- Confessions of an American PsychoJames Hogg’s and Bret Easton Ellis’s Anti-Heroes’ Journey from Vulnerability to Violence
My vitals have all been torn, and every faculty and feeling of my soul racked, and tormented into callous insensibility. . . . I could perceive no bottom, and then—not till then, did I repeat the tremendous prayer!—I was instantly at liberty; and what I now am, the Almighty knows! Amen.—James Hogg, The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner1
My conscience, my pity, my hopes disappeared a long time ago (probably at Harvard) if they ever did exist. . . . My pain is constant and sharp. . . . But even after admitting this . . . and coming face-to-face with these truths, there is no catharsis. I gain no deeper knowledge about myself. . . . This confession has meant nothing.—Bret Easton Ellis, American Psycho2
A hundred and sixty-seven years lie between the publication of James Hogg’s The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1824) (henceforth referred to as Confessions) and Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho (1991). Yet one cannot but be amazed at the striking similarities of the main [End Page 185] protagonists’s insights at the end of these two novels. Although connections between works of Gothic Romanticism and postmodern narratives have been duly noted, the possible reasons for the analogies remain largely unexplored.3
It will be argued here that both novels are representations of worlds immersed in what René Girard, in Deceit, Desire, and the Novel (henceforth referred to as Deceit), has termed “deviated transcendency,” resulting in similar stages of narrative progression, which in turn can be analyzed in terms of Girard’s mimetic cycle of violence.
At a first glance, the two pieces seem to be concerned with themes that to a secularized age must appear most disparate. But as Girard has noted: “The very idea of mediation encourages literary comparisons at a level which is no longer that of genre criticism or thematic criticism. . . . It may illuminate the works through each other.”4 Hogg’s narrative deals with the problem of antinomianism and the resulting spiritual pride. The anti-hero of the narrative, Robert Wringhim, relies on his belief that he is one of the elect and cannot fall from grace and consequently is convinced by his elusive friend Gil-Martin to become a murderer without having to fear punishment. American Psycho on the other hand is concerned with the consequences of the crass materialism of the U.S. yuppie generation, culminating at the end of the 1980s, as experienced by the serial-killing first-person narrator Patrick Bateman. However, one could argue that in its very first pages, American Psycho presents the reader with a secularized version of antinomianism. Michael Steig has fleetingly noted that the egocentric doctrines of antinomianism psychologically resemble the “I’m alright tenets” of yuppie pseudo-psychology.5 Timothy Price, one of Bateman’s colleagues on Wall Street, expresses this in the following words: “In essence what I’m saying is that society cannot afford to lose me. I’m an asset.”6 Translated into antinomian terms, one could say that he is one of the elect, one of the privileged enjoying a capitalist heaven on earth; and by saying that society cannot afford to lose him, he, like Robert Wringhim, is showing that he believes he cannot fall from grace—or at least he tries to believe it.
“I was well aware that the devilish powers of his mother would finally prevail; and either the dread of this, or the inward consciousness of having wronged him, certainly unnerved my arm.”7 If, in this reference to a quarrel with a fellow pupil at school, Robert gives away the fact that he doubts his own words, through the rhetorical device of correctio, so does Timothy Price by his choice of words. In fact, it is exactly because he is an asset that society can afford to lose him. As he is literally transformed into a commodity, society can discard him and in the novel indeed does so. It is one of the many ironies of the narrative that Price disappears soon after the above...