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University of Georgia Hobbes and the Culture of American Violence Essay

University of Georgia Hobbes and the Culture of American Violence Essay

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I’m working on a english question and need a sample draft to help me learn.

Chapter 5

Hobbes, Human Nature, and the Culture of American Violence in Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood

Thomas Fahy

In a sleepy town in the heartland of America at the end of the 1950s, a family of four was brutally murdered for no apparent reason. When Truman Capote read about this crime in the New York Times, he decided to travel to Holcomb, Kansas, to investigate not only the crime, but its effects on the residents of Holcomb whose sense of peace and safety had been brutally shattered. Thomas Fahy examines how Capote wrote about the crime, not as a suspense-filled detective saga—he gave away the ending at the start of the book—but as an examination of what happens when the monstrous looks just like the normal. Thomas Fahy is the director of the English graduate program at Long Island University. He has written extensively about horror. Among his many publications are Dining with Madmen: Fat, Food, and the Environment in 1980s Horror (2019) and two young adult novels, The Unspoken (2008) and Sleepless (2009). This excerpt was taken from The Philosophy of Horror (2010), a collection of scholarly essays on horror. The life of man [is] solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.—THOMAS HOBBES, Leviathan [Men are] creatures among whose instinctual endowments is to be reckoned a powerful share of aggressiveness. As a result, their neighbor is for them not only a potential helper or sexual object, but also someone who tempts them to satisfy their aggressiveness on him, to exploit his capacity for work without compensation, to use him sexually without his consent, to seize his possessions, to humiliate him, to cause him pain, to torture and to kill him.—SIGMUND FREUD, Civilization and its Discontents My epigraphs are taken from Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, ed. J. C. A. Gaskin (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998); and Sigmund Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents, trans. and ed. James Strachey (New York: Norton, 1961). [Author’s Note.] On November 15, 1959, Dick Hickock and Perry Smith drove several hundred miles to the small town of Holcomb, Kansas, and brutally murdered four members of the Clutter family. Armed with a hunting knife and a twelve-gauge shotgun, the two men entered the house through an unlocked door just after midnight. They had been hoping to find a safe with thousands of dollars, but when Herb Clutter denied having one, they tied him up and gagged him. They did the same to his wife, Bonnie, his fifteen-year-old son, Kenyon, and his sixteen-year-old daughter, Nancy. Afterward, they placed each of them in separate rooms and searched the house for themselves. When they found no more than forty dollars, Smith slit Herb Clutter’s throat and shot him in the face. He then proceeded to execute the rest of the family. Each one died from a point-blank shotgun wound to the head. One month later, Truman Capote, who had first read about these crimes in the New York Times, arrived in Holcomb with his longtime friend, the author Nelle Harper Lee. 1 Both the horrifying details of the murders and the strangeness of the place appealed to Capote. Everything about Kansas—the landscape, dialect, social milieu, and customs—was completely alien to him, and he was energized by the prospect of trying to capture this world in prose. He recognized that the case might never be solved, since the police had no clues about the identity of Hickock and Smith at the time, but that didn’t concern him. He primarily wanted to write about the impact of these horrific killings on the town. As biographer Gerald Clarke explains, Capote was less interested in the murders than in their potential “effect on that small and isolated community.” 2 Six years later, after the execution of Hickock and Smith, he completed his “nonfiction novel” In Cold Blood: A True Account of a Multiple Murder and Its Consequences—a work that offers a chilling portrait of violence and fear in American culture. But why is this book so terrifying? Before reading the first page, we know the outcome. Even if we haven’t heard of the Clutter family, the description on the back of the book tells us that there is no mystery here. Capote even announces as much at the end of the first short chapter: “four shotgun blasts that, all told, ended six human lives.” We know the Clutters will die and that the killers will be caught and executed. So what makes Capote’s narrative so frightening and unsettling? The author gives some clue in the next sentence: “But afterward the townspeople, theretofore sufficiently unfearful of each other to seldom trouble to lock their doors, found fantasy re-creating them over and again—those somber explosions that stimulated fires of mistrust in the glare of which many old neighbors viewed each other strangely, and as strangers.” 