ification”AMERICAN PSYCHO” AS SOCIAL REIFICATION DRAWN TO ITS LOGICAL CONCLUSION
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, obsceneI’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 Batemans 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 theyre wearing is designer fashion or not, whos carrying on affairs with whom, whether restaurant reservations have been made at the most fashionable New York dining places, whos 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 attending a concert by U2, at which they dont really want to be. After an intricate listing by wearer and brand of everyones attire (e.g. Evelyns wearing a cotton blouse by Dolce & Gabbana, suede shoes by Yves Saint Laurent, a stencilled calf shirt by Adrienne Landau with a suede belt by Jill Stuart, Calvin Klein tights, Venetian-glass earrings by Frances Patiky Stein AP, 138), Bateman and his friends end up screaming at each other in the front row, once again about whether reservations have been made, whether a certain character Paul Owens is still handling the Fisher account, and the fact that they need drugs (AP, 139-140). It becomes hilarious when, The lead singer reaches out to us from the stage, his hand outstretched and I Bateman wave him away (AP, 140). This, because Bono Vox dares to interrupt this banal, inane conversation which seems to be forever repeated throughout the book.
On the other hand, the text seems to be fragmented, and identities unstable. Bateman is forever being mistaken for other people, something he doesnt attempt to rectify, indeed he seems to encourage it. At the Christmas party (AP 173-191), first Donald Petersen mistakes him for someone called McCloy (175), after which Paul Owen mistakes him for Marcus Halberstam (178). He almost panics when hes addressed by his real name: At the mention of my real name I immediately start blabbering, hoping that Owen didnt notice (179). When Bateman embarks on a killing spree and is chased by the police (Chase, Manhattan 333 339) the chapter literally ends on an ellipsis halfway through the episode, with Bateman holing up in his office, making a telephone confession of his murders to an acquaintance. What follows this chapter is, of all things, a discourse on the aesthetic merits of