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Au Lecteur

‘O he’s a monster...’ 1

Hannibal Lecter continues to be voted the UK’s number one favourite evil movie monster. He has become a rather appealing icon of evil within popular western culture and still exercises an appalling fascination for readers and filmgoers alike. 2 He murders his victims horrifically, prepares an exquisite gourmet meal of their flesh and eats them. The character of Lecter is all the more horrific because he is not driven by passion, because he has no motive. He finds the world tedious; he frequently kills people simply because they are rude or stupid. In the first two Lecter books, Red Dragon and Silence of the Lambs, written by Thomas Harris, Lecter's advice is sought on catching another killer, one whose actions are based, by the writer, on real cases. Lecter himself is more like an overlord of serial killers, an inspiration to killers and cops alike. Lecter knows that in order to catch a serial killer, one must be able to think just like a serial killer, one must empathise. This is dangerous - if you think like a serial killer, how close are you to becoming one? What divides you, apart from your actions? Are you the same under the skin? In Red Dragon (the book), the first encounter with Lecter ends when he says to Graham (the cop that had caught him previously) 'The reason you caught me is that WE'RE JUST ALIKE.' Graham's curse is that he knows this too.

‘Tu le connais, lecteur, ce monstre délicat.’ 3

The literary origins of Lecter are explored by David Sexton in 'The Strange World of Thomas Harris' and he points to Harris' influences which include Edgar Allen Poe, Arthur Conan Doyle and Patricia Highsmith, but especially and in particular, Charles Baudelaire. [Sexton, 2001] In the first place he points out that the name Hannibal Lecter is almost a direct transposition of 'hypocrite lecteur' – in French, lecteur means reader. Baudelaire’s series of poems ‘Fleurs du Mal’ are addressed to ‘hypocrite lecteur’ – I discuss this connection later in this essay. Lecter is also a reader; when complaining about a punishment to Clarice Starling he says 'Any rational society would either kill me or give me my books.' It is boredom that makes him what he is, and it is what he uses as a threat. Physical pain makes no difference to him - there is no point in torturing him, but taking away his books upsets him. What his captors fail to understand is that boredom – l'ennui – consolidates the evil that creates a monster out of Lecter. One of our favourite monsters, his is the face that stares back at us from our boredom. While we watch we are entertained by his horrible actions. We have in this become Baudelaire’s apathetic reader. As Sexton puts it 'He is our monster, the evil we embrace for our diversion. And he feeds on us.' That Lecter eats other humans, digesting them with relish, is both appalling and fascinating. Who can resist a grim smile at the end of Silence of the Lambs (the film) when Lecter says '...I have to go now Clarice - I'm having an old friend for dinner’? Consider this from Hannibal (the book):

'The pinky-gray dome of Krendler's brain was visible above his truncated skull. Standing over Krendler with an instrument resembling a tonsil spoon, Dr Lecter removed a slice of Krendler's pre-frontal lobe, then another, until he had four. Krendler's eyes looked up as though he were following what was going on. Dr Lecter placed the slices in the bowl of ice water, the water acidulated with the juice of a lemon, in order to firm them. "Would you like to swing on a star," Krendler sang abruptly, "Carry moonbeams home in a jar". In classic cuisine, brains are soaked and then pressed and chilled overnight to firm them. In dealing with the item absolutely fresh, the challenge is to prevent them from simply disintegrating into a handful of lumpy gelatin. With splendid dexterity, the doctor brought the firmed slices to a plate, dredged them lightly in seasoned flour, then in fresh brioche crumbs. He grated a fresh black truffle into his sauce and finished it with a squeeze of lemon juice. Quickly he sautéed the slices until they were just brown on each side. 'Smells great!' Krendler said. Dr Lecter placed the browned brains on broad croutons on the warmed plates, and dressed them with the sauce and truffle slices. A garnish of parsley and whole caper berries on their stems, and a single nasturtium blossom on watercress to achieve a little height, completed his presentation.' [Harris, 2000, 549]

I quoted Harris in extended form to example the fastidiousness of Lecter's crime, and also of the writer's description. Who is the monster here? Lecter, in his culinary skill and disregard for the human he is eating, literally alive? Harris, in his ability to describe such an act in great detail? Or the reader in delighting in the description?

