find extremely graphic, gratuitous desciptions of violence -- especially male violence against women -- not only unenjoyable, but deeply disturbing. I understand that others might have different reactions to such descriptions, which may include revulsion but also some level of enjoyment or arousal. Personally, that's fine with me. As long as they don't act on such feelings by committing violent acts, people are certainly entitled to whatever emotions and reactions they might experience in response to descriptions of violence. My only objection is that those who enjoy this kind of thing must own their enjoyment, instead of trying to obfuscate the matter with a bunch of self-righteous, over-intellectualizing bullshit.

You know, I'm really not much of a moralist, and I'm the kind of feminist who doesn't have a problem with violent pornography. That said, violence against women is a serious issue, and one that's not just reflected but also legitimized and -- arguably, sure -- perpetuated by our consumption of certain movies, music, and books. Please note I don't think it's the existence of songs or books with misogynistic themes that's a problem. We live in an extremely misogynistic world, and I'd find it far more disturbing if our culture didn't reflect that. There are some very misogynistic authors and musicians whose work I enjoy immensely, and part of my responsibity there is to recognize that their depictions of women must appeal to me on some level, or I would not enjoy these works.

I don't take issue with Bret Easton Ellis for having written this book, nor do I hold judgments about people who have read and enjoyed it. What I do have a problem with is dishonesty, because that's where I believe these things do perpetuate misogyny and violence.

Claims that the popularity of this book can be separated from its graphic depictions of violence are ridiculous and insulting. It's totally okay to like this book, and to defend its literary merits, but claiming that *American Psycho* has absolutely nothing to do with violence against women is ludicrous to me. I believe I do not have to have read this book in order to say that. I have also not read the chick lit *Shopaholic* series, but if someone told me that shopping was not an important component of those books, I simply would not believe them. There might be some other themes going on in there, and many reasons why someone who is not themselves a shopaholic might enjoy them, but I'm pretty sure that shopping plays a fairly significant role in those books. Because I do not enjoy reading long, vivid, detailed descriptions of the shopping process, I have not read Ms. Kinsella's work, and furthermore, I do not plan to.


message 4: by G (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:15PM) (new)

G Thanks always for your thoughts - this minefield is so dangerous I have already had various body parts blown off straying so boldly into its depths.
Let me put this one on the table: how many times do you see a critic using the word "transgressive" as a positive thing - i.e. some art should be transgressive since its opposite is - er - complacent. However, when we look at the transgressive art in question we find that it depicts violence against women in great detail, and that's its so-called transgression. I give you movies like Blue Velvet, Irreversible, Secretary, I Spit on your Grave and so endlessly on. Artists like to mix a little masochism into the mix so they can look you in the eye and deny their misogyny and tell you they're portraying a transgressive relationship.
back to American Psycho - I am very depressed at all the hundreds of reviews you see on Amazon from 15-25 year old males saying "this book totally rocks!" If you accuse them of wallowing in misogyny they'll be outraged - they're just enjoying Ellis's outrageous irony. Or, they say, oh, these murders are actually imaginary, they never happen. As if that absolves Ellis from writing 50 pages of horror. So - Jessica - you're so right, men lie about why they like this book.


message 5: by Jordan (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:15PM) (new)

Jordan The interesting thing is that Ellis tries for this kind of excessive description with phenomena other than, well, vile murder. The novel also goes on at immense length with descriptions of couture and the albums of Whitney Houston and Genesis: I always read this as the character equating all these things as worthy and relevant. Ellis does something similar in "Glamorama," where guest lists for parties last whole pages, as does one amusing sex scene that just drags on and on.

Not that I'm defending Ellis - I think he's a mediocre writer who occasionally pulls off some really fine scenes, none of them involving overlong and numbing description. And I think there's a case to be made for the idea that no author should describe violence at such length, fictional or otherwise (there's a pretty fine essay in Coetzee's "Elizabeth Costello" about this kind of thing). But if we're going to interpret Ellis as being obsessed with the idea of murdering women, we have to do the same for his apparent fixations on clothes, bad music and bisexuality. I could be wrong but I think Ellis is smarter than that - it's his characters who hold these interests.


message 6: by Paul (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:15PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Paul Bryant Oops - I see that my last comment on this basket of snakes has been posted under the name of Georgia - my 11 year old daughter who'se just sneakily joined Goodreads. She thankfully does not have to trouble herself about misogyny yet, although give it ten years and maybe she'll be posting about American Psycho herself (itself a grisly thought). Anyway, as for Ellis being obsessed with murdering women, no, he's probably not, but he did get himself into a book where his latent misogyny came pouring out in an unstoppable flow, which, very conveniently, he is able, being a writer, to smuggle into the luggage of his characters. And his male readers like to go along with that particular conceit.


message 7: by Jessica (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:15PM) (new)

Jessica Yeah, these are all good points and are well taken. I hope I don't sound like I think Mr. Ellis is a psycho just because he writes about one, because that's not at all what I'm suggesting. Again, I haven't read this book (which is kind of too bad, because except for the extreme and reportedly excessive violence, it sounds like something I might like) so I can't responsibly comment on the author or on this particular work. What I can talk about is a larger phenomenon, this certain faux-naive, highly insincere "I-only-read-it-for-the-articles" sophistry that inevitably surrounds works like this.

I'm definitely not accusing you of this, Jordan, but I think your point that Ellis describes things besides violence in the same way has been put to ill-use by some disingenuous apologists. Obviously, violence against women is not the same thing as a Genesis album or a pair of Italian loafers, as you and I and the author and his readers all well know, even if the character does not. People's response to books like American Psycho just cannot be separated from such highly charged content, and any effort to do so is either intentionally misleading or appallingly self-deluded.

I'm convinced that readers respond positively to American Psycho at least in part because the character's misogyny and violent impulses resonate with them in some way. Obviously there are other reasons why people like it so much (not every violent book becomes popular), but pretending that the violence and misogyny are somehow irrelevant or coincidental to this book's reception strikes me as.... well.... psychotic!

To return to my (admittedly limited) Sophie Kinsella analogy: obviously, the immense popularity of the Shopaholic series must be attributed, at least in part, to many women's ability to identify with the main character's compulsive shopping behavior. Does that mean eveyone who reads this book loves to go shopping? No. Does it suggest that the author herself must have incurred tens of thousands of pounds in Visa bills in order to write such a book? Surely not. Are there likely other elements to this series, such as an amusing and breezy writing style and engaging romance, which have contributed to its positive reception? Of course. Isn't the character's obsessive materialism and financial irresponsibility ridiculously exaggerated, and actually satiric? Yes! YES!! But: isn't much of the books' appeal precisely that elements of her behavior are recognizable to readers who can relate their own to it, albeit in much more subdued forms?

Duh.

Would someone who really loathes shopping enjoy reading these books? Probably not. In fact, someone who could not relate at all to the main character and actually found her completely disgusting and reprehensible might find these books unbearably revolting (I did, anyway).

When I was, say, fourteen, fifteen, I really enjoyed movies such as Reservoir Dogs, and books/movies like A Clockwork Orange. Did I enjoy Tarantino's famous ear-cutting scene because the movie was uniquely stylish and well-crafted, and that particular use of the Steeler's Wheel song was so ingenious and brilliantly executed? Absolutely. Could my strong response to and fascination with that film be separated from its intense brutality and violence?

Give me a break.

I'm not saying authors or directors shouldn't portray graphic depictions of violence. All I'm saying is that readers and viewers need to take responsiblity for their responses, and drop this ridiculous "oh I'm so offended you'd ever suggest my enjoyment of this misogyny and violence could in any way be connected to my own existing appetite for misogyny and violence" act.

