Academic journal article Papers on Language & Literature

Ghosts of Our Fathers: Spectral Authorship and Authenticity in Ellis's Lunar Park

Academic journal article Papers on Language & Literature

Ghosts of Our Fathers: Spectral Authorship and Authenticity in Ellis's Lunar Park

Article excerpt

Writing is a solitary business. It takes over your life. In some sense, a writer has no life of his own. Even when he's there, he's not really there. Another ghost.--Paul Auster, "Ghosts"

In Bret Easton Ellis's 2010 novel, Imperial Bedrooms, (1) the main character is a successful screenwriter who promises roles to young actresses in order to get them into bed. As Clay's sexual demands become increasingly and frighteningly sadistic, the actresses eventually figure out that he is not going to (or is unable to) help them, and they leave him alone and devastated. At the end of one of these affairs, Clay tells his brutalized lover that he wants to be with her. "That's never going to happen" she replies, "Because you're just the writer" (Imperial 156). Clay's ploy to manipulate young women ends once the women realize what most people in Hollywood already know: writers have little prestige and, more importantly, no power. For Clay, his powerlessness as a writer becomes conflated with his fears of emasculation, hence his penchant for coercive and abusive sexual practices. Imperial Bedrooms, then, is similar in theme to many of Ellis's other novels, particularly the controversial 1991 American Psycho.

In American Psycho, protagonist Patrick Bateman combats his sense of being an inadequate competitor in the testosterone-charged Wall Street milieu by committing (or fantasizing about committing) a dizzying array of serial-killer type murders. Patrick Bateman became the iconic embodiment simultaneously of 1980s yuppie entitlement and of the enraged sense of betrayal and impotence of the contemporary white man. Bateman acts on those feelings of thwarted entitlement by brutally torturing and dismembering a variety of victims, most notably an ex-girlfriend and a professional rival, the two most potent threats to his sense of masculine power.

Imperial Bedrooms connects masculine disempowerment with the image of the impotent and ignored Hollywood screenwriter, but it is Ellis's 2005 novel Lunar Park that most fully explores the overlap between the emasculated contemporary man and the disempowered writer. In particular, Lunar Park explores the "death of the author" notion that the writer becomes irrelevant to his work once it has been published. In order to make explicit the focus on the plight of the contemporary writer, the protagonist is ostensibly Bret Easton Ellis himself, lately married and teaching at a small college outside New York City. Over the course of the novel, Bret (2) is menaced by several ghostly figures, one a spiritual representation of his abusive father and others who appear to be physical manifestations of Bret's literary creations, including Patrick Bateman himself. Lunar Park employs the image of the ghost as the lynchpin that links anxieties about the waning power of masculinity, waning authorial authority, and the resulting trauma that this diminution of power causes the author-figure. In other words, what starts out as a classic ghost story soon evolves into an exploration of the extent to which the contemporary writer is haunted by elements of his (3) past, including literary creations that are now beyond his control. In this sense, Lunar Park makes a connection between contemporary authorship and Derrida's concept of hauntology, a term he coined in Spectres of Marx, in which the ghost represents a presence neither alive nor dead, neither fully present nor completely absent. Colin Davis elucidates the usefulness of this term for literary study when he says that it "arises from the link between a theme (haunting, ghosts, the supernatural) and the processes of literature and textuality in general" (377). Ultimately, in Lunar Park, the concept of hauntology helps illuminate how the author himself has become a ghostly figure: one whose haunting presence can be felt in a literary work but who can no longer exert any overt influence on it.

It is perhaps surprising that the character of Bret Easton Ellis would be depicted--by Bret Easton Ellis himself--as a powerless and irrelevant ghost, for there are perhaps few writers less marginalized in their careers than Ellis. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.