Tag Archives: American Psycho

Patrick Bateman’s Ice Pick: Charlie Hebdo, Mohammad, and Speech Acts

In Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho, Patrick Bateman uses an ice pick to carve words into the backs of women, and the fact that he carves words into their backs is notable because their reaction (screaming and pain) is not in response to the words he writes but rather the act of dragging the ice pick across their skin. Inasmuch as Patrick Bateman may perceive himself as engaged in an act of speech (writing words with an ice pick), for the woman who becomes his parchment there is no act of speech but only a particular physical act inducing a physical reaction. This scene serves to illustrate an important difference between speech acts that are a function of representational meaning versus speech acts that are a function only of the features of their form. Put another way, Ellis’s scene shows us what it means to regard the object as meaningful in itself rather than the object as a signifier of a non-present referent.

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