pollution and horror


Jack Morgan once offered the following explanation for the appeal horror has:

“As opposed to the comic sense of life or tragedy’s dignified sense of death, horror embodies a sense of anti-life or unlife; it takes note of the demarcation between the wholesome and the unwholesome, the healthy and the monstrous – a clarity essential to the organic life. “We love and need the concept of monstrosity,” Stephen King writes, “because it is a reaffirmation of the order we all crave as human beings”. That is the fundamental sense underlying horror’s various traditional tropes and conventions. In this genre the healthy mind reconnoiters the regions of the [-p.66] unhealthy. Noel Carroll correctly notes that horror creatures – and this would apply to the genre more broadly – provoke not just fear, but loathing.” (p.65)

The Gothic underscores the multifold miasmas, poisons, fungi, plagues, viruses, that are out there and able to destroy our individual or collective systemic order. “It is not the physical or mental aberration in itself that horrifies us,” Stephen King writes, “but rather the lack of order these aberrations seem to imply”. Horror focuses upon the terror of that which is bio-antithetical, bio-illogical, a fear as viable today as it was in the middle-ages or in the imagined middle ages of 18th century Gothic literature.” (p.70)

“The most famous of Poe’s tales concerns disintegration and decline – a single, organic dissipation taking in family line, the contemporary Ushers, the house and grounds. Life is flow, dynamic movement, constant refreshment, elasticity; thus, we are repulsed by what is stagnant, stale, desiccated, musty – we recognize all the latter as anti-life, entropic, unwholesome.” (p.72)

“…the remote vicinities within the dwellings in Gothic tale – cellars, attics, chambers long closed off, and so on. From what are they closed off? Essentially from life – air, sunlight, human presence and care. They are repulsive in that they bespeak abandonment and unlife.” (p.73)

The loss of all bearings, the absence of moral-ethical-rational compass, is an integral part of the horror illusion.” (p.76)

“But how to explain what Aiken and Barbald in 1775 noted: “the apparent delight with which we dwell upon objects of pure terror, where our moral feelings are not in the least involved, and no passion seems to be excited but the depressing one of fear…?” How is it that horror, as Emily Dickinson said of Hawthorne’s work, at once “appalls and entices?” How to account for the popularity of horror in its literary expressions – a highly unlikely popularity it would seem given the theory advanced here that the genre turns on our organic apprehensions – our fear of infirmity, pollution, and physical degradation?
It is first perhaps necessary to note the obvious fact that there is no pleasure to be gained from confronting the morbid and repulsive in real life; a ritual hunt-dance is not to be confused with the hunt per se. Ours is of course an aesthetic interrogation; it goes to the experience of the virtual morbid in the virtual space/time of literary art. The process is in part intellectual, but the experience of horror, like that of comedy, is centered in a bodily registration, a body-informed imagination. …
An hypothesis might be advanced here in keeping with the generally physiological nature of the thesis so far discussed. A small quantity of morbid material – smallpox vaccine for instance – provokes the body’s healthy energies to muster themselves, and tones them. Small doses of arsenic and like substances, according to homeopathic theory, can have the effect of invigorating the body’s immune responses, awakening listless organic functions.
Brought to a kind of analog confrontation with the horrid through the Gothic tale, readers are likewise reminded of the nature of their own participation in a biotic harmony and well-being. The virtual claustrophobic heightens our awareness of space in actuality; of good, well-oxygenate [-p.78] air in actuality; of our freedom in actuality. The demarkation between the healthy and the morbid is brought to consciousness and vivified. Our bodies take pleasure in the fact that we are not locked in some Gothic crypt nor the dismal, thirsty decks of the San Dominic, or walled-up hopelessly in the catacombs beneath an Italian city.” (pp.77-78)

“Through its negations, the macabre – canceling out its own morbidity – brings us round to a biological affirmation as comedy does, to an energized sense of our being-in-the-world. Stephen King recalls the effect 1950s horror films had on him: “There was that magic moment of reintegration and safety at the end…. I believe it’s this feeling of reintegration, arising from a field specializing in death, fear and monstrosity that makes the danse macabre so rewarding and magical”.” (p.78)

Ref: (italics in original; emphases in blue bold mine) Jack Morgan (1998) ‘Toward an organic theory of the Gothic: conceptualizing Horror’ Journal of Popular Culture 32:3, pp.59-80


