Wednesday, July 14, 2010

David Foster Wallace on American Psycho

"You’re just displaying the sort of cynicism that lets readers be manipulated by bad writing. I think it’s a kind of black cynicism about today’s world that Ellis and certain others depend on for their readership. Look, if the contemporary condition is hopelessly shitty, insipid, materialistic, emotionally retarded, sadomasochistic, and stupid, then I (or any writer) can get away with slapping together stories with characters who are stupid, vapid, emotionally retarded, which is easy, because these sorts of characters require no development. With descriptions that are simply lists of brand-name consumer products. Where stupid people say insipid stuff to each other. If what’s always distinguished bad writing—flat characters, a narrative world that’s cliched and not recognizably human, etc.—is also a description of today’s world, then bad writing becomes an ingenious mimesis of a bad world. If readers simply believe the world is stupid and shallow and mean, then Ellis can write a mean shallow stupid novel that becomes a mordant deadpan commentary on the badness of everything. Look man, we’d probably most of us agree that these are dark times, and stupid ones, but do we need fiction that does nothing but dramatize how dark and stupid everything is? In dark times, the definition of good art would seem to be art that locates and applies CPR to those elements of what’s human and magical that still live and glow despite the times’ darkness. Really good fiction could have as dark a worldview as it wished, but it’d find a way both to depict this world and to illuminate the possibilities for being alive and human in it. You can defend "Psycho" as being a sort of performative digest of late-eighties social problems, but it’s no more than that."

11 comments:

Mel said...

DFW was too smart for this world. Great quote, thanks for the post.

Ms. Moon said...

You know, I love this.

Sarcastic Bastard said...

Ms. Moon,
Me too. It's so on the mark.

I'm so mad, I'm having chest pains currently. I'd like to stick my foot up Easton Ellis's ass.

Sarcastic Bastard said...

Mel,
Thank you.

ZenGato said...

Despite the fact that I enjoyed the writing in American Psycho, I cannot argue with the facts or complete awesomeness of this quote. I would say Chuck Palahniuk falls into the same category of writers, even though I really enjoy his writing as well.

Big Mark 243 said...

When I was younger, this is the kind of reaction that I had to not only '...Psycho' but 'Rules of Attraction' and 'Less Than Zero'.

With the latter book, my ex wife only saw the film version and was moved by it. I guess that was when I knew that she wasn't going to be the one.

Sarcastic Bastard said...

ZenGato,
Thank you for your comment.

Big Mark 243,
Clearly you are a perceptive man. Thank you for commenting. Please come back often.

Anonymous said...

You've made me start reading Wallace.
As to "American Psycho", I was a librarian for a number of years, and I'm as liberal, wide-open a motherfucker as you've ever met. But, after reading that book (and checking it out from the public library where I had worked), I went back to the head librarian and suggested she take it off the shelves. Totally of no value, a vile, vile book, not worth fighting for. Some shit in this world is just wrong. That why I like Ms. Bastard callin' it out. L7

Syd said...

Do we need fiction that does nothing but dramatize how dark and stupid everything is? No real life does that pretty well. And I'm an optimist....

Sarcastic Bastard said...

Anonymous,
Thank you for your comment. It's odd, but after I read American Psycho, I had a similar reaction. I didn't want to keep the piece of trash, but I also didn't want it to fall into the wrong hands. Like you, I saw no merit in it whatsoever. I momentarily considered burning it, then decided that too was dangerous thinking. In the end, I simply tossed it in the trash. I must admit I didn't feel very guilty about it either.

The fact that you give me credit for inspiring you to read Wallace will make me smile all day. Thank you.

Please come back and comment often.

Love,

SB

Sarcastic Bastard said...

Syd,
I couldn't agree more.