Dr. Alex E. Blazer

Department of English & Rhetoric

Georgia College & State University

Milledgeville, GA 31061

alex.blazer@gcsu.edu

alexeblazer.com

 

Vampires, Valium, and Vanitas:

A Lacanian Reading of Bret Easton Ellis's The Informers

A friend of Carlos was found dead in a garbage can in Studio City. He had been shot in the head and skinned. How awful, huh? Carlos doesn't seem very sad but Carlos is a very strong person so that doesn't surprise me. Carlos just put in a new videotape. We've been watching Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead. Have you ever seen them? Randy plays them all the time. I've seen them a lot since I've been here. They're both really fun. Carlos is trying to wake Randy up to watch the movie. Carlos says L.A. is swarming with vampires. I'm taking a Valium. (Bret Easton Ellis, The Informers 149)

It is tempting to interpret Bret Easton Ellis's fourth book, a series of interconnected short stories called The Informers (1994), as a mere continuation of the existential and nihilistic themes of his first two books, Less Than Zero (1985) and The Rules of Attraction (1987), that revealed the wasteland of intoxicated sexuality that college students traverse as they become estranged from the postmodern world that seeks to consume them. Written during the same period, although The Informers was published a decade later, the books share confused, drifting (and intertextual) characters and sunnily apocalyptic setting. However, the serial killer (or serial killer wanna be) Patrick Bateman from American Psycho (1991) adds a layer of psychotic menace, previously unseen in Ellis's world, that compels the careful reader to look for, in The Informers, the point at which Ellis's writing changed from documenting the passive and self-destructive voyeurs of a generation to imagining their violent sadistic fantasies. Most of the stories are filled with the moral and intellectual decline into disillusionment and vapidity; in "Letters from L. A.," for instance, 20-year-old college student Anne, who is taking a semester off, spends so much time watching horror movies, taking aerobics classes, and spending time with people who do not "[require] a whole lot of serious emotional investment at all" because "They are all alive and interesting and fun" (140) that she can barely recall when her 30-year-old boyfriend, Randy, either overdosed or was murdered; the story is the contemporary literary equivalent of a 17th century Dutch vanitas painting, a still life of objects representing the transience of life and inevitability of mortality. However, one story, "The Secrets of Summer," focuses on racist lady-killer named Jamie who either is a vampire or thinks he's a vampire, who sleeps in a coffin outfitted with cable television, and who is "[basically thrilled by the emptiness]" (181) of "waxy and artificial" (190) L. A. girls because he can drown his strange feelings of radical otherness in their blood. He mocks the Ethiopian famine by making thin jokes in one moment and sucks women's blood during sex in the next. The Informers constitutes a pivotal place in the development of Ellis's writing style and world view because, in the vampire storyline, it not only marks the introduction of genre elements to the existential narrative that Ellis will fully employ in later works such as the serial killer novel American Psycho, the spy novel Glamorama (1998), the ghost story Lunar Park (2005), and the detective novel Imperial Bedrooms (2010), but also comprises the switch from existential boredom from living the superficial life of a passive consumer of empty images and mind-deadening drugs to a vain rage inspired by feelings of alienation, or as post-structuralist Jacques Lacan calls it, ex-sistence. Not content with the deadening of his desires, the disappearance of his subjectivity, what Lacan calls aphanisis, Jamie strikes back at vanity, bleeds it dry, with a fundamental fantasy of vampirism that Lacan would say sustains not only his desire but also "himself at the level of his vanishing desire," (Écrits 272) and, in so doing, becomes a prototype for Patrick Bateman.

 

This abstract summarizes my presentation, "Vampires, Valium, and Vanitas: A Lacanian Reading of Bret Easton Ellis's The Informers." Southeast Coastal Conference on Languages & Literatures. Coastal Georgia Center, Savannah, GA. 27 Mar. 2014.