Animal ethics


I’m still considering the role of animals… Christina Gerhardt made some interesting statements re. animals/philosophy:

“Rhetorical figures and dialectical images of animals and animality traverse the entire corpus of Adorno’s writings. Animals are a trope not only in Adorno’s “Notes on Kafka” (1953) and in the notes to Dialectic of Enlightenment (1944) but also in Minima Moralia (1951), in the reflections on metaphysics and Auschwitz at the end of Negative Dialectics (1966), and in Aesthetic Theory (1970). While the trope of animals assumes different shades of meaning depending on its context within the trajectory of Adorno’s oeuvre, it consistently highlights the inhumanity of humans. Decisive here is the affinity of animals with “the nonidentity of identity.” Animals remind us that nature for Adorno is the condition of possibility not only for reading the self, humans, and culture but also for an unreadable other, alterity.” (p.160)

“The suppressed animality of humans, Adorno argues, is a symptom of modern society; its antidote is sympathy with the suffering of animals….” (p.169)

“Cixous – like Adorno, a great thinker of animals – also addresses instances where figures of animals bring to light absurdity, the animality of humans, and the circumstances in which compassion could alter a hierarchical structure that produces subordination.” (pp.172-173)

“The lesson that Adorno had picked up from Schopenhauer – to have compassion for animals – and the sort of compassion that Cixous has for Fips [the dog she had as a child] yield up the insight that animals, rather than serving as the antithesis to human reason, may be the source of a profound humanity, an “animal humanity.”” (p.174)

“Levinas, too, believes that animals possess a vast sense of this so-called animal humanity, and, like Adorno, he places hope precisely in the animal. Levinas’s essay “The Name of a Dog, or Natural Rights” tells of his time as a Jewish concentration camp inmate in Nazi Germany. The gaze of humans, he states, “stripped us of our human skin. We were subhuman, a gang of apes. . . . How to deliver a message about one’s humanity which, from behind the bars of quotation marks, will come across as anything other than the language of primates.” The gaze of his fellow humans, he argues, not only dehumanized him but also turned him into a subhuman, an animal, one among a gang of apes. Ironically, the arrival of a dog had the inverse effect: “For a few short weeks, before the sentinels chased him away, a wandering dog entered our lives. . . . We called him Bobby, an exotic name, as one does with a cherished dog. He would appear at morning assembly and was waiting for us as we returned, jumping and barking in delight. For him, there was no doubt that we were men.” Paradoxically, it is in the dog’s presence, just outside the gates of the concentration camp, that the humanness of the prisoners, reduced as they were to an abject state of animality, was salvaged. “This dog,” Levinas states, somewhat quixotically, “was the last Kantian in Nazi Germany.” Since Kant had laid out that the human ability to reason set men apart from animals, Levinas’s statement seems to be a paradox: how can a dog be the last Kantian in Nazi Germany?” (pp.174-175)

It is the hierarchy, by which humans are deemed superior by dint of their ability to reason, and animals are deemed inferior because of their inability to reason, that also concomitantly sets up a diametrically opposed relationship between the rational and the irrational, one that must be enforced at all costs. The need to suppress any irrationality or any animal desires is what— precisely because of the stringent binary that is impossible to maintain—rears its head and becomes unmanageable or fascistic. The fear of the irrational, of the other within oneself, became transferred to the other, where one sought to eradicate it by eradication of the other. As Horkheimer and Adorno argue in Dialectic of Enlightenment, it is the attempt to erase the dialectical tension, to act as though it had been superseded, that had such unenlightened consequences.” (pp.176-177)