Oh good heavens. I can't believe how much time I've wasted on this today. Must be some kind of a record....


message 8: by Paul (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:15PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Paul Bryant Your time not wasted on this at all - I agree with every word - it really needs to be said.


message 9: by Rachel (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:15PM) (new) - added it

Rachel While discussing which actresses are too skinny/boringly symmetrical to play the lead role in movie adaptations of popular novels may very well be an utter waste of time, writing about the manner in which misogyny pervades our culture is certainly not. So I agree with Paul: the time you spent writing this was not wasted.


message 10: by Jordan (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:15PM) (new)

Jordan Jessica: Your point that violence against women is not the same as Gucci and Genesis is correct: the more important consideration, though, is precisely that the character doesn't acknowledge this. I suppose this is where it'd help to have actually, y'know, read the book. Patrick Bateman, during his monologues about violence/clothes/music, tends to slip into a numbed and colorless tone of description that's lacking in the passages that actually advance narratives. The point made by this - and I'm not suggesting that it's a particularly subtle or meritorious point, or that Ellis makes the point particularly well, all of which are subjective distinctions - is that Bateman treats these phenomena on an equivalent level. And naturally the reader should be disgusted by this.

"I'm convinced that readers respond positively to American Psycho at least in part because the character's misogyny and violent impulses resonate with them in some way," you say. I have read it and I disagree. The Shopaholic analogy doesn't wash: in those books, the character's shopping addiction is treated in a seductive and inviting way (so far as I remember; it's been a few years since I read those). I don't think that's the point of "American Psycho" at all: the reader, so far as I can tell, should be repelled by the disjunction between the violence's extremity and the banality of tone with which Bateman describes it. Taking a look at the reviews, I find that most readers did, in fact, react that way to the book. Are you seriously suggesting that the readers who call the book a sharp social commentary, and who accurately acknowledge Bateman's depravity, are lying about that reaction - that they're secretly getting off on every page of the violence? If so, that's more than a little insulting. The motif of violence is present in this book, certainly, but it entirely lacks any indication that we're meant to approve, and it lacks any impetus for actually approving. And one doesn't have to regard this as a great book (I know I don't), or even like it, to acknowledge that.

I don't think it's a waste of time to discuss gender issues at all. But it is a waste, or at the very least a little disingenuous, to generalize about a readership of hundred of thousands, each of whom probably reacts differently to a book. More than that, it's a waste of time trying to discuss a book one hasn't read.


message 11: by Samantha (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:15PM) (new) - added it

Samantha Jessica, I agree word for word with your comments. Very well articulated. Paul, too, is spot on.


message 12: by Rachel (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:15PM) (new) - added it

Rachel I'm fairly certain that the point here (in spite of Paul's "recommended for" thing which cannot be entirely serious) is *not* that people who enjoyed reading this book are evil psychopaths. I think it is more like: maybe we should ask ourselves what our appetites for violence, &c. mean and where they come from. It simply makes no sense to say (*not* that you have, Jordan) that our appreciation of a work like this is "ironic" and therefore completely separate from the sensibilities we apply to other kinds of books. Yes, one feels revolted by the psycho, but to be effective, the character must be sympathetic. That is how this kind of irony works, right? I have no doubt that a great many good and sensitive people enjoyed this book precisely because it did throw a strange kind of light on their own views/values/whatever. But it should not be surprising (or offensive) that some people don't have an appetite for it. Anyway, if we're going to read it as social commentary, let's remember that the society it's commenting on is our own.

I believe Jessica has effectively opened this discussion up to a topic that is much broader than this particular book. Moreover, she cited specific examples from other works to make her points. For the record, I have not read *American Psycho* either, but I have seen the movie!


message 13: by Jessica (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:15PM) (new)

Jessica I agree with many of the points you make here, which is why I made several them myself, as I think you'd have noticed if you'd actually read every word of my overlong ranting (can't blame you!). For example, I acknowledged that while the character does NOT see a distinction between murder and fashion, I believe his creator and readers of this book DO.

I understand that Bateman is an unappealing and despicable character, and I don't think he's supposed to be sympathetic. I also know it's highly irritating when people talk about books they haven't read, which is why I tried (okay, not as hard as I should've) to avoid focusing too much on this particular book. The points I'm making here mostly have to do with a larger and more general issue, which is the defensiveness people present about their enjoyment of literature (or movies, or rap albums, or whatever) containing objectionable (violent/sexist/racist/etc) content.

I do not have to read the book to say that the presence of extreme violence in the book is a significant part of it, regardless of whether or not the highly unpleasant character would agree. Therefore, it makes me angry when people announce that the book is not about killing women, and that it is what is between the murders that counts. To me, this kind of statement minimizes the seriousness of violence against women. My conclusions here are based on my own opinions about violence, misogyny, and literature, and not on my understanding of American Psycho, which I'm the first to admit I'm unqualified to discuss. I feel my points still stand, however. Saying that women being murdered in a book is not an important part of the book is, in my (admittedly subjective) universe, incorrect, no matter what that book is, whether the murders were supposed to have actually happened, etc.

I'm sorry if you feel offended by the implication that everyone who reads this book is a sadistic sex fiend. I can see how that could be the conclusion based on what I wrote. I do not really believe this is the case.

Now I'm really in a bit of a pickle, because I feel like at this point I really should read this book. However, I really don't want to, because as noted above, I find extremely graphic, gratuitous desciptions of violence -- especially male violence against women -- not only unenjoyable, but deeply disturbing. While I do sometimes read books about unenjoyable and disturbing topics, I usually stick with nonfiction, or literature I feel is going to be worth a fairly traumatic experience. To be totally honest, I think it's a little bit weird that so many people would choose to read American Psycho, especially since one interesting theme I personally noticed in the reviews was a desire somehow to "unread" it.

Maybe I'm just too sensitive. Perhaps I am only envious of those with steelier stomachs than I have.

I have a lot more to say about this, in particular my own changing relationship to books with disturbing content and evolving response to violent entertainment, but I am missing my friend's birthday party because of my compulsive obsession with this conversation.

In closing, I would like to read this book, but I also would not like to read this book and in fact, there are reasons why I probably will not. I stand by everything I've said, but I know not having read American Psycho puts a Barry Bonds-sized asterix next to a lot of it. Still, the general phenomenon I'm describing is a real one. Paul's review of this book really touched off some strong feelings that I have about this subject. If you don't think it applies to American Psycho, I obviously can't argue with you.


message 14: by Dan (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:15PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Dan Martin "I do not have to read the book to say that the presence of extreme violence in the book is a significant part of it, regardless of whether or not the highly unpleasant character would agree. Therefore, it makes me angry when people announce that the book is not about killing women, and that it is what is between the murders that counts. To me, this kind of statement minimizes the seriousness of violence against women."

Therefore, be an advocate of the book, not a detractor. You hate what it is about -- and that`s why it was written.
I loved this book, and you are assuming that it is because I enjoyed the violence and there was enough "other stuff" to shrug it off. THAT is misunderstanding the book.

The intense graphic violence of the book is important TO the story itself. The fact that he WENT there, and WROTE that. It`s not the same to say "and what happened to her next was so violent you can`t imagine it". Because, i CAN`T imagine it. The book loses it`s point. You`ve moved onto a discussion not even ABOUT this book in the first place. Not to point this out again (c`mon, I see where you`re coming from but you `re giving a very lengthy, thorough, negative dismissal to a book you have not read, that a lot of people really respect) but you have to read it!

