Genders 30 1999

Lecter Knows Worst
Justice as Marginal Value and the Law of Series
in Thomas Harris's Silence of the Lambs


The Lion looked at Alice wearily. Are you animal - or vegetable - or mineral? he said, yawning at every other word.

"It's a fabulous monster!" the Unicorn cried out, before Alice could reply.

Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass

The dangerous and uncanny point has been reached where the greater, more manifold, more comprehensive life transcends and lives beyond the old morality; the "individual" appears, obliged to give himself laws and to develop his own arts and wiles for self-preservation, self-enhancement, self-redemption.

All sorts of new what-fors and wherewithals; no shared formulas any longer; misunderstanding allied with disrespect; decay, corruption, and the highest desires gruesomely entangled; the genius of the race overflowing from all cornucopias of good and bad; a calamitous simultaneity of spring and fall, full of new charms and veils that characterize young, still unexhausted, still unwearied corruption.

Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

This cat-mouse fusion results from the capture of the predator-subject by the prey-object: the mouse has caught the cat. This fusion is experienced as a total psychic awakening of the mouse, who ... ceases to be mouse-for-the-cat.... She ceases to be determined, doomed by her behavior of being-for-the-other at the moment when she conceives ... of the virtuality of her being-for-herself. Thus, transformed into the co-nascent/co-gnizant locus of a double identity, of a vivid simultaneity where Being and Non-Being are ... the mouse is no longer stable.... She no longer has a body. Locus of nothing, but power of everything. Null. Pure energy of being. Infinitive violence. The very mind of catastrophe.

Claire Lejeune, Morphogenèse et imaginaire

[1]   Projecting both reader and heroine in the middle of things, the opening scene of Thomas Harris's Silence of the Lambs1 spells out the full implications of Starling's paradoxical position in the apparatuses of the Law. When Crawford "summons" the FBI trainee, she responds to his interpellation with a mixture of entrepreneurial "self-interest" and bemused speculation - the bewildered disbelief of the "chosen" one questioning her calling with the paranoid address to the Other: "why me?"2 Starling's mystified reaction to Crawford's proposition (sounding out Lecter to help investigate the Buffalo Bill serial murder case) foreshadows the inner division which determines her paradoxical stance throughout the narrative: the rift between her failure to achieve full identification with an ad hoc position in the hierarchy of the Law and her attempts to accept the dictates of that position. Still, for all the initial ambiguity he triggers in her, Crawford is neither the most elusive nor the most marking figure that she discovers as she gets increasingly involved in the case. He may loom in her consciousness as Carroll's paternalistic "know-it-all caterpillar," even during the most determining moments of the investigation he turns out to be no more than a humorless "Stoic," a crafty "manipulat[or]," and a "phlegmatic" but experienced technocrat with a few practical tricks to pass on (SL 39, 19, 185, 157). By contrast, it is the cannibal who towers over the entire progress of Starling's apprenticeship as the ambiguous paternalistic figure, dispensing his knowledge with the rigor of a technocrat yet never failing to shroud it in the cruel irony of his Carrollian humor. Playing the equivocal caterpillar to her single-minded Alice, wielding the art of paradox with consummate ease, acting at once as a sort of humorous Underworld guide, Socratic mentor,3 and grotesque buffoon, the oracular psychiatrist manages to turn Starling's nightmarish acquaintance with sadistic crime into a lesson in social "Advancement" and human motivation (SL 24). Inscribed in his own body and its feral drive to annihilate all that is made, his Sadean practice of affectless criminality introduces Starling to one of the most disturbing elements in Sade's philosophy of individualism: the urge to act out a "nostalgic dream of transcendence" by translating the "principle [of] energy" into a destructive "negation" of humankind and the affirmation of an über-individual whose will to self-assertion demands nothing less than the subjection of the others' individuality to the logic of series, their reduction to the "nullity" of "indefinitely interchangeable sign[s] in an immense erotic equation.... At the center of the Sadean world is the demand of a sovereignty affirming itself through an immense negation. This negation ... is realized at the level of large numbers."4 Herein lies one of Lecter's most pregnant twists of Sadean (and Carrollian) humor.5 Without granting her the benefit of heuristic explanation, he decides to immerse the FBI novice directly into the experience of destructive self-affirmation, confronting her with the scandalous revelation that the violence of the "aberrant individual" represents a genuinely symptomatological outlook on the dynamic of the late capitalist social body - a critical "philosophy [of] malady" in which the figure of the addictive killer as predatory consumer is not so much the anomalous expression as the hyperbolic symptom of a socio-economic order founded in the relentless pursuit of self-interest and predatory consumption ("S" 710, 730). (Here it is important to specify that the ironies of Lecter's mentorial relationship to Starling revolve around what can be described as a pathology of autistic performance. As I will argue later, the psychiatrist never allows himself a measure of metadiscursive distance from the sadistic scene on which he stages his predatory acts. Recalling Sade's stance vis-à-vis the legal apparatuses of Republican France, Lecter refuses to verbally expose the division of the legal domain between the public Law and its inverse, the sadistic rule of sexist, institutional, classist, and speciesist abuse. Instead, like Sade, the cannibal chooses to embody that division, to impersonate the rule of sadistic abuse, and to act out his role to the point of autistic identification with it. It is this radical cancellation of the limit between [imaginary] performance and ["real"] motivation which constitutes the essence of Lecter's ironic relationship to Starling - a maddeningly opaque involvement which culminates in her admission of bafflement when Lecter asks her if she thinks he is a "real" sociopath: "I'm still waiting for the shallowness of affect" is her honest and decidedly unironic answer [SL 140].)

