Academic journal article The Comparatist

We're Not through Yet: The Patrick Bateman Debate

Academic journal article The Comparatist

We're Not through Yet: The Patrick Bateman Debate

Article excerpt

During the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, the Baroness received a flood of phone calls. The photographs that ran in the newspapers and on television, the images and descriptions of torture, especially the picture of an Iraqi standing on a box with a hood over his head and electrical cables running to his hands, stirred a surge of requests. Could she do that for the caller, inflict that kind of fear followed by jolts of electricity?

Daniel Bergner, The Other Side of Desire

The confrontation with the dark, the violent, and the different inevitably results in a pressing desire to explain, define, and categorize. That darkness, which causes the split subject to move into a state of crisis, can be termed the abject, the uncanny, the grotesque, the monstrous, or the absurd. Subjects faced with the abject--from ancient readers to modern theorists, to contemporary horror film viewers--engage in a process of labeling, naming, or somehow rationalizing what horrifies the subject away from him or herself, after the initial seduction of the subject causes them to align themselves with that very horror. Putting the horrifying into linguistic terms gives an illusory sense of relief, wholeness, and separation from the horrifying; however, what happens when the failure of this linguistic relief becomes apparent? As writers and filmmakers employ ironic language or imagery, multiple meanings are created that expose the reader/viewer to something that neither means what it presents nor presents what it means. Truth lies somewhere in the gaps between meanings that are ungraspable and indefinable, a truth that violently confronts and allures the subject because of an erotic draw to the things that cannot be relegated into categories. This paper, using Bret Easton Ellis's American Psycho and its film adaptation, as well as Daniel Bergner's non-fiction account of paraphilia, The Other Side of Desire, explores the link between gaps in meaning and erotic desire. I contend that the draw to the abject is something unequivocally human, and it is the portrayal of individuals who are fully immersed, obsessed with the desires outside the realm of what is deemed normal by society, who force others to recognize the universally erotic allure of what disgusts them.

Individuals who display facets of character that stray from the societal relegation of the "normal," in fiction or non-fiction, are labeled in order to linguistically provide reason and stability to the perceptibly unstable--from serial killers termed "sociopaths" to fetishists consigned as "paraphiliacs." These linguistic markers, however, cannot encompass all meaning that resonates with the terms themselves, and the gaps with which the subject grapples possess an erotic allure that both horrifies and arouses. The moniker "serial killer" is horrifying because of the violent acts s/he commits, but within the revulsion a subject feels for the serial killer lies the subject's fear that s/he is also able to commit murder. When subjects see their own likeness within the serial killer, they grapple with the gaps, between serial killer and citizen, between inhuman and human. The subject is overcome with desire to make meaning out of the disjointed aspects of the abject so that s/he can push the abject as far away as possible, taking pleasure in both the abject's allure as well as its eradication.

Julia Kristeva's Powers of Horror discusses the separations necessary for the ongoing process of self-identification. Kristeva details the process of abjection, during which individuals and nations both separate from and identify with what she terms "abject" (Moore 4). For Kristeva, the abject is not necessarily what is considered grotesque or unclean, but that which does not "respect borders, positions, rules," and "disturbs identity, system, order" (Kristeva 4; Moore 4). The abject lies on the border and, because of its position there, is both alluring and frightening. A living subject's confrontation with the abject causes horror within the subject because the abject lies outside of the symbolic order, where meaning collapses, and the place where "I" am not (Kristeva 2). …

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