“Thus, while animals provide, as Adorno puts it when talking about the animals in Kafka’s short stories, “the trial run of a model of dehumanization,” they also inversely suggest a so-called humanizing potential. Adorno questioned the viability of Kantian ethics in the wake of the Holocaust, arguing that at the end of a long humanistic tradition, the individual stood confronted with the figure of animality. This animality is a vestige of the repressed, of the animalism that Freud argued had been allowed expression through the totem and that, when not allowed expression in modern society, he explained, showed up in repressed incestuous desires, what Deleuze and Guattari in discussing Kafka’s animal tales called “becoming animal.” Animality in humans could be altered only if the structure in which they were embedded as other to humans were changed. That is, following Schopenhauer, Adorno, like Derrida or Cixous, proposed that one have compassion for animals or for otherness. Adorno’s model, like that of Levinas, proposes a recognition of alterity, of the other, in this case, the animal. Thus, a different relationship to animals allows one to avoid the pitfalls of idealism while realizing the ideals of idealism or of a radically different relationship to the other. It is in this dialectical sense that Adorno’s use and discussion of animals must be understood. For the discourse about the other is never merely about the other but also about the fears and aspirations of the self. Allowing a recognition rather than a suppression of the animality within allows a recognition of the humanity, too.” (pp.177-178)

Ref: (emphases in blue bold mine) Christina Gerhardt ‘The Ethics of Animals in Adorno and Kafka’ New German Critique 97, 33(1), Winter 2006, pp.159-178

The need for family in vampire fiction – Benefiel


Back in 2004, Candace R. Benefiel wrote; “In the vast, dark landscape of Gothic fiction in late twentieth-century America, the seminal figure of the vampire wanders in ever-increasing numbers. Much as the Gothic has seen a flowering in the past twenty-five years, the vampire has risen from the uneasy sleep of the earlier part of the century and experienced his own dark renaissance. Prior to 1976, in film and fiction, the vampire was portrayed in the mold into which he had been cast by Bram Stoker in the greatest of the nineteenth-century vampire novels, Dracula – an essentially solitary predator whose presence was the stimulus for an intrepid group of vampire hunters to form and bay in his pursuit, and whose time on center stage was limited to brief, menacing appearances and capped with a spectacular death scene. The vampire was, to borrow a term from film, a McGuffin – a device to drive the plot and give the vampire hunters something to pursue.
In 1976, this changed […when] Anne Rice published her first novel, Interview with the Vampire, and turned the vampire paradigm on its head. This breakthrough novel focused not on vampire hunters, but on the vampires themselves – and what a different breed they were.” (p.261) [Note that I think  Bruce A. McClelland (in Slayers and Their Vampires : A Cultural History of Killing the Dead (2006)) might have something to say about Benefiel’s approach to the slayer and their vampire)]

“After Rice, and even in her subsequent novels in the ‘Vampire Chronicles series, the vampire was used to provide a vehicle for social commentary, and vampirism itself became a convincing metaphor for such varied topics as drug addiction, homosexuality, AIDS, and the general selfishness and narcissism of the baby boomer generation. Vampire literature in itself has become a vast and varied body, and one whose many facets cannot be contained in one model. The figure of the vampire, so varying and adaptable in the hands of many authors, became a liminal, transgressive figure, a stage upon whom the fears and secret desires of society could be acted.” (p.262)

“Despite the general perception, particularly in vampire film, of the vampire as a solitary predator, many texts have sought to portray the vampire as a part of a family grouping.” (p263)

“Oddly, [Rice’s] vampire family is so close to the norm as to constitute a parody.” (p.264)

“The vampire family is a key topic in Interview with the Vampire. Throughout the novel, images of kinship abound….” (p.266)

Benefiel concludes her study of ‘the family’ in Interview with the Vampire, by writing: “‘A gothic text positions its reader in a potential space where the psyche’s repressed desires and the society’s foreclosed issues can be engaged and thus where healing can occur’ (Veeder 32). The family group of Interview with the Vampire, as well as subsequent iterations of the vampire family, allows the reader to explore issues of alternative family structures and incestuous attraction within the family, and to play out the consequences for good or ill of these imagined scenarios. The vampire, aloof from human considerations, nonetheless stands in for the reader. Whether the nuclear family, either in its distorted but disturbingly realistic portrayal in Interview with the Vampire or in a more prosaic setting, remains a viable mode of existence at the turn of the twenty-first century is a question that readers and viewers must answer for themselves. Anne Rice’s creation, the vampire Louis de Pont du Lac, loses his mortal family, and later, his immortal family, when Claudia and Madelaine are killed in Paris in a replay of that ancient trauma. After that, he loses what had remained of his humanity, what might be termed his soul. The need for family, in whatever configuration, remains constant.” (p.270)

Ref: Candace R. Benefiel (2004) Blood Relations: The Gothic Perversion of the Nuclear Family in Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire. The Journal of Popular Culture 38(2), pp.261-273

