Pictures, 2003. Film.
Barker, Chris. Cultural Studies: Theory and Practice. 3rd ed. Sage Publications Ltd, 2008.
Ellis, Bret Easton. The Rules of Attraction. New York: Random House, Inc. 1987. Print.
My group presented on the controversial Bret Easton Ellis novel, "The Rules of Attraction." In constructing on our method of presentation, I had a critical role in its organization and execution. For one thing, I gathered my group-members' emails ahead of time and maintained an updated thread as to the progress and timing of our presentation. I initiated out-of-class group meeting and spear-headed discussion as to how we should present the book and what in-class activity best suited our goals. I helped create 6 poignant questions for our in-class slide show presentation and did a major overhaul on our power-point presentation, fixing grammatical errors and adding pages and questions. I also took a considerable amount of time scanning videos that would be pertinent to our discussion questions. In class, I orchestrated class discussion through our power point and added further insights and questions regarding the text with quotes from Friedrich Nietzshe. Before our presentation, I read the book twice and watched the movie twice. I also read literary criticisms using the CSUN Library website, specifically project MUSE, to obtain further background regarding. Altogether I would say that our group presentation was a major success—we seemed to have sparked a veritable amount of class-discussion. While reviewing concepts and connections made earlier by the professor, we were still able to take the text into new fields of questioning. If I could change one thing, I would more carefully organize the time each team member spent asking questions, as some talked less than others.
“Sex and the City”: “Brovaries” before Ovaries?
In his Anthology of Cultural Theory, “Cultural Studies: Theory and Practice,” Chris Barker discusses the concepts of time and space in terms of their relation to culture. Barker contextualizes time and space within the discourse of contemporary cultural theory when he cites Giddens’s connection between social and special life. As Barker explains, Giddens essentially says, “Human interaction is situated in particular spaces that have a variety of social meanings” (Barker 374). This means that location, especially its relation to other locations, shapes both social meanings and, by extension, social interactions. In marking the progress of the urban lifestyle, with respect to space and time and their effects on human relationships, Barker later discusses Louis Wirth’s denotation of the cultural and lifestyle diversity of urban living; specifically, Barker says that Wirth believed that cultural and lifestyle diversity of urban living “as promoting impersonality and mobility (social and spatial) as people lost a sense of ‘place’ and stable social relationships” (Barker 381). Perhaps a deeper insight by Wirth is that:
“Urban living was based on having large numbers of people living in close proximity without really knowing one another. This required them to conduct instrumental transactions and passing encounters leading to superficial, transitory, competitive relationships. From this grows a sense of alienation and powerlessness. However, Wirth also points to the way city dwellers form associations with each other based on lifestyle, culture and ethnicity. (Barker 381)
What does this all mean for the contemporary working class female in the metropolitan New York city life? It means that impersonality and social/spatial mobility have fostered a tradition of unstable, competitive and transitory human relationships within tumultuous and buzzing urban city life. The danger of this is people are alienated from their friends and family and are left listless and disassociated with familiar relationships. However, Wirth explains that lifestyle and culture can tie these alienated urban dwellers together.
In the “Sex and the City” clip, below Giddens’s and Wirth’s assertions comingle and come to life as Miranda attempts to reconnect with the ostensibly dislocated and alienated Carrie. Carrie has been enmeshed in her boyfriend, Mr. Big and her heterosexual romantic relationship and is spatially distanced from her other girlfriends. In this way, Carrie is affixed between two different modes of space and time: the boyfriend and the girlfriends. Carrie’s character, as shown in this particular clip, is disassociated with her previous relationships for the sake of her new relationship. She is tied to both her boyfriend and girlfriends based on her lifestyle and culture even in a highly transitory urban space-time lifestyle. Thus Carrie’s dilemma—the competing relationships based on a proximity-time relationship.
Barker, Chris. Cultural Studies: Theory and Practice. Los Angeles: Sage, 2008.