You are wrong on what you have mentioned of the book. The fact is he does NOT regard murder and fashion in the same light; he does NOT regard human beings at all actually as anything except another material existence in the world, just one without value. He says "what does it matter if she dies? Or I die? She was just unlucky enough to meet me."
But he regards fine food, clothes, business cards, as the building blocks of what he makes his own life. He never feels one emotion (except jealousy and anger) for any other human. THAT is the point of the story. Not mysogeny or murder. Those are the tools back it up, and that make it work. You are not even asking WHY he kills people, you are saying the fact that he does it in the first place is advocating it. This book is a work of dangerous, evil, thought only if you read it at face value. (or NOT read it, and make assumptions of it`s meaning based on it`s plot)

Did I connect to Patrick Bateman? Yes, and that`s what`s brilliant about the book. And it had nothing to do with the violence. (Bethany`s, in particular, which I skipped half of after he rubbed the cheese in her and I saw where it was going) I would put down this book, and when I looked around and saw real humans i felt like I was in another dimension. The violence WAS disgusting, and i had to skip a lot of it, but I went back and read it after I had moved forward in the book and cooled down a bit.
It is made to disgust you. It is made to amaze you, and that`s what social commentary is about. You don`t sypmathize, or accept the violent murders. You HATE it. he is the villian!

Bringing gender roles into the book isn`t even relevant as far as I`m concerned. What about his racism? He is easily as racist as sexist. Can I assume that you secretly liked that because you didn:t point it out along with the mysogeny? No, its silly.
Him and his friends are racist, sexist, chauvinistic, ignorant pigs. Yeah. Exactly!

And saying the author is dispalying mysoginism because he kills mostly women? Or kills them the most violently? So does Freddy... c:mon.
Anyways... To see good social commentary ignorantly knocked down by people standing up for what the book is in the first place makes me really sad about our culture. Which was also the point of the book.

sigh.


message 15: by Dan (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:16PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Dan Martin though that last post sounds pretty mean, sorry, i just REALLY enjoyed the book. anyways, i was thinking about it more, and it IS really REALLY really violent. not just violent, but awfully gruesome, so i take back the "read it read it!!" if you really don`t want to.
But.. you should try.


message 16: by Paul (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:16PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Paul Bryant I think what our discussion shows clearly is a very major misunderstanding of what the experience of American Psycho is, and I salute Jordan and Dan for stepping up and arguing the case for the book. It lets me get a handle on why a reasonable person might like it.
Dan : You say the violence was disgusting and you had to skip a lot of it. So here's a question - let's say Ellis put in one or maybe two scenes of ultraviolence and left it at that. Would this make the book any less of the brilliant satire you (and many other people) think it is?
Now, if cutting out (say) 90% of the violence wouldn't undermine the satire, then why do we have to have the fifty pages of violence in there? Because as I've said after the first couple of murders the reader has definately got the point! It's not a subtle point. And if cutting out most of the violence WOULD undermine the satire, why? Why exactly is ALL that extreme violence required for this book?
Jordan says : "Are you seriously suggesting that the readers who call the book a sharp social commentary, and who accurately acknowledge Bateman's depravity, are lying about that reaction - that they're secretly getting off on every page of the violence? If so, that's more than a little insulting." Well, I guess I kind of am saying that, you see, because of the fact that the violence goes on and on and on for fifty pages. It really does. So why would anyone write that amount of truly disgusting violence (it has to be read to be believed) if ten pages of it would have made the same point? And the excruciating detailed violence is ALL directed against women. The killing of men and a dog is dismissed in a few paragraphs.
So I say, under its veneer of sophisticated satire of yuppies and Eighties greed and wealth and so forth, this book really does hate women.


message 17: by Fiona (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:53PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Fiona When I read this book, I was an angry teenager and instead of acting out, i read this.I did not relate to the villain. He didn't harbor the feelings I did.

I also rad the Vampire Chronicles and lots of Stephen King...

Ironically, today i avoid horror books and movies as well. i am a happier person today!

just thought I'd throw my 2 cents in...this is not to say i don't agree with much of the above debaters (on both sides of teh Psycho coins).


message 18: by G (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:53PM) (new)

G Unfortunately Dan & Jordan didn't continue the argument, it would have been interesting.


message 19: by Conrad (last edited Dec 19, 2007 07:37PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Conrad I'm late to this fascinating thread, too. I (unironically) liked the book a lot, but I recognize that I'm probably in the minority. I absolutely didn't enjoy reading descriptions of the things Bateman puts his victims through before he kills them, but those contortions serve an important rhetorical purpose.

It seems to me that fetishism and indeed much of human eroticism are essentially about repetition. People who enjoy pornography don't enjoy it just once and then quit, and yet it's not as though every titillating image is THAT different from the last. Bateman kills again and again because (a) his own habits of mind tell him that a certain kind of manliness and dismissive attitude toward women makes his actions permissible or at least irrelevant; (b) his compulsion to torture is a consequence of his own personal constellation of erotic needs. If Ellis had portrayed Bateman's compulsion as anything other than repetitive, we might see him as a Raskolnikov, a man who kills once in order to prove a point, to himself and/or to the authorities and/or God. That would (in a way) redeem Bateman, which would be even more obscene.

American Psycho is repulsive but also boring, as boring as listening to other people talk about their dreams. That's because Bateman is never going to grow or develop a conscience. He's never going to try to please another person. He sees everyone as having a place in the hierarchy to which he has become accustomed, and the behavior of everyone who he comes into contact with reiterates this hierarchy. (I remember his description of the mute Korean maid who disposes of his bloodied sheets for him.) It gradually becomes clear that Bateman couldn't upset the apple cart if he wanted to - when he tries to tell another character at a U2 concert that he's a heartless murderer, the other guy just pretends not to have heard.

Despite the anvillicious Sartre allusion on the last page, I think Ellis thinks that there is an exit, that perhaps if (for example) President Reagan wasn't treating the mentally ill like nonpersons Bateman might be different. Ellis falls all over himself to show all the openings other people give Patrick to do his deeds, like some kind of surmountable national obliviousness has allowed Bateman to be what he is. I don't really see a reason to be quite so optimistic. But anyway, without the repetitive violence, the book loses a lot of its power and, I think, would be at least as grotesque, in a way - it would imply that it's better to kill people to make a point than for pleasure, but both are wrong.


message 20: by Jordan (new)

Jordan *shrug* I pretty much gave up on the discussion because it seemed as if we were approaching it from unproductively different angles - my approach is one of pure aesthetic value, social content/reception aside, and others seemed to take it differently.

I have to add, though, that it's a little strange to read that "this book really does hate women." The book does, really? Or is it the author who "hates women," or the readers? If it's the author - well, in that case we have to assume that the book actually represents the author's attitudes in all other respects, and on what basis can we assume that? And if it's the reader who "hates women" (which seems to be this reviewer's other contention), I kinda feel like other questions arise: why is Patrick Bateman not depicted heroically? Why are the readers who get off on such violence not seeking it out in sources less tainted by implied ideology (and boring record reviews every other chapter)? And what might Mary Harron, an avowedly feminist director, have seen in this novel that she deemed it worthy of screen adaptation?

Statements about "the readers" of this novel, a crowd so huge that no productive generalizations can really be made about them, just don't sit well with me. If this reviewer is gonna insist that the novel's readers are all secret misogynists, fine, but I think it's an unproductive and unsupported claim, and not one with which I care to critically engage beyond a certain level (he concluded, having written three paragraphs doing just that ^_^).


message 21: by Jordan (new)

Jordan Also, I really like Conrad's point about the novel's repetitious nature (which I just noticed). The novel fits neatly onto an axis of other works of this sort: Sade, Robbe-Grillet, perhaps Bataille, diverging from these in its angle of sincere (and ultimately conventional) social critique. If we're going to approach the novel in a way that grants it credibility as a literary work (which I suppose is a loaded term, but whatever), we have to assume that the repetition is there by design. We could view it as an illustration of compulsion, or as an unrelenting rehearsal of some ideal scene on Bateman's part - I think these make more sense than assuming that the book is purely an exercise in vicarious sadism.


message 22: by Paul (new) - rated it 1 star

Paul Bryant Hi Conrad - forgive me if the following sounds as if I'm having a go at you, I'm not. We're just debating a book!

“I absolutely didn't enjoy reading descriptions of the things Bateman puts his victims through before he kills them, but those contortions serve an important rhetorical purpose”

50 pages of disgusting chopping up of women to serve a rhetorical point?