3 In Capote’s rendering of this event, we, too, re-create “those somber explosions” and share in the fearful mistrust of others. We try to grapple with what these killings suggest about human nature, and in the process our neighbors become strangers, too. They become potential threats, undermining our own sense of safety and security. Capote’s book raises several disturbing questions for the reader as well: How and why were Hickock and Smith capable of such brutality? Could you or I do such things? These questions resonate with Thomas Hobbes’s philosophy about the innate aggression and brutality of human beings. His pessimistic outlook can provide some insight into the source of terror in Capote’s work—that such violence, resentment, and anger are in all of us. Before discussing this connection, I will situate In Cold Blood in the horror genre by focusing on its use of a horrific event and the imagined encounter with the monstrous. I will then discuss Hobbes’s notion of human nature and the sovereign—a figure that promises to provide moral justice and prevent mankind from being in a perpetual state of war. But what happens if this source of moral authority (the sovereign) is absent? If the veneer of civilization is removed? Capote’s answer, like the one offered by Hobbes, is clear: we will all act in cold blood. The Horror of In Cold Blood 5 The horror of In Cold Blood operates on several levels: its realism, the brutality of the crime, the random selection of victims (Smith and Hickock had never met the Clutters before the night of the killing), the incongruity between the primary motive (theft) and the ultimate outcome (multiple murders), the fear that swept through the state in its aftermath, and the callous indifference and lack of remorse on the part of Hickock and Smith. So can In Cold Blood, which promises a journalistic account of actual events, be understood in terms of the horror genre as well? By making this connection I’m not trying to minimize the real tragedy of these crimes. I’m merely suggesting that Capote uses some of the conventions of horror, as well as the suspense/ thriller genres, to craft his rendering of these events. Capote himself labeled the work a nonfiction novel, and this invites us to think about the literary devices shaping In Cold Blood. “Journalism,” he said, “always moves along a horizontal plane, telling a story, while fiction—good fiction—moves vertically, taking you deeper and deeper into character and events. By treating a real event with fictional techniques . . . it’s possible to make this kind of synthesis.” 4 Capote’s fusion of reporting and fiction here enabled him to present Hickock and Smith’s crime and its subsequent investigation as a novelist. He could make choices to create a certain effect and to manipulate the reader’s response. As suggested above, part of the momentum of In Cold Blood comes from the details that resonate with suspense/ thriller fiction. A crime has been committed that launches a nationwide manhunt. Lead detectives work around the clock, piecing together clues and interviewing suspects in hopes of a lucky break. At one point, the special agent in charge learns that the men are back in Kansas, and the chase intensifies. But the facts of the case undermine these familiar-sounding conventions at every turn. The crime has been “solved” for the reader before the first page. The identity of the criminals is discovered by accident when Hickock’s former cellmate, who told him about the Clutters in the first place, hears a radio broadcast about the murders and reveals Hickock’s identity to the authorities. Smith and Hickock are caught not because of Special Agent Dewey’s hard work and ingenuity; they are apprehended because of their own incompetence and arrogance. The book also suggests that Smith’s abuse as a child, his family’s neglect, his inability to pursue an education, and his association with people like Hickock helped shape him into a killer. Such revelations often occur in the suspense/ thriller genres as well, but Capote is using them here to create sympathy for the killer—a response that complicates our response to his execution. When the people of Holcomb first see Smith and Hickock after they have been apprehended, for example, Capote notes that they all respond with stunned silence. “But when the crowd caught sight of the murderers, with their escort of blue-coated highway patrolmen, it fell silent, as though amazed to find them humanly shaped” (248). When faced with such horrible crimes, we expect the monstrous, the inhuman. Yet Capote’s sympathetic characterization of Smith, in particular, makes it difficult for the reader to view him as a monster. This is where In Cold Blood intersects with the horror genre as well—an encounter with the monstrous. Noël Carroll, in his influential work The Philosophy of Horror; or, Paradoxes of the Heart, argues that monsters are the central feature of horror. Vampires, werewolves, and zombies, for example, are recognizable threats, and the danger they pose must be destroyed/ defeated to restore harmony. Monsters also elicit the emotional effect that the genre seeks—horror—because they literally embody the abnormal. As Carroll explains, “The objects of art-horror are essentially threatening and impure.” 