Location: Gelson’s Market: Calabasas, CA (inside at a fireplace table adjacent to the Service Deli area)
Time: 6:30 pm Friday night
The electronic sliding door opens to the left. Many shoppers talk and their voices blend into a loud clamor. They wait around the Service Deli. A woman, appearing to be well into her 80’s, enters. Her face is consumed by an exaggerated wince. Her eyes smile and her back hunches forward. She sports a teal windbreaker sweat suit with bright red crocks. Her face looks like a desperate bulldog’s. Her skin has a blotchy sheen of jaundice and her nose is bulbously. Her brown, beady eyes hide behind a pair of spectacles, which rest nicely on her prominent nose. Her eyebrows are quite obviously penciled in without precision; they rest directly in the middle of her forehead. This octogenarian’s hair is wiry like a spool of used copper as it is also appears to be copper in color. She resembles a slightly effeminate and contemporary version of Ben Franklin; her hairline recedes and she is balding very ostensibly from the top of her scalp just to the edge of her crown. She reeks of what seems to be a combination of halitosis and body odor. The old woman clutches her purse, laced over her right shoulder, with her left hand, as if to protect it with a paranoid urgency. Her earlobes and cheekbones sag as she plods to the service deli nearby. Her jowls and brows plunge when she takes a number from the dispenser to wait in line. Then, upon glancing at her number and squinting vehemently at the “we are now serving number 58” display above the counter thereafter, she shakes her head twice, places her hands on her waist directly in front of the display. She is static for about 15 seconds, her eyes fixed on the number on the display, waiting for it to change, counting time by taping her left foot on the floor. Suddenly a younger woman, in her mid thirties, leggy, tall, and dark, briskly slides in front of the old woman, shoots her a quick conciliatory glance, grabs a number from the dispenser, and smiles at the clerk behind the counter. The old lady remains in a state of frustration coupled with a bleak malaise, which makes her appear sad and angry at the same time. The younger woman has about a solid C cup chest, her hair is black, her skin is olive color, and her predominate facial feature is her statuesque chin. Around her hazel eyes are regions of skin that appears tighter than the rest of her face. She is in good shape. She sports a vibrant orange sundress, which reveals her dark shoulders and upper cleavage. Her tiny ears are attached to pearl earrings and her lips are red. Her feet rest in Greek styled sandals and her toenails and fingernails match her sundress. Her wrists are dressed in not one, but two Tiffany’s silver bracelets. Her demeanor is upbeat, urgent, yet focused. After saying “Hello, Mario” to the clerk behind the deli counter, she self-consciously looks around a congregation of people waiting for the deli—thirteen people wait anxiously. About 30 solid minutes fly by—within which the crowd slowly shrinks to four people, including the older and younger women. During this interval, both women shared a panicked interest in one item: the lobster salad at 13.99 a pound. The older woman doesn’t smile once while intently examining the salad she wants to purchase. Her head dips and tilts when the clerks bring out a new batch of the salad. While the older woman studies her buy, the younger woman talks on her cell phone, an Apple I-phone 3Gs. Her conversation is casual at first. Then she raises her high-pitched voice. She nervously itches the back of her neck with her index finger before breaking into a fit of playful laughter. She says the word, “Fuck” nine times and the word, “cunt” three times. Before hanging up, she caresses her left shoulder, then her chest, and then her neck. All of the sudden, the number 70 blinks on the display above the deli counter and both women quickly check their numbers. Leaning forward, her penciled-in brows raised in expectation and panic, the old woman remains in her original standing position while waving her number in the air like a winning lottery ticket. She grunts in anticipation while the young woman in front of her swoops to the counter space in front of the old woman, rests her elbows on the counter and immediately engages in flirtatious conversation with the clerk. The young woman smiles at the clerk and bats her eyelashes about four times. The clerk, a young Mexican-American man, perhaps in his mid twenties, smiles at first, quickly glances at the old woman and then returns his attention to the younger woman in front of him. The clerk quick and overly-obedient to the younger woman, shells the salad into a large container, slaps a price tag on it and slides it on the counter space dividing the young woman from him. His delivery of the salad occurs blazingly fast, in which it seems is less than 15 seconds pat. The young woman moves her hands to rest on her tiny buttocks; the clerk takes notice of this swiftly and returns his glance to her. When she thanks him, the young woman rests her hand on the clerk’s hand ever so quickly and gently. She retracts her arm before tilting her head. She says, “thank you so much, honey” before winking and storming off with her salad. During this entire exchange—between the young clerk and the young woman—the octogenarian is throwing up her arms in the air, yelling loudly at the entire deli staff. The five staff members