Dr. Alex E. Blazer

Department of English

Georgia College & State University

Milledgeville, GA 31061




"Too Real and Too Pointless": The Disappearance of the Subject

in Bret Easton Ellis's Less Than Zero and The Rules of Attraction


Bret Easton Ellis's Less Than Zero and The Rules of Attraction reveal the wasteland of intoxicated sexuality that college students traverse as they become estranged from the postmodern world that seeks to consume them. In Less than Zero, burnt out college freshman Clay finds that one really cannot go home again when he returns to the image-conscious and imaginary world of Los Angeles from the overpowering pressures of college on the East Coast only to find his friendships torn asunder as his best friend Julian is hollowed out by drugs and ready to sell his body for a fix because he is afraid to confront the real world without his father’s funding. Although the affectless Clay glides through endless drug-infested parties with Julian and even accompanies his friend up to the edge of male prostitution, he can no longer connect with his friend:

Disappear Here.
The syringe fills with blood.
You’re a beautiful boy and that’s all that matters.
Wonder if he’s for sale.
People are afraid to merge. To merge. (183)

Julian has disappeared into the oblivion of drugs and sex, and Clay is left with nothing but spectral images of what was, between them as friends and inside his own inwardness.


The Rules of Attraction takes the reader to Camden for sex and drug parties at not only the Edge but also the End of the World. No one knows how to feel anything but Bacchian melancholy: "But what else is one to do at college except drink beer or slash your wrists?" (188). The real world, with its overwhelming pressure for unabated pleasure unscarred by suffering, falls away as we enter the befogged and benumbed mind of Sean Bateman, rich kid rebel and small-time drug pusher who is oblivious to the cares of anyone, including himself. For Sean Bateman, sex is mechanical, not autoerotic but automatic pilot—because he has turned off his desires, because he is afraid to merge, because he sees nothing (no one) to authentically connect with: "I look at her. I don’t know her. She’s nothing" (200), because he considers himself nothing.


Taken together, Less Than Zero and The Rules of Attraction exemplify the leftovers of existentialism as it has been egested by a postmodern, consumerist world. Whereas Jean-Paul Sartre argues that nothingness is supported by being, the postmodern American culture of constant consumption—be it drugs, sex, or simply the pursuit of pure pleasure as escape from the realm of real suffering—annihilates being and leaves nothing but empty relationships and evacuated subjectivity. Post-structuralist psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan calls this process of alienation, in which the subject is condemned to disappear, aphanisis. In Ellis's fiction, Sartre's concrete relations with others are severed by decadent hedonism and replaced with narcissistic fantasy projections that preclude authentic experience. The characters' acculturated cravings carve their insides out. Barred from inwardness, they fade into the shadows of the very desires that divide them.


This abstract summarizes my presentation, "'Too Real and Too Pointless': The Disappearance of the Subject in Bret Easton Ellis's Less Than Zero and The Rules of Attraction," South Central Modern Language Association Convention, Houston, TX, October 28, 2005.