Murderers are an odd lot, inconsistent at best. There is Gilles de Rais,
famous for decimating the countryside of children, famous for his last minute
anguish, his extraordinary penance. The mothers of the murdered children
wept at his execution, prayed that his soul reach heaven.
There is also H., another Chicago killer. He killed his girlfriend because
she began seeing other men. She had told him once that they would grow old
together. He had believed her, envisioned them white haired and interlaced
within each other. To grow old together---- the concept contains an enormous
demand for faith, trust and permanency. Rabbi Ben Erza offers this vision.
But the division between literature and reality is an irregular gap. It
was a very slender and elusive romanticism that H. followed. He buried her
deep in a forest, moved overseas. And then he returned to confess everything;
labyrinth aside, he led them to the body. I wonder if he is a compass, pointing
continuously towards her. The silver needle shivering slightly, pinned on
his chest. It has been two years since I interviewed him. He has a tattoo:
a trompe d'oeil snake entering his ear. I want to know if he smiles when
he thinks of her now and if he still imagines the both of them sitting on
the porch. The color of their rocking chairs is a cobalt blue. The porch
is off-white with red posts. They are arm in arm, indeterminately old.
D. is a rough gem. He killed twenty people, starting with his lover.
"I didn't want him to leave me-----I wanted to keep him with me".
once dead, a body cannot encapsulate the spirit. It becomes dross, mud,
meat and fat. So he began to hunt in earnest. In D., the relationship between
sex and death becomes explicit, blatant, loses its charm. German romanticism
becomes lurid, tabloid. But pause and reconsider. An intense fear of loss
motivated him. He is more human than you or I because of this. To feel enough
emotion to be willing to kill--- are we to abjure our grand passions with
nothing more than a murmur?
I feel that these murderers are perfectionists in that they have no resiliency,
cannot tolerate human fallibility. They demand love. One in which, like
the nerves that runs between our hand and head, there are no barriers of
sound we must leap over, no incomprehension or misunderstanding. A silence,
an understanding, a bridge between minds, a basin of porcelain filled with
Apart from this, I think there is a sort that suffers from a desire to become
human, that is, to experience sensation, to know that they are like
others, to feel the texture of existence, to be real, constant. If so, what
better way than to be alpha and omega--to generate life or to end it? This
sort is not given to an excess of emotion but rather suffers from a dearth
of stimulation. The irony of it all is that, in their attempt to correct
their apathy, they appear remorseless.
These murderers are content simply to feel any sort of sensation at all.
I think this is particularly true of people who kill strangers. To understand
this, you must be familiar with depression. Depression has the capacity
to flatten all aspirations and desires, all emotions and needs into a flat
line. Each thing becomes a ghoulish repetition of the other, things lose
their individuality. Even emotions lose what distinguishes them from other
emotions. In the midst of this, only extreme emotional ecstacy or pain
achieve any sort of mark on the individual consciousness. Ecstacy is usually
difficult if not impossible to achieve, is prone to disillusionment, is
too brief, requires labor. The most intense form of emotional pain is bereavement
or jealousy. Jealousy must be preceded by love or obsession, which is an
effort as well as a connection. Perhaps too much of an effort. The only
form of pain left available is that of loss. The loss of life is the greatest
loss possible. It couples emotional and physical pain. In murder, you are
destroying an image that resembles yourself, it is closer to you than anything,
any other animal. It speaks your language, it sees you. It speaks to you,
implores you; how can you resist? It is the nearest thing to you; it will
inflict the greatest shock.
This sort of murder can be seen as a desire for stimulus, in whatever form
or extremity. The death of a stranger, or even better, someone close ( but
no one is close ), may allow the murderer to momentarily feel despair--and
even despair is a color--however faint. It is also only through emotions
that we can feel any sort of empathy with others. In his despair, the murderer
a brief flash of communion as if he had been awakened and put in touch with
all the mourners around him. To feel-- perhaps the intense glare of murder
is the only thing that cuts through the dark. He ceases to be isolated.
By killing, he regains his own humanity.
I am sure even this becomes numbing. That is why some killers simply stop
killing. They've grown accustomed to it.
What thrill lies beyond murder?
Besides these two types, there is a third: a man that acts upon the conclusion
derived from an accumulation of beliefs that develops from isolation or
individuality into a ferocious logic that is jettisoned, as it were, by
the conviction or whim of the individual, into the public eye. It is in
this last category that I would put my favorite stalkers.