intermittently glance at the old woman with blank faces and the young Mexican clerk avoids any eye contact with her whatsoever. The old woman repeatedly points to him angrily, albeit at a good distance from the counter. She is chastising the staff for his behavior. She repeats the phrase, “I was before her, you know. That’s not fair. This is outrageous”. When she says this, she is yelling. Any customer within a close proximity of the old woman quiets. Her voice starts off bold and confident and simmers into a breathless strain. She is shaking her head violently now. She pauses for a moment then returns her attention to the salad. She exhales audibly and forcibly before taking a long hard, despairing stare at her feet. She quiets down, takes off her glasses, pinches her nose, and then deliberately and furtively lets her number drop to the floor. She turns away from the deli, her hand over her whispering mouth. She is off in her own world, while the other grocery patrons remain quiet and observant of her every action. Then, she pipes her eyes up to the exit doors nearby and stares blankly and endlessly to the parking lot in the distance. She ambles from the deli area to the exit. Her eyes are watery and squinting. She sniffles once and wipes her nose with a vibrant-white handkerchief. Her purse is clutched, and her mouth is straight, almost indifferent. She stops before finally exiting the store before momentarily glancing at the service deli clerk she had accused. Then, in a flurry, her pace quickens and she heads out. The store gradually resumes its usual clamor and onlookers return to their shopping and waiting.
Reflecting upon my objective observations, a couple philosophical quotes come to mind. The first theory I thought of relates to Giddens’s theory of social identity with respect to the duality of structure. Giddens’s major point is that structures enable and constrain individuals who are, according to him, actors predetermined by greater social forces. Barker encapsulates and extends Gidden’s theory, though, when he specifies that Gidden’s theory implies these greater social structures enable an individual’s actions, too. Barker paraphrases this sentiment, saying, “Identities are understood to be a question both of agency (the individual constructs a project) and of social determination (our projects are socially constructed and social identities ascribed to us” (Barker, 233). Thus, the seemingly unattractive octogenarian and the younger and ostensibly more attractive, more suggestively dressed woman played out their roles in the context of waiting for their salad. Specifically, the role of the old woman, who was quite obviously and unfairly judged on her looks suffered for her role. To the young deli clerk, the old woman was unattractive and the younger woman was gorgeous and appealed to him. He was socially constrained by his job to call on the next person in line, regardless of what they looked like, or, really, who they were. He decided to help the younger woman when it was the older woman’s turn to order because he was enabled by her proximity to the counter in contrast to the old woman’s distance from it, and acted on his attraction, rather than occupational duty. So, within Gidden’s theory on the duality of social structures, the young clerk was both constrained and freed within this situation; it all had to do with whether or not he could get away with it, whether it was practical to the given situation; the clerk, then, assumed his agency within the power of his job over the old woman’s. Yet, Gidden’s incorporation of social determination cannot be ignored in this situation either. He was the decision maker in this situation, or at least he made him self one; he, really, reproduced a social interaction that occurs everyday—a young man will be more attracted to a hot body than an old face. He is, therefore, enabled and disabled, within this given situation, within prescribed, socially constructed identities. Any young man, who could have gotten away with what the young clerk had done would have at least been inclined to do the same, if not actually act out the same way given the circumstances.
But what is really being socially dealt with here? What characteristic is responded to in each woman? The answer to these questions relates to what Butler says about “sex” as an ideal construct. She argues that, “‘sex’ is an ideal construct which is forcibly materialized through time. It is not a simple fact or static condition of a body, but a process whereby regulatory norms materialize ‘sex’ and achieve this materialization through a forcible reiteration of those norms” (Butler, 238). In the scenario I witnessed, the “sex”, or gendered identities of the young and old women are materialized and reiterated. In this case, then, by extension of this theoretical standpoint, it is reasonable to say that the old woman’s appearance was punished, while the better looking, young woman’s was rewarded. The situation materialized gender roles, but also with a strict respect to sexual appeal. For the deli clerk, the old woman was not desirable, and the young woman was “hot;” in breaking the rules and letting the more attractive woman go before the older one, the clerk, then, materialized the importance of a woman’s looks in getting what she wants from a man. In this situation, the “regulatory norm” is male attraction to appearance; while his response to each woman is natural, it foments an unjust decision on his part.
