Category Archives: Literary Technique

Milan Kundera on Kafka’s Prophecies

Again, from the essential The Art of the Novel.

Mystifications and legends aside, there is no significant trace anywhere of Franz Kafka’s political interests; in that sense, he is different from all his Prague friends, from Max Brod, Franz Werfel, Egon Erwin Kisch, and from all the avant-gardes that, claiming to know the direction of History, indulged in conjuring up the face of the future.

So how is it that not their works but those of their solitary, introverted companion, immersed in his own life and his art, are recognized today as a sociopolitical prophecy, and are for that very reason banned in a large part of the world?

The famous letter Kafka write and never sent to his father demonstrates that it was from the family, from the relationship between the child and the deified power of the parents, that Kafka drew his knowledge of the technique of culpabilization, which became a major theme of his fiction. In “The Judgement,” a short story intimately bound up with the author’s family experience, the father accuses the son and commands him to drown himself. The son accepts his fictitious guilt and throws himself into the river as docilely as, in a later work, his successor Joseph K., indicted by a mysterious organization, goes to be slaughtered. The similarity between the two accusations, the two culpabilizations, and the two executions reveals the link, in Kafka’s work, between the family’s private “totalitarianism” and that in his great social visions.

Totalitarian society, especially in its more extreme versions, tends to abolish the boundary between the public and the private; power, as it grows ever more opaque, requires the lives of citizens to be entirely transparent. The ideal of life without secrets corresponds to the ideal of the exemplary family: a citizen does not have the right to hide anything at all from the Party or the State, just as a child has no right to keep a secret from his father or his mother. In their propaganda, totalitarian societies project an idyllic smile; they want to be seen as “one big family.”

It’s often said that Kafka’s novels express a passionate desire for community and human contact, that the rootless being who is K. has only one goal: to overcome the curse of solitude. Now, this is not only a cliché, a reductive interpretation, it is a misinterpretation.

The Land-Surveyor K. is not in the least pursuing people and their warmth, he is not trying to become “a man among men: like Sartre’s Orestes; he wants acceptance not from a community but from an institution. To have it, he must pay dearly: he must renounce his solitude. And this is his hell: he is never alone, the two assistants sent by the Castle follow him always. When he first makes love with Frieda, the two men are there, sitting on the café counter over the lovers, and from then on they are never absent from their bed.

Not the curse of solitude but the violation of solitude is Kafka’s obsession!

Lyrical souls who like to preach the abolition of secrets and the transparency of private life do not realize the nature of the process they are unleashing. The starting point of totalitarianism resembles the beginning of The Trial: you’ll be taken unawares in your bed. They’ll come just as your father and mother used to.

People often wonder whether Kafka’s novels are projections of the author’s most personal and private conflicts or descriptions of an objective “social machine.”

The Kafkan is not restricted to either the private or the public domain; it encompasses both. The public is the mirror of the private; the private reflects the public.

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Milan Kundera on Kafka’s Horror of the Comic

Fragments from the essential The Art of the Novel.

On the horror of the comic:

When Kafka read the first chapter of The Trial to his friends, everyone laughed, including the author.

Philip Roth’s imagined film version of The Castle: Groucho Marx plays the Land-Surveyor K., with Chico and Harpo as the two assistants. Yes, Roth is quite right: The comic is inseparable from the very essence of the Kafkan…[A] joke is only a joke if you’re outside the bowl; by contrast, the Kafkan takes us inside, into the guts of a joke, into the horror of the comic

In the world of the Kafkan, the comic is not a counterpoint to the tragic (the tragi-comic) as in Shakespeare; it’s not there to make the tragic more bearable by lightening the tone; it doesn’t accompany the tragic, not at all, it destroys in the egg and thus deprives the victims of the only consolation they could hope for: the consolation to be found in the (real or supposed) grandeur of tragedy.

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Poor Alonzo Quijada

From The Curtain by Milan Kundera:

Poor Alonzo Quijada meant to elevate himself into the legendary figure of a knight-errant. Instead, for all of literary history, Cervantes succeeded in doing just the opposite: he cast a legendary figure down: into the world of prose. “Prose”: the word signifies not only a nonversified language; it also signifies the concrete, everyday, corporeal nature of life. So to say that the novel is the art of prose is not to state the obvious; the word defines the deep sense of that art. Homer never wondered whether, after their many hand-to-hand struggles, Achilles or Ajax still had all their teeth. But for Don Quixote and Sancho teeth are perpetual concern – hurting teeth, missing teeth. “You must know, Sancho, that no diamond is so precious as a tooth.”

