By Eytan Smith
I just finished reading ‘American Psycho’ by Brett Easton Ellis. It wasn’t pleasant. As expected, I feel like I have lost a dimension of innocence my imagination once had. Images of rats roaming the insides of vaginas and breasts being detached and deflated by the monster protagonist Patrick Bateman clammily lurk at the back of my mind. I toyed with the idea of actually writing a persona for Pat, but it wouldn’t have made any sense. As a character he is void of human traits, making attempts to produce adverts that answer his emotional needs, utterly useless.
Despite having in the past promised myself never to read American Psycho, and despite finding Patrick Bateman sickening, I have two surprising lessons to take away from this forced experience (thanks Marc).
Firstly, I discovered another component of empathy’s power. Over the course of the book I empathised increasingly with his plight. At first I simply felt sorry for his inner void, but then I found myself relating to his panic attacks and recognising from experience the moments he felt unglued from social situations.
Then I realised I was identifying with a psychopath.
First panic ensued, which was later calmed by the realisation that I actually empathise on some level with every character I read. I started to wonder why empathy is my constant companion on literary adventures and if this is true for others. Having spoken to a few members from an old book club I attended, the common consensus was that everyone (including a couple of them who had also read American Psycho) ultimately ends up at least sympathising with their protagonists. It’s comforting to know that my empathy with an extremely dangerous and wildly violent individual is a common reaction, at least amongst my peers.
Secondly, I found myself inspired by Patrick’s more desirable qualities. In particular, in the way he prided himself on his appearance: always finding the time to work out, moisturise, diet etc. Patrick may not be much on the inside, but he definitely had his outer shell polished. Since starting to read the book, I’ve thinned my closet of more scruffy items, initiated a daily skin care regime and am planning to dig out my smart shirts for work more often. ‘You are the average of your five closest friends’ is a phrase I stand by. The behaviour of the ones we spend most time with is often reflected in our own. I have, over the past few days spent a lot of time with Patrick Bateman, so I suppose it only makes sense that this psychopath impacts on my behaviour. So if you see me with any specks of blood on my smart shirts, gird your loins.
I’m not sure if these realisations counter my newly born, crippling fear of being randomly attacked on the street by a psychopath, but hey, Marc should be happy.