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  • Bret Easton Ellis, Lunar Park, and the Exquisite Corpse of Deficit Finance
  • Richard Godden (bio)


The financially driven growth of the US economy over the last four decades has been deficit funded. As Robert Brenner argues, the long decline in US manufacturing post-1973 prompted the nation to save itself "by its own debility" (36) insofar as it operated as "a market of last resort" (12)—a site for federal, corporate, and domestic deficit spending funded by "vast inflows of private and public money from abroad" (14). Whereas, between 1947 and 1981, total countrywide debt (federal, corporate, domestic) had remained largely stable; in the 1980s, indebtedness (expressed as a percentage of GDP) rose abruptly from 150 to 200%, and its subsequent rise has been almost continuous (Kliman 51). Economic viability, under such conditions, proves synonymous with debt. By way of what follows, I address the morbid nature of the national deficit as its imperatives take form, for Bret Easton Ellis, through a curious interanimation of the textual, the spectral, and the economic.

In "the beginnings," the initial section of Bret Easton Ellis's Lunar Park (2005), the narrator and central character, Bret Easton Ellis, locates the origins of his text and oeuvre within a single term, itself lodged in a box, in a safe, in a vault, in the Ventura Boulevard branch of the Bank of America (in Sherman Oaks, California).1 The generative force of that ur-term derives from the peculiar condition of its inscription. The inner box contains the ashes of Robert Martin Ellis (1941-92), placed there, at his death, by his son, Bret Easton Ellis, in direct contravention of his father's will. On 8 November [End Page 588] 2002, Ellis retrieves the ashes, intending to scatter them in the Pacific (as originally instructed), except that "[w]hen I opened the safe-deposit box that day, its interior was grayed with ash. The box containing what remained of my father had burst apart and ashes now lined the sides of the oblong safe. And in the ash someone had written, perhaps with a finger, the same word my son had written on the moonscape he had left for me" (306). The text does not identify the inscription, the inscriptor, or the method of inscribing; the detail, therefore, operates severally as a cipher in a crypt. Initially at least, the code appears transparent: the mute word recurs on a drawing left for Ellis by his vanished son (named for the grandfather). Since artists frequently sign pictures, we may assume that the word is "Robert," or perhaps its affectionate contraction, "Robby." Resolution occurs as soon as one recognizes an affinity between moon and ash: the first edition of Lunar Park carries as its frontispiece and end-piece a replicated image of the moon's surface in close-up: gray, pocked, and singularly ashen (we are later told that the image serves as Robby's screen-saver). Moon and ash merit the signatory term, particularly since the paternal ashes (in one of a series of spectral manifestations) issue blank emails from the bank, featuring an attachment that shows an apparent video recording of Robert Martin Ellis's death. The father's dying word was "Robby" (79).

Scant opacity here, were it not that in "the beginnings" Ellis posits the name alone as that from which the events of the novel stem. After detailing his extended dispute with the star Jayne Dennis over the paternity of his long-unacknowledged child (Robby), Ellis observes of her dropping the suit: "It was at that moment in my lawyer's office at One World Trade Center that I realized that she had named the child after my father, but when I confronted her about it later that day, after we had tentatively forgiven each other, she swore it had never occurred to her. (Which I still do not believe, and which I am certain is the reason that the following events in Lunar Park happened—it was the catalyst)" (16). "Catalyst" from "catalysis": "the effect produced by a substance, that without itself undergoing change, aids a chemical change," or, in a rare and early usage, "dissolution, destruction, ruin" ("Catalysis"). Please note...


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