A Monster Found Everywhere
Shariar Vaghfipour

Author’s Bio

On the year 2002, in Mashad, the sacred and pilgrimage town of Iran, a serial killer appeared who had killed 19 women and been named by press as “spider killer” because of his constant way of murdering. As a typical trend, all his victims were helpless disfranchised rejected women, i.e. addicted aged prostitutes. Then a TV documentary made by an Iranian director for BBC network, including some interviews with murderer, his wife and his son, father and two daughters of a victim, judge of the case and some people who had acquainted murderer through living in same neighborhood or working in same place. What was probably surprising for good- willing people was all interviewees’ same position about these crimes. Murderer claimed his only intention was cleansing the society of guilty ones, of those villains who aimed corrupting his people’s living atmosphere. All interviewees, certainly except victim’s relations, praised his intention and actions. After all, they attested he was a pious, well-behavior and very civilized man. Nevertheless the “spider killer” is not an exceptional phenomenon, whether in east or west. Everywhere we witness the man who think of himself as a kind of savior whose mission is “to refine” society, even world; but eventually, albeit his supposedly benevolent motive, his actions take on monstrosity shapes.

Although in reality almost no one wants to meet a serial killer or other kinds of monster-man, all kinds of cultural representations of them occupy a privileged status. Horror movies have populated fan- communities, modern gothic fictions are among best-selling literature and monsters and evil agents are objects of cultural fascination. Twenty century did witness this frenzy fascination to evil and gory representations even in high-art movements: horrifying writings of Bataille, Artaud’s “cruelty theater”, scaring paintings of Bacon or disgusting artworks of artists like Stuart Brisley who belonged to “happening” movement and violent praised movies of Lynch or Cronenberg.

Now the question is raised here is that whether there is a link between serial killers and contemporary cultural representations of monster, especially in the frame of horror (slasher) movies? From the outset, we must keep in minds that this question does not mean that whether slasher-movies monsters are the adequate representations for the serial killers in the world outside the movies; but that aims that which thing prompt us to call these two kinds of beings with the same name? And similar horror monsters appear on a screen, “on what screen social serial killers appear”? This question is inserted because it is evident that close encountering with monsters must be so shocking and the reason of maintaining the ordinary lives of those ones lived close to such serial killers, as “spider killer” is these monsters appear on screen too, providing some easiness and security for the others. Psychoanalytically, this screen is of fantasy and maybe the “big Other”; for thank to that, we can conceive everyone, certainly who we designate, as innocent. This is some kind of “inter-passivity” and somehow a pervert inclination, for as though we know perfectly who we are (for the Other). But presently it is sufficient.

Before turn to our question, let’s make a detour, and to do so, we should recall Lacan formula of signifying, i.e. that one which about relations about signifier and subject. Beware that we use this for notifying what is remained un-signifying and whether we are right to call killers, such as “spider”, monsters?

S1 —————> S2 $ ————————a

We also note this formula to elucidate function of screen that is covering the bars which mean inconsistencies and dissymmetry of representation. More than this, the screen provides some sense of security and also a means of perceiving things which projected on it. Now, let’s come back to notion of monstrosity.

The first way of observing beings called monsters is that one is offered by Freudian conception of “the uncanny” or “unheimlich”, in the sense of something bizarre, something unhomely, the homelessness, something that can not be posited. In one sense, especially in the terms of language and representation, the uncanny is the same with the Real, something, or better speaking, a trauma that can not be symbolized, i.e. the Real of sexual difference.

If we elaborate further, we can claim that the uncanny is excrement, the waste that must be expelled but its otherness marks, or infects, the clean body of representation. As Lacan noted, the burden of excrement is characteristic of human culture and civilization. The human being is that being who (or what) do not know what to do with his (or its) shit. Shit is a natural excess that through the treatment of human being turns into the unnatural, turns into a means that demarcates the man. So the dark moment, the vanishing mediator that gives possibility to culture is the moment a being forges a way to expel this waste. So the way to treat this disturbing excess, the rituals of cleanliness and purification provides the index of cultural difference and symbolic identity. It may sound Freud elaboration of development of child identity: passage from anal stage to oedipal stage. If we turn to Lacan interpretation of evolution of human identity, we must regard child’s relations to its specular double, its image in the mirror. Through the mirror stage, the distinct presence of (m)Other inserts itself to the psyche of child; and by the strategy of recognizing itself in regarding to (m)Other, the child’s psychic drama begins. Subject is born when the child can situate itself in the world that names Other’s desire. It is well-known debate but it is crucial to keep in mind this fact that thing is not prior to word, contrary, it is word creates thing; so this is the signifier that give birth to subjectivity. Subjectivity is Hegelian moment that the signifiers which mark child psychic separation of maternal realm are repressed. This process is castration. Castration does not mean enslaving child by authority of father but emancipation of devouring mother’s jouissance. Castration means subversion of omni-powerfulness of mother for she lacks signifier of phallus, and more, the child cannot provide this for her or offer himself to her as phallus. Also it is crucial that from this lack of phallus erupts sexual identity.