Zombies and global mass culture


In his analysis of zombie narrative – and of Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead, in particular – Gerry Canavan asserts that “the figure of the zombie now lurks at the very center of global mass culture.” (p.431)

He explains: “Steve Shaviro suggests in a 2002 special issue of Historical Materialism on “Marxism and Fantasy” that our preoccupation with the zombie originates out of the zombie’s relationship with contemporary global capitalism…. Remorselessly consuming everything in their path, zombies leave nothing in their wake besides endless copies of themselves, making the zombie the perfect metaphor not only for how capitalism transforms its subjects but also for its relentless and devastating virologic march across the globe.” (p.432)

Canavan reminds us that we must think about “the problems of subject position and identification that arise when speaking about the “universal residue” (Shaviro 288) called the zombie. The zombie’s mutilation,” he explains, “is not one that we easily imagine for “ourselves,” however that “we” is ultimately constituted; the zombie is rather the toxic infection that must always be kept at arm’s length. Because zombies mark the demarcation between life (that is worth living) and unlife (that needs killing), the evocation of the zombie conjures not solidarity but racial panic. To complicate Deleuze and Guattari’s proclamation in A Thousand Plateaus, then, the myth of the zombie is both a war myth and a work myth (425); one of the ways the State apparatus builds the sorts of “preaccomplished” subjects it needs is precisely through the construction of a racial binary in which the (white) citizen-subject is opposed against nonwhite life, bare life, zombie life—that anti-life which is always inimically and hopelessly Other, which must always be kept quarantined, if not actively eradicated and destroyed.” (p.433)

Canavan refers us to “Vivian Sobchack’s approach to sf in Screening Space: The American Science Fiction Film,” to establish some generic distinctions for his analysis of The Walking Dead; drawing on Sobchack, he writes: “In contradistinction to the Suvinian approach to sf prose, for Sobchack the important genre distinction to be maintained is not sf-vs.-fantasy but sf-vs.-horror, a divide she finds to be hopelessly muddled by a blurred and indistinct “no-man’s-land” between the two populated by hybrid films (in our case, zombie cinema) that arguably belong to both modes (26–27).
The horror film,” Sobchack says, “is primarily concerned with the individual in conflict with society or with some extension of himself, the sf film with society and its institutions in conflict with each other or with some alien other” (30). It is for this reason that we find a key distinction between horror and sf to be the question of scale; we expect horror to take place in a small and isolated setting (perhaps, as in Night of the Living Dead, as small as a single farmhouse) while sf expands to fill large cities and nations, even the entire globe. We might think, for instance, of England after the Rage outbreak in 28 Days Later, or how in the recent Marvel Zombies and DC Blackest Night [-p.434] storylines in superhero comics the zombie outbreak swells to fill the entire cosmos, even the entire multiverse. If we accept Sobchack’s genre definition, we find that the zombie subgenre starts out in horror in its earliest film formulations but winds up in sf in its later ones; while “horror” entries in this hugely prolific subgenre certainly remain, the most popular and influential mode of zombie narrative (especially during the Bush-era “zombie revival” period on which I focus) has been the “zombie apocalypse”: the large-scale zombie pandemic that leads to the rapid total breakdown of technological modernity and transnational capitalism on a global scale. To put this another way: For Sobchack the local scale of the horror film is concerned with “moral chaos”—the disruption of the natural order—while the broader scale of sf film lends it to “social chaos” (30). Unlike horror’s Monster, sf’s Creature is unparticularized and uninteriorized; it does not hate, nor seek revenge, and does not even “want” to hurt us. It just does (37). The sf Creature is an eruption that is only disruption—and it is for this reason that the sf film is so often preoccupied with the reaction of society to catastrophe (on the one hand) and to a dispassionate, spectacular aesthetics of destruction (on the other). In the end, Sobchack’s division between horror and sf comes down to the difference between terror and wonder (38). If in the horror film we feel “fear,” in the sf film we feel “interest.” In the horror film we find we want to close our eyes and look away, and the excitement is in forcing ourselves to watch; but in the sf film the narrative pleasure comes precisely in anticipating, and then seeing, what will happen next.
And so, having discovered the zombie right at the intersection of these two modes—the zombie is both local and global, personal
and depersonalized, symptom of moral chaos and cause of widespread social breakdown, grossout consumer of flesh and spectacular destroyer of our intricately constructed social and technological fortifications….[Canavan’s analysis of The Walking Dead begins]” (pp.433-434)

