In Defense of American Psycho (A Fragment)

Paul R. Potts

This one needs some context. I think it may have begun life as a response to a review, appearing in The Nation magazine, April 1st, 1991, by Pagan Kennedy, called “Generation Gaffe.” Unfortunately, I have not been able to find the original article either online or off, and so I can’t cite the “sentence” that my comments refer to.

It appears that I’m not the only one who took issue to Kennedy’s review. In retrospect, I think the critical consensus has moved towards my view, that Brett Eason Ellis’ American Psycho was and remains an interesting dark satire. It is not a masterpiece because it is too hard to read, and so limits its audience in a way that classic satires do not. But it is still worthy of study rather than dismissal. It was adapted into a film in 2000, and, recently, a musical(!)

Ellis touches the proper nerves and the knees jerk — it isn’t critical adulation which has made Ellis famous, but contempt. Few think to attempt an objective reading, examining the novel as the tour of hell it is intended to be, tricked out in the consumer language of our own damnation. The violence becomes excessive, numbing, and even ludicrous — the major flaw in the novel — but the moral vision in the novel’s portrayal of a perfect product of our soulless culture of greed strikes dead-center.

Who’s world-view are we reading here, that of Ellis, or that of a character created by Ellis? Kennedy is correct in saying that it is not Ellis who is the beast, but it is not the literary establishment either. Less Than Zero, while no masterpiece, was not a novel without merit, and neither is American Psycho. The sentence that Kennedy waves at us as an example of Ellis’ bad writing should be seen as a product of his narrator’s fractured thinking processes. It is reminiscent of a passage from Ulysses, where Bloom, in a sudden fit of despair, sees

A barren land, bare waste. Vulcanic lake, the dead sea: no fish, weedless, sunk deep in the earth… Brimstone they called it raining down: the cities of the plain: Sodom, Gomorrah, Edom Ulysses, 1988 Vintage Edition, p. 50

Kennedy goes on to tell us “there’s no question it’s abysmally written.” To this I must take exception. Patric Bateman’s “numbing invocation” of designer names is the key to his persona. He is a man obsessed with youth, style, status: he can’t see a person for the designer names that hide them.

Ann Arbor, Michigan
Original Date Unknown (probably 1991)

Creative Commons Licence
This work by Paul R. Potts is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. The CSS framework is stylize.css, Copyright © 2014 by Jack Crawford.

Article IndexWriting Archive