The quote that ties the first Barker quote best with Butler’s is also from Giddens. The theorist, Barker, sums up what Giddens has to say about social identities within given situations. Barker summarizes Giddens, saying, “ The proliferation and diversification of contexts and sites of interaction prevent easy identification of particular subjects with a given, fixed identity. Thus the same person is able to shift across subject positions according to circumstances” (Barker, 231). This really applies to the meat clerk and his response to the women. He acts based on social constrictions and freedoms, but only within his situation. He knows what he does is wrong, yet he can’t resist his desire. The young Mexican deli clerk makes less than 12 dollars an hour, yet he has the power to reduce an old woman to tears and pet an attractive, younger woman’s ego; outside of work he would never have such power, or at least its unlikely. Yet within his occupational influence he makes a judgment call based on the attractive traits socially prescribed to him of the “sex” of a certain woman over another’s. Are his actions despicable? Yes. But shouldn’t the social structure assume some blame too?
Barker, Chris. Cultural Studies: Theory and Practice. Los Angeles: Sage Publications, 2008.
Simply Not There :
Jacques Lacan’s and Karl Marx’s philosophies on Society and Language elucidating Patrick Bateman’s sense of Alienation in Mary Harron’s American Psycho
The 2000 movie American Psycho is one of the most misunderstood and debated movies in cinema history because of its social, linguistic, gender, existential, and metaphysical implications. A myriad of critics have examined the film under a postmodern lens, but there are more subtle forces at work within its protagonist’s existential journey. In the scene where Patrick Bateman, the film’s protagonist (played by actor Christian Bale) prepares his morning routine we get deeper insight into the source of his alienation, as he is alienated from sanity, mankind, and from his own true sense of identity and individuality. Just as Lacan concluded that we are defined and alienated by language, we find that Bateman is no exception. In his morning routine monologue, he introduces his home, age and name, and simultaneously reveals his social class in the Marxist sense. His signifiers’ signified ideas as a whole serve to define his social location; his extensive lists of beautification products reveal that he is obsessive with materials, as he is defined by the relationship his words have in naming them; his introspective conclusion—that he is merely an idea that is alienated from a name—relates to Lacan’s theory of linguistic alienation within the human psyche; when he peels off his mask in front of the mirror, Bateman demonstrates what happens to the human conception of self when one enters Lacan’s Symbolic Order during The Mirror Stage; his final introspection, where he reveals that he “simply is not there,” parallels Lacan’s theory that, with language, the signified dissolves into the signifier in the end. Altogether, Lacan and Marx help us understand what gives Patrick Bateman’s unconscious desires—to fuck and kill excessively—impetus.
But before using Lacanian theory to elucidate Patrick Bateman’s alienation, it is critical to understand Lacan’s philosophy first. As a French philosopher, Jacques Lacan has had a seminal influence on literary theory primarily because he predates Marxist thought in terms of how we, as humans, are socially identified by the language which predates us. When we are born, Lacan would say, we are born into a world that teaches us language, defines us with language, and associates physical objects with words for us. Language, he would argue, is socially prescribed to the human child who enters a new world through maturation—an adult world of social classes and hierarchies; Lacan says specifically, “In other words, the man who is born into existence deals first with language; this is a given. He is even caught in it before his birth” (The Symbolic Order). In his essays, The Mirror Stage as Formative of the Function of the I as Revealed in Psychoanalytic Experience and The Symbolic Order, Lacan plunges the idea of “self” into culture. He says that we are all shaped by the Symbolic Order into which we are born—this order is a realm of symbolization with which children must translate themselves with their words, or spoken language. Lacan denotes this order when he says, “Man speaks, then, but it is because the symbol has made him man” (The Symbolic Order). The Symbolic, then, is how we are defined within, and by, the greater social conventions. When children learn to make symbols, they learn to detach from their childhood realm of objects and attain a sense of independence through a loss. This loss can never be a gain; this void can never be filled, as human desire is rooted in it, as we struggle to fulfill our sense of lost unity within. This craving, this desire for unattainable unity, is what Lacan calls the Imaginary Order; it is the part of the human mind that narcissistically establishes and defines the Ego’s activity. Lacan emphasizes that the ego thinks it has control of the id, but in actuality doesn't. He argues that the Ego, then, tries to reach this unattainable unity within, but in the end, is always unable to. This unattainable unity is part of what Lacan defines as the Real order, which embodies the human instincts, drives and unconsciousness that shapes our personalities. Altogether, Lacan’s essay denotes the self as a delusional and social construct afflicted by imaginary identifications with a false sense of wholeness and unity.