The central motif for Lecter is a double take on the cycle of identification/ incorporation/projection; the first aspect is a literal analogy, i.e. cannibalism as in eating the body of another (incorporation of the flesh). The second stresses the powerful, oral/ sadistic nature of the look. At their first meeting, the relationship between Lecter and Clarice Starling, the other main character (set up as his nemesis) is outlined through a complex interchange of looks. 4 He fixes her with an unblinking gaze – is he compelling her to be like him? His eyes fixed on Clarice become his eyes fixed on the camera, fixed on us, the viewers. On the screen, in extreme close up, his gaze fills our field of vision and envelops us. His eyes are always in focus, focussing on us. In their subsequent meetings (in both films, ‘Silence of the Lambs’ and ‘Hannibal’) Lecter compels Clarice bit by bit – not only does he teach her things (about the serial killer she is seeking) he also challenges her mettle by asking frank questions about herself, often sexual in nature. For example in the first meeting he coerces Clarice to say ‘I can smell your cunt’ when she is asked what it is that Multiple Miggs said to her as she passed. She struggles to return his gaze whilst speaking to him at first but finally she succumbs to it – his gaze compels her. When they talk he insists on an exchange of information. He repeats the phrase ‘Quid pro quo, Clarice, quid pro quo.’ (Silence of the Lambs). As he watches her personal confession, he appears to suck in her words and when he blinks slowly it is if he is swallowing them. If to look is to devour, then (here) to blink is to swallow. Additionally, during their exchange the camera cuts sharply back and forth (a staple cinematic device for dialogue). The cut point in a film is the place where we, the viewers, are directed to blink. It echoes the incorporative process – we take in, we ‘swallow’ and we start again.

If his gaze compels Clarice to be like him, Lecter also challenges her to flinch or to recoil from him, his questions and his actions. But Clarice stands firm (‘there’s a clever girl’) intensifying the tension between them. Yet the more she stands up to him, the more she becomes inured to the horror of what he does. She begins to understand his rationale. She can understand it because she is beginning to think like him, or perhaps she always has – this is her secret fear. In Silence of the Lambs the looking motif is further emphasised by the nature of the hunted serial killer, Buffalo Bill. Bill has been catching, keeping, then killing and skinning young women.5 The key clue that Lecter gives to Clarice to help her catch him is that Bill is one who ‘covets’. He wants to become what he covets – a young blonde woman. Lecter tells Clarice ‘We covet what we see everyday’. Through the ‘sin’ of covetousness, through looking and desiring incorporatively, Bill wishes to become what he sees.

The directors of both ‘Silence of the Lambs’ and ‘Hannibal’ (based on the third novel by Harris) use different but familiar cinematic devices to emphasise looking. In ‘Silence of the Lambs’, the first exchanges between Clarice and Lecter take place, separated by the glass walls of his cell. When we see Clarice stand up the camera is behind Lecter, showing his reflection. As she straightens up her image enters his. In this merging of images we are shown how to understand their relationship. They are to become the same, imbricated within each other. In ‘Hannibal’, Clarice spends a large part of her time surrounded by images of dead and dismembered bodies – Lecter’s victims – and images of Lecter himself. She listens to his voice on tape on headphones. He and his handiwork are constantly looking out at her as she peers at them, searching for clues as to how to find him. She is now enfolded by him.