5 They inspire revulsion, disgust, and nausea. A number of scholars have criticized this narrow definition, arguing that serial killers and more realistic monsters must be accounted for as well. David Russell, for example, offers a broader taxonomy for the horror genre, arguing that “some types of monsters may be explained as ‘real’ . . . [in that they] are not remarkable in any physical sense. Their threat to normality is manifested solely through abnormal behavior challenging the rules of social regulation through ‘monstrous’ and transgressive behavior.” 6 He labels these monsters “deviant”—a category that includes stalkers, slashers, and psychokillers. Critic Matt Hills also responds to Carroll’s limited framework by suggesting an event-based definition of the genre (as opposed to Carroll’s entity-based definition) so that “we can take in the widest possible range of texts that have been discussed as ‘horror’ by audiences and labeled as such by filmmakers and marketers.” 7 Both of these characteristics are evident in Capote’s book. As a ruthless killer, Smith is certainly a realistic monster, and the Clutter murders qualify as horrific events. 10 But let’s return to Carroll’s emphasis on monsters for a moment. Even though In Cold Blood doesn’t fit the supernatural requirements of his definition of horror, Capote does present Hickock and Smith as monstrous on physical and psychological levels. His descriptions of their anomalous, damaged bodies attempt to ascribe some physical difference to their aberrant behavior. Smith is first depicted as a man with “stunted legs that seemed grotesquely inadequate to the grown-up bulk they supported” (15), and Special Agent Dewey takes note of Smith’s disproportionate body at his execution: “He remembered his first meeting with Perry in the interrogation room at Police Headquarters in Las Vegas—the dwarfish boy-man seated in the metal chair, his small booted feet not quite brushing the floor” (341). Likewise, Hickock has a tattooed body, serpentine eyes “with a venomous, sickly-blue squint,” and a face “composed of mismatched parts . . . as though his head had been halved like an apple, then put together a fraction off center” (31). As a boy-man (dwarf/ adult) and serpent-man (with a divided face), Smith and Hickock are hybrid figures like the monsters that typically appear in horror fiction. Their bodies, like their actions, violate social norms and categories (moral/ immoral, good/ evil, human/ inhuman), and this element resonates with Carroll’s argument about monsters as repelling and compelling “because they violate standing categories.” 8 At the same time, these physical aberrations are not so pronounced that the townspeople of Holcomb can comfortably “Other” Hickock and Smith. Their bodies do not live up to the monsters whom they imagined responsible for the killings. As noted above, they initially responded to these men with stunned silence, “as though amazed to find them humanly shaped,” but in many horror stories unreal monsters come in human form. The horror, in other words, resides within. Just like a serial killer who seems like a nice guy to his neighbors, werewolves “hide” inside human beings until a full moon; vampires can “pass” as human until they reveal their fangs. The notion of a threat from within is integral to the terror of In Cold Blood. 9 Smith isn’t a werewolf or a vampire. He is a person just like us, but a killer lurks inside. Like these supernatural counterparts, he can transform at any moment from charming loner to ruthless murderer, which is evident in his confession: “I thought [Herb Clutter] was a very nice gentleman. Soft-spoken. I thought so right up to the moment I cut his throat” (244). What makes Smith so terrifying is not simply the suddenness of his transformation here, but the fact that he doesn’t physically turn into a monster. At some level, the town of Holcomb, as well as the reader, fears this lack of visual otherness because it implies that anyone can be like Smith. This implication also fuels fears in the community that the killer lives among them. On hearing the news of the murders, one townsperson responds: “If it wasn’t him, maybe it was you. Or somebody across the street” (69). Another remarks: “What a terrible thing when neighbors can’t look at each other without a kind of wondering!” (70) And even when the killers are apprehended, their suspicions don’t vanish. “For the majority of Holcomb’s population, having lived for seven weeks amid unwholesome rumors, general mistrust, and suspicion, appeared to feel disappointed at being told that the murderer was not someone among themselves” (231). Once they admit that anyone has the potential to be a monster, they can’t stop being afraid of one another.”

