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American Psycho: commodity fetishism and social reification

Uploaded by duprie37 on Sep 26, 2001


Copyright 2001 by Daniel du Prie

One of the criticisms that have been levelled at American Psycho is that, as novels go, it is simply badly and ineptly written, because it is not believable; that is, it does not manage to reflect what could really happen. For example, Teachout (1991: 45) writes,

Every bad thing you've read about it is an understatement. It's ineptly written. It's sophomoric. It is, in the truest sense of the word, obscene…I'm especially struck by the utter incredibility of the events he describes. Though Patrick Bateman chops up one or two women, cabbies, and sushi delivery boys every week, his leisure-time activities attract little attention from the New York Police Department. And though he does his dirty work in a pair of Manhattan apartments, nobody ever hears any screaming and nobody ever smells anything funny.

This particular aspect – Bateman’s seeming invisibility to others in the face of his crimes, his unexplained ability to get away with just about anything of the book struck me also whilst reading the novel. However to charge the book with being too unrealistic for this reason is to miss a central theme – a theme which I would here like to use as a tool by which to read American Psycho. Although on one level the text seems amoral, meaningless, and unresolvable and its depictions of violence opportunistic and gratuitous, I will argue that the book is nonetheless not without its particular “central” concern, or message: that of the abject dehumanisation of people by commodity culture.

A contradiction appears to the reader: on the one hand, the text is unrelenting in its depiction of the most inane details, and their repetition, which seems to indicate a style of hyper-realism, of intense detail as to facts. Over and over again the reader is presented with characters, who have concern only for what people are wearing and whether what they’re wearing is designer fashion or not, who’s carrying on affairs with whom, whether restaurant reservations have been made at the most fashionable New York dining places, who’s handling whose account at work, and where to score drugs. This is brought to an almost hilarious intensity in the Chapter Concert [Ellis B. E. (1991) American Psycho, New York: Vintage – hereafter referred to as AP], on pages 136 – 142. Patrick Bateman and his friends are...

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Uploaded by:   duprie37

Date:   09/26/2001

Category:   Literature

Length:   10 pages (2,157 words)

Views:   2550

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