Moreover, Lecter has an uncanny way of knowing when he is being watched. In ‘Hannibal’ Inspector Pazzi, who has found out who the mysterious ‘Dr. Fell’ really is (Lecter) and wants to claim the substantial reward, sees Lecter in front of him at the opera. Lecter makes him nervous, asks him tricky revealing questions, and after all as Pazzi has just discovered, he is a serial killer. As Pazzi recognises Lecter and before he can turn his gaze away Lecter turns to look him straight in the eye. Pazzi, startled by this turns his eyes away. When he looks up again (he couldn’t resist) Lecter is still looking. Pazzi is obliged to look back and this time return Lecter’s alarming but polite smile. Later when they meet in the bar, Lecter speaks with Pazzi’s wife. They talk of Dante, of sight and consumption. When she asks him ‘Do you believe that a man could become so obsessed with a woman from a single encounter?’ he replies ‘Could he daily feel a stab of hunger for her and find nourishment in the very sight of her? I think so.’ As they end the conversation, he kisses her hand. His manners, like his words, are impeccable, seductive and compelling. [Scott, 2001]

Later in ‘Hannibal’, Mason Verger (a surviving victim of Lecter) has captured our hero – by this time it has been shown that his hunters are just as merciless and just as perverse as Lecter. They are perhaps worse because of their hypocrisy so we begin to really side with Lecter against the ‘bad guys’ just as Clarice is compelled to do. Verger plans to feed Lecter, feet first and slowly, to his pigs. This is to be a sweet revenge for what Lecter did to him (he made Verger cut his own face off and feed it to his dogs). But the pigs don’t touch Lecter (he is able to control animals).6 Instead they eat their keepers and Mason Verger in a particularly brutal scene. In this way the cycle of consumption continues but is diverted by Lecter. He then introduces a new dish to the menu – Paul Krendler, the FBI official that has been the source of Clarice’s public shaming and downfall. Krendler wants Clarice sexually, just as Verger (who can no longer have sex) wants to watch his pigs have Lecter for dinner. And just as Lecter causes Verger to be fed to his own pigs, he goes one better and feeds (a little bit of) Krendler to Krendler. In the book, but disappointingly not in the film, Lecter also feeds Krendler to Clarice who willingly partakes. In this way she finally becomes just as he is.

I find that in describing the most awful and shocking aspects of the action I am describing Lecter’s most seductive powers. It is not so much that Hannibal is sexy, rather that the experience of being immersed in the overlapping complexes of consumption and incorporation is set up to be thrilling. Perhaps the most potent thing about him is his absolute implacability. We are told that his heart rate never went above 98 when he attacked a nurse, eating her tongue. He guts a man without batting an eyelid. He is not out of control, quite the opposite. He has no conscience and his rationality is Sadean 7 in its intensity and intractability. As passive viewers, out there in the dark, even as we devour we are seduced by this personification of some of our darkest instincts.

‘Don’t you feel eyes moving over your body Clarice? Don’t your eyes seek out the things that you want?’ 8

The onscreen character of Lecter has an incontrovertible potency that horrifies, fascinates and entertains. Hannibal Lecter neatly embodies the desires that underlie incorporative looking and, as he enjoys the luxury of having no conscience, he offers the audience the pleasure of vicariously acting outside of normal or acceptable behaviour without threat of punishment. We can, for a moment, be like him – guilt free and intensely powerful, monstrously narcissistic even. Lecter performs for us utter non-relationality, as does the character Norma Desmond, played by Gloria Swanson in the film Sunset Blvd (1950).9 However, her non-relationality is shaped through psychosis and his through a warped rationality. Her world is constructed through fantasy and the adulation of millions. In the ‘real’ world she can no longer be loved enough and this sends her over the edge. His is constructed through total lack of empathy, boredom and by equal measure violence (as a counter balance). Both Hannibal and Norma refuse the intersubjective relation and they do it furiously, with deadly results.

‘Voluptuaries of all ages, of every sex, it is to you only that I offer this work; nourish yourselves upon its principles...’ [Sade, 1990] 10

More extreme, more narcissistic and more cruel than Norma Desmond or Hannibal, in his performance of self (within his writings and philosophy), the Marquis de Sade violently and perversely rejects any idea of relationality (or intersubjectivity) with a relentless rationalism. 11 His extreme position, his heightened self consciousness and (self) distinction from the world isolate him within himself is revealed as autistic (in the psychological sense rather than the medical condition). How does one control or deal with non-relationality? Through writing it would seem, for both de Sade and Baudelaire. I consider Baudelaire later but first I want to consider desire in extremis, as enacted within the writings of the Marquis de Sade. Simone de Beauvoir writes:

‘The curse which weighed upon Sade – and which only his childhood could explain – was this “autism” which prevented him from ever forgetting himself or being genuinely aware of the reality of the other person...Normally, it is as a result of the vertigo of the other made flesh that one is spellbound within one’s own flesh. If the subject remains confined within the solitude of his consciousness, he escapes this agitation and can rejoin the other only by conscious performance.’ [De Beauvoir, 1955, 22]

Sade’s hyper self-awareness, his intimate knowledge of his drives, and his elaborate strategies at seeking satisfaction, blind him to communion and connection with another human being and refuse the idea of a relationship. This enrages him – in order to satisfy his desires it must be in relation to another person, but he cannot stomach the moral imperative implicit within normative ideas of ‘relationship’ – that of reciprocal dependency and care. Accordingly he perverts desire into a monstrous performance of destruction. The experience of vertigo caused by the other made flesh is the effect of desire. Dizzy and spellbound, we make a choice to escape into communion with another or others in order to remain ‘normal’ and to find fulfilment, temporarily losing oneself in another. Sade made a different choice. He took the liberty of remaining self referring (within himself), tantalisingly enclosed in his own self-conscious, pleasuring himself. This is his outrage – not to seek resolution but dissolution and to revel in it. He refused to perform normality.

Yet Sade’s self-awareness was more than just a physical response to his autistic condition – it was also a social and political provocation. The need to obtain satisfaction and contentment via idealised love for another derives from a fantasy itself. The fantasy that teaches us to yearn, a fantasy that feeds desire, is in fact a fantasy that keeps us in order, keeps us behaving ourselves. The fantasy imposed by the new order of Sade’s post- revolutionary France was little different to that of the old order in that it remained transfixed by the authority of the law. The judges may have changed but the law remained, constrained by what Sade considered to be an outmoded and corrupted morality. He scandalised his comrades with his lewd behaviour but outraged them even more by declaring that it was perfectly reasonable to kill for pleasure, but utterly immoral to kill in the name of justice.12 De Sade is a writer whose life and work are inseparable. His writing is both the result and cause of his imprisonment – imprisonment within himself and within the walls of the Charenton Asylum.13

Sade’s proclaimed perversity is built on a ferocious rationalism combined with an exaggerated emphasis on devouring (vis a vis coprophilia, multiple penetrations, emissions and swallowing). My point in discussing Sade is to analyse how the action of incorporation, performed as ferocious activity (for the libertine, fucking as an act of cruelty), drives us towards a vertiginous condition that is experienced as an intense physical sensation, in the face of potential self-annihilation. His work performs an intractable refusal of relationality in all its aspects. Sade, time and again, throughout his texts stresses that solitude is what defines the human condition and that no relationship or contact is truly possible between one person and another. Although his reasoning is contradictory and paradoxical, it is the very contradictions that, for Sade, are proof of his logic. Sadean thought is a philosophy or even a manifesto of destruction. In the Sadean model, humanity’s power lies in it’s destructive potential – the true libertine negates firstly Man, then God and finally Nature, leaving a unique individual, one who is apart from the human race, a master utterly alone. This master is unfeeling. This libertine is one who inflicts pain and destruction without feeling, without passion. He would himself be destroyed ignominiously and violently, tried and hung for his crimes. Only in this would he find complete satisfaction and vindication. Sade suppresses the idea of desire throughout his writings and he never allows desire to be motivational. If passion or desire is manifest in one of his characters it is immediately chided or punished.14

The unique being, unfeeling and alone in the world, can only maintain his non-engaged, apathetic demeanour through a tremendous effort of will, through generating an acute self-consciousness. Sade’s libertine attempts to destroy any idea of a relation of self to others in the world by destroying all in his path. This destruction through incorporation requires others in order to perpetuate its appetite. The unique being is only powerful if energies are not wasted on others – the only feelings and sensations he is interested in are his own and his withdrawal of empathy, sympathy or compassion serves to magnify them. But he must withdraw it from someone, an other.

