Sunday, 30 October 2011

American Psycho

Q. When is the correct time to re-examine your emotional irregularities?

A. When two separate Kanye West songs cause you to burst into tears in the one day.

Whenever I am confronted with evidence indicating that I may be coming unglued I like to look to Patrick Bateman.
"I make my way to the other side of the bar, realising that I need a martini to fortify myself before discussing this with Carnes (It has been a very unstable week for me - I found myself sobbing during an episode of Alf on Monday)."

To me Patrick Bateman is the part of ourselves that we do not wish to recognise. His mindless preoccupations are my mindless preoccupations, his malfunctioning mind is my malfunctioning mind, his severely impaired capacity to feel certain things and hysterically over-the-top responses to other things (associate's business cards, caroling Christmas elves)... all of this is familiar to varying degrees.

The thing that is most striking about American Psycho is the way that Bret Easton Ellis crafts Patrick Bateman. His is a sociopathic mind in full-tilt meltdown and yet if you set aside the murdering and raping ad torturing - which he never confirms actually happens anyway - you just have a chronically off-kilter, maniacally funny and entirely human narrator unraveling spectacularly against the backdrop of New York City in the 80s. It's totally implausible, but it works and it's amazing.

I also love the fact that there are chapters with titles like 'Taking an Uzi to the Gym'.

Patrick Bateman is the 80s, the 90s and the now and his world is one that we all recognise. He's pursuing money, material goods and status in a society in which everyone is lining up for the fake dream in the worst of ways, and the recurring scenes in which people continuously call him by another person's name, or when he mistakes one person for another are laser-like in their depiction of our interchageability.

Ellis deliberately blurs the lines between reality and fantasy and makes it so that nobody pays Patrick Bateman any mind, even when he explicitly declares that he's an insane killer. He leaves open the terrible possibility that everyone else is too absorbed in their own pursuit of money and status and restaurant reservations to notice his patently sociopathic behaviour and it is this possibility - the "increasing randomness, vast chasms of misunderstanding" - that is more chilling than the violence the book is notorious for.

Ellis also said that the extended chapters of Patrick Bateman's enthusiastic and excrutiating analysis of Phil Collins and Whitney Houston and Huey Lewis and the News were more exhausting and traumatic to write than the lively and graphic torture scenes. I think he was kidding but with a mind like his who could ever really know? Either way, I love him. Patrick Bateman too. Some seem not to understand this. Let's look to Kanye in Gold Digger:
"I don't care what none 'a y'all say I still love [him]"
The last word, though, needs to go to P.B.
"Life remained a blank canvas, a cliche, a soap opera. I felt lethal, on the verge of frenzy. My nightly bloodlust overflowed into my days and I had to leave the city. My mask of sanity was a victim of impending slippage. This was the bone season for me and I needed a vacation. I needed to go to the Hamptons."

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