In the morning routine scene from Mary Harron’s film, American Psycho, we meet Patrick Bateman, a wealthy Wall-Street businessman by day and a bloodthirsty serial killer by night. He introduces himself, first, with where he lives, his name, and then his age: “I live in the American Gardens building on West Eighty-First Street, on the eleventh floor. My name is Patrick Bateman. I am twenty-seven years old” (Harron). Right off the bat, we place Bateman in the upper class, Marx’s Bourgeoisie, of society; he is in his prime in age and in material wealth. Following a brief introduction, Bateman expresses what he values—“I believe in taking care of myself, in a balanced diet, in a rigorous exercise routine” (Harron), and reveals that, “In the morning, if my face is a little puffy, I'll put on an ice pack while doing my stomach crunches. I can do a thousand now” (Harron). Immediately, the audience is presented with a character who is wealthy, youthful, and deeply concerned with his physical appearance. Although he is unaware of how he is defining himself, as he simply states facts about himself and his lifestyle in the beginning of the clip, Patrick Bateman is actually revealing which social strata he belongs to and associates with based on his language—the Marxist Bourgeoisie. When Karl Marx says “They do not know it, but they are doing it” (Capital 669), he means that people operate within an ideology, within a social class, entirely, whether they are aware of it or not—that social classes, and their respective ideologies are inescapable in the long run. Ideology and language can be interchanged here, as a certain language belongs to a certain ideology. Bateman, here, exemplifies how one’s seemingly harmless and unassuming introduction can carry socio-economic implications. In fact, the entire scene can be said to display the language of an ideology—the upper class ideology. Within his first couple of introductory sentences, we immediately discover that his voice has the sound of a refined, upper class individual; his voice is collected and overly-confident, his words dispassionate and itemized.
After he introduces himself within an upper-class discourse—as a health and appearance conscious individual—Patrick Bateman reveals his obsession with the countless hygienic products he uses, as he utilizes the material world to establish his “self”. In listing these objects, he uncloaks his attachment to them, as he uses them to define his refined image and his social identity:
In the shower, I use a water-activated gel cleanser, then a honey-almond body scrub, and on the face, an exfoliating gel scrub. Then I apply an herb mint facial mask which I leave on for ten minutes while I prepare the rest of my routine. I always use an after-shave lotion with little or no alcohol because alcohol dries your face out and makes you look older. Then moisturizer, then an anti-aging eye balm, followed by a final, moisturizing ‘protective’ lotion. (Harron)
Patrick Bateman’s character illustrates Lacan’s theory on language. Lacan says that language gives us an identity, that “it is the world of words that creates the world of things” (The Symbolic Order); thus, Patrick creates his world of things within the world of words. The products he uses for self-beautification are merely products of socially prescribed signified ideas behind a learned chain of signifiers within his socialized language. For Lacan, there is no unified self in this world of words; Bateman doesn't have a unified self either. This ties into what Karl Marx says about commodities, things with a socio-economic value: “There it is a definite social relation between men, that assumes, in their eyes, the fantastic form of a relation between things” (Capital 667). Bateman, thus, defines himself with objects and simultaneously defines himself with words; his entire monologue is an illustration of his relationship to his things, to his “ice mask,” to his “water activated gel cleanser,” to his “honey-almond body scrub.” Furthermore, Bateman’s routine is painted as both extensive, but also ridiculous. The repetitious and multifarious application of skin conditioners and appearance-enhancing products strikes an ironic chord for the audience—this irony is grounded in the fact that Bateman’s excess—in his obsession over maintaining a pristine and exceptionally refined appearance through the usage of a laundry list of material objects—in the limitless lifestyle his socio-economic status provides for him.
