I still think American Psycho is a very sincere book | Bret Easton Ellis

HARI KUNZRU: In the great irony-sincerity wars of the ’90s, you and David Foster Wallace came to represent opposite poles, and in literary terms the struggle between the two modes paid off in all sorts of interesting and not so interesting ways. Irony used to feel like a defense against getting played, a way for a writer to ward off received ideas and lazy thinking. It also made us feel nihilistic and defeated. More recently we’ve seen how it can be a screen for reactionary politics. Beige-hued Instagram sincerity is intolerable for all the obvious reasons, but writers are also supposed to be interested in truth. I’ve always thought of you as a closet moralist—that is to say, someone who refuses sentiment because the stakes are too high—and I wonder where you stand on all this now.

ELLIS: Honestly, Hari, I never paid much attention to the struggle even though I know David did (as did another Dave: Eggers). I always thought I was sincere—I still think American Psycho is a very sincere book, perhaps too much. So I never really grasped what it was all about or why it even was an issue. Writing isn’t a contest and it mattered very little to me. I was in my lane, David was in his. I also don’t think writers are supposed to “be” anything—and I think the truth, whatever that is, differs for every writer. And if it’s really only a truth that a writer is after then it’s a version of “the truth,” especially if you’re writing fiction. I don’t even think of myself as a closet anything— the morality is either there for a reader or it isn’t, which I think is what you meant—you can’t force it, or if you do then you’re a bit doomed as an artist. The refusal of sentiment is simply an aesthetic preference. Where do I stand now? Well, I was never a role model, I didn’t want to represent anything, I was interested in the novel as a form of communicating my pain and confusion, and writing helped me work that out. It’s always been as simple as that.

From a recent Interview interview with Bret Easton Ellis. Questioners include Dennis Cooper, Courtney Love, Ottessa Moshfegh, Paul Schrader, Tao Lin, and Candace Bushnell among many others.

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