The price the libertine pays for ‘knowing’ life and death, pleasure and pain so cruelly is an almost unbearable self-consciousness. Ultimately I read Sade’s philosophy as motivated by an incandescent rage at life itself because the outrages he describes can and do happen in actuality, because his cruelty knows no bounds. In pursuing the destruction of another, the true libertine has made the decision to destroy, rather than to accept, his own need for others (the only means by which to identify himself). As Maurice Blanchot points out (in his work ‘Sade ‘ that prefaces Justine and Philosophy in the Bedroom) ‘Cruelty is nothing more than the negation of self, carried so far that it is transformed into a destructive explosion.’ [Blanchot, 1990, 68]

In 1857, 43 years after the death of the Marquis de Sade, Charles Baudelaire published his infamous series of poems ‘Les Fleurs du Mal’ (Flowers of Evil).15 In them, he takes up Sade’s theme of apathy, in relation to evil, as an erotic devouring and posits all of humanity as being subject to extreme and terrifying impulses, insisting that our desires, if we act on them all, are deadly. I consider Baudelaire here because in the poems he takes a distinctly sensual delight in detailing the excesses of (the then) modern times, and because he posits humanity as being equally parasitical, equally monstrous, in contrast to Sade’s unique being. Further, his consideration of the axis of inaction (apathy) and excess (desire) is couched in terms of bodily incorporation (for example, feeding on remorse, death in our lungs, swallowing the world with a yawn etc.). Given the context of this essay, I read Baudelaire’s poem as standing as an important literary marker of the changing concepts about society, in the face of increasing industrialisation and rampant technological innovation. The shift into a world of industrialisation and mechanical reproduction is imbricated within the crises of identity of Baudelaire’s modern man. The following section comprises a transcript of Au Lecteur (the preface to the book of poems), a translation into English and analysis of the work, in relation to my argument here.

Au Lecteur

La sottise, l'erreur, le péché, la lésine,
Occupent nos esprits et travaillent nos corps,
et nous alimentons nos aimables remords,
Comme les mendiants nourrissent leur vermine.

Nos péchés sont têtus, nos repentirs sont lâches;
Nous nous faisons payer grassement nos aveux,
et nous rentrons gaiement dans le chemin bourbeux,
Croyant par de vils pleurs laver toutes nos taches.

Sur oreiller du mal c'est Satan Trismégiste
Qui berce longuement notre esprit enchanté,
Et le riche métal de notre volonté
Est tout vaporisé par ce savant chimiste.

C'est le diable qui tient les fils qui nous remuent!
Aux objets répugnants nous trouvons des appas;
Chaque jour vers l'enfer nous descendons d'une pas,
Sans horreur, a travers des ténèbres qui puent.

Ainsi, qu'un débauché pauvre qui baise et mange
Le sein martyrisé d'une antique catin,
Nous volons au passage un plaisir clandestin
Que nous pressons bien fort comme une vielle orange.

Serré, fourmillant, comme un million d'helminthes,
Dans nos cerveaux ribote un peuple de Démons,
Et quand nous respirons, la Mort dans nos plumons
Descend, fleuve invisible, avec de sourdes plaintes.

Si le viol, le poison, le poignard, l'incendie,
N'ont pas encor brode de leurs plaisants dessins,
Le canevas banal de nos pitieux destins,
C'est que notre âme, hélas! n'est pas assez hardie.

Mais parmi les chacals, les panthères, les lices,
Les singes, les scorpions, les vautours, les serpents,
Les monstres glapissants, hurlants, grognants, rampants,
Dans le ménagerie infâme de nos vices,

Il est un plus laid, plus méchant, plus immonde!
Quoiqu'il ne pousse ni grands gestes ni grands cris,
Il ferait volontiers de la terre un débris
Et dans un bâillement avalerait le monde;

C'est l'Ennui! – l'œil chargé d'un pleur involontaire,
Il rêve d'échafauds en fumant son houka.
Tu le connais, lecteur, ce monstre délicat.
– Hypocrite lecteur, – mon semblable, – mon frère!