It is also in this last case that the question of objectivity becomes an
issue simply because it is only in this last case that we have individuals
asserting any sort of dogma. Is a man mad simply because he disagrees with
the majority and because our society cannot function on a multiplicity of
systems, nor accommodate these chaotic or destructive individuals? If so,
this species of madness is subjective and can be measured only when placed
against a norm which varies from place to place, from era to era. Murder
is simply a case where the individualism we cherish has come in conflict
with the law. cf. life.
These murderers obviously do not believe in the sacredness of human life.
But why should they? It appears that the sacredness of life is akin to
parking zones, utterly arbitrary, a matter of paint; why, for instance,
does the sacredness of life not apply in war? Why then, is it so adamantly
upheld in peace? It is said that war is not murder because it is not done
for the self but for the nation. Are we saying that killing is morally defined
by its motives? Is the inherent evil of murder in its pettiness, its emphasis
upon revenge or hurt? Certainly, these elements, if anything, add a human
pathos to what is, objectively, butchery.
What is better, detachment or involvement?
Is the torturer more commendable for separating himself from the pain of
the victim or empathizing with it? Is not even revelry a form of empathy?
Certainly it shows that the individual has enough of a battery of human
emotions to comprehend suffering.
And what of the individual who feels neither revulsion nor joy at someone
else's suffering? By what law can he be judged?
If he has no regard for his fellow human beings and therefore kills them,
then isn't it perfectly consistent and acceptable for him to do so? There
is no hypocrisy in it. The 'monstrosity' of murder traditionally lies in
its denial of this notion of group-preservation and its affirmation that
the desires and wants of the individual are above the good of the mass,
as represented by the common law. By this logic, the state is exonerated,
the executioner, a solitaire, stands on less solid ground. Terrorists walk
on water. Thus murder is a form of individualism, an extreme form but authentic,
And what really is wrong in killing someone? Perhaps it is cruel but there
is nothing inherently precious about life. We kill animals and kill
each other. During war, we are commended for killing each other. It is only
in peace time that the conscience becomes queasy and delicate, overblown
and exacting. Murder becomes exotic and, therefore, punishable.
Or is murder simply the carte blanche of nations--a privilege denied to
individuals? If so, I proclaim myself a state. The murderer embodies within
himself a microcosm of society, a teeming mass, a world unto himself; here,
I am thinking of those shakeable paperweights which have within them the
small figurines, the row of houses, the tiny plastic shovel, the snow falling
through the water. Murder, here, is a miniaturized war. Therefore, I make
war, not murder. The presentation, said a salesman I knew, reconciles all
differences. I know this now.
Think of the burning bush, think of Oz.
Perhaps you think I am only playing fast and loose with concepts I am hardly
familiar with--do you think I really killed them? Perhaps I tried and failed.
But really, I am only too familiar with it, my failure. I have attempted
to kill someone at almost every stage of my life; coincidence? When I was
young, when we were coming back from a peculiarly odd seaside vacation,
I attempted to kill my sister Demeter with a bottle. I remember the focus;
the bottle hurtling through the air; the arc of the liquid spilling; the
cold clarity akin to running on a midwinter night, drunk. How, an hour later,
she put her arm around me (the bottle had only bruised her forehead slightly)
because Marilyn had seen me do this and refused to speak to me.
A few years later, for a period of four months, I would often find her in
a corner and squeeze her throat. Each time I would squeeze tighter. She
was so frightened she never told anyone until years later; of course, then,
no one believed her. I stopped when I realized that I would kill her the
next time and that I was not quite ready to deal with her death. Finally,
only four years ago, I myself missed becoming a killer simply by the agility
of my victim. When I pulled out my knife to slash, she jumped a foot back,
narrowly missing the tip of my knife in her stomach. Once momentum was lost,
I lost the desire to kill her altogether; murder to me is more of a mood
than a blueprint. I am careless. I tried again quickly and the knife folded
on me, cutting my index. At this, I began to laugh. I let go of her throat
and told her to go home. I cannot think of many people who would pick a
swiss army knife as a weapon of murder. I continued to erupt into further
fits of laughter, and she, in turn, did not report me to the police. (I
love the compliance of victims. It is a subterranean code of honor only
the most debased will break.) Or perhaps it was because we were once
Murder must be more than simply intent; the conviction must be matched with
a moment for anything to occur; for myself, the moment deflected, hurried
past and away. Murder, foremost, is timing, the terrifying leap onto a moving
train, the destination of which you are, as of yet, uninformed. All you
know is that it will take you far away from here and you will lose sight
of all that is familiar.
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