The strategy that is adopted by subject to treat with mother’s desire forms its psychic state: neurosis, perversion or psychosis. It is worn debate that how is the logic of perversion, so it seems enough merely to note that perversion is result of refusal of lack in the mother. The pervert does not accept that his mother lacks signifier of phallus, and more, he unable to act as what she lacks. So as though, mother, or the Other, is the main feature for perverts. Social interactions for perverts devoid of small others, so their world is empty of human passions, especially capacity of negation or “saying- no”. And for this reason, usually perverts are completely socialized. Their actions are fully in accordance of social rules. Perversion is the way of perfect compromise. They act as so obediently, as we see in the most of slasher movies (or in Kantian moral subject who with no condition, actualizes universal imperatives).

We concentrate on the role of “the Other disguised as mother” in the purpose of observing closely Psycho of Hitchcock, that movie which apparently has had a main effect on formation of subgenre slasher. This movie had major slasher generic elements such as blade or sharp murdering tool, gory scene(s) of murdering, collection or heap of dead bodies (in this case, taxidermist birds), silent dim building and a weird family (as if the only constitutive element which was absent in Psycho was displaying of mutilation scene itself). Except this inventory, nowadays some unimportant scenes in psycho has supplied standard images in slasher movies: brutally murdering victim because of some unrelated moral deficiency, horrified searching in a silent gothic house with the premonition of a fatal attack, being killed when been showering or been naked, conversion of subjective point of view (supposedly belong to a pursuer killer) to the objective P.O.V. (for example, the picture could be said framed by the gaze of house). In the heart of psycho, we can see some paradigmatic figures and themes of main slasher movies: murdering as a kind of consummate sexual relation, or strictly speaking, successful intercourse; intervention of dead mother into tragedy, mummy mom or undead maternal figure and embodiment of lingering omen voice and so on. Norman Bates is a harmless adolescent-like son who is subordinated to his mother; a meek-hood one who shockingly slaughters a defenseless female figure while the face of he, himself, is not shot. We can say Norman Bates is psychically disturbed one, a split subject who resigns his place to his dead (or better, un-dead) mother, and finally can overcome to this schism through offering his body for inhabiting his mother phantom (the final scene where dead mother talk through the Bates’ mouth).

Before we go further, it is worthwhile to note that every subject is split, so it must find a way to tarry with its split-ness. Some subject get satisfaction of playing with this split who called hysteric, and some try to suture every split symbolic it find called obsessive. Maybe it can be possible to design some formulae about subjects in respect to kinds of treatment with their split; but now, this is not of interest. Presently about Bates, he is confronting with a split between horizontal motel and vertical house (just as the narrative itself that is compound two dissymmetrical parts: the horizontal metonymic half that is a moral adventure tale and the vertical half that is a mystery fiction revolved around a murder); a split between being a desiring subject and being a desired object; a split between treating as a living servant and treating like an undead, a moving haunted body.

This spectral plot and subject matter haunt the edifice of slasher subgenre: a ruptured psych lives on in a pre-oedipal state, the one who does not succeed to separate his ego from his monster mother (to be more effect, dead in Halloween or undead, mummified mother, in Texas Chainsaw Massacre), acts like a serial killer. Evidently, refusing to enter (or better, banned of entering to) symbolic order and being castrated, he invents a fundamental fantasy to secure himself of threats of The Real, forges a fantasmatic solution to the enigma of sexuality. He disavows the lack of phallus in her mother and so can not translate his desire into Other’s desire. In this sense, in psycho, watching the naked Marion by the killer, was not a voyeuristic sexual act because his only act from which he could derive sexual satisfaction was being an object/thing for her mother’s jouissance, and punishing a guilty sexy girl who could seduce him, so actually could introduce a fissure on the imaginary perfect surface of the continuity between child and its mother or Other. Its likely aftermath would be foreground the real lack in (m)Other.