[Baudelaire, 1973, 5-7]


The following translation is a combination of my own translation and in part taken from David Sexton's 'The Strange World of Thomas Harris' (he translates a few verses only). [Sexton, 2001, 91-3] It was important for me to work with a translation that reflected the feel and rhythm, and particularly the inflection of the original poem. Many of the existing translations seemed to miss the viscerality of Baudelaire’s language by quite some way, so I have constructed my own. The poem begins almost in mid stream with a fiercely inclusive 'we'...

Stupidity, error, sin, and meanness
Possess our minds and work on our bodies,
And we feed our fond remorse
As beggars suckle their own lice.

Our sins are stubborn, our regrets cowardly,
We pay handsomely to make our confessions,
And we gaily return by the muddy path,
Believing that our vile tears wash away all our stains.

On this evil pillow is Satan Trismegiste
Who for a long time has cradled our enchanted spirits,
And the precious metals of our will
Are all vaporised by this clever scientist.

It is the Devil who pulls the strings that make us dance!
In loathsome things we take delight;
Each day to Hell we descend a little more,
Without horror we descend through the stinking gloom.

Like this a poor corrupt one who kisses and bites
The martyred breast of an ancient courtesan,
We willingly partake of this hidden pleasure,
Which we squeeze hard, like an old orange.

Tight, swarming, like a million tapeworms,
The matter of our brains is populated by demons,
And, when we breathe, Death is in our lungs
Descending, an invisible river, with muffled groans.

If rape, poison, dagger, fire,
Will never again embroider their pleasant designs
On the banal canvas of our pitiful destinies,
It is our soul, alas! that is not bold enough.

But among the jackals, panthers, bitches,
Monkeys, scorpions, vultures, snakes,
The monsters scream and howl and grunt and crawl,
In the sordid menagerie of our vices,

There is one more ugly and more wicked and more filthy!
With no grand gesture nor great cry,
He would willingly lay the earth to waste
And swallow the world in a yawn:

It is boredom! – the eye filled with an unwitting tear,
He dreams of scaffolds and smokes his houkah.
You know him reader, this fastidious monster,
– Hypocrite reader, – my same, – my brother!

The last two lines mark a sharp change from the inclusive 'we' to a direct and confrontational 'you'. Evil is no longer an abstract, an outside entity, issuing from an indistinct crowd – now it becomes personal. It issues from, and belongs, as much to me as to you. For Baudelaire, 'c'est l'ennui' (it is boredom) which is at the root of our wickedness. It is the condition by which 'evil' manifests itself.

The city of Paris in Sade’s day was wild and convulsive – at one point in the midst of the Revolution, during ‘The Terror’, the streets literally ran with blood.16 Some eighty years later when Baudelaire ran his eye over the city skyline it was an altogether different place. Now the streets ran with a multitude of people, businesses, and vehicles and yet more people. Post revolutionary, post ‘The Terror’, Paris had become the very epitome of a modern city, a hub of western modernity. If in ‘Au Lecteur’ Baudelaire gives us a body as a metropolis of vice, a menagerie of monsters, in ‘Crepuscule Du Soir’ (a poem later in the series) he gives us the city as a body, infected with the virus of humanity.

As night falls, prostitutes and their customers issue from the depths, like ants swarming out of an anthill that bursts, like a sore, swarming through the city streets, which are likened to the veins of a body.17 Baudelaire speaks from the cusp of modernity, halfway between the 19th and 20th centuries, and he is dystopic about the future of newly modern humanity. The new industrial age is seen as giving the opportunity for man to indulge his every vice and desire, hence his use of the metaphor of the city as body, the body as city. Taking up Sade’s notion of apathy, Baudelaire posits that our over-indulgence and our over-exposure to vices, desires and the horrors that surround us lead us to perpetrate more wickedness and to be concerned less and less for our fellow citizens.

