Dr. Alex E. Blazer

Department of English & Rhetoric

Georgia College & State University

Milledgeville, GA 31061

alex.blazer@gcsu.edu

alexeblazer.com

 

Routledge

Amazon

 

"Glamorama, Fight Club, and the Terror of Narcissistic Abjection."

American Fiction of the 1990s: Reflections of History and Culture.

Ed. Jay Prosser. London: Routledge, 2008. 177-89.

 

American Fiction of the 1990s

 

Bret Easton Ellis's Glamorama (1998) and Chuck Palahniuk's Fight Club (1996) portray narrators driven to terrorism by a postmodern culture of empty consumption that has devoured them body and soul. Whereas Ellis's first killer tome, American Psycho (1991), shows the mind of a young Wall Street executive being psychotically leveled by his name brand consumer culture in which goods are god and people are things to be collected and killed, Glamorama follows another deteriorating psyche, this one belonging to a fashion model and minor celebrity on the New York scene of glamorous glitterati. Victor's mind is utterly consumed by the pursuit of his own media hype—as "it" boy of the month, he's opening a club and vying for a part in Flatliners II (the would-be sequel to the Kevin Bacon/Julia Roberts hit of 1990). The narcissistic quest becomes not only an obsession but also the cause of his breakdown as the novel devolves into paranoid delusions of multinational terrorism conspiracies and mind control by film scripts. Victor is pursued and persuaded (in his own deranged mind, if not in reality) by the elusive figure of Palakon, who asks him to seek out former girlfriend Jamie Fields, who turns out to be a double (perhaps triple) agent in former uber-male model Bobby Hughes's terrorism organization. Hughes enlists current models like Victor to bomb fashionable, political venues in Europe because models are highly manipulable and have the perfect cover—glamorously plain sight. While "infiltrating" this group, Victor is also acting in two rival films, one American and one French; the films script his fate. Glamorama mediates body image into bodily fragmentation—the beautiful body of a Calvin Klein advertisement is supplanted by a body blown to bits by a bomb. The body is a thing to be viewed, devoured, and destroyed (all in the same breath), most notably for the spectacle of television and film cameras.

 

While Glamorama rages against the business of bodies turned into images, Fight Club rages against the bureacratized system of subjectivity in general and emasculated masculinity in particular, both of which hollow out life for the American culture of (spiritual) death. The unnamed narrator is an insurance statistician who calculates if probable lawsuits filed against a client company for fatal products will surpass the cost of a safety recall. Not only does he compute the price of death during the day, but he spends his nights malingering in support groups, many of them for the terminally ill, because the nurturing words of the sick and dying are the only things that can curb his perpetual insomnia—both his dreams and his very inner being, have been robbed by his culture. The narrator's psyche splits asunder, and his caustic and corroded unconscious of repressed death becomes his alter ego, Tyler Durden, who can rage against the machine that hollowed out his host. Fight clubs symbolize the narrator's need to destroy himself in order to be born anew and empowered; Tyler's terrorist Project Mayhem represents the narrator's need to demolish the culture of corporate bureaucracy that authorizes the corporeal and psychological death of its citizen-consumers. Terrorism in Fight Club, as in Glamorama, functions as the disastrous revenge of the psyche upon the symbolic order that decimated it. The ultimate goal of terrorism is more psychological than physical, and psychological regression of Victor and the psychotic splitting of the unnamed narrator embody terrorism at its canniest best. Glamorama and Fight Club suggest that the media in particular and the bureacratized, corporatized culture in general are the most radical terrorists of all because they destroy the mind and then the body from the inside out as they create a generation of homicidal narcissists at best or abject schizophrenics at worst. Both novels indict the symbolic order of postmodern culture that evacuates interiority and abjects the psyche.

 

This abstract summarizes my article, "Glamorama, Fight Club, and the Terror of Narcissistic Abjection." American Fiction of the 1990s: Reflections of History and Culture. Ed. Jay Prosser. London: Routledge, 2008. 177-89.