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Milan Kundera “Beyond Causality”

From The Art of the Novel:

Beyond Causality

On Levin’s estate, a man and a woman meet – two melancholy, lonely people. They like one another and secretly hope to join their lives together. All they need is the chance to be alone for a moment and say so. Finally one day they find themselves unobserved in a wood where they have come to gather mushrooms. Ill at ease, they are silent, knowing that the moment is upon them and they must not let it slip by. The silence has already lasted rather a long while when the woman suddenly, “involuntarily, reflexively,” starts to talk about mushrooms. Then silence again, and the man casts about for a way to declare himself, but instead of speaking of love, “on some unexpected impulse” he too talks about mushrooms. On the way home they go on discussing mushrooms, powerless and desperate, for never, they know it, never will they speak of love.

Back at the house, the man tells himself that he did not declare his love because of the memory of his dead mistress, which he cannot betray. But we know perfectly well: It is a false excuse he invokes only to console himself. Console himself? Yes. Because we can resign ourselves to losing a love for a reason. We would never forgive ourselves for losing it for no reason at all.

This very beautiful little episode is a kind of parable for one of Anna Karenina‘s great feats: bringing to light the causeless incalculable, even mysterious aspect of human action.

What is action? – the eternal question of the novel, its constitutive question, so to speak. How is a decision born? How is it transformed into an act, and how do acts connect to make an adventure?

Out of the mysterious and chaotic fabric of life, the old novelists tried to tease the thread of a limpid rationality; in their vie, the rationally accessible motive gives birth to an act, and that act provokes another. An adventure is a luminously causal chain of acts.

Werther loves his friend’s wife. He cannot betray his friend, he cannot give up his love, so he kills himself. Suicide with the transparent clarity of a mathematical equation.

But why does Anna Karenina kill herself?

The man who talked about mushrooms instead of love wants to believe that he did so out of loyalty to his vanished mistress. The reasons we might give for Anna’s act would be worth just as little. True, people are treating her with contempt, but can she not do the same to them? She is barred from seeing her son, but is that a situation beyond appeal and beyond of change? Vronsky is already a little less infatuated, but after all, doesn’t he still love her?

Besides, Anna did not come to the station to kill herself. She came to meet Vronsky. She throws herself beneath the train without having taken the decision to do so. It is rather the decision that takes Anna. That overtakes her. Like the man who talked about mushrooms, Anna acts “on some unexpected impulse.” Which does not mean that her act is senseless. But its sense lies outside rationally apprehensible causality. Tolstoy had to use (for the first time in the history of the novel) an almost Joycean interior monologue to reconstruct the subtle fabric of fleeting impulses, transient feelings, fragmentary thoughts, to show us the suicidal journey of Anna’s soul.

Dostoyevsky grasped the madness of reason stubbornly determined to carry its logic through to the end. The terrain Tolstoy explores is the opposite: he uncovers the intrusions of illogic, of the irrational.


A Sentence I Very Much Liked

From Tropical Gangsters: One Man’s Experience With Development And Decadence In Deepest Africa by Robert Klitgaard.

We went back into town and looked around. Despite all the horror stories I’d heard about local conditions, Malabo made a good first impression. Most buildings were two-story Spanish colonial structures of no small charm – although colors that used to be white and yellow and light green had faded to off-white and battle-scarred tan and moldy green. The water stains on the walls were like mascara after tears. Malabo’s little harbor was spectacular. Ridged by steep cliffs a hundred feet high crowned with a majestic row of palms, the half-mile or so of harbor contained one big dock and one small one, and the sea in the distance looked clear and deep.

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A Sentence I Liked Very Much

From Frederic Morton’s A Nervous Splendor: Vienna 1888/1889.

By then the word Mayerling had already begun to phosphoresce throughout the world. Abroad it tingled and thrilled. In Vienna it was like some hidden hell machine of which nothing was known except that it was made of gold. Now and then the city tried to shake off the giant riddle that undermined its boulevards. There erupted rumors of some rational solution. At one point word spread that Johann Pfeiffer, King of the Birds, had heard his parrots speak the truth of what had happened in Rudolf’s hunting lodge. A crowd formed at the Schottenring. The police borught the man and his black-craped cage to a precint house. But the birds just bithered and jabbered in panic, and their King lost his renowned humor. The bafflement continued.