This is exactly what that happens in the apropos of many supposedly reformist serial killers, for example “spider” and the likes, make themselves appointed to annihilate all that is somehow a threat to their fantasy, i.e. being the object/thing of (m)Other’s jouissance. For “spider” the serial killer, the addicted prostitutes, not even “grandiose whore”, were the mere objects what impede realization of society’s unity. They were conceived as threats for they acted like objet a, they are treated as though they were stealing the jouissance that was belonged to Other. For such male serial killers, suggestive women are those not only snatch their jouissance, but also hindrances to fulfill their fantasy; and perverts are those ones who, unlike neuroses, starve to fulfill them. Paradoxically, these women are known as a foreign body and at once the only one that could access to the most intimate and hidden treasure of Other. The perverts like “spider” think they have become deprived of being happy for losing especial concern and desire of Other because of some mysterious guilt and some obtrusive stain obstacle receiving Other’s gaze; so cleansing this stain could establish the perfect state, i.e. being the only object for Other’s jouissance. Only recall obsessive Bate’s works for keeping clean everything. These obsessive actions are not interpreted as neurotic deeds, because these deeds are done with a kind of successful air not desperation.

It may be fruitful to reflect a little on act of cleansing or purifying, especially when be acted obsessively, the act aims obliterating all stain, all left-over. Is not it familiar with God’s anger, with divine supreme punishment, in cases such Sodom’s or Pharaoh’s soldiers who pursuit Moses’ people? It suffices to recall etymology of “monster”: derivative of “monere” means “warning” or “anticipation of impeding catastrophe”. In this sense, monster is an agent of God’s will and this equation echoes Lacan’s seminar on “God and Woman’s jouissance” which relates jouissance with “just”, “justice” and Aristotle’s notion of justice as “golden mean” or “happy medium”. When cleansing is a medium to receive enjoyment to its proper possessing, that means justice again, so it sounds logical to say that the divine to fully attain itself, must rely on something that is not divine; it means “God” lacks something that a monster can afford: this is another translation of pervert theology. This theology is worked through an affirmative divine gesture, the divine that disavows its incompleteness. So, do not these etymological plays witness to the fact that monster is an (secret) agent of mother jouissance, especially when this enjoyment bears witness to desert a body? Is not that that enjoyment equates with pain?

Now we can step back and review our statements about the lost moment when mankind traverse from nature and receive culture: repelling the one’s own waste. But presently when the notion of “God” is involved, is it working to incite from Luther (through Lacan quotation) that “human kind literally are the waste matter which falls into the world from the devil’s anus”. The world is all and all is sinful and has excremental nature; so the most authentic deed, for a protestant, is say no to the world, just like a devotee believer of Buddha. Thanks to Weber and Zizek (in the cases of Protestantism and Buddhism, respectively) we know the inverted result (rise of capitalism and brutal crimes). But this belief is not restricted to religion.

In some respect, all humane rituals and customs are efforts to wash away these disgust waste. Some feminist thinkers, for example Julia Kristeva, claim that patriarchal societies always identify feminine body with abject and many cultural representations we call monsters are various embodiments of masculine fear of other repressed feminine, fear of all repressed things that coming back with doubled power. It may sound homological to Freud’s interpretation of monster as embodiment of coming back of something that is repressed; but in fact it is not. The reason lies in statements like “there is only one libido”; “there is no woman” and so on. Thanks to Lacan’s formulae of sexuation, we know that there is nothing beyond phallic function and that the notion of existence of something hidden, mysterious and subversive in women that evades from phallic function is only another masculine fantasy, serving to secure subject from The Real of sexual difference. From this perspective, such interpretations that are based on equation of monster and feminine thing are various male fantasies. They work like strategy of enemy-making in formation of nation-state in narration of Carl Schmitt. Unity and harmony of our world relies on a powerful enemy what threats our world with a vengeance. Equation of feminine with a all-powerful evil monster resulted from male fantasy not something intrinsic and essential called femininity.

What is feminine sexuation? There is a kind of covering lack of phallus that is conceived feminine and evolves around masquerading, i.e. being masked, playing hysterical, pretending to be phallus. But what is under mask? Nothing. The real horror is this nothing and in order to not being faced with this nothing, the man invents some fantasy signifying that there is something: a kind domestic angel, a demonic monster, something revolutionary and so on. But what is relation between this “nothing behind feminine sexuation” and “destitution of subject”?

The answer is they are the one. Destitution of subject is the end of psychoanalytic experience when as analyst occupying the position of objet a, the analysand acknowledge that subject is an effect of signifiers, that all the time subject is nothing but presupposition. Subject is nothing, is Cartesian Cogito itself when the world is wholly subtracted of that. In this respect, what is desiring subject? Let us back to one of our departure points, that is formula about signification: “subject is what that one signifier represents for another signifier”. After all, afore-mentioned formula originally based on Charles Peirce’s model of sign and it means a sign (compounded of signifier and signified) refers to another sign. After post- structuralism we know that signifying is the infinite play of signifiers, as even Lacan said. But from the notion of The Real, it becomes evident that there is some stopper to that play that maybe not fair. (It maybe interesting to posit that believing unending play of signifier and un-decidability is somehow perverse theory, is somehow academic discourse that is unable to say no and insert an end to that unending chain, that is unable to act messianic, as Benjamin theorized.) That is a, objet petite a. And what is this element? This is very object that causes our desire, in meaning that is Other’s desire. This is not some structuralist notion, meaning that we do not desire, we are forced to desire by something could called Other, language and so on. This object is a question that asked by subject addressing Other: “what do you want of me?” or “what am I for you?”

This question remains without answer and it remains enigmatic for good. Fantasy is an effort to prepare an answer to this question that is not grasped at all. But why? Because the subject has no substance, it is produced of signification, strictly speaking, subject is what rejects being subjected, subjected to any signifier. Subject is very impossibility of being positioned the subject. In this sense, subject is what that is “unheimlich”, is “uncanny”. So, what is true monster?

Referring to the formula that is introduced in this essay firstly, we can conclude that subject is not “somebody” but is “something”, and furthermore, supposing this subject is a barred subject for this is not “one”, subject is pure negativity, is suspending all reality, is an empty void that has no content. The subject is a fissure on the surface of nature, is the vanishing mediator between nature and culture. (In this sense, subject likes cracks on the walls of “house of Usher”. In this story, the male protagonist, Radrick suffers of a family sickness, of an evil power inclining melancholia and intensified sensation. In other hand, the mansion that is called Usher refers both to mansion itself and the family. So, male Usher represents a perfect thought-sensation machine; but in this so human one, the madness is intrinsic. So fall of Usher is fall of reason too, because madness is not out of this machinery but is very element that constitutes reason.)

We claimed that subject is the very Cartesian Cogito. Remembering the name Descartes gave to Cogito, Res Cogitant, we can call creatures like Androids in Blade Runner subject too. So is not the only real monster is very the subject? Referring to figures like “creature of Frankenstein”, “Count Dracula” and so on bears witness to this statement. So we can conclude every horror narrative is narrative of subjectivization, or in another way, narrative of constituent fantasy of a subject or subject-position (it is crucial that we must distinguish between subject and subject-position, and this fact can make for us a cognitive tool to categorize two distinct horror narrations: narration of “void” and narration of “loss”, narration of fear of internal impossibility or fear of external block for realization). Now we can relate sub-subgenres of horror movie (sub-slasher) to relevant fundamental (male) fantasies, for example: Texas Chain- Sow Massacre signifies possibility of a harmonic society (murderer family locate outside of industrial society). Dominant orthodox interpretation of this narration is this is embodiment of repressed groups by industry trends: a bankrupt farmer family because of industrialization of butchery. In this respect, this movie narration of un-symbolized people, those ones that are not integrated by current order. But all this interpretation is an imaginary fantasy.

A Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th stage the male fantasy about the role of femme fatale that is portraying dangerous female serves for unity and stability of male universe and covering the Real of sexual difference. Prevailing avant-guard interpretation shows this fantasy in another way, an exegesis that is found mostly in feminist writings which say: “historically individual identity is marked by the rejection of the maternal bond and acceptance of the law of the father. But the abject is never far removed, always threatening the stability of the subject and the social order as a whole and consequently always in need of ritual expunging of the abject element”.

(We can continue this praxis and demonstrate fundamental fantasy for another sub-genres:

Ring, exemplary Far-East horror movie about malevolent ghosts embodies fantasy about perfect and harmonious society that could be retained through paying an undoubted symbolic debt that is realized by revenging specter. Notably, the most of these phantoms have feminine figure (mother and child) that their existence demonstrate the male fantasy about constituent and mysterious power of maternal figure.

Zombie movies purportedly give image to fear of uncivilized people, actually stage a Nazi-like fantasy about society and Zombie, pointing to Jewish-like man who is devoid of all citizenship rights, embodies bare life.)

From this account, we can prepare a sense interpretation for some stereotypes in these kind movies: for example, “last girl”, a virgin female who finally come over the monster is representation of phallicized female who could be occupies position of castrated mother; we must not forget that monster or serial killer have some kind of interest to this girl who is innocent and never have affair with guilty ones.

Some movie theorists relate the rise of these movies to intensification of feminist and homosexual movements that insert a sense of instability to societies, especially the USA. Ideological delusion lies here for referring inner instability of sexuation to some external cause, making an implicit hint that establishment of stable sexes is possible. As we reviewing this account, we most keep in mind that psychic romance is not merely a familial case, but a universal one; for example, is Obama a “last girl” eventually kill Bush the monster? So, it is necessary to be acute and do not err that a kind of phallicization could be attained. Furthermore, we must learn how to tarry with the monsters and this does not mean the only way to treat a monster is killing as done in so many places and times.

Art: Hellen Van Meene, Untitled #318, C- print, 2008.