  1. “Restate in your own words what the quotation from Thomas Hobbes is saying about human life.
  2. Why did Truman Capote choose to reveal the outcome of the crime right from the very beginning of his book? What effect might this have had on the reader?
  3. Fahy writes, “Monsters also elicit the emotional effect that the genre seeks—horror—because they literally embody the abnormal” (par. 8). How is this reflected in Dick Hickock and Perry Smith?
  4. What does Fahy mean when he writes about “visual otherness” (par. 11)? How is that connected to Hickock and Smith?
  5. In Cold Blood has been called a true-crime novel. How is truth (i.e., the real-life story of the murder of the Clutters) connected to fiction in this story? How can these opposites—truth and fiction—be resolved? Reflection and Response
  6. Capote observed that until Smith and Hickock were caught, the residents of Holcomb, Kansas, began to fear each other. Indeed, Fahy records that, in Capote’s words, “old neighbors viewed each other strangely, and as strangers” (par. 3). What is the effect of believing that the familiar can suddenly be the unknown danger? In what ways might we see this in today’s world? Give specific examples.
  7. Capote concludes, echoing the idea of Thomas Hobbes, that when moral authority or rule of law has been removed, humans “will all act in cold blood” (par. 4). Do you agree or disagree? Support your answer.

The Horror in the Mirror: Average Joe and the Mechanical Monster

Richard Tithecott

The horror of Jeffrey Dahmer was that he was so ordinary, so unremarkable, just an “Average Joe,” and yet he was capable of such horrific deeds. The question then becomes how we can reconcile the idea of normalcy with the facts of killing, necrophilia (an erotic interest in corpses), dismemberment of corpses, and cannibalism. Much rests on how we define ourselves as human and how we answer the question of what constitutes normal and natural. Richard Tithecott is the author of Of Men and Monsters: Jeffrey Dahmer and the Construction of the Serial Killer (1997) from which this excerpt is taken. To Randy Jones, one of Dahmer’s neighbors, Dahmer seemed “like the average Joe” (Newsweek, 5 August 1991: 41). Helping us to disseminate a picture of Dahmer in court, a caption in Anne E. Schwartz’s book describes Dahmer as an “average-looking man.” To Tracy Edwards, whose escape from Dahmer’s apartment led to Dahmer’s arrest, Dahmer “seemed like a normal, everyday guy,” and presumably in order to justify that characterization, Edwards agrees with Geraldo Rivera’s suggestion that he and Dahmer were out to “hustle some chicks” (Geraldo, 12 September 1991). Dahmer “is a very gentle man” according to his attorney, and “that’s what makes it so absolutely intriguing and unbelievable to see how a fellow like that you saw in court today could have done all these horrific acts” (Larry King Live, 17 February 1992). To make it even more intriguing, as a Washington Post columnist notes, Dahmer is not from one of the “nation’s urban areas with more of a reputation for cold-bloodedness,” but from Wisconsin, “America’s heartland” (1 August 1991: C3). . . . The idea that “appearances are deceptive” is repeated in article after article: “Concealed amongst all this normality lies dormant evil.” Like the surrealists, in the banal we see, and perhaps like to manufacture, something extraordinary. Average Joe often has a story to tell about himself and his friends that calls into question his claim to his name. This celebrated embodiment of middle America is often hiding something. His normality, we say, is an illusion. But when we look at our monsters and wait for the true gargoyle within to burst through that familiar shell, sometimes we experience a more horrifying or thrilling possibility: the monster that appears actually is Average Joe; what is unspeakable turns out to be impossible to put into words not because it is so extraordinary but because it is so ordinary. Thus, we have a twist on the story behind Daniel Vigne’s The Return of Martin Guerre or Jon Amiel’s Sommersby: not an intruder in the guise of familiarity, but familiarity in all its glory. It is a possibility that Hannah Arendt describes in Eichmann in Jerusalem: “[ The prosecutor] wanted to try the most abnormal monster the world had ever seen. . . . [The judges] knew, of course, that it would have been very