But unlike Sade, who proposes that one should make the effort to stay indifferent, to ensure that one has no relation to another, Baudelaire seems to warn us that apathy is the result of our vices and perversions. My interest in Baudelaire lies in the way that he posits the body as site for his poetic discourses and in the way that his discourse is an articulation of the crisis of identity that faced modern man. It functions as a precursor to a different understanding of the changing relationship of individuals to each other. Marshall McLuhan, one hundred years later, pointed to the final line in ‘Au Lecteur’ as being a reading of the imminent collapse between author and reader.

‘The involvement of role creates the image that is collective process. Baudelaire’s hypocrite lecteur, mon semblage, mon frere, is itself an image that compresses the entire process in question. It is the recognition that there is no more division between the poet and his audience, between producer and consumer. The reader puts on the audience as his corporate or tribal mask. The audience creates the author as the author shapes the awareness of the audience.’ [McLuhan, 1969]

This feature is significant in our understanding of the actions of new media and I will return to later in the thesis. Fast forward to the end of the 20th century and Baudelaire’s poetic discourse, along with a Sadean rationale are now manifest in the popular fictional character of Hannibal Lecter. But now it is incorporation as cannibalism, rather than sexual excess/promiscuity that shapes his character.

The characters of both Norma Desmond and Hannibal Lecter are shaped through a violent eroticism – hers is suicidal and narcissistic and his murderous and oral. And whereas Norma’s isolation from the ‘real’ world is emphasised, the emphasis for Hannibal is that we, the (real) viewers are the same as he because we can not only empathise and understand his rationale, but that we can take pleasure in cannibalistic actions. We are looking at things in the same way; the monster we see on the screen is an accumulation of our reflected, monstrous selves. Sade proposes a destruction of any belief in the necessity for relation with others in the world – his extreme rationalism situates cruelty as ‘natural’ and declares that to be unique one must be cruel, even to the point of death. In contrast Baudelaire posits ‘human nature’ as the source of ‘evil’ but he concludes that there is a collective responsibility for such evil. You and me, reader and author alike have gone as far as we can go as separate and distinct individuals. Whether we like it or not, newly technologised humanity, with everything that is available to it, can no longer sustain the fantasy of the individual as alone and irresponsible in the world without terrible consequences.

The resolutely non-relational performances as embodied by the Norma Desmond and Hannibal Lecter characters, and in the writings of Sade, offer us a bleak vision of humanity. It is obviously not the whole picture. However, I contest that there is a productive tension between relationality and non-relationality. I return time and again to Sade and to these films, to suck up, or to appropriate, or, better, to incorporate a creative response to these depictions of utter isolation. I have used it, like an ingredient, in my performance work that I situate firmly as reciprocal and as relational exchange. The non- relationality exposed in the examples I give, are all extreme responses to relationality, but as a form of rejection. Norma goes insane in her isolated and fake existence, refusing the ‘real’ world. Hannibal is constantly pursued and imprisoned because of society’s anathema to his actions, yet he continues his attacks. Sade, also imprisoned for his excesses (in reality), relentlessly amplified the perversion and cruelty in his work – always and gleefully turning up the heat.