But the scene takes Bateman’s character one step further than just socio-economic status, it reveals what a life of excess—a life based solely on materialism and commodity fetishism—does to the human spirit; it adds to his feeling of linguistic and Psychological alienation from the world’s objective meaning. In the last portion of Patrick Bateman’s morning routine scene, his monologue takes an introspective and noticeably bleak turn. He says, “There is an idea of a Patrick Bateman, some kind of abstraction, but there is no real me, only an entity, something illusory” (Harron). Essentially, Bateman’s concluding introspection in the clip serves as his attempt to come to terms with the separation of the signifiers, and their respective signified ideas, in the Lacanian sense. The insatiable desire for Bateman to become as clean, healthy, polished, and refined as possible, can, then, be said to result from his separation from the meaning in words themselves—he is coming to terms with his lack of being and substance. Thus, Bateman’s extensive morning routine is, in itself, his attempt to replace the void he feels, the fissure between his subjective personality and the objective, outside, social world; he is trying to fill this void with the materials in attempting to identify himself with what he owns, with hygienic products. As Lacan puts it, we, and Patrick Bateman here, “cannot ever find an object to embody what we ultimately” (the Symbolic Order), and ideally want—Bateman slides along a chain of signifiers, whereas each signifier represents a part of a whole, not a whole in itself—he is forever incomplete this way. Lacan says, “For the signifier is a unit in its very uniqueness, being by nature symbol only of an absence” (The Symbolic Order). Therefore, Patrick Bateman realizes that what he defines himself by—his name “Patrick Bateman” quite literally here, with words absolves any true understanding of himself. Just as the countless skin-care and beautification products and itemized style in which Bateman’s introduces them with lose their signified meaning in their ridiculously endless context, Bateman, himself, like language, loses any realization of himself, any idea of himself. He essentially conveys his alienation from language, his alienation from assigning meaning to the countless signifiers he uses to introduce himself with, and his alienation from any true sense of individuality (he is just like his upper class friends).
Its crucial to note that Bateman looks in the mirror and peals off the mask—an amalgamation of the numerous hygienic, material products he has applied to his face—when he concludes his monologue. When he sees himself in the mirror, he attains a false sense of identification, of wholeness and autonomy, just as the child does in Lacan’s The Mirror Stage: “we have only to understand the mirror stage as an identification…the transformation that takes place in the subject when he assumes the image” (The Mirror Stage 442 ). When he peels his mask off in the mirror, Bateman learns his place in the Lacanian sense of the Symbolic Order and represses an original desire for wholeness and autonomy. Bateman’s repression of his id, of his desire to be whole, his desire to have complete in control of his actions, ties in nicely with how Lacan bridges a child’s repression of his original desire for his mother with language. Lacan says that as a child represses his original desire for autonomy and wholeness is synonymous with how the signifier makes the signified absent, “For the signifier is a unit in its very uniqueness, being by nature symbol only of an absence” (The Symbolic Order). The theorist says that the acceptance of repression and entry into the Symbolic is itself comparable to language in that once one learns to name something, one accepts separation from it: Similarly, in American Psycho, when Patrick Bateman names the various objects associated with his morning routine, he sacrifices each object’s meaning; this is because, according to Lacan, the mere presence of an object’s signifier is the absence of the signified behind the signifier—that is, Bateman’s words, his extensive naming of the expensive and seemingly superfluous hygienic products he applies to his body, only have meaning for him in that he is alienated from their signified meaning. To extend this concept, Bateman is only the product of the objects he owns, or, in this case, of the self-beautification materials he applies to his body on a daily basis. In their application and verbal utterance, Bateman’s spoken commodities confirm the absence of any individuality and substance in character, he has—as his numerous beautification materials are present in his everyday life, albeit in excess, his sense of self is absent in their presence. At its heart Bateman’s story in American Psycho is one which deals primarily with surfaces; when he peels off the facial mask in front of the mirror, he is peeling off a layer of his identity—he is reinventing his sense of self, whether it is merely an abstraction. His mask, which he peels off then, not only symbolizes Bateman’s reinvention, but also his detachment from reality, from words and their meaning, from surface and substance—it serves to show the beginning of his character’s arch from psychopathic to psychotic.