comforting indeed to believe that Eichmannx was a monster. . . . The trouble with Eichmann was precisely that so many were like him, and that the many were neither perverted nor sadistic, that they were, and still are, terribly and terrifyingly normal” (Arendt 276). The “trouble” with Eichmann is the trouble with our serial killers, both new and old. “I shall clip the lady’s ears off . . . wouldn’t you?” asks Jack the Ripper in a letter to his fellow man. As Martin Tropp suggests, the writer “speaks directly to his readers, implying by his words and literacy (despite the [possibly intentional] misspellings) that he is one of them” (113) and that this is why he is so difficult to catch. “Our monster turns out to be not something monstrous disguised as Joe but Joe who has let it all hang out.” Halloween director John Carpenter, commenting on the success of The Silence of the Lambs, remarks, “I think we’re all frightened of the unknown and also of the repressed people in our society. There’s a duality that touches off sparks in all of us” (People Weekly, 1 April 1991: 70). Those sparks are theorized by Jonathan Dollimore thus: “Since, in cultural terms, desiring the normal is inseparable from and conditional upon not desiring the abnormal, repression remains central to identity, individual and cultural” (246). We often figure the serial killer as failing to repress the desire for the abnormal. Joan Smith, for example, figuring identity in hydraulic terms, says, “The otherwise inexplicable actions of a serial killer . . . can . . . be understood as a survival mechanism, a means of coping with intolerable stress. The fact that they commit such terrible crimes enables them to function normally in the periods between their crimes” (3). Our desire for normality, our fetishization of Average Joe, inevitably means that abnormality is constructed as something that needs to be repressed, something that inevitably becomes desirable, mysterious, sexy. As it comes into focus, our depiction of the serial killer as “letting off steam” is also a picture of Average Joe who has given in to his deeper desires. Our monster turns out to be not something monstrous disguised as Joe but Joe who has let it all hang out. Attempting to satisfy our hunger for horror, we revert sometimes to what John Carpenter says indicates fifties conservatism: the cheap scare. Our monsters, more animal than human, spring at us from behind bushes, prey on us, return to their lairs far from everyday, familiar society. At such times we might, like Dahmer’s neighbor, John Bachelor, compare Dahmer to Jason in Friday the 13th (Los Angeles Times, 24 July 1991: A14)—he who, like Lecter, xi we like to conceal behind a hockey-mask—or we might, like Robert Dvorchak and Lisa Holewa, describe Dahmer’s reported “wailing” and “screeching” when he is arrested as “all those forces seething inside him erupt[ ing] to life” (Dvorchak and Holewa 8). But we are generally movie-literate people, and to truly scare ourselves, we want sometimes to be a little more subtle, to show that we can write and speak a little more fully, a little more knowingly about those “forces.” At these times, we must be able to mistake our monsters for ourselves—or ourselves for them. We must build a house of mirrors. 5 If we are white, scaring ourselves in this way is a little easier. Average Joe is white, and so is Average Joe, the serial killer. Average Joe has power, the power of being average, of being a representative of middle America. And so does Average Joe, the serial killer. The sister of one of Dahmer’s many black victims is curious about why her fellow guest on The Maury Povich Show should be so fascinated with Dahmer that she regularly attends his trial: “Did you want to read about the man [ Joachim Dressler] that sat up there and cut up 11 people in Racine. Did you want to read about him? No, see, you don’t even remember him. But he was—came from an insane place. But see, that’s not big news. This white man that killed almost all minorities, he is big news” (Maury Povich, 4 February 1992). Not that the whiteness of a serial killer becomes an issue—but his “normality” does. We not only place the white Dahmer or the white Bundy or the white Gacy on the covers of magazines, we give them the power to look back at us. And that’s a thrill. Looking at our monsters is a good way of finding out who we think we are, or