[2]   But before I proceed with my reading of Lecter's role, I would like to interject a methodological clarification concerning my approach to authorship, textuality, and gender in Lambs. In my reading of Harris's novel, I tend to avoid the question of authorial intention (how the author speaks through his text to express reifying visions of gender and sexuality), focusing instead on how the text speaks against the author. In other words, my focus is on how Lambs' overtly reifying treatment of gender and sexuality contains an underlying potential for critical, subversive, and emancipatory interrogations of the text. What I propose in this essay is therefore an analysis of Harris's text against the grain of its/his ideological tendencies. One of the main objectives of such an analysis is to discern within the most radical expressions of reification various elements of critical content which lurk between the lines, offering the possibility of exposing that selfsame reification. In this respect, Lecter's symptomatological stance is a case in point. The psychiatrist's staging of his cannibalism is symptomatological to the extent that the "message" underlying its reifying logic can be outlined in the following terms: Lecter is a pathologically cruel consumer in a society that glorifies the liberal law of unlimited consumption (visual consumption, carnivorous consumption, the consumption of crimes and catastrophes). At the same time, however, he exposes the hidden cruelty of that law by pushing its logic to its highest degree of obscenity: to the speciesist consumption of animal flesh he opposes the consumption of human flesh; to the voyeuristic consumption of pain and violence in the media he opposes the unmediated consumption of his patients' "tears" and personal catastrophes (SL 216). Lecter's attitude is in this sense clearly reminiscent of Sade's (in)famous "encore un effort" argument.6 It is from this perspective that I speak of the cannibal's sadism as the expression of a "philosophy [of] malady," a philosophy that I propose to interpret as symptomatic of the unreasons and excesses of the liberal public sphere ("S" 730). The same interpretive premise applies to my analysis of Gumb and the way he treats his victims. In coming to terms with the symptomatological content of his motives, I have chosen not to limit myself to critiquing a novel/novelist that stages a character who reifies the female body in horrifying ways. Rather, my approach to Gumb's aberration can be summarized in the following terms: This is a novel/novelist that stages a character who reifies the female body in horrifying ways. It is clear enough from the letter of the text that what Gumb does, as an aberrant individual, is barbaric. What the letter of the text does not say, though, is how his behavior is symptomatic of the less hyperbolic (but none the less barbaric) ways in which "normal" people - with the full sanction of the laws of society and marketplace - reify women and animals, consuming them as body parts, visual objects, skins, furs, meat.7 What I offer to explore then is the critical/subversive potential implicit in this unspoken exposure of the sexist and speciesist society of which Lecter and Gumb are extreme expressions.

[3]   It is in this context that the seeming gratuity of Lecter's violence acquires its full complexity. Beyond the weird amalgam of freakishness and awe that it evokes, his fascinating and horrifying presence in the narrative resides in the complex levels of symptomatological insight which he "bodies forth" through his sadism. For the thrust of his destructive agency cannot be interpreted solely as the drive of a sadistic/Sadean über-individual - the deployment of a self-centered energy in "infinitive becoming," unfolding beyond transcendent finality and without instrumental motivation.8 As it becomes clear to Starling, behind his flippant endorsement of destruction as an esthetic pursuit lies a unique diagnosis of the linkage between the sadistic underside of intersubjective relations and the "obscene ... inverse" that divides the domain of the Law from within (M 55). According to Slavoj Zizek, this "splitting of the law into the written public Law and its underside, the 'unwritten,' obscene secret code" is an effect of the "incomplete, 'non-all' character of the public Law" (M 54-55). Based on this assumption, Zizek concludes that "Sadism" is a corollary of the Law's intrinsic division inasmuch as it "relies on the splitting of the field of the Law into ... a symbolic order which regulates social life" and the "obscene ... inverse" of that symbolic order: the "'nightly' law that necessarily redoubles and accompanies, as its shadow, the 'public Law'.... What 'holds together' a community most deeply is not so much identification with the Law that regulates the community's 'normal' everyday circuit, but rather identification with a specific form of transgression [of the Law through a] specific form of [sadistic] enjoyment" (M 54-55). As far as Starling's maturation is concerned, dealing with the psychiatrist's anomalous presence in the cognitive apparatuses of the Law ("he's impenetrable [and] much too sophisticated for the standard tests") results in her relentless exposure to its inner splitting between public and nightly law, a rift magnified in Lecter's acting-out of the unwritten rule of sadistic enjoyment (SL 10). It is his radical enforcement of this law that the cannibal presents to the FBI trainee as proof that the monstrosity of his non-specific enjoyment is not so much a marginal effect as an excessive reflection of the egotism and the "mindless Brownian movement" driving the liberal socio-economic order (SL 42). Surely, there is more than a passing display of flippant humor in this lesson of full immersion into the sadistic world of "integral egotism" ("S" 703). After Starling's interpellation by Crawford, Lecter's symptomatological vision starts playing a dominant role in an investigation which takes on the significance of an initiation. Through the doctor's uncanny guidance, her descent into the criminal nether world becomes much more than a first-hand coming to terms with the "dark ... thing" at work in sadistic motivation (SL 103).9 Gradually, her mission leads her to the realization that the obscene "thing" which "lives on tears" - parasitical moth, cannibal on the run, or would-be cross-gender hybrid - is also an impenetrable emblem of infinitive becoming and "change": an atopian index of advancement expressed most hyperbolically in Gumb's "series of molts" on his way from monstrous predator to self-engendered moