Is there a literary genre uniquely suited to grasping the history of the present? This essay proposes the “decade novel” and explores how the genre is elaborated in the work of Bret Easton Ellis. As a form of compressed history, the decade is the preeminently “stereotypical” or degraded version of periodization; perhaps for this reason, it is also the perfect narrative mode for the present's historical self-consciousness. Ellis's novels American Psycho and Glamorama expose the contradictory link between the ephemeral details of consumer life and the essence of a single, self-contained decade. They thus demonstrate the incompatibility between the immediate experience of the present and the retrospective gaze of periodization. They also suggest a way to resolve it. The formal continuity between American Psycho and Glamorama, which shows them to be variations of the same allegory of late capitalism, provides an alternative to the false closure of the decade. Read together, the two novels describe not a presentist eternity but a sense of the present as an ideologically continuous moment in the longue durée of capitalist modernity.
Theodore Martin; The Privilege of Contemporary Life: Periodization in the Bret Easton Ellis Decades. Modern Language Quarterly 1 June 2010; 71 (2): 153–174. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00267929-2010-003
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