<i>Glamorama</i>, postmodernity, and the schizophrenic sublime

Angela Woods

in The Sublime Object of Psychiatry

Published on behalf of Oxford University Press

Published in print August 2011 | ISBN: 9780199583959
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191754692 | DOI:

Series: International Perspectives in Philosophy & Psychiatry

Glamorama, postmodernity, and the schizophrenic sublime

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This chapter will endeavour to show that if not the best, then certainly the most complex and compelling, descriptions of the postmodern stimmung are to be found in Bret Easton Ellis’s fin-de-millénaire novel (Glamorama 2000). 2 Ellis is widely regarded as one of the foremost literary voices of his generation (Beckett, 1999). A Brat Pack writer whose ‘blank fiction’ resonates with ‘the spirit of the age’ (Annesley, 1998, p. 5), he is the infamous author of American Psycho (1991), a novel judged to be so obscene that for years it was sold in Australia in plastic wrap despite widespread critical acclaim. Glamorama, his fourth novel, was popularly regarded as a failure, as this review in The New York Times makes emphatically clear: Glamorama, as anyone can see, is a bloated, stultifyingly repetitive, overhyped book about an entire gang of fabulously good-looking and expensively dressed sociopaths who torture and dismember both women and men—and lots of them. […] Ellis’s satirical message is, essentially, a one-liner, and hardly an original one at that—celebrity culture is vapid, yes, and?—and isn't remotely worth the endless pages in which his vacuous and inconsequential characters talk vacuously and inconsequentially about vacuous and inconsequential things. (Mendelsohn, 1999; see also Blount, 1999; Richardson, 1999)

Glamorama’s academic critics have, by contrast, embarked on a more robust engagement with the aesthetics and politics of the vacuous and the inconsequential. With its excess of pop cultural references, and its playfulness, ambiguity, superficiality, and self-consciousness, Glamorama epitomizes a postmodern aesthetic while taking as its narrative focus the effects on the subject of the technology, media networks, and politics of postmodernity. Enriching the imaginative possibilities of twenty-first-century violence, it serves as an ‘apocalyptic pretext … crying out for a translation into a proper terrorist text’ (Petersen, 2005, p. 144); enriching the imaginative capabilities of twenty-first-century fiction, it introduces ‘what appears to be an unprecedented form of double-voiced first-person narrative’ (Nielsen, 2006, p. 20; see also Heinze, 2008; Nielsen, 2004; Punter, 2003). With Sheli Ayers, we might say that Glamorama’s protagonist, Victor, and the ‘enchanted panorama’ he inhabits ‘are symptomatic of a cultural condition’ (Ayers, 2000, p. 3); but a stronger and I think more persuasive line of argument sees Glamorama—at the level of textuality, narrative, structure, theme, pace, indeed, in any and all of its literary dimensions—bring to life the ‘postmodern schizophrenia’ we have been analyzing across the last two chapters.

In Madness and Modernism, as in cultural theory more broadly, literature is certainly not attributed the same status as sociological or psychiatric research; its function as fiction is to illuminate, rather than to provide empirical or conclusive confirmation of a particular idea. Following Sass’s suggestion that as ‘the town criers of modern consciousness, schizophrenics are in a dual relationship with modernity, existing not just as a product of but also as reaction against the prevailing social order’ (Sass, 1992, p. 372), the first part of this chapter aims to show how Glamorama presents Victor as exemplifying a specifically postmodern consciousness. In part two I continue this project by drawing on the interdisciplinary discourse of Schreber studies. If Schreber has been repeatedly heralded as embodying a specifically modern schizophrenia, can we, using the same interpretive frameworks, consider Victor his fictional postmodern equivalent? The third and final part of this chapter moves beyond an analysis of the events recounted in the narrative to the logic of the text itself. In calling upon ‘postmodern schizophrenia’ to interpret postmodernity, does this literary text, like its theoretical counterparts, also call upon schizophrenia’s association with the sublime? Does it import not only the detail of cultural theory’s model of schizophrenia, but the metatheoretical baggage that goes with it?

Chapter.  7564 words. 

Subjects: Psychiatry

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