1 Spoken by the character Doctor Chiltern in the film Silence of the Lambs [Demme ,1991]
2 Total Film Movie Poll, published 26.09.02, The Top Ten Movie Serial Killers as voted by the readers of Total Film are: 1. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) in The Silence Of The Lambs (1991), Hannibal (2001), Red Dragon (2002), 2. John Doe (Kevin Spacey) in Se7en (1997), 3. Michael Myers in the Halloween series (1978 – ongoing), 4. Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) in Psycho series (1960-90), 5. Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen) in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974). [Total Film Magazine, October Edition, 2002, UK]. In 2010, the poll was updated and Hannibal still retained his number one position.
3 Charles Baudelaire [1973]
4 In the film Silence of the Lambs [Demme, 1991]
5 Billfattenshisvictimsupandconditionstheirskin.InthisheechoestheHanselandGretelstoryinwhich the witch catches and then fattens up her victims before cooking and eating them. This underscores one of the many connections with myth in the Lecter stories.
6 Thisisanothermythicunderscoring.Lecter’spowertocontrolanimalsisunexplainedandisle asakind of magic. It maybe an ironic reference by Thomas Harris to St Francis of Assisi or perhaps to the story of Circe (she turned Odysseus’ men into pigs).
7 See Marquis de Sade
8 Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs [Demme, 1991]
9 In the film Sunset Blvd., silent screen goddess, Norma Desmond has become a recluse. Alone her crumbling Hollywood mansion, save for her devoted butler, she only has her own images on film and in pictures for company. She is deluded and dreams of a comeback. Then a young and needy screenwriter, Joe Gillis, turns up one day. The story descends into madness and murder. Dir. Billy Wilder, writers Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett. Paramount Pictures, 1950.
10 Quotation from the preface of Philosophy in the Bedroom’ (addressed ‘To Libertines’) [Sade, 1990 (1965)]
11 Relationality denotes kinship (in general terms) and intersubjectivity denotes something understood or existing between two or more subjects.
12 ‘...Sade as Grand Juror almost always dismissed the charges against the accused.Holding their fate in his hands, he refused to harm...in the name of the law. He was even led to resign from his office of President of the Piques section. He wrote to Gaufidy: ‘I considered myself obliged to leave the chair of vice president; they wanted me to put a horrible inhuman act to a vote. I never would.’ In December 1793, he was imprisoned on charges of ‘moderatism’. Released 375 days later he wrote with disgust ‘My government imprisonment, with the guillotine before my eyes, did me a hundred times more harm that all the Bastilles imaginable.’ [de Beauvoir, 1955, 16]
13 De Sade was imprisoned in Chateau de Vincennes in 1777 until 1784. He was transferred to the Bastille at the height of ‘The Terror’. On 2nd July 1789 he reportedly shouted out of the windows that they were killing prisoners inside, causing a disturbance on the streets. Two days later he was transferred to Charenton Asylum, where he stayed until 1790. The storming of the Bastille occurred just a few days a er the Sade inspired disturbance (14th July 1789)
14 As Maurice Blanchot points out, one of Sade’s heroines, Juliette, in the novel of the same name, is thoroughly reprimanded by Clairwill for her enthusiastic passion that drives her debauchery. Desire is seen as weakness by the libertine. ‘These are dangerous and facile tendencies. Crime matters more than lust, and the cold-blooded, the premeditated crime is greater than the crime committed in the heat of passion.’ [Blanchot, 1990, 68]
15 Baudelaire, ‘Fleurs du mal’ [1972]
16 The Reign of Terror was a period during the French Revolution prompted by th eascent of Robespierre, according to whom ‘La terreur n'est autre chose que la justice prompte, sévère, inflexible.’ (Terror is nothing other than prompt, severe, inflexible justice.). Lasting from September 1793 until the summer of 1794, during the Terror, between 18,000 and 40,000 lost their lives. In the last month alone, 1300 people were executed. At one point, the good citizens of Le Place de la Concorde complained to the City Council that they were unable to go about their daily business, on account of the invasive stench of blood and death that permeated the area, following the numerous daily executions (by guillotine). The Council duly shi ed the guillotine to another part of town – the garden of a prison. The prison garden in question was overlooked by Sade in his cell.
17 ‘A travers les lueurs que tourmente le vent
La Prostitution s'allume dans les rues ;
Comme une fourmilière elle ouvre ses issues ;
Partout elle se fraye un occulte chemin,
Ainsi que l'ennemi qui tente un coup de main ;
Elle remue au sein de la cité de fange
Comme un ver qui dérobe à l'homme ce qu'il mange’


‘Across them who are tormented by the wind Prostitution lights up in the streets
Like an anthill she opens up her exits
Everywhere she forces her hidden ways
As well as the enemy who attempts a sleight of hand
She stirs in the breast of the city
Like a maggot who undresses the man it eats’
Extract from Crepuscule du Soir, Charles Baudelaire, ‘Fleurs du mal’, [1972, 101] Baudelaire constantly makes viral metaphors within the poems, echoing his own illness (syphilis) which was untreated.