“In such a story the fear of “moral chaos” of the early outbreak will necessarily give way to “interest” in the way society changes in the wake of the zombie disaster—and so it’s no surprise that Kirkman uses the same “waking up from a coma” trope as 28 Days Later to “skip” the initial outbreak and get immediately to the postapocalyptic breakdown world.” (p.435)

“The rotting zombie corpse inevitably suggests the psychological horror Julia Kristeva called “abjection,” the disturbing of the boundary between object and subject.” (p.441)

“…we find the zombies allegorizing the racial forms of exclusion and extermination that already surround us. Zombie narratives are ultimately about the motivation for and unleashing of total violence; what separates “us” from “them” in zombie narrative is always only the type of violence used. They attack us (like “animals,” “savages,” or “cannibals”) with their arms and mouths; we attack them back with horses, tanks, and guns.
In The Walking Dead—as in any zombie narrative—the tools and technologies of empire are continually borrowed for the purpose of priming precisely this sort of violent colonialist fantasy. Swords and guns, tanks and trucks, repeated references to the brutal physical and sexual violence of slavery and to the cowboy or “frontier” imaginary (especially through the ubiquitous riding of horses and Carl’s cowboy outfit and mannerisms) are all employed in a bizarre postmodern pastiche of the history of U.S. imperialism, as different moments of its empire collide into a single simultaneous instant in the face of an essentially inimical and totally implacable racialized threat. There are few moments in the series that suggest this pastiche as well as the splash panel at the end of issue 12, when Rick and his group discover the abandoned jail in which they will make their home through the bulk of the series. The jail is drawn so as to visually double a frontier fort (and, for that matter, a modern military base); these locations collapse into a single spatial imaginary, with only the polarity of “inside” and “outside” reversed.” (p.443)

“Whatever else might be said about The Walking Dead, or about zombie narrative in general, its uncritical relationship to a particular pre-feminist narrative about the need to “protect” women and children cannot be glossed over. “Proper” control over wombs, and anxiety that they will somehow be captured, polluted, or compromised, is a kind of Ur-myth for the apocalyptic genre in general and the zombie sub-genre in particular; speaking broadly, the function of women in most apocalyptic narratives is to code the ending as “happy” or “sad” based on their continued availability to bear the male protagonist’s children when the story is over. This theme is so common in the zombie subgenre as to constitute one of its most ubiquitous and most central ethical clichés: the question of whether or not one should decide to “bring a child into” a zombie-ridden world at all—and, as is common in many such apocalyptic stories (as in, for instance, Cormac McCarthy’s 2009 novel The Road), the death of Rick’s wife and daughter, the moment the circuit of reproductive futurity is cut, is the moment that basically all hope is lost in The Walking Dead.” (p.444)

Under the heading ‘Zombie Ethics’, Canavan explains: “So while in zombie narrative the “enemy” who is killed is always first the zombie—who is unthinking and unfeeling, and can be killed without regret—as the story proceeds the violence inevitably spreads to other, still-alive humans [-p.445] as well. Anyone outside the white patriarchal community, anyone who is not already one of “us,” is a potential threat to the future who must be interrogated intensely, if not kept out altogether. Even those inside the community have to be surveilled at all times for signs of treachery, weakness, or growing “infection.” This is the second way in which the zombie infects us, besides the obvious; they infect us with their vulnerability, their killability make us “killable” too. One’s position in the state of exception is, after all, never secure; the class of dangerous anti-citizens, bound for the camps, tends only to grow. In this way zombie narratives make the latent necropolitical dimensions bound up in both “survival” and modern citizenship explicit….” (pp.444-445)

Ref: (italics in original, emphases in blue bold mine) Gerry Canavan (2010) ‘We Are the Walking Dead’: Race, Time, and Survival in Zombie Narrative. extrapolation 51(3)Fall; pp.431-453

The zombies around us


As part of his discussion of race in zombie narratives, (in the same, previously mentioned article), Gerry Canavan considers the way in which the New Orleans and Haitian disasters were conceptualised. He writes:

“When Haiti—of course, the ancestral home of the zombi, where this hybridized postcolonial figure first emerged as the nightmarish figuration of a slavery that would continue even after death—was struck by its devastating earthquake in January 2010, the same stories [as were told about New Orleans] were told: rumors of widespread rapes and murders reported breathlessly by the media as inevitable and obvious fact, baseless (and, in context, often nonsensical) accusations of “looting” hurled at poverty-stricken people of color just trying to survive in the face of an incomprehensible disaster. In her Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence (2004), Judith Butler writes persuasively of the way the inevitability of grief in human life might be employed as a ground for an Levinasian ethics of mutual vulnerability and shared precariousness, if not for the way ideology persistently codes certain lives as “mournable” and others not. Thinking both of the war in Iraq and the occupation of Palestine, she writes:

[‘]Is a Muslim life as valuable as legibly First World lives? Are the Palestinians yet accorded the status of “human” in US policy and press coverage? Will those hundreds of thousands of lives lost in the last decades of strife ever receive the equivalent to the paragraph-long obituaries in the New York Times that seek to humanize—often through nationalist and familial framing devices—those Americans who have been violently killed? Is our capacity to mourn in global dimensions foreclosed precisely by the failure to conceive of Muslim and Arab lives as lives? (12)[‘]

In post-earthquake Haiti, as in post-Katrina New Orleans, as in Iraq and Palestine, we find the moral demand made by shared precariousness once again short-circuited in favor of a prophylactic Othering. Suffering Haitians were quickly recoded as bare life—zombie life—and thereby rendered unworthy of [-p.448] proper aid and protection. Haitians couldn’t be trusted, we were told, even to accept our help. An interview at Campus Progress with Dr. Kathleen Tierney of the Natural Hazard Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder memorably called this phenomenon the “looting lie.” Misled by this racist imaginary, the international aid response—coordinated, to widespread criticism, by that imperial agency par excellence, the United States military—focused on security over support, landing thousands of troops on the island while diverting international aid flights and before allowing a single food drop from the air. Fear of the poor, journalist Linda Polman argued in the Guardian, hurt rescue efforts: “CNN won’t stop telling aid workers and the outside world about pillaging (the incidence of which for the first four frustrating days at least —did not compare with what happened after Hurricane Katrina) and about how dangerous it would be to distribute food, because of the likelihood of ‘stampedes.’”” (pp.447-448)

Ref: (italics in original, emphases in blue bold mine) Gerry Canavan (2010) ‘We Are the Walking Dead’: Race, Time, and Survival in Zombie Narrative. extrapolation 51(3)Fall; pp.431-453

Serial killer films – the monstrosity of the body and the slipping of the mask


I think I’ve found another critic I like… Steffen Hantke addresses the ‘monstrous’ nature of serial killers, writing that:

Much of the recent discourse on monstrosity is more interested in the question what monsters mean than what they look like. […For example, Marie-Helene Huet declares that:] ”By presenting similarities to categories of beings to which they are not related, monsters blur the differences between genres and disrupt the strict order of Nature”” (p.34)

“In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818), the sight of the creature fills its creator with ”breathless horror and disgust”; Victor finds himself literally ”unable to endure the aspect of the being [he] had created” (57). Bram Stoker’s eponymous Dracula (from the 1897 novel), capable of moving about the crowded London streets without attracting attention, has none of these physical markers of otherness, and yet there are moments when his true nature becomes visible, his body becoming spectacular, ”panther-like in … movement,” his ”eye-teeth long and pointed,” and his general appearance transformed into something obviously ”unhuman” (266). Stevenson’s Edward Hyde (1886) already announces a shift from the surface of the body to its depths. Though Hyde’s appearance still elicits a shock of physical revulsion [-p.35] reminiscent of Shelley–the ”very essence of the creature” is ”something seizing, surprising and revolting” (39)–the physical markers of his otherness are already less distinct. Witnesses point to ”something displeasing, something downright detestable” (7), something ”abnormal and misbegotten” (39), about him, though no one can ”specify the point” (7). This difficulty in locating the exact location or nature of Hyde’s ”deformity,” however, does not detract from the witnesses’ certainty that it is indeed Hyde’s body which bears ”Satan’s signature” (12). Seeing this body commit a monstrous act is not required to understand its true nature. His is the transitional body in the history of the Gothic, one which gives ”an impression of deformity without any nameable malformation” (11-12). These examples illustrate that monstrosity never really leaves the body as its preferred site of manifestation, though it may become detached from any particular bodily characteristic.” (pp.34-35)