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Borges for October 31st

From the master, an excerpt from a review of “Lord Halifax’s Ghost Book”.

The preface contains this beautiful anecdote: Two ladies are sharing a railway compartment. “I don’t believe in ghosts,” says one to the other. “Oh really?” the other replies, and vanishes.

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DeVeronymous, Defonymous: the venomous, the defamous, the ridiculous

Ron Rosenbaum and have already done enough good work on the Shakespearism related to and brought up by this film.

I’ll only add this small point: if context is sufficient to bring up the possibility of a concealed identity for a writer, in the case of Shakespeare’s – the lack of sufficient education, the writing about a variety of subjects and persons he did not have first-hand knowledge of, a lack of contemporary mention, the contxt of political intrigue – then I think conspiracists have a far better candidate for this sort of mystery in Daniel DeFoe. His education was university level but not Oxbridge, almost no portraits were made of him during his lifetime, he had far less repute or fame during his lifetime than Shakespeare, he wrote during a time of far greater turmoil – the English Civil War, the execution of Charles I, the rise of William and Mary – than the Elizabethean stability of the bard’s time, and finally, his writing from so many perspectives, though he was an ardent Puritan, and so many experiences – a prostitute and transported american colonist, solitary castaway, fighter during a the war in Spain – of which he bore no direct witness.

I point this out to make clear that a contextual basis for questioning a writer’s identity is a more uncertain business than these conspiracists assume, and that the obscurity of many writers’ lives, far more obscure than Shakespeare’s who was famous and well-known in his lifetime, allow for this speculation to be made.

I quote a few relevant sections of The Life and Strange Surprising Adventures of Daniel DeFoe by Richard West, a book praised by Allan Massie, Peter Ackroyd, and my humble self.

On his prodigious output, some of which he might be the possible – I will reclaim a word – birther, but whose authorship still remains unsettled:

During the five years between the accession of George I and the publication of Robinson Crusoe in 1719 Defoe wrote lives of Peter the Great of Russia and Charles XII of Sweden, stories of pirates and murderers, bogus memoirs of soldiers and sailors, a history of the Church of Scotland, a manual of Christian family living, as well as dozens of short books and pamphlets. Defoe scholars still cannot agree on which of the hundreds of titles are really his. Occasionally one finds attributions that are inaccurate: the style is not Defoe’s, but more often, he is indeed the author – as in the case of what seems an unlikely candidate, a book published in 1718 entitled A Continuation of Letters written by a Turkish Spy at Paris, Giving an Impartial Account to the Diva at Constantinople of the most remarkable transactions of Europe, and discovering several Intrigues and Secrets of the Christian Courts, especially of that of Paris, continuous from the year 1687 to the year 1693. Written in Arabic, Translated from Italian, and from thence into English. However, the account in ‘Mohamed’s’ third letter of why Louis XIV in 1688 failed to stop a revolt by the ‘malcontents’ of England is pure Defoe in style and quotes one of his favourite maxims, comparing the French and English armies: ‘(viz.) that of the French, if the soldiers will but follow, the officers will always lead; and that of the English, if the officers will but lead, the soldiers will always follow’.

To modern readers, accustomed to thinking of books as either ‘fiction’ or ‘non-fiction’, it may seem odd that Defoe should pose as ‘Mohamed’, a Turkish spy at the court of Louis XIV. The preface to one edition of A Journal of the Plague Year denounces Defoe as a liar for his literary pretence. We like to make a distinction between what we think of as real and imagined, fact and fiction, true and false, news and propaganda. For Defoe the distinction was less clear cut. Just as his works of fiction, such as Moll Flanders, are based on fact, so his ostensibly factual Tour is full of amazing fibs and flights of imagination.

On his contemporary obscurity:

It is only at this late stage, when Defoe is nearing sixty and embarking on his great career as an author, that little by little we start to learn something about his private life and his family. We do not learn much, since almost nothing remains of his private correspondence. With Defoe, we face the problem that no contemporaries seem to have found him worthy of note. In all the letters and journals of prominent men and women of the early eighteenth century we look in vain for a mention of him. Even the hostile lampoonists, who vilified Defoe as a turncoat and devil, never ascribed to him any particular personal characteristic. From The Lives of the Poets we gain an intimate knowledge of Dryden, Addison, Steele, Prior, Pope and Richard Savage, but even if he had wished to, Dr. Johnson could not have filled a page on the character of Defoe.

