- The Informers by Bret Easton Ellis
Picador, 226 pp, £9.99, October 1994, ISBN 0 330 32671 6
‘Something I think about when I’m watching things like Olympic meets,’ Andy Warhol wrote, ‘is When will a person not break a record? If somebody runs at 2.2, does that mean that people will next be able to do it at 2.1 and 2.0 and 1.9 and so on until they can do it in 0.0? So at what point will they not break a record? Will they have to change the time or change the record?’ The line of inquiry might be applied to Bret Easton Ellis (for one), who, in pushing to the limit the current parameters of literary transgression, effectively landed us in the vicinity of zero with his last book, American Psycho:
Vol. 16 No. 22 · 24 November 1994
I was pulled up sharply by Mary Hawthorne’s use of the fashionable buzzword ‘parameter’ in her review of The Informers by Bret Easton Ellis, when she wrote that he was ‘pushing to the limit the current parameters of literary transgression’ (LRB, 10 November). In the current edition of Sir Ernest Gowers’s Plain Words we are warned that it is ‘a mathematical term which, it is safe to say, not one in ten of those who use it understands’. The entry in the New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary confirms its complex meanings. In the above case one wonders if a simple word like ‘boundaries’ might not have been preferable. The point is possibly worth making because journalists are frequently employing the buzzword inappropriately, even to the extent of using it as an alternative to ‘perimeter’.