Introduction: In American Psycho and The Outsider, to experience the Absurd is to experience Otherness, and within both film and novel it is absurdity and the Absurd which drives Mersault and Bateman towards their respective social alienations. However, despite the inextricable link between the Absurd and Otherness within the texts, the means by which the Absurd interacts with each text, and, in turn results in alienation is unique. Within Camus’s novel, the world itself is portrayed as being oppressive, with harsh landscapes and indifferent characters leaving Mersault feeling judged and persecuted, quite literally The Outsider.
Conversely, Patrick Bateman, by all accounts has the success he has sought after, the consumerist strappings of a man very much in his prime; despite this, Bateman is forced to contend with the hollow reality that this matter brings him, and it is the readers realisation that this matter, ultimately, does not matter, that results in a very similar sense of meaninglessness. Therefore, it is important to elucidate on what exactly is meant by the Absurd; in this vein, absurdism is a school of thought which attempts to verbalise, what it perceives, as humanities inevitable search for meaning.
It is a search which occurs in a universe devoid of any such universality, and, as a result, absurdism argues that it is the intrinsic uncertainty to our knowable world that makes the initial search for meaning a contradictory and pointless one. In relation to this, Sartre describes the absurd as a ‘dualism… between man’s drive toward the eternal and the finite character of his existence,’. The Absurd is also the feeling left behind by this paradox, one allegorised by Camus within ‘the myth of Sisyphus’, where he tates that a man ‘deprived of the memory of a lost home or the hope of a promised land,’ shall as a result feel’alien, a stranger. ‘ It is this same sense of the Absurd that leaves Bateman’a young and directionless mannequin’, and it is poignant then, that The Outsider is named L’Etranger, or the stranger in its original French, with the novel being published in the same year as The Myth of Sisyphus. Indeed, Mersault is plagued by the sense that he is a stranger, a feeling which is brought about in part by the persecution he faces from the world in which he lives.
Whilst attending the wake of his mother, he experiences a brief moment in which he feels like the other attendees ‘were there to judge [him],’ and, this persecution is mirrored within the world evoked by Camus. The language and setting of The Outsider are remarkably harsh and Mersault is repeatedly oppressed by the environment that surrounds him by ‘sudden burst[s] of brightness,’a and by the landscape itself, which is described as ‘inhuman and depressing’.
Repeatedly throughout The Outsider, the sun is manifested brutally and given oppressive qualities. Furthermore, in The Myth of Sisyphus Camus uses the term ‘flight from light as a euphemism for a suicide driven by the Absurd. In light of this, Barthes argues that Mersault is ‘carnally submitted to the sun,’ and that the sun functions as ‘antique Necessity [Fate]: If we view the sun as a sort of fate’, one which has the power to both ‘generate acts’ within Mersault’s life, then we evoke a world in which Mersault has no control.
Therefore, I would argue that Barthes description of Mersault as ‘submitted to the sun’ connotes a choice on the part of Mersault, a choice that I believe Mersault does not possess; indeed, Camus describes Mersault as ‘the only Christ that we deserve, and it is this evocation of Mersault as a pseudo-Christ figure that highlights this lack of autonomy. It is because he is persecuted, and, because his fate is already preordained that Mersault allows himself to be committed to his love of the sun.
Whether or not Mersault loves the sun cannot detract from the fact that Mersault has no control over his servitude, indeed, he has no more control over the suns effect on him than he does over the effect of his mother’s death. As a result, the sun does embody’antique Necessity,’ a mechanism to drive Mersault’s path to martyrdom and because of this it is apparent that his persecution began, like Christ’s, long before his actual execution .
And, it is this inevitability that further hones the Absurd, because despite Mersault’s appreciation of it, his death cannot evoke a world with any more meaning than the absurdist one from which he departs. Despite this, Camus ties the Absurd to questions of non-existence, indeed, Camus describes Meursault’s passion as one ‘for an absolute and for truth,’ however, this truth is a paradoxical one, and it flies in the face of absurdist logic, which cannot reconcile a universal absolute in an unknowable universe.