”It seems to me that fetishism and indeed much of human eroticism are essentially about repetition. People who enjoy pornography don't enjoy it just once and then quit, and yet it's not as though every titillating image is THAT different from the last. Bateman kills again and again ….. If Ellis had portrayed Bateman's compulsion as anything other than repetitive, we might see him as a Raskolnikov, a man who kills once in order to prove a point, to himself and/or to the authorities and/or God. That would (in a way) redeem Bateman, which would be even more obscene”

Agreed – where we differ here is that there are many ways of informing the reader of Bateman’s repetitive obsessive torture/murder of women without detailing the murders themselves for 50 pages.

"American Psycho is repulsive but also boring, as boring as listening to other people talk about their dreams."

Why then is it any good at all? If its boring and repulsive qualities are there to expose the boring and repulsive qualities of the society we live in, isn’t this a very banal point?

"I think Ellis thinks that there is an exit, that perhaps if (for example) President Reagan wasn't treating the mentally ill like nonpersons Bateman might be different."

This is a completely different point, but Bateman is surely someone with what’s classed as a “personality disorder” and I believe there isn’t any treatment for those people.

"without the repetitive violence, the book loses a lot of its power"

Power to do what? Show us that this is a boring and repulsive society? Show is that some men hate women? Show us that yuppies are superficial? That violence is horrible? That repetition is numbing? What this book does show me is that quite a few men secretly enjoy pages and pages of descriptions of torturing women. And the 15 year olds post their one line ingenuous reviews on Amazon "This book is way cool!" etc. But the educated are more subtle and tell themselves that Ellis is exposing profound truths.



Nathan "Jessica: Your point that violence against women is not the same as Gucci and Genesis is correct: the more important consideration, though, is precisely that the character doesn't acknowledge this. I suppose this is where it'd help to have actually, y'know, read the book."

Amen. And absolutely essential part of the story.

I'd also like to add one little bit to this discussion: if enjoying any book that has representations of violence against women makes a man a misogynist, then no books about this would probably ever get written, and discussions like this one (important discussions) would probably take place a lot less often.

I think it is incredibly shortsighted to say that anyone who likes this book is a misogynist, and somewhat sexist to imply that men are incapable of liking a book like this without it appealing to their desire to rape women. I'm gay. Not only would I never rape a woman, I'd probably never have sex with one, either, and as far as I know (most of my dearest friends are women), I rarely actively objectify women. Yet liking this book makes me a misogynist?

If men "lie" about why they like this book, and it is a foregone conclusion that they like it because they like to fantasize about raping women even if they're too dumb to realize it consciously, then what about all the women who like this book? Are they misogynists, too? Or do they get a free pass to like it because they don't have a penis?

Isn't it just a tad condescending for people to write off all men as misogynists who like a book that you haven't read (not addressing that to Paul, but to the people arguing all men who like this book hate women, despite having not even read the book themselves)? For me, reading this book was actually one of the first things that really made me sit and think about how sexism and violence has really affected women in this country. If the book really is misogynistic and written for people who hate women, then that's the ultimate irony of it all.

NC




Nathan Jessica wrote: "My only objection is that those who enjoy this kind of thing must own their enjoyment, instead of trying to obfuscate the matter with a bunch of self-righteous, over-intellectualizing bullshit."

I usually don't get personal on Good Reads, but I think this may be a overly-wrought heaping of projection, and one of the most self-righteous (ironic), condescending things I've ever read on Good Reads.

You're making sweeping declarations about people who enjoyed a book you admit you haven't even read. If that's not an agenda, I don't know what is. Your comments imply that you are the one who should be honest about why you feel the way you do. Frankly, declarations about books you haven't read and sweeping statements about people who like them paint you as the ranting pseudo intellectual, full of sound, fury and bullshit.

I do not like to shop. I hate it. I hate the culture around it and the traffic spawned by it. I read part of Shopaholic while sitting at work one day. It was funny.

I'm glad there are people in the world willing to read things with an open mind, especially things that don't directly interest them. Those are the real intellectuals of the world.

NC


message 25: by Dan (new) - rated it 5 stars

Dan Martin I stopped posting because these comments frustrated me so badly~ jessica's and paul's. I'm glad I'm not alone. I mean, what drew me to comment on YOUR review of the book in the first place wasn't that you didn't like it, a lot of people don't, but the review is such a far cry from the actual subject matter. Some people say "I couldn't handle the violence, i actually had to stop reading" That is an honest and viable review, but everything you've written is full of shit, or just doesn't make sense.

The base appeal of this book is seeing from someone else's point of view, one that is completely contrasted from your own (hopefully). That in itself is fascinating, and it's shocking to find out people aren't capable of drawing that line. This book wasn't written to indoctrinate you! Is that really how you view everything you read?

I mean, you say "on and on for 50 pages", but how many pages is this book? I don't remember one murder being more than 4 pages or so. Reasons why the violence doesn't promote violence, why it stands as a measure of his mental illness, etc... have been given to you by conrad, jordan, etc... but it doesn't matter because you stand by this bizarre sentence: "was it NECESSARY?" what kind of book, or art, is necessary?? none of it. The music reviews certainly weren't necessary, the shopping wasn't necessary. You say how much was necessary for the social satire? They're different aspects of the book ~ the only real aspect is reading about a psycho. That's the title of the book, I don't know where you guys got mixed up.

No one who likes this book, or reviewed, implied that it contains "profound truths". None of the reviews we've given on this thread have been "subtle". It's like you're inventing this book to try to throw into our faces. You are silly enough to hold this book up like it should reflect YOUR ideas, and assume we do too when we say we liked it.




message 26: by Paul (last edited Dec 31, 2007 01:48PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Paul Bryant Hi Dan

I've been trying to figure out how to reply, and i haven't got very far. It's worth repeating that we're just talking about a book, ain't nothing personal in this at all. But I will repeat that I think AP is not a profound book but it is profoundly misogynistic, possibly - I will admit this - without Ellis realising quite how misogynistic it is. Or at least he was in strong denail of its women-hating qualities, as are many many male readers.
Give it to any female of your acquaintance, see what they think.
Saying AP is actually a really sharp satire is - as Mrs K has mentioned above somewhere - exactly like saying you're reading Playboy for the articles. Oh yeah? Then why do they find the need to put all those naked women in there?

"Some people say "I couldn't handle the violence, i actually had to stop reading" That is an honest and viable review, but everything you've written is full of shit, or just doesn't make sense. "

I don't mind not making sense - maybe we can unravel what kind of sense we're talking about.

"The base appeal of this book is seeing from someone else's point of view, one that is completely contrasted from your own (hopefully). That in itself is fascinating, and it's shocking to find out people aren't capable of drawing that line. This book wasn't written to indoctrinate you! Is that really how you view everything you read?"

No. To say something is misogynistic is not to say it's trying to make you the reader feel the same. AP isn't polemic. I quite agree it's supposed to be satire. My position is that it collapses into something other than satire. Imagine a book ostensibly on how evil the Nazis were. There's chapter one on the rise of Hitler. Chapter 2 on the creation of the concentration camps. Then chapters 3 through to 15 are pages and pages of details about how Jews were killed and tortured. And the conclusion explains that it was all necessary to show the reader exactly how bad the Nazis were. I'm afraid I would have to say that the author actually gets off on the descriptions of the death and torture. The alleged purpose of the book has been lost. So with AP. After 10 pages of rats in vaginas and so forth, you get the idea. there's absolutely no need for any more.

"I mean, you say "on and on for 50 pages", but how many pages is this book? I don't remember one murder being more than 4 pages or so."

Check it out. 50 pages of sexual torture of women. Check out "Lunch with Bethany." Then check out all the rest. It's 50 pages, i know, i counted them becuase I got in a similar argument once.

