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Studies in Symbolic Interaction

ISBN: 978-0-76231-096-8, eISBN: 978-1-84950-261-0

Publication date: 7 July 2004


Sociology has a long and ambivalent relationship with the literary and aesthetic form. Commonsense readings of the novel assume its unproblematic structure as a linear narrative. Yet every novel alerts its readers to the constructed nature of social reality and identifies many of the effects of power, privilege, gender, class, desire, resistance, subversion and so on. As such a novel has the capacity to force a confrontation with fundamental, and Jameson (1981) would suggest, enduring human concerns. The novel can strip away a sense of familiarity with everyday habits, and in so doing, it can replicate the sociological process of denaturalization or defamiliarization, and allow the reader to see how ideas come to circulate, dominate and frame the ordinary world. Accordingly, David Lodge comes to the conclusion that “narrative is one of the fundamental human tools for making sense of the world.”

By examining a controversial and much debated novel like American Psycho around which a great deal of social commentary already exists, and by applying the arguments of Lodge, Jameson and others, we understand better how a work of art simultaneously functions as a deconstructive tool of the social. On this basis, when American Psycho generated a great deal of cultural anxiety in the cultural commentators of the day, it suggests that it had succeeded in denaturalizing the world, and in revealing the residual violence in an affluent, comfortable citizenry that was not expected to harbor such hostilities. American Psycho presented a disturbing “symptomatology of the times.” This capacity of the popular novel to inform on the zeitgeist makes an author such as Bret Easton Ellis a maven of our times whose products we should thus incorporate into the conceptual tool kit of any formal human studies.


Finkelstein, J. (2004), "THE NOVEL OF OUR TIMES: READING THE SOCIAL IN BRET EASTON ELLIS", Studies in Symbolic Interaction (Studies in Symbolic Interaction, Vol. 27), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 303-321.



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