On a possible reason for the this obscurity:

As a Dissenter from the trading class, Defoe may have felt an outsider even before his bankruptcy in 1692, but it was this that most probably turned him into a loner. Like all chronic debtors, Defoe was obliged to withdraw from the feasts and receptions of his liveried company, from his favourite coffee house or club, from the ‘treats’ of colleagues and even the dinner tables of friends and neighbours. He would not accept hospitality that he could not return.

His bankruptcy could even have meant excommunication by the Presbyterian Church, which equated financial failure with sin.

One last quote on Defoe, which gives an idea of a writer’s gifts for simulacrum, that he is able to fool even those who were there at the event, that, yes, he had known what it was like to be there, when he was nowhere near the place at the time. It is an anecdote that is a useful remedy in our era, when the only authenticity considered possible is autobiography, when in fact the gifts of writers and actors lie with creating whole truths and images, out of things partially known or heard of second hand.

In 1728, Defoe wrote Memoirs of an English Officer, purporting to be by Captain George Carleton, who is said to have gone to Spain with the Earl of Peterborough’s expedition in 1705.

Much of The Memoirs of an English Officer concerns the Spanish campaign which began with the capture of Barcelona and then pushed south to Valencia.

Captain Carleton is wounded and spends three years in ‘Sainte Clemente de la Mancha, rendered famous by Cervantes’, which enables Defoe to air his views on Don Quixote as well as on bull-fighting, nunneries and many other aspects of Spanish life.

Defoe’s Memoirs of an English Officer fooled even Dr. Johnson, who prided himself on detecting literary forgers, such as James Macpherson, the author of bogus translations from the Gaelic. On Sunday 27 June 1784 Boswell and Johnson dined at Sir Joshua Reynolds’s home in the company of Lord Eliot, whose tutor had also instructed the family of Lord Peterborough. Boswell records that Johnson asked Eliot:

‘Pray, my Lord, do you recollect any particulars that he told you of Lord Peterborough? He is a favourite of mine, and is not enough known; his character has been only ventilated in party pamphlets.’ Lord Eliot said, if Dr. Johnson would be so good as to ask him any questions, he would tell what he could recollect. Accordingly some things were mentioned. ‘But (said his Lordship) the best account of Lord Peterborough that I have happened to meet with, is in Captain Carleton’s Memoirs. Carleton was descended from an ancestor who had distinguished himself at the siege of Derry.’

The editor of this 1887 edition of Boswell’s Life of Johnson, George Birbeck Hill, adds a puzzled footnote on Lord Eliot’s remarks: ‘Carleton, according to the Memoirs, made his first service in the navy in 1672 – seventeen years before the siege of Derry. There is no mention of the siege in the book.’ Defoe’s authorship of the book was not revealed until the twentieth century.

Lord Eliot had obviously not questioned the authenticity of the Memoirs, and nor, as we now discover, had Johnson, for Boswell’s account continues: ‘Johnson said he had never heard of the book. Lord Eliot had it at Port Eliot; but, after a good deal of enquiry, procured a copy in London, and sent it to Johnson, who told Sir Joshua Reynolds that he was going to bed when it came, but was so much pleased with it, that he sat up till he had read it through, and found in it such an air of truth, that he could not doubt of its authenticity…’

Defoe never travelled to Spain and had no involvement in the military campaign there.

A coda on Shakespeare as Shakespeare, from David Mamet’s Three Uses of the Knife: On the Nature and Purpose of Drama, quoted in turn from David Aaronovitch’s useful poison antidote, Voodoo Histories (I believe this would fall under “#8. The Snobbery” in Rosenbaum’s list),

The purpose of the [conspiracy theorists], and by extension the purpose of their readers, is somehow to make themselves greater than even the greatest poet, partly, of course, by making him lesser. In this, says Mamet,

they invert the megalomaniacal equation and make themselves not the elect, but the superior of the elect…They…consign the (falsely named) creator to oblivion and turn to the adulation of the crowd for their deed of discovery and insight…They appoint themselves as “eternity” – the force that shall pass on all things…The anti-Stratfordian, like the flat-earther and the creationist, elects himself God – possessed of the power to supervene in the natural order – and the most deeply hidden but pervasive fantasy of the above is the ultimate delusion of godhead: I made the world.