Well, there it is. I think you'll disagree. I hope you think it's worth explaining to me how I'm wrong. I don't usually get on a soapbox about books but this one takes the biscuit. It's not a book about a guy who hates women, it's a book that itself hates women.



message 27: by Nathan (last edited Dec 31, 2007 02:37PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Nathan "I don't mind not making sense - maybe we can unravel what kind of sense we're talking about."
- Paul

"Stop making sense!"
- David Byrne

"There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all." - Oscar Wilde

I would just like to apologize for getting involved in this debate, and especially to my shot at Jessica. I have no business here, as I am not a psychologist, and this is clearly a psycho-analytical debate.

People like different things, and some times people hate different things without even trying them. It's just part of life. I reread some of my own thoughts on books and realized that having never actually finished an Ayn Rand book, I still find people who even talk about her work insufferable and pretentious. I'm guilty of the same type of prejudices, just with different faces.

I also think there's a fundamental difference between reading a novel and psychoanalyzing a novel. A lot of what's going on in this thread would make more sense if we were all shrinks.

I would say, however, that if one wants to make the assertion that reading about the Holocaust implies one gets off on torture and if documenting what happened in history means one gets off on the slaughter of a people... I'd suggest reading "Hitler's Willing Executioners". The point of that book is that we're all capable of extreme evil despite what we may think of ourselves. Reading or writing about these things is not the first step toward a Holocaust. Thinking oneself immune from the influence of cruelty, however, or thinking oneself above it all, is the first step. I'm curious - how many people would advocate burning this book? For perfectly "moral" reasons?

"When critics disagree, the artist is in accordance with himself." - Wilde

The ultimate irony is that many people in this thread seem to be reading American Psycho exactly the way Patrick Bateman and his friends would read it. I suspect Ellis would have loved that. I can only hope that I write something one day that inspires this many PC debates.

I'd rather be arguing with people who hate Catch-22. I actually love that book; I merely like American Psycho. Of course, given all the blood and guts in Catch-22, I'd probably be called a masochist here for liking it. But maybe not... Maybe blood and guts is okay if it is men getting killed. It must be. Because it seems to me if the psycho-analytical, deeply personal reasons people list here for not liking American Psycho applied to all violence instead of just violence against women, 80% of the novels ever written should be chucked out the window right now.

The first time I ever read American Psycho, I spent the night I finished it sitting around with a group of girlfriends talking about what it was like to be a woman in America. This thread isn't going to lead me to have the same conversations with any of my girlfriends. Sick? Maybe. But so is America (despite her strengths, so no political debates here please). In my humble opinion as a lit student not a psychology student, this novel was less misogynistic or sexist than this thread.

NC


message 28: by Jordan (new)

Jordan I'm finding this "50 pages! 50 whole pages!" line of argument to be a little strange. If there were 40 pages of violence against women in the novel, would the whole enterprise be redeemed, or less "misogynistic"? Twenty-five pages? Two? You're not actually making an argument about the content of the book, Paul, just an ongoing unsupported assertion that beyond some threshold, the violence of the novel is irredeemably misogynistic.

And again, the notion that "it's a book that itself hates women" is senseless. The book is inanimate: it's only possible to engage with, or criticize, the attitudes of its central character, its author, or its readers. It seems to me as if you're trying to shy away from all these.

In an interview, Mary Harron (director of the movie "American Psycho") says this: "I mean, you can argue about the level of violence in the book, and how much of it should or shouldn't be there, but I don't think you can say it's endorsed in the pages. To me then, it becomes an issue of representation. How much you write about it, how much you show. I thought the book was hilarious." I like this point - taking the book in terms of the ways it violates conventions of representation. All the violence could remain off the page, rendered merely as vague disturbing suggestions, but there'd be no originality or real purpose to that, it's been done forever. It's fair to argue that the violence, as depicted by Ellis, serves precisely the purpose of violating this implied contract between author and reader: you expect depiction on a certain level, but he carries it far beyond that. If you want to say it's misogynistic for him to do so, then I suppose it's your argument to make, but simply assuming a certain level of detail in representation to be misogynistic doesn't follow.


message 29: by Jessica (new)

Jessica Huh, I didn't realize this had all continued on, or I would've flung myself back in to the sharks much sooner.

Looking back at this shitshow with a little perspective, I feel my views are being mischaracterized, but I'm the first to admit that it's largely my own fault for my own sloppiness and excitability. I was not making myself clear.

I have no opinion about American Psycho, not having read it. Actually I picked up a copy in a bookstore after this whole debacle and read the first few pages out of curiosity, and since I did enjoy the writing style, if I hadn't known what was coming I probably would've bought and read it.

What I did and still do have a strong opinion about is the first comment on this page:

wow... if you think this book is about killing women, you obviously didn't actually read it, or read it with a mind closed, locked, and double bolted shut.

That really set me off. I feel I adequately explained why above, and I stand by that. I am really, really tired of hearing statements like this, and if people don't understand why, I can try to explain again, but this post is already redundant. That comment feeds into a lot of very strong feelings I have, and I will acknowledge again that I did get carried away in the debate above and made some ridiculous and insulting overgeneralizations, and I should've made a greater effort than I did to keep my comments separate from American Psycho, which actually sounds like an interesting book, one I might even someday read as a result of all this.... Though I might not, because noted above I do not have much of an appetite for the content I've heard tell this book contains.

Anyway, the place I think I'm being mischaracterized most is in message 26. Hi, Nathan, pleasure to meet you. Okay, you're right, that was a very snotty thing for me to write. It was in response to the first message in this thread, which STILL seriously irks me when I read it, and NOT in response to American Psycho, which I have (as we know) not read. Do you see why that offends me? Not the book, but that kind of statement? I maintain that I do not need to read this book to be angry about that. However, I should've kept to the point, and I didn't: Mea culpa. Perhaps part of the problem here is that other people keep more to the book being reviewed in these threads, while I and the people I interact most with on here tend to digress. I believe that I was speaking to a phenomenon -- which I maintain is a real one -- which Paul accused AP of exemplifying, and did get too sloppy with it, and I am sorry for that. And yeah, okay, the Shopaholic thing was pretty lame, I'll admit that. I am not some frothing censoring lunatic, and I think if you actually read what I'm saying while keeping in mind my perspective, you will see that. I believe that my biggest mistake here was not using more gentle language, and when one says inflammatory, insulting things, one can't really be surprised when people don't hear one's actual point.... so, I'm learning, okay? Work with me! When I see I'm wrong, I can acknowledge it.

BUT! I do think one of my very basic points is basically being held down and raped and then cut up into ribbons with a dull carrot peeler or whatever. Just to get things clear, I am not labeling people who like this book misogynists (though Paul may be). What I am saying is that I think a lot of appreciation we as readers have for certain books (not this one, I don't know anything about this one) must relate to the ways certain unsavory aspects of those books resonate with certain unsavory tendencies within ourselves, and that it is not possible to separate those unsavory aspects from the experience of reading and enjoying the book. Those unsavory aspects are part of the book and part of us. That is all I'm saying. I am saying that one cannot say "this book is NOT ABOUT killing women" if women are killed in the book. This book is about killing women (or so I'm told). Obviously it's about other things too. I am not saying and would never say that it is ONLY about killing women. But if women are killed, that is something to consider. And Dan is saying it is not, that it is irrelevant. And I do find that insulting. I find it insulting as a woman. However, I should not have gotten so worked up, and I did go overboard in places, and overstated certain things.

I am not calling people "misogynists" because they like misogynistic books (I have no idea whether this book is misogynistic; I only know Paul thinks it is. I found Nathan's story about the discussion he had after reading this interesting and enlightening); if I did (I don't think I did), I'm sorry. Name-calling sucks. However, I might say that someone who likes misogynistic books, or even books with misogynistic themes, may do so in part because of misogyny within themselves.