Monstrosity can be forced to manifest itself against the will and efforts of the monster, or it can manifest itself as a kind of Freudian lapse during a moment of inattention.” (p.35)

“This slipping of the mask is only one of the many thematic connections between these nineteenth century monsters and their pre-eminent late twentieth century descendent, the serial killer. The modern serial killer, as we find him in popular film and fiction, has a hybrid ontology. He is, to quote Philip Simpson, ”a fantastic confabulation of Gothic/romantic villain, literary vampire and werewolf, … film noir outsider, frontier outlaw, folkloric threatening figure, and [he embodies] nineteenth-century pseudo-sociological conceptions of criminal types given contemporary plausibility” (15). Despite this bewildering multiplicity of generic sources, Simpson(like many others) comes to the conclusion that fictionalized serial killers are the product of [-p.36] two major influences: the Gothic romance on the one hand, and detective fiction on the other. In the former, they occupy the position of monstrous other, from the dark and charismatic Byronic heroes of Walpole, Radcliffe, and Bronte to the monsters of Shelley, Stevenson, and Stoker. In the latter, they appear as superhuman and fiendishly clever criminals plotted against such masterminds as Auguste Dupin or Sherlock Holmes.” (pp.35-36)

Public display of the abject body has become a hallmark of the intersection of Gothic and detective fiction ever since. At first glance, the recent serial killer narrative subscribes to this generic convention as well. Often the killer’s body makes an early appearance–in most cases, before the first half of the novel or film is over. Unlike the ”whodunnit,” the serial killer genre typically shows us the killer’s face early on, and identifies him as the killer. Since he is not part of a familiar circle of suspects, it makes no difference whether or when we see his face. Nevertheless, when we do see it, especially the first time, the effect is usually something of an anticlimax. He is less than what we expected, especially in comparison with what the film has shown us of his residence, his victims’ bodies, and/or the effects that his actions have had on other characters and the community at large. Finally witnessing the killer’s body, we cannot help feeling cheated. It is the moment when the film uncovers its central mystery, yet what is uncovered appears flat, and far from enigmatic. Our appetite for illicit thrills is not satisfied, even though the preparatory stages leading up to this primal scene promise just that. And so what at first glance appears to be well within the rules of the genre instead turns out to be an inversion of one of its basic tenets. The body of the serial killer is not a site of abjection, despite what one might expect from the way its appearance is so often staged. Indeed, the vast majority of serial killers lack that one crucial feature which, according to numerous scholars and critics, effectively defines the monstrous: their evil is not written on their bodies.” (p.36)

“Mark Seltzer calls the serial killer ”the statistical person,”” (p.36)

“As closely related as the fictional serial killer narrative may be to that of the Gothic, or to the horror film generally, this is in fact one of its distinctive features: monstrosity is never revealed in that scene, so typical of the horror genre, in which the monster is glimpsed for the first time, his appearance inspiring a terrified shriek from a (typically female) character. In the traditional horror film, language breaks down when confronted with the monstrous. The scream of abject terror marks a descent into the pre- or non-lingual, and thus signifies the collapse of culture. Not so when the monstrous appears in the guise of the serial killer. Like characters in the narrative, we respond with bafflement rather than horror, with incomprehension rather than disgust, and with a need to reiterate the question–Could that really be him?–rather than with a terrified scream that rings through the horror genre’s familiar Gothic hallways.” (p.37)

“Monsters, according to yet another scholar, speak of the ”fears of contamination, impurity, and loss of identity,” carrying the outward manifestations of these fears on their bodies (Cohen14-15).” (p.38)

“Though audiences of serial killer narratives still derive their thrills from what Carrollcalls ”felt agitation,” its source cannot be the killer’s abject body, which is all solidity and bland surface. Hence, all attempts made by such narratives (especially in the medium of film) to visualize the serial killer’s inherent evil meet with a significant challenge, as monstrosity must somehow manifest itself visually. Efforts made at visualizing evil are often conceptualized as a sudden, unexpected, occasionally unobserved (other than by the audience) slippage during the killer’s otherwise seamless performance of normality; the same slippage mentioned above with respect to the Gothic monsters Dracula and Mr. Hyde. Every once in a while, the mask of normality slips, revealing the face of evil underneath.” (p.38)