As a result, Mersault’s passion must be ‘a negative one,’ and a Utopic one at that, irreconcilable with the realities of his world. Nevertheless, Camus posits a cosmic idea within Mersault’s martyrdom, and, as a Camus’ self-proclaimed Christ figure, there is an inherent expectation of something more concealed within the ‘symbolic night bursting with stars. ‘ Mersault appears to have finally gained an appreciation for the Absurd, moments before his death, a desire and a willingness to ‘start life all over again. Whatever the something more may have been, neither Camus nor Mersault had the opportunity to elucidate on it, It is this absence of meaning which compels both Mersault and Bateman to attempt to find meaning within their world; Mersault within the banal ceremonies of the world which surrounds him and Bateman within his philosophising of his physical and aesthetic pursuits, which is done to ascribe a higher meaning to them.
It is this philosophy of matter which starts to govern and define Bateman’s actions, however, in the same way that Mersault is governed by the sun and the world around him, Bateman, too, is governed, but by his inability to truly connect with the world which forces him to contend with the reality that he is not as important as he might believe.
The Outsider therefore uses the banality of life to construe the Absurd, evoking a world in which the death of Mersault’s mother is perceptually hollow, leaving a void which is exemplified through the retelling of the phrase ‘you only get one mother,’ this line exposes the rift between expectation and actuality, a rift which resembles the ‘cleavage’ of the Absurd observed by Sartre; this rift, or cleavage exists because something that should have a profound impact upon Mersault and the novel has next to none at all, and, it is this contradictory meaninglessness which begins to embody the Absurd; Mersault’s world is one without any form of higher purpose , or, what Camou describes as a world ‘divested of illusions. ‘ In juxtaposition to this, Bateman is given a higher purpose, through both consumerism and matter, which are fashioned within the text into a pseudo-religion and a bastion of meaning within the text. American Psycho therefore becomes a world which can be ‘explained even with bad meanings,’ making it at once familiar, but leaving Bateman to contend with a similar discord that arises in the gaps between the hollowness of his character and the insurmountable task (find quote).
Whereas The Outsider depicts life as banal, American Psycho trivialises humanity itself, through Bateman’s image fuelled murder sprees which themselves become a caricature of 80’s consumerist culture and through Bateman as a character, who is left as Brett Easton Ellis describes, ‘a gorgeously dressed and empty thing’. It is through this failure to affix meaning that Mersault is gradually Othered. Indeed, ‘the sun was already so hot… [That it] felt like a slap across the face,’ here the power of the world around Mersault is so great that it is able to assault him, Mersault is therefore so confined by the world that he is left isolated by it and segregated from it.
Indeed it is the combination of this persecution and oppression which Others him, with his brief, stunted narration leaving no other avenues or the expression of his character within the novel, Mersault is left in a situation in which he is arrested by his environment, struggling for a sense of both control and meaning, whilst forced at the same time to participate in what he perceives as the meaningless ceremonies of life. For example, his apathy towards the death of his mother, which is expressed at the beginning of the novel, ‘My mother died today. Or maybe yesterday, I don’t know. ‘ The language used by Camus restricts Mersault, the range of emotion expressed and experienced throughout the novel is incredibly basic, limited mostly to ‘it was very hot,’ or ‘l found it difficult to wake up’.
Such expositions do not grant the reader the ability to truly empathise with Mersault, they serve to segregate his character into an impermeable place in which the world happens to Mersault and the reader is separated from this world by Mersault’s inaccessible language. Within The Outsider Mersault constantly feels out of place, at the wake of his mother and even at the trial which directly concerns him, indeed, the sense that he is ‘superfluous… an intruder places Mersault on the fringe of the society of The Outsider Patrick Bateman is also plagued by the Absurd, but where Mersault is a victim to reality, Bateman is given the power to shape it. It is Bateman’s stream of consciousness and repeated breaking of the fourth wall that gives the reader an avenue of expression to Bateman’s character that Mersault is not granted.