I don't think being gay and having female friends means you don't have any misogyny in you; to me that's ridiculous. Equally ridiculous is the notion that a woman isn't misogynistic because she's female. I am misogynistic. Bell hooks is misogynistic. Gloria Steinem is misogynistic. WE ARE ALL misogynistic. I am not trying to single people out here. Honestly, I think my point is very close to Nathan's, in his bringing up the Hitler book: Yeah! That's my point. I think looking at the reasons why we (WE! WE! Not YOU! WE!) consume certain violent/misogynistic/racist/homophobic/etc entertainment is really important, and my argument was not that I am above this sort of thing, but that it is insincere for others to pretend that they are. Kind of only vaguely related, but have you read that Danish book The Exception? Because that book is about human cruelty and genocide, and a huge part of the reason I enjoyed it was because reading it illuminated my own capacity for evil. So, you know, AP might not be a book that particularly does that -- sounds from most of what people are saying that it most probably isn't -- but my point (and I think this is not as much my fault, because even when I tried to make it clear I wasn't talking about this book anymore people still responded as if I was) is far more general than that. My interest in reading about genocide is tied to my curiosity about my own capacity to commit terrible acts. Maybe that point is not generalizable to AP; fine. But there it is.

Anyway, I'm bummed out because I think you two guys seem like smart and thoughtful booksters, and I hate the idea that you think I'm some book-burning psycho or screeching name-caller, because I think if we'd met under more cordial circumstances, we could have gotten along. In any case, I think if you reread this thread with my apologies for getting out of line sometimes in mind, you might agree with some of my points after all.

I am thinking of starting a James Ellroy book, which will be my first attempt to return to this kind of thing (which I used to scarf down like Skittles, as noted above). If it goes okay, maybe I'll give this baby a shot; at this point the curiosity's killing me.

By the way, I have not claimed on this site or in any other forum, ever, to be "an intellectual." I honestly don't even know what that means, only that it has a bunch of syllables and isn't a personal aspiration of mine. So you telling me I am not a real one is not really an insult to me, it's just kind of mystifying. Honestly, I am just some chick toodling around on the Internet when I should be cleaning my apartment. When I see something that triggers strong opinions, I speak what's on my mind. Obviously I might try to do so in the future with more clarity and tidiness (and brevity), but we all have our areas for improvement. I'm certainly not here to insult anyone (except published authors, of course, when they deserve it), and when I do, I feel sorry for it.

Finally, I am not a psychologist, but as a professional social worker I am allowed to diagnose, and provide therapy!


message 30: by Jessica (new)

Jessica P.S. To paraphrase an old lame, defensive line: some of my best friends liked American Psycho!

http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...


message 31: by Paul (new) - rated it 1 star

Paul Bryant Hi Ginnie, or may I call you The Official Goodreads Best Reviewer? We could abbreviate that to TOGBR if you like, along the lines of TAFKAP. Anyway, here's the loop I'll be stuck on for all eternity:

American Psycho fans : This is one of the most misunderstood books in all of American literature.

Me: No it isn't, it's you who have misunderstood.

APFs: No, you have.

Me: No, you have, you stupid the-violence-in-this-book-is-ironic postmodern idiots.

APFs : No you have you humourless old trout. Don't you see the funny side of rats in the vagina?

Me: Awww, just refer to page 317 and do that to each other. Then come back and tell me how ironic it felt.




message 32: by Jordan (new)

Jordan Ginnie, that article is pretty great. I've grown disenchanted with Ellis's work in the last few years, but it's one of the strongest cases I've seen for him yet (especially with regard to Glamorama).


message 33: by Jessica (new)

Jessica Ginnie, thanks for the link! That article made me feel so much better about my pre-Bookster conflation of BEE and Jay McIreney. They used to hang around together! Not my fault!

That made me want to read something by Ellis, though I'm not sure I have the tummy for AP. What should I go for? Is Glamorama the one to read? Anyone have suggestions on this? Max? Somebody?


brian   i always loved what david foster wallace wrote about American Psycho:

LM: ...In the case of "American Psycho" I felt there was something more than just this desire to inflict pain--or that Ellis was being cruel the way you said serious artists need to be willing to be.

DFW: You're just displaying the sort of cynicism that lets readers be manipulated by bad writing. 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.


message 35: by Jason (last edited Mar 24, 2008 07:08AM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Jason This is a great, great thread. Tensions may have bubbled up here and there, but you all precisely embody what critical, passionate discussion about books could--always ought to--be. Thanks.

Few quick thoughts, if you don't mind letting a wandering lurker join in: for the record, I dislike _AP_ aesthetically -- no matter what A.O. Scott says, I find Ellis' writing stylistically and thematically heavy-handed.

But I love me some ultra-violence. Perhaps in the deep root-cellar of my psyche (as Jessica suggests), perhaps as a critical literalization of the cruelty/violence embedded although nominally condemned in contemporary American culture, perhaps as an aesthetic rejection of certain bourgeois notions of representation/literature as merely a high-fiber moral lesson. (Probably all of those, and more.) It's certainly worth interrogating why such violent representations work, and which are touted (and which abused), and who's actually doing the watching (as well as who's getting offed in the text) -- but as this thread so fully illustrates, one of the great boons of violence in representation is that it might prompt us to examine such a range of personal and social and aesthetic conundrums. (Nathan made this point, already, and I'm just nodding my head.)

I never had such debates about this book, primarily because it didn't attract or repel me enough to fuel such a conversation. The only thing that really interested me about _AP_ was its grim comedic refutation of so many of the fictions of the '80s: McInerney, Janowitz, Ellis too -- that hip NY crowd writing about hip drug-addled morally-exhausted yuppies. _AP_ might play as a grotesque exaggeration of such literature.... imagining these kinds of characters as not merely self-obsessed and -destructive but as monsters of consumption.

But mostly the book bored me. Yet I thought the movie got it right (whatever "it" is)--and the quote from Harron about representation (that Jordan provided) might be why I think this. The book seems a mess, trying to be a social commentary *and* a Sartrean (or Beckettian, or Sadean) critique of the novel. But Harron's distilled text allows the satire to emerge more precisely, and it's sharper, more cutting, more distressing in the film (despite being, ironically, far less gruesome).

I think Joyce Carol Oates' _Zombie_, A. M. Homes' _The End of Alice_, and a great deal of James Ellroy's work capture, convey the social, gendered, and aesthetic implications of brutal violence more effectively. (There are probably lots of other examples--but these are rough contemporaries to _AP_.) Mainly because of what D.F. Wallace suggested about the purposes of the novel (thanks, Brian, for that great quote): the point is not the dehumanized perspective but to examine without merely reiterating the reduction of the human to gristle and meat.

Again, sorry to babble on, intruding like a drunk at a party in an on-going debate. My thoughts here are probably just mumbling, but your arguments remind me why I love to wander around this site so much.




message 36: by Paul (new) - rated it 1 star

Paul Bryant Hi Mike

I really like the idea of some work being delibreately opposed to "certain bourgeois notions of representation/literature as merely a high-fiber moral lesson" - this is true of course, and that was a good way of putting it, from the Marquis de Sade right through to AP and onwards. I guess this strain of literature (leaving aside pornography for the moment) is caled "transgressive". My problem is that when I read "transgressive" works the transgressions are all committed BY men ON women! It's kind of a one way street. If you look at the "transgressive" movies as another example, the one way street of horror and violence operated there loudly and clearly, from - say - Blue Velvet to - say - Haneke's Funny Games, which he's remaking right now. I do think we need to rebel against bougeois morality and I despise the notion of literature being a high-fibre moral diet (as indeed the founders of English Literature as an academic subject thought it should be, and as the Nobel Prize Committee thinks it should be, indeed, as EVERYONE agrees it should be) but I do not wish every alternative to involve relentlessly cruelty against young girls.


message 37: by Jason (new) - rated it 1 star

Jason I'm with you, Paul, and it's a compelling, important challenge. It's not that this form of representation is inherently evil, but it's startling that so many "transgressions" assume such familiar form. And transgressions that emerge generically are ... well, not so transgressive, and begin to seem part of a social structure rather than a critique thereof.