They also understand what everybody else doesn’t, what everybody else would most like to deny. They are the lonely custodians of the truth, and they got there through the quality of their minds – and by being brave enough to read a book.

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From the chapter “Quickness”, in Italo Calvino’s excellent Six Memos For the Next Millenium.

The novella is a horse, a means of transport with its own pace, a trot or a gallop according to the distance and the ground it has to travel over; but the speed Boccaccio is talking about is a mental speed. The listed defects of the clumsy storyteller are above all offenses against rhythm, as well as being defects of style, because he does not use the expressions appropriate either to the characters or to the events. In other words, even correctness of style is a question of quick adjustment, of agility of both thought and expression.

The horse as an emblem of speed, even speed of the mind, runs through the whole history of literature, heralding the entire problematics of our own technological viewpoint. The age of speed, in transport as in information, opens with one of the finest essays in English literature, Thomas De Quincey’s “The English Mail-Coach.” In 1849 he already understood everything we now know about the motorized highway world, including death-dealing high-speed crashes.

In the section called “The Vision of Sudden Death,” De Quincey describes a night journey on the box of an express mail coach with a gigantic coachman who is fast asleep. The technical perfection of the vehicle, and the transformation of the driver into a blind inanimate object, puts the traveler at the mercy of the mechanical inexorability of a machine. In the clarity of perception brought on by a dose of laudanum, De Quincey becomes aware that the horses are running uncontrollably at thirteen miles an hour on the wrong side of the road. This means certain disaster, not for the swift, sturdy mail coach but for the first unfortunate carriage to come along that road in the opposite direction. In fact, at the end of the straight, tree-lined avenue, which looks like a “Gothic aisle,” he sees a “frail reedy gig” in which a young couple are approaching at one mile an hour. “Between them and eternity, to all human calculation, there is but a minute and a-half.” De Quincey gives a shout: “Mine had been the first step; the second was for the young man; the third was for God.” The account of these few seconds has not been bettered even in an age in which the experience of high speeds has become a basic fact of life.

De Quincey succeeds in conveying a sense of an extremely short period of time that nonetheless contains both the calculation of the technical inevitability of the crash and the imponderable— God’s part in the matter—in virtue of which the two vehicles do not collide.

An excerpt from “Pacific Distances”, in Joan Didion’s excellent After Henry.

A good part of any day in Los Angeles is spent driving, alone, through streets devoid of meaning to the driver, which is one reason the place exhilarates some people, and floods others with an amorphous unease. There is about hours spent in transit a seductive unconnectedness. Conventional information is missing. Context clues are missing.

Such tranced hours are, for many people who live in Los Angeles, the dead center of being there, but there is nothing in them to encourage the normal impulse toward “recognition”, or narrative connection.

There are, in the pages of the Los Angeles newspapers, no Crack Queens, no Coma Moms or Terror Tots. Events may be lurid, but are rarely personalized.

A Redondo Beach woman apologized to her 7-year-old daughter, then apparently tried to take both their lives by driving over a cliff in the Malibu area Tuesday morning, authourities said. The mother, identified by the county coroner’s office as Susan Sinclaie, 29, was killed, but the child survived without serious injury. “I’m sorry I have to do this,” the woman is quoted as telling the child just before she suddenly swerved off Malibu Canyon Road, about 2 1/2 miles north of Pacific Coast Highway.

When I first moved to Los Angeles from New York, in 1964, I found the absence of narrative a deprivation. At the end of ten years I realized (quite suddenly alone one morning in a car) that I had come to find narrative sentimental.

Again, Calvino:

If during a certain period of my career as a writer I was attracted by folktales and fairytales, this was not the result of loyalty to an ethnic tradition (seeing that my roots are planted in an entirely modern and cosmopolitan Italy), nor the result of nostalgia for things I read as a child (in my family, a child could read only educational books, particularly those with some scientific basis). It was rather because of my interest in style and structure, in the economy, rhythm, and hard logic with which they are told.

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American Psycho Part Four: Last Thoughts

(though none of the book’s explicit sections are quoted here, some of the language will be very offensive to some)

I. Patrick Bateman
II. Timothy Price
III. Blackmail: Paul Owen, the Fisher Account, Evelyn, the cab driver, etc.
IV. A few last thoughts: Robert Hall, tanning, etc.