Moreover, murder ”like any event, is a transitory thing,” even when it is repeated obsessively by the serial killer (Knox8). This goes some way towards explaining why films of this genre place so little emphasis on the visual representation of the murders themselves, and why they seem to share the killer’s treatment of the victims as two-dimensional and interchangeable. More importantly, [‘]The essence of the act can only ever be captured in its author. If the murderer is found to be irresponsibly insane, that vital element of authoring intent is lost and the status of the event is thrown into doubt. The insane murderous act becomes merely a kind of automatic writing, its origins obscure and unintelligible. Then, it is madness itself that becomes the subject of scrutiny, not murder.[‘] (Knox 57)” (p.44) … “While the serial killer embodies ”the mystery, the enigma of origins” (9), our focus is channeled away from the murders as a textual site where monstrosity can manifest itself.” (p.44) … “In this context, it is important to stress that the serial killer narrative, despite its rotten reputation, typically practices a degree of reluctance when it comes to showing explicit scenes of excessive violence. Conventionally, it removes itself visually from the immediate depiction of the violent act.” (p.44)

“…serial killer cinema deliberately rejects the visualizing strategies routinely availed of by other genres, with the result that the [-p.45] killer’s actions appear as a rather attenuated site for the display of spectacular monstrosity.” (pp.44-45)

“The fact that this representational option seems largely closed off returns us to the body as a site of monstrosity, and to the scenes of slippage discussed above. When the killer’s mask of normality falls for a moment, thereby enabling to see the turmoil and homicidal chaos underneath, this slippage is predicated on the assumption that because something is concealed it must be authentic. The chaos is his true identity, the calm normality a mask. But this assumption is not necessarily true.” (p.45)

As audiences repeatedly exposed to images of spectacular violence, we are taught to experience pleasure when controlled by a narrative that elicits from us unwilling manifestations of intense emotion. Held in breathless suspense, or jolted out of our seats by expertly timed shocks, we habitually flinch or groan in synch with the events on the screen (again it is Williams whose discussion of ”body genres” ties together hardcore porn and the horror film). But by reminding ourselves of our genre expertise we also experience pleasure in exercising control over these shocks and visual attacks. Horror films in particular can be said to elicit this type of pleasure in their audiences by foregrounding or thematizing genre conventions….” (p.48)

“Denied visual and narrative pleasure in all the familiar places, audiences of the serial killer film must look elsewhere. The films themselves oblige, mobilizing various maneuvers to distract from the void at their center. In one such maneuver, monstrosity ”slides off” the body of the serial killer and attaches itself to the space he inhabits. The process of zeroing in on this intimate space determines the narrative, driving it towards a climactic moment of penetration when the Gothic darkness is dispelled and the secrets of the killer brought to light (through images, writings, collections of trophies, clues to developmental regression or childhood trauma, etc.). Monstrosity also attaches itself to the bodies of the killer’s victims, which are almost always construed as objects of abjection.” (p.49)

Ref: (italics in original, emphases in blue bold, mine) Steffen Hantke (2002) ‘Monstrosity Without a Body: Representational Strategies in the Popular Serial Killer Film’ Post Script – Essays in Film and the Humanities. 22(2), pp.34-54

Abstract: “Hantke examines the portrayal of serial killers in various late 20th-century films and analyzes how the monstrosity of the serial killer character is represented. Unlike popular monstrous figures from literature and from early 20th-century horror cinema such as Frankenstein’s monster, Dracula, and Mr. Hyde, the dangerous and horrific qualities of serial killers are not manifest in their physical appearance; in fact, a defining characteristic of the serial killer film is the absolute ordinariness of the villain’s looks. Hantke extensively details the ways in which a serial killer’s deeds, rather than his physical body, become the locus of his monstrosity. Characters analyzed include: Norman Bates in “Psycho,” Buffalo Bill and Hannibal Lecter in “The Silence of the Lambs,” and the schizophrenic serial killer in “The Cell.”” (p.34)