When Patrick says, “though I can hide my cold gaze and you can shake my hand and feel flesh gripping yours, and maybe you can even sense our lifestyles are probably comparable: I simply am not there” (Harron), Bateman is really saying that he is alienated from everybody, even those within his higher socio-economic class. As Lacan explains, we are split form ourselves and that “we can never possibly attain wholeness in a world of objects” (The Symbolic Order); the ego deludes us with ideals. Patrick Bateman is no different in this scene. Bateman’s lack of being is based on his initial lack of being, from the original instance of his alienation from an imaginary sense of fullness; his id overpowers his ego. Moreover, Bateman’s identity is prescribed by society and he is alienated in the process. As linguistic structures have preexisted Bateman’s character, we can infer that he is merely playing the role of the wealthy young man in the Bourgeoisie camp, in the Marxist sense. He is part of the genetic upper class, and is, thus, fortunate to live a lifestyle of luxury and excess, even if its to the point where even material objects and property lose their meaning for him. His usage of the word, “flesh,” here, denotes the physical human aspect that he attributes to human relations and communication, although he is ultimately alienated to everybody, even himself, by language, and by the material world.
Bateman is, moreover, split from himself because he can never attain wholeness is his world of objects and the material. Lacan defines the Real as the cause of our desires, which we can only access through signifiers. In American Psycho, the chain of signifiers Bateman operates within represents his desires that never arrive at the Real; the Signifiers he uses only distance him from his desires as he distances himself from objects in the very act of listing them off. Thus, according to Lacan, human desire—here, Patrick Bateman’s desire—is carried by signifiers which stand in for a lack that can never be filled in; Bateman’s unconscious resides in the signifiers of his language, which he uses to identify his socio-economic self. It is crucial to notice that Bateman ends with a tone that resembles a yearning for communication and clarity between men and objects; he illustrates his complete alienation from man, through language, here. His introspection starts with identifying himself as an “idea” and as an “abstraction,” but concludes with his realization that he is, in himself, the absence or void: “I simply am not there”—moreover, Bateman’s conception of himself starts as a Signified and evaporates into a sole Signifier. In a couple sentences, just as Bateman’s words have lost their signified meaning, so has Patrick Bateman lost his own meaning as an individual within a social class. This relates to what Lacan says of language and absence as presence, that, “Through the word—already a presence made of absence—absence itself gives itself a name” (The Symbolic Order); Patrick Bateman, in his character’s absence of substance, understanding, completeness, and unity, symbolizes Lacan’s “presence made of absence” because he is present in defining his own absence; he is the embodiment of “absence” and he gives himself the name, “Patrick Bateman,” although his identity becomes completely associated with his Signified name, completely devoid of the idea he mentioned before.
Patrick Bateman’s psychological crisis, then, is that he has no real concept of self, except that there is a lack of self, that there is something missing. There is nothing innate within him that he can fall back on—he is basically a murderous vacuum, looking for meaning in the surface of things and people, in the signifiers of his words, in his material objects and their lack of signified ideas. Moreover, every single word in Bateman’s monologue describing his morning routine alienates Bateman himself, as in naming objects in the first place has alienated him from their meaning and importance to his life. He is constantly reinventing himself in every ridiculous situation he finds himself in, after every word in list, after every sentence in his monologue—just as his desires are carried by signifiers which supplant a bottomless hole within him—and he only operates in a world of signifiers, where meaning is just as illusory as his generosity and genuineness.
American Psycho. Dir. Mary Harron. Perf. Patrick Bateman. Polygram, 2000.
Lacan, Jacques. The Symbolic Order (from "The Function and Field of Speech and Language in Psychoanalysis). Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Literary Theory: An Anthology.Massachusetts: Blackwell, 1998.
Lacan, Jacques. The Mirror Stage as Formative of the Function of the I as Revealed in Psychoanalytic Experience. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Literary Theory: An Anthology. Massachusetts: Blackwell, 2004. 441-446.
Marx, Karl. Capital. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Literary Theory: An Anthology. Massachusetts: Blackwell, 2004. 665-672.