Academic journal article The Irish Journal of Gothic and Horror Studies

Byronic Bateman: The Commodity Vampire, Surplus Value, and the Hyper-Gothic in American Psycho (1991)

Academic journal article The Irish Journal of Gothic and Horror Studies

Byronic Bateman: The Commodity Vampire, Surplus Value, and the Hyper-Gothic in American Psycho (1991)

Article excerpt

Introduction

In a chapter dedicated to twentieth-century gothic - or, more accurately, the death of gothic by the end of the twentieth century - Fred Botting attributes the success of gothic terror and horror to 'things not being what they seem'.1 The irony of this reasoning when read alongside the apparent death of gothic is crucial. To apply Botting's logic to his own argument, perhaps gothic has not died by the end of the twentieth century, but reformed into something else. By not appearing as classically gothic at first glance, this revision may in fact promise a horror or terror that will be inherently effective specifically because of this disguised gothicism, because of it not being what it seems. This promise is delivered by the fiction of Bret Easton Ellis. Ellis has not been canonised as a gothic writer alongside Edgar Allan Poe, H. P. Lovecraft, or Stephen King; however, the critical and popular reception of Ellis's novels indicates a chain of gothic themes and motifs underwriting his work. Both Joanne Watkiss and Maria Beville discuss the centrality of Lunar Park (2005) to postmodern horror as an emerging subgenre; Barnes and Noble warn their readers against Ellis's ability to 'shock and haunt us' with Glamorama (1998); and Michael Thomson calls the 2000 cinematic adaptation of American Psycho (1991) 'the best monster movie in years'.2 It is thus clear that certain elements of Ellis's work adhere - or, at very least, tip their hat - to established tropes and images within classic gothic.

Yet gothic as a mode is generally understood as highly decorative, decadent, and rooted in archaic settings and emotive terror.3 To classify Ellis's novels as specifically gothic texts is, then, to contradict the accepted critical approach to his writing as part of what is known as 'blank fiction', which is, by definition, emotionally disconnected, prosaically minimalist, and quintessentially postmodern. James Annesley explains blank fiction or 'Generation X' writing as variously 'the response to an "apocalypse culture"'; an 'atomised, nihilistic worldview' articulated by 'slackers'; and 'the product of a postmodern condition' which reflects 'the material structures of late twentieth-century American society'.4 That said, the implication of a literary movement that expresses pessimism towards the end of the century and is, simultaneously, concerned with the materiality and social hierarchy of that age, is that this almost directly reflects a number of key factors that define classic gothicism. Catherine Spooner's research specifically acknowledges the relationship between gothic and end-of-century concerns, highlighting a resurgence of interest in gothic themes upon the approach of the millennium.5 Furthermore, the preoccupation of gothic with class structures is long established within the canon, from Poe's Prince Prospero sacrificing peasants to save himself in 'The Masque of the Red Death' (1847), to Bram Stoker's Count Dracula (1897) as a specifically titled monster of European aristocratic heritage. Conversely, elements of the gothic can be traced throughout the blank-fiction canon; this is particularly evident in the ritualistic violence of Dennis Cooper's Closer (1989), the threat of the urban in Jay McInerney's Bright Lights, Big City (1984), and the psychological demons examined by Gary Indiana's Three Month Fever (1999). Blank fiction can thus be read as the evolution of the gothic within a commercial age, in which the economic and social hierarchy of aristocratic villains translates as a focus, and in some cases a dependence, on a highly commodified and globalised culture. That these villains appear, as a result, to be part of our own society rather than archaic throwbacks subsequently makes them more relatable and therefore, more effective as gothic villains enacting the uncanny as both recognisable and alienating entities. This raises questions of the gothic's adaptability and its place within modern culture. …

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