Mind if I noodle a bit? Reading your comment, it struck me how central cruelty to women is in the history of the novel. Start with Moll Flanders, Pamela -- probably 86% of fiction produced in the nineteenth-century -- centered on cruelty toward women. Admittedly, not so much of the rats/vagina stuff (but sexual and economic and other forms of violence are endemic), and after enduring lesser (usually lesser) hells of one kind or another many female protagonists emerge triumphant (married, usually, so maybe "triumphant"?), but ...

There are any number of half-developed, half-baked thoughts one might toss out in response to that history:
a) rather than transgressive, fictions like Ellis' AP are distillations of perverse gendered conventions typical of the novel;

b) fictions like Ellis' AP are exaggerations which call attention to and critique those perverse gendered conventions (Laura Mulvey makes exactly this argument in praise of "Blue Velvet");

c) there's something strange and complex about identification by readers that we need to examine more closely. Most readers of fiction before 1900, as well as most writers, were women; how should this alter our attention to the tendency to beat up (literally and thematically) women in fiction?
Or when we shift to a male-dominated field (male producers of more explicitly violent-to-women representations, and a predominantly male audience reading and viewing such), how should our attention to these depictions change? I'm tempted by arguments like the ones you and Jessica have compellingly made, wondering about the audience for AP who are often young men... even as I find it easy to pooh-pooh other arguments about violence that *I* like (e.g., Quentin Tarantino--or, more on point with this discussion, Blue Velvet). So even as I find it compelling to critique these young male readers, I also wonder if my critique comes too easily because I'm not "inside" their pleasures with this text. Still--that's no reason to avoid such critique... maybe that audience does have a twisted kind of identification that deserves our challenge. It's worth noting that Ellis' AP emerges amidst a huge backlash against feminism in the late 'eighties and early 'nineties.

Or when a writer who is a woman enters the genre--Oates (throughout her career really) and Homes, for instance--how should we read their reiteration of such brutality? Is it different in kind, when the young-girls-being-tortured/killed-by-men are created by a woman?

I don't have easy answers, but I know I'm unsatisfied with both a sweeping monolithic claim (about gender, violence, and the novel) and the every-work-is-different-every-artist-unique argument.

Or take the challenge a different way: it isn't *what* Ellis represents (homicidal misogynist), it's how he represents that is transgressive. The book (like Sade?) is a relentless tedious catalogue, lacking in plot, conflict, character development--all the stuff we normally want from a novel. AP's bid toward transgression may be less its subject matter than its formal method. (I actually think the book fails because it wants to be both a social satire and a rejection of literary realism. It's hard to comment on the world and simultaneously resist the relationship of art to that world.)




message 38: by Tosh (new) - rated it 4 stars

Tosh Maybe the word 'Enjoyed" can be placed wrong in this sense, but I really liked American Psycho. I thought of it as a work of really black humor. i didn't see it as a violent novel for the sake of violence. It is for sure a critique of a world that is for sure out there - the consumerism, etc.


brian   like you, tosh, i always regarded Psycho as "a critique of a world... the consumerism, etc." -- but, as the years went by (i read this about 8 yrs ago) i thought about it and my opinion changed... on this thread i posted an interview with david foster wallace in which he writes:

"You can defend "Psycho" as being a sort of performative digest of late-eighties social problems, but it's no more than that."

and i think wallace is right: there's very little distance between where the book starts and the book ends. sure, it is a critique of a consumerist culture (amongst other things), but does it do any more than if i casually said to you: "we live in a consumerist culture"? the music chapters and the listing off of brands, etc. may be funny; there are definitely some very funny scenes (the business card scene) that tap into the zeitgeist... but as satire? as a critique? does he do any more than point out some extremely obvious (and banal) things about our culture? i don't think so.


message 40: by Paul (new) - rated it 1 star

Paul Bryant Tosh, you liked AP you say. Did this extend to the 50 or so pages of gross-out rats-in-vagina power tool dismemberment? Just curious you know!


message 41: by Tosh (new) - rated it 4 stars

Tosh The violence in the book made me numb to it. Way over the top and I always saw it as a very funny book that is also a critique of the times. i see Brian's point of view, but I don't find it as a work of evil - nor do I think it's anti-woman. The main character is such a shit-hole and that itself is over-the-top as well. And like Brian, I read it many years ago, but it was an enjoyable read for me. I can understand why some would not like it - but it fitted in my perverse sense of aesthetics. Very dark dark humor. And is it a masterpiece? No. But an interesting book that came out a period of time that was interesting.


message 42: by Paul (new) - rated it 1 star

Paul Bryant It's Baisers Voles (Stolen Kisses). I was going to move on to Eric Rohmer's moral tales but I can't find any nice stills anywhere, or should I say stills of the gentlemen, there are plenty of Pauline who was a la plage, Claire who had a pleasant genou, and Chloe who enjoyed a soupcon de l'amour dans l'apres-midi, as who doesn't. But I'm not yet ready to take that plunge into cross-dressing yet, so Jean-Pierre will stay for a while. I like him.


message 43: by Michael (new)

Michael That business card made me laugh more than was probably appropriate due to my graphic design background. teh connection to the scene, not the laughing. I don't know, maybe graphic designers are more prone to unscemely bouts of laughter than other professions.

either way i love that scene in American Psycho.


message 44: by Conrad (last edited Mar 24, 2008 12:55PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Conrad I agree, it's a great scene. The sardonic humor of the book (though not the movie, oddly) tends to get lost in all the moralizing.

It's not just a book about a guy torturing women. It's not just about a guy who tortures women in funny ways, either. It's also a novel about someone who is completely unaware of how trivial the things he thinks are important actually are, and vice versa, and in that Patrick Bateman has at least two things in common with a lot of other comic antiheroes. David Foster Wallace - usually one of my own favorite SNOOTs - is dead wrong about AP being merely bad with a veneer of deadpan. That's what gives it a little edge of numinousness - Bateman's total lack of self-awareness about how completely fucked up his priorities are. And not to belabor the point, but a lot of comic writers have done the same thing, from Dickens to Balzac. (It's also the edge I think Ellis has on Sade - Sade couldn't be funny if his life depended on it.)

Another thing that tends to get lost in the moralizing is that just because one defends the book's having been written in the first place doesn't mean one must necessarily think it's the best thing since buttered toast. I don't - and there's an extent to which DFW is right, and it lacks some of the stunning insight I like with my negative dialectics. But that doesn't mean it's not funny, at least modestly revealing, or (insofar as it created such a furor) an important document of its time.


message 45: by Paul (new) - rated it 1 star

Paul Bryant Just because it's a book full of incisive deadpan satire on 80s greed doesn't stop it being grotesquely misogynistic, either.


Conrad Well, no, but just because Godard ended Masculin Feminin with Leaud's death doesn't make Leaud's overall cool any less repellent in the context of how he treats his femmes, either, but that fact still doesn't make my moral preening the most important thing to remember about the movie, does it?


message 47: by Jessica (new)

Jessica Nice one, Donald (msg #50). Touché!


message 48: by Adam (new)

Adam Just read this whole thread. A lot of good arguments on both sides. Makes me think I should finally read this book and make up my own mind. I've always been reluctant to actually read it, however, since sexual violence against women in art usually makes me really angry/queasy/upset. I'm not moralizing here; most art I enjoy has a fairly large violence quotient, and the formalized, symbolic sexual violence of Hitchcock's Psycho and any number of Italian giallo films doesn't bother me. But realistic, drawn-out depictions of rape and torture really get under my skin.

