Kinda curious here if anyone who reads this blog will actually stand up for Bret Easton Ellis as a better writer than David Foster Wallace. My understanding of Ellis is that he wrote one good book (American Psycho) and a bunch of stuff that helped define a scene but that probably won’t last. But, then again, I don’t know Ellis’ work that well.
When he gets going like this, and he does often, it’s tempting to dismiss Ellis as only a provocateur or a troll with an unusually high brow (and profile). Indeed, he’s obsessed with a class of filter-less provocateurs that he praises as “post-Empire”—celebrities like Charlie Sheen, John Mayer, and Eminem. And Ellis has attracted controversy several times himself. In 2010 he suggested that women are inherently ill-equipped for directing movies. Just last month he declared that Matt Bomer couldn’t play the title role in a film adaptation of 50 Shades of Grey because he’s too gay. Hours after J.D. Salinger died, he tweeted, “Yeah!! Thank God he’s finally dead. I’ve been waiting for this day for-fucking-ever. Party tonight!!!”
But there’s something older than trolling going on here. In fact, this literary beef is more than two decades old, and Ellis’s weren’t the first shots fired. DFW had similarly harsh words—if less ad hominem—for Ellis all the way back in his earliest published essay, from 1988. In “Fictional Futures and the Conspicuously Young,” Wallace criticized Ellis’s subcategory of novelists (he called them the “Catatonics”) for their “naïve pretension.” Wallace’s argument, characteristically, defies easy summary, but in short he didn’t think they could turn TV and other popular entertainment into something profound “simply by inverting [their] values.”