A few quick last notes.

Robert Hall

A character from the past who I think was in a relationship with Bateman while they were at university. Before he goes to a meal with Bethany, a woman he knew from the same time, we have this quick reference:

God, I’m thinking to myself as I walk into Vanities, only fifteen minutes late, I hope she hasn’t ended up with Robert Hall, that dumb asshole.

During the meal:

She smiles, pleased with herself, and still looking down, admits, with incomparable clarity, “Well, yes, I have a boyfriend and–”


“What?” She looks up.

“Who is he? What’s his name?”

“Robert Hall. Why?”

We expect him to say, Robert Hall, back from when we were at school? But instead we have a long period of him both pretending not to know who Hall was, and being very angry that she’s going to marry him.

“With Salomon Brothers?”

“No, he’s a chef.”

“With Salomon Brothers?”

“Patrick, he’s a chef. And co-owner of a restaurant.”

“Does it matter?”

“No, really, which one?” I ask, then under my breath, “I want to cross it out of my Zagat guide.”

“Its called Dorsia,” she says, then, “Patrick, are you okay?”

Yes, my brain does explode and my stomach bursts open inwardly – a spastic, acidic, gastric reaction; stars and planets, whole galaxies made up entirely of little white chef hats, race over the film of my vision. I choke out another question.

“Why Robert Hall?” I ask. “Why him?”

“I want to have children.”

“With Robert Hall?” I ask, incredulous. “You might as well do it with Captain Lou Albano, for Christ sakes. I just don’t get you. Bethany.”

She touches her napkin, looking down and then out onto the sidewalk, where waiters are setting up tables for dinner. I watch them too. “Why do I sense hostility on your part, Patrick?” she asks softly, then sips her wine.

“Maybe because I’m hostile,” I spit out. “Maybe because you sense this.”

“Jesus, Patrick,” she says, searching my face, genuinely upset. “I thought you and Robert were friends.”

Now, for some strange reason he pretends not to know who Hall was.

I pause, doubtful. “Were we?”

“Yes, Patrick, you were.”

“Robert Hall, Robert Hall, Robert Hall,” I mutter to myself, trying to remember. “Scholarship student? President of our senior class?” I think about it a second longer, then add, “Weak chin?”

“No, Patrick,” she says. “The other Robert Hall.”

“I’m confusing him with the other Robert Hall?” I ask.

“Yes, Patrick,” she says, exasperated.

Inwardly cringing, I close my eyes and sigh. “Robert Hall. Not the one whose parents own half of, like, Washington? Not the one who was” – I gulp – “captain of the crew team? Six feet?”

“Yes,” she says. “That Robert Hall.”

Then the punchline.

“Yes? But what?” She seems prepared to wait for an answer.

“But he was a fag,” I blurt out.

“No, he was not, Patrick,” she says, clearly offended.

I’m positive he was a fag.” I start nodding my head.

Why are you so positive?” she asks, not amused.

Well, he can’t tell her the real reason, so he makes up a few things which are very funny, though there may be a partial truth there.

“Because he used to let frat guys – not the ones in my house – like, you know, gang bang him at parties and tie him up and stuff. At least, you know, that’s what I’ve heard,” I say sincerely, and then, more humiliated than I have ever been in my entire life, I confess,Listen, Bethany, he offered me a… you know, a blow job once. In the, um, civics section of the library.

“Oh my god,” she gasps, disgusted. “Where’s the check?”

“Didn’t Robert Hall get kicked out for doing his thesis on Babar? Or something like Babar?” I ask. “Babar the elephant? The, oh Jesus, French elephant?”


I try to smile. “Robert Hall’s not a fag–”

“I can assure you of that,” she says a tad too smugly. How can anyone get indignant over Robert Hall? Instead of saying “Oh yeah, you dumb sorry bitch” I say soothingly, “I’m sure you can,” then, “Tell me about him. I want to know how things stand with the two of you,” and then, smiling, furious, full of rage, I apologize. “I’m sorry.”

Later, right before he fantasises a brutal murder of her, this is what he says, this is what is so important for him, that makes him so angry.

“I said, what in the fuck are you doing with Robert Hall?” I whisper.

“What did you say?” As if in slow motion, like in a movie, she turns around.