Paul, I may be wrong here, but I get the feeling that the 50 pages of graphic sexual violence in this book made you very angry, and that now you're looking for an outlet for that anger. Quite naturally, you have chosen Ellis and his readers as your targets. Any defender or apologist of the book has been met with basically the same response from you, which is, "What about the 50 pages of horrific violence? Did you enjoy those, too?" While I understand this response, I think it's overly simplistic. To say, "This was too horrifying for me to read, if you were able to read it all the way through, you must be a misogynist," is misguided. After all, I know what this book is about, and so far in my life have chosen to avoid it. You, on the other hand, have actually picked it up and read it (or at least started reading it). Does this automatically make you more of a misogynist than I am?

Anyway, I'm not trying to jump down your throat so much as I'm asking you to examine your viewpoint. Many times I myself have been disgusted and angered by a piece of art, and my disgust and anger have led me to immediately contemplate the question, "Who could possibly enjoy this?" The problem is, once you apply that question to the faceless masses, your presumed misogynistic consumer is more of a phantom than anything else. Even a 15-year-old on a message board saying "This book rocks" may not be connecting to the book in the way that you assume he is. He may simply lack the vocabulary and critical skills to explain his love of the book as well as several of the people on this thread already have.

The most horrifying book I have ever read along the lines we're discussing is probably Jack Ketchum's The Girl Next Door. I suppose I could say that I "loved" this book, but I could just as easily say that I "hated" it. Its situation was so horrific and it made me incredibly angry, but at no point did I feel as if Ketchum was being gratuitous or enjoying his subject matter. While I would never make the mistake of saying that The Girl Next Door is "not really about child abuse and misogny," it is about more than just that. It's about male privilege, the human tendency to side with victimizers rather than the victimized, and the horrifying crimes against humanity that so many people will engage in if they are given permission to do by someone who is "in charge."

Despite the fact that it horrified me, I was never "offended" by The Girl Next Door because I felt that Ketchum was fully in control of his material and was as outraged by what he was depicting as I was while I was reading it. This, of course, leads naturally to the question, "Why would he write it in the first place?," but that's a question I don't think writers should ever have to answer; and in many cases they may not even know.


message 49: by Paul (new) - rated it 1 star

Paul Bryant Thanks Adam, that was good stuff and got me thinking.

‘Any defender or apologist of the book has been met with basically the same response from you, which is, "What about the 50 pages of horrific violence? Did you enjoy those, too?" While I understand this response, I think it's overly simplistic.’

Okay, but you have to start with something simple just to get everyone on the same page. In this debate people are beginning from very different points of view.

‘ To say, "This was too horrifying for me to read, if you were able to read it all the way through, you must be a misogynist," is misguided. After all, I know what this book is about, and so far in my life have chosen to avoid it. You, on the other hand, have actually picked it up and read it (or at least started reading it). Does this automatically make you more of a misogynist than I am?’

I read it when it came out, I didn’t know its fearsome reputation. I was that idiot!

‘Even a 15-year-old on a message board saying "This book rocks" may not be connecting to the book in the way that you assume he is. He may simply lack the vocabulary and critical skills to explain his love of the book as well as several of the people on this thread already have.’

Yes, but what I’m suggesting (and what gets me into soooo much trouble!) is that those very people who articulate the nuances of the book’s satire blah blah blah do not themselves ask why the 50 pages of ultraviolence are necessary. Why not five pages? Why are all the long drawn out murders of women? See further on.

‘The most horrifying book I have ever read along the lines we're discussing is probably Jack Ketchum's The Girl Next Door. I suppose I could say that I "loved" this book, but I could just as easily say that I "hated" it. Its situation was so horrific and it made me incredibly angry, but at no point did I feel as if Ketchum was being gratuitous or enjoying his subject matter. While I would never make the mistake of saying that The Girl Next Door is "not really about child abuse and misogny," it is about more than just that. It's about male privilege, the human tendency to side with victimizers rather than the victimized, and the horrifying crimes against humanity that so many people will engage in if they are given permission to do by someone who is "in charge."’

I hadn’t head of that one but a little checking told me that it’s based on the Sylvia Likens case

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sylvia_L...

which is now the subject of two films, The Girl Next Door and a new one An American Crime starring the brilliant Ellen Page. From a review of the first version:

"No one can accuse him of turning the violence into pornography, because his imagery is about as ugly as it comes. What happens to Meg is unspeakable and no one is going to get off on watching the lovely Auffarth become increasingly unrecognizable as Ruth and the kids subject her to absolute horror. That said, it is hard to imagine who is going to want to squirm in their seats for 90 minutes watching this outside of Ketchum's fan base"

From a review of the second version:

"The question I have for the makers of "An American Crime" is: why? What purpose does your film serve? For I have watched it, and I have contemplated it, and I can come up with no good reason for it to exist. It dredges up awful memories and conjures horrific images, and to what end? To inform us that such unpleasantness sometimes occurs in real life? Fine -- but shouldn't part of your agenda also be to show us WHY? Merely relating an awful story and saying, "This really happened" isn't much of a raison d'etre. That's what we have newspapers for...Why would people behave this way? Gertie gets her one scene to explain her twisted psyche (marvelously acted by Keener, a great actress when it comes to dark material, though it's heretofore usually been comedy), and while one scene isn't enough, it's a start. But what about everyone else? What about the neighbor kids, many of whom, in scenes where they aren't terrorizing Sylvia, seem perfectly normal? When they're asked in court why they did it, each one says, "I don't know, sir." No doubt that's really what they said. They probably couldn't explain it. So shouldn't that be the movie's job, to explain, or at least shed some light on, what causes society to break down this way? And if the movie's answer is, "We don't know; that's just how it is," that simply begs the question, "Then why did you make the movie?"

So this gets me thinking about American Psycho as part of a series of “transgressive” works stretching back to de Sade. Here’s a little list of "transgressive" movies (I don't care for the term but it's frequently used)

A Clockwork Orange
Salo
I Spit on Your Grave
Blue Velvet
Man Bites Dog
Henry, Portrait of a Serial Killer
Irreversible
The Great Ecstasy of Robert Carmichael
and now The Girl Next Door

What’s the common thread in these movies? You spotted it – long scenes of sexual violence/torture/murder against women. It seems to be a popular theme. The obscure British movie “Robert Carmichael” is described by a critic thus

"In many ways, perhaps the only ways that matter, this is a deeply horrible and objectionable film, and its undoubted technical successes might simply extend and compound the offence. It is the story of Robert Carmichael (Dan Spencer), a teenager in a run-down English coastal town, who gets mixed up with drugs and then with horrifying acts of violent rape. The first of these happens off-camera, but the second - the film's unwatchably drawn-out and stomach-turning finale -unfolds in full view with unbearable explicitness."

So why is it that when filmmakers wish to be daring, transgressive and cutting-edge they usually create scenes of grotesque cruelty directed against women? I can hear someone spluttering about the vast amount of brutality shown against men, this is true, but rarely do films show women torturing and killing men. There are two I know : Baise-Moi (I haven't seen it but it was described by a critic as Thelma and Louise remade as a home movie by the Manson family); and Hard Candy, starring Ellen Page, which I enjoyed thoroughly, disgracefully - just a little payback. And the slaughter of men in movies most usually does not have rape or sexual humiliation attached. So what's going on in our culture? Whatever this trend means is not pleasant, and American Psycho is a great unpleasant example.


message 50: by Jessica (new)

Jessica Yeah, but Paul, I don't think the slaughter of men in real life usually has rape or sexual humiliation attached. And I'll bet women are less likely to torture and kill men. And sexualized violence against women is part of our culture. Not that I'm defending any the works listed, but....

ARGH!! WAIT! Am I arguing with Paul about American Psycho????!?!?

Time to shut off the Internet! I'm on time out!


« previous 1 3 4 5 6
back to top