I read all of Eliot Rodger’s manifesto, “My Twisted World Story of Eliot Rodger by Eliot Rodger.” The full title says something about the way the story is written. Before I write about that, I think many people who I mentioned I was reading it to were surprised or put off, asking why I would do that. I also wouldn’t even bring it up sometimes when someone asked what I was reading. I felt self-conscious reading it on the subway, similar to how I felt self-conscious reading American Psycho, though that was a paperback and this was a document I read on my phone. I can’t really explain why I felt fine reading and found it to be kind of page turner despite the amateur writing. I don’t know if it makes me morbid or not.
What I found interesting about the story was that Eliot Rodger seems so objective about himself and the events and because of that it feels like a true portrait of a kid losing his mind over time. The piece is pretty long and there are these incremental moments of Eliot Rodger doing more and more desperate, violent and anti-social things, starting with pretty silly stunts like pouring a Starbucks latte on a couple that was doing too much PDA in line and getting more strange like purchasing a super soaked squirt gun after seeing a couple in a park and returning the park to spray them with orange juice. Obviously there’s a argument to be had about how objective Eliot Rodger could really be, but the tone is completely flat and he doesn’t seem to spare any details, regardless of how unflattering they might be, and I’m comfortable believing its a relatively “real” account of what happened.
The obvious take-away from this story, and one that I thought about a lot while reading, is the parallel to In Cold Blood, but in a modern world where the killer wrote their own story. In Cold Blood is one of my favorite books and one I often argue as the most important American book ever. But I also feel its a problematic work, the problems expressed in the Tom Wolfe essay “Pornoviolence,” that argues that violence is used in American media the same way sex is used in pornography, and that In Cold Blood works in this model because there’s no mystery about how the story ends, and the element that keeps us reading is the promise of the violent scene, sort of like in horror movies. Eliot Rodger’s manifesto works the same way, in that the ending is known to the reader throughout the story, and the very fact that one is reading the story is predicated on the reader’s knowledge of the writer’s execution of the violent act, but the reader also knows that the act itself will not be the ending of the story, which is, however, unnecessary, because it’s been so thoroughly documented by other media outlets. In this paradigm there’s no room for a Truman Capote, who interprets the thoughts and feelings of the killers for us. The Internet for Eliot Rodger is like if Perry Smith had a literary agent.
So I guess the question is whether or not there is value in a narrative like this. The writing isn’t good or at least it isn’t innovative or interesting, the title being fairly indicative of Rodger’s “style”, he uses relatively few words and repeats the same thoughts and ideas over and over, kind of like a crazy person might. In some ways it does represent a modern sort of amateur Internet voice, and there’s definitely a question now about what kinds of voices and reading are valued, given the popularity of narratives on Internet platforms or books like Hunger Games or 50 Shades of Grey, where no one is really excited about the lyricism or complexity of the prose. I found it interesting and I liked thinking about it, but I wouldn’t really recommend anyone read it.