who we think we might be, or even who we want to be. They can be figures who have realized our frightening or fantastic potentials. The trick is to identify how subtle we are being. Take, for example, the representation of Dahmer as automaton. Seizing on classmates’ memories of Dahmer’s ritual walk to the school bus—four steps forward, two back, four forward, one back (Masters 1991, 267)—we deal with his lack of feeling towards his victims by constructing an image of Dahmer as boy-machine who develops into something which, when arrested, “looked so emotionless, so harmless, as if he were a robot being led away” (Norris 1992, 41). In court his face is “passionless” (Geraldo, 12 September 1991), his eyes “almost vacant” (Newsweek, 3 February 1992: 45). For the Washington Post, Dahmer, “his face . . . pale and impassive,” “walked with the near-drop pace of a zombie” (7 August 1991: B1). People Weekly magazine, countering the claims of his lawyer that he was in a “state of anguish,” says, “but Jeffrey Dahmer was impassive in court as he was charged with first-degree murder” (12 August 1991: 32). While defense and state attorneys differ in their assessments of Dahmer’s responsibility for his actions, their portrayal of him as unfeeling, inhuman, and machinelike are indistinguishable. Dahmer’s attorney, Gerald Boyle, describes him in court as a “steamrolling killing machine,” “a runaway train on a track of madness, picking up steam all the time, on and on and on,” while Michael McCann for the prosecution describes Dahmer as a “cool, calculating killer who cleverly covered his tracks” (New York Times, 16 February 1992: 24). Such estrangement can be of the unsubtle variety, a case of “pathologizing and thus disavowing the everyday intimacies with technology in machine culture” (Seltzer 98), but it can also indicate not so much a disavowal as an expression of anxiety on our part about modern humanity or, more specifically, modern man in “machine culture.” Klaus Theweleit describes the masculine self of members of the First World War German Freikorps as “mechanized through a variety of mental and physical procedures: military drill, countenance, training, operations which Foucaultxii identified as techniques of the self’ ” (Rabinbach and Benjamin in Theweleit 1989, xvii), and Mark Fasteau, among others, describes the stereotype of the contemporary male self in similar terms, a stereotype which we are still struggling to outgrow. In The Male Machine Fasteau describes the ideal image to which the title refers as functional, designed mainly for work. He is programmed to tackle jobs, override obstacles, attack problems, overcome difficulties, and always seize the offensive. . . . He has armor plating which is virtually impregnable. His circuits are never scrambled or overrun by irrelevant personal signals. He dominates and outperforms his fellows, although without excessive flashing of lights or clashing of gears. His relationship with other male machines is one of respect but not intimacy; it is difficult for him to connect his internal circuits to those of others. In fact, his internal circuitry is something of a mystery to him. (Fasteau 1) Fasteau’s “male machine” is a frightening but familiar image. It corresponds with the way we often figure our monsters: “If there’s anything monstrous about [Dahmer], it’s the monstrous lack of connection to all things we think of as being human—guilt, remorse, worry, feelings that would stop him from hurting, killing, torturing” (Davis Silber, quoted in Dvorchak and Holewa 141). It corresponds with the way we represent our mostly male psychopaths who can be diagnosed as such by demonstrating, among other things, “a shallow understanding of the meaning of words, particularly emotional terms” and by not showing “the surge of anxiety that normal people exhibit” when they are about “to receive a mild electric shock” (New York Times, 7 July 1987: C2). And, apparently keen to confer buddy-status on as many of society’s others as possible, Fasteau’s male ideal also corresponds with necrophilesxiii and schizophrenics.xiv “According to Eric Fromm’s findings,” says Brian Masters, necrophiles “often have a pallid complexion, and they speak in a monotone. . . . They are fascinated with machinery, which is unfeeling and antihuman” (quoted in Masters 1991, 266). In Cold Blood examiners of Lowell Lee Andrews produce