There’s a great scene in American Psycho where Bateman’s friends sit about on a table comparing their namecards. Bateman confidently takes out his name card, fresh from his printer, and remarks on the colour and font, confident that his namecard puts him above the rest of his friends. But one by one, they take out namecards more and more tasteful and with subtleties one would never know existed, in an absurd game of one-upmanship, not with cars, but namecards. "how did a bastard like that get so tasteful?" Bateman participates in these social rituals, all the while his mask of sanity is slipping, he is on the edge of frenzy. This is a great example of a positional good. Some things in life are positional, and its absolute value doesn’t matter as much as how much your neighbours have. If you have more money than your neighbors, you feel good. Health is non-positional, Money is. What kind of positional goods do vice-presidents of investment banking firms indulge in? Namecards. This is delightful, and we think it all the more believable because we can identify with the "whose is bigger?" instinct, only this is presented in the context of high society – where vice-presidents play, this is how they do it.
In Decay of an Angel, there’s a scene where Honda instructs Toru on the fine art of conversation. "That’s it, that’s it. That’s the style. And all of a sudden the conversation turns to art…" "You can graduate with the highest marks in your class, but you have to have a sort of vague stupidity that puts people at their ease. Like a kite full of wind." Immediately, I thought of an upper class condescension, rich, evil and manipulative, who tire of money and sport with their words. This is deliciously evil, and it takes a writer with good observation to observe how people behave and put it down in words. Otherwise, do they pluck their ideas entirely from imagination? Probably some seed of a character is at least based on observation. I got this idea from reading Napolean Hill, who presented Antony’s speech in Julius Caesar as an example of Shakespeare being a great psychologist who had an unerring knowledge of the human mind. So then, writers study the human mind? "Foreign table manners may seem a trifle stupid," said Honda, " but when they come in an easy, natural way, they give a person a sense of security. Evidence of good breeding gives a person status…" I began to think of sprezzatura, a term I just came across in The Sartorialist. It just means effortless mastery, but for more details, it was first coined by some Italian (obviously) in a book to describe the ideal behaviour of a courtier, a nonchalance of effortless skill that hides the effort that went into it. It also evokes courtly intrigue, a nice image to have and another reason why its nice to know your etymology.