I wait until she’s seen the nail gun and the gloved hands to scream, “What the fuck are you doing with Robert Hall?”


Bateman constantly tans. I don’t think this is purely cosmetic. It’s to hide signs of his illness.

“Actually, where do you go, Bateman?” Van Patten asks. “For a tan.”

“Yeah, Bateman. Where do you go?” McDermott seems genuinely intrigued.

“Read my lips,” I say, “a tanning salon,” then irritably, “like everyone else.”

Bateman, though he has such a deep and constant tan that everyone notices, does not want to stand out.

At a meal with Bethany, there’s something that makes him very upset.

“Gosh, Patrick,” she says, looking at every part of my face.

“What?” I panic, immediately touching my hair. “Too much mousse? You don’t like the Kingsmen?”

“No.” She laughs. “I just don’t remember you being so tan back at school.

At dinner with Sean, the meeting ends like this:

Damien. You’re Damien,” I think I hear Sean mutter.

“What did you say?” I ask, looking up. “I didn’t hear you.”

Nice tan,” he sighs. “I said nice tan.”

I believe Sean knows that his brother is ill and continuing to have sex without telling anyone.


A desirable woman is always referred to as a “hardbody”. It’s a strange label, that the quality most coveted in a woman is the hard firmness of a man.

Pierce and Pierce

The company Bateman works for. The play on words may have to do with murder. But it’s also two men’s names paired up.


There are at least rhree references to cigars that I think are intended as obvious phallic jokes.

At the start of the meal with Bethany, we have:

“Didn’t you smoke at Harvard?” is the first thing she says.

Cigars,” I say. “Only cigars.”

“Oh,” she says.

But I quit that,” I lie, breathing in hard, squeezing my hands together.

After he has tortured Bethany close to death, we have:

Later, when she briefly regains consciousness, I put on a porkpie hat I was given by one of my girlfriends freshman year at Harvard.

“Remember this?” I shout, towering over her. “And look at this!” I scream triumphantly, holding up a cigar. “I still smoke cigars. Ha. See? A cigar.”

Towards the end of the break-up dinner with Evelyn.

“Tell me, Patrick, where are you going?”

I’ve placed a cigar on the table. She’s too upset to even comment. “I’m just leaving,” I say simply.

In the last scene, Price, who is sick with AIDS has this gesture:

“I just don’t get how someone, anyone, can appear that way yet be involved in such total shit,” Price says, ignoring Craig, averting his eyes from Farrell. He takes out a cigar and studies it sadly. To me it still looks like there’s a smudge on Price’s forehead.

Price looks sadly at this, since he can’t have sex with his illness.

The Book Tries To Tell Us What Kind of Book It Is

There are two moments which may be the book hinting at its double meaning.

A dinner with Evelyn, where he mentions a photo that has two captions.

“All I can think about is this poster I saw in the subway station the other night before I killed those two black kids – a photo of a baby calf, its head turned toward the camera, its eyes caught wide and staring by the flash, and its body seemed like it was boxed into some kind of crate, and in big, black letters below the photo it read, ‘Question: Why Can’t This Veal Calf Walk?’ Then, ‘Answer: Because It Only Has Two Legs.’ But then I saw another one, the same exact photo, the same exact calf, yet beneath it, this one read, ‘Stay Out of Publishing.’ “

A description of a conversation in the last scene could apply to the strange events of the book.

The conversation follows its own rolling accord – no real structure or topic or internal logic or feeling; except, of course, for its own hidden, conspiratorial one.

The Movie Version

I have seen the movie of this book only once, and have a poor memory of it. I don’t remember if it hinted at this subtext – if it even exists. I don’t see how a movie version could convey it, without letting the veil completely fall. We would see the actions in the book, the world as Bateman wants to see it, and then in the last ten minutes, just like in Fight Club we would see various in-between scenes giving a true sense of what took place – Carruthers and Bateman hooking up, Denton and Bateman hooking up, Evelyn explicitly blackmailing Timothy, Bateman having sex with Owen then blackmailing him over it, the romance with Robert Hall, the wanted poster downtown which says that Bateman has AIDS, the women he tortured and killed, still alive and well.

I. Patrick Bateman>
II. Timothy Price
III. Blackmail: Paul Owen, the Fisher Account, Evelyn, the cab driver, etc.
IV. A few last thoughts: Robert Hall, tanning, etc.

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