a diagnosis of “schizophrenia, simple type,” and by “simple,” Capote tells us, “the diagnosticians meant that Andrews suffered no delusions, no fake perceptions, no hallucinations, but the primary illness of separation of thinking and feeling” (Capote 315). How different are our killing machines from our male machines? While we are familiar with and still sometimes valorize the male machine, how sensitive are we to the idea that it is logical for such machines also to regard their others as mirror-reflections of themselves, as unfeeling, interesting only as mechanical objects? While Dahmer the schoolboy explains to a classmate his reason for cutting up the fish he catches—“I want to see what it looks like inside, I like to see how things work” (Dvorchak and Holewa 41)—the adult Dahmer confesses to the police “in the uninflected language of an affidavit” that he disassembles his human victims “to see how they work” (Newsweek, 5 August 1991: 40). Our construction of the serial killer resembles a figure of masculinity, or rather a reassembled figure of masculinity, who has turned on all that frustrates masculinity either within himself or without. When we represent serial killers, necrophiles, psychopaths, schizophrenics, and a male ideal in similar ways, we sometimes refuse to identify links between them, but sometimes we allow the representations to merge, to form an almost conflated image in which the other is seen through the familiar self, the familiar self seen through the other. An uncanny effect, as Freud might say. What Freud does say is that the uncanny hints at “nothing new or foreign, but something familiar and old established in the mind that has been estranged only by the process of repression” (Freud 1953, 47). In the same essay he mentions the uncanniness of mechanization: “Jentsch has taken as a very good instance [of the uncanny] ‘doubts whether an apparently animate being is really alive; or conversely, whether a lifeless object might not be in fact animate’; and he refers in this connection to the impression made by wax-work figures, artificial dolls and automatons. He adds to this class the uncanny effect of epileptic seizures and the manifestations of insanity, because these excite in the spectator the feeling that automatic, mechanical processes are at work, concealed beneath the ordinary appearance of animation” (31). A Newsweek article on Dahmer describes serial killers as “taking their cues from some deranged script” (5 August 1991: 40) and concludes with a quotation from Park Dietz: “These people are the most controlled people you can imagine” (41). While Dahmer was found to be in control, not out of it, his actions perceived to be those of a man who knew what he was doing, he is also represented as someone/ something being controlled. The figure of the killer as unfeeling, programmed machine—the writer of the program remaining a mystery—is one with which the Gothic and our representation of serial killers are particularly occupied. And contributing to our sense of the uncanny is the defining characteristic of the serial killer, the repetitiveness of the killing act. For Freud, “repetition-compulsion” is “based upon instinctual activity and probably inherent in the very nature of the instincts—a principle powerful enough to overrule the pleasure-principle, lending to certain aspects of the mind their daemonic character” (Freud 1953, 44). In other words, “repetition-compulsion” can signify oxymorons such as “mechanized nature” or “natural machine.” 10 With Freud’s understanding of the uncanny in mind, the mechanically repetitive serial killer is a construction which can suggest for us the power of “natural instinct,” an instinct whose naturalness we may or may not wish to question. But whether we see the power of “mechanized nature” or of a “natural machine,” our particular representation of the body as machine may appear as both a powerful fantasy and a fantasy of power. Mark Seltzer, who argues that “the matter of periodizing persons, bodies, and desires is inseparable from the anxieties and appeals of the body-machine complex” (my italics; Seltzer 98), refers to the type of fantasy which “projects a transcendence of the natural body and the extension of human agency through the forms of technology that supplemented it” (99). And just as dreams about te

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