But, contradictorily it is this same avenue that would often be used for empathy that is in this case used to Other Bateman. Bateman’s views on the world are so far removed from reality, indeed, they are so adjectivally absurd that Bateman fails to relate to any of the other characters in a meaningful way. Bateman’s interaction with other characters, consists of a collocation of generic 80’s pop music knowledge, such as his ironic monologue about ‘hip to be square’ in which Bateman tries to individualise and make unique a song which is ultimately about conformity and collectiveness. In this way Bateman gradually begins to project his internal struggle, rought about by the fact that he is made up of hollow, generic things yet his desire to be unique, loved and respected is antithetical to his personality and character.
Mersault is stunted by his inability to actually affect the plot in any way, the form of his language stunting his character, leaving him the victim of circumstance and coercing him to go along with the narrative and not to oppose it; thus he becomes merely a vessel which life happens to, the world imprints upon him, he does not imprint himself upon the world. Patrick Bateman appears initially to be the complete inverse, and in relation to the narrative of American Psycho he is enabled to do almost anything his character desires, to the point where he murders his co-worker with an axe, whilst detailing the necessities of 80’s pop music.
As a result of this narrative pseudo-omnipotence, one may initially think American Psycho to be averse to the Absurd. However, it is the juxtaposition of Bateman’s supposed power with his inability to affect change, wherein Patrick Bateman cannot, despite his best efforts, influence the world to be what he wants it to be, or find the meaning within in which he seeks that leads the reader to a very similar sense of the Absurd, brought about by completely different means. Indeed, when Bateman and his colleagues compare their company cards it is in spite of his best that Bateman falls victim to the corporate culture which he tries so hard to embody, with his cards falling notably flat of those of his peers.
It is the adjectival sense of absurdity that regularly leaves American Psycho devoid of meaning, the hyperbolic caricature of Bateman supersedes any other form of meaning in the film, and his search for meaning falls as equally flat as Meursault’s, and the ‘mask’ begins to slip from the consumerist parody. Within his aforementioned essay, ‘An Explication of The Stranger’, Satre comments on the ‘vanity of [man’s] efforts,’ in relation to the Absurd, and vanity is an apt word to affix to the Absurd nature of Bateman’s world. In relation to American Psycho, vanity, like the absurd, is a dualism. On the one hand the aforementioned consumerism and the dependence of Bateman’s ego upon love from others, or, ‘The quality of being personally vain; high opinion of oneself; self-conceit and desire for admiration.
And, on the other, the futility of Bateman’s efforts in trying to attain that very admiration, an effort ‘which is vain, futile, or worthless; that which is of no value or profit. ‘ Paragraph on othering Both texts use Othering as a means of identifying and alienating their characters from the social norms within which the reader expects them to conform. Therefore, when we think of ‘Othering in relation to these texts we shall think of this effect in two ways. The first is Georg W. F Hegel’s phenomenological perspective, in which the Other is a means of revealing the self and as Frances Berneson elucidates ‘the subject can only see itself when what it sees is another self-consciousness’.
The second aspect of Othering is the alienation of the individual through the aforementioned failure to conform to the social norms the society has laid in place. This may initially sound paradoxical; however, it is within the caricature of Patrick Bateman and his absurd actions and interior monologue that he is allowed to simultaneously exist whilst at the same time ‘Patrick Bateman does not exist’ (check) forming a hollow Other through which the self can be revealed. Indeed, his habitual washing habits are an exaggeration of reality, but there is an allusion between Patrick’s obsessive interest in his appearance and the materialistic culture of the movie and the reality of capitalistic consumerism.
Brett Easton Ellis said when interviewed by ____ that Patrick Bateman could be seen as’a big metaphor for a ton of stuff including both ‘consumerism’ and ‘greed and this metaphor, whilst alien, still retains some sense of familiarity because it bridges a space within which the Other is at once universally distant but somehow uniquely familiar.
Conversely, Mersault is Othered through the lack of internal monologue, where American Psycho does the opposite Camus is instead completely committed to closing down the potential avenues of empathy with Mersault. This difference arises because of the absurdity of the former, which requires an insight into a mind that is truly alien from the norm because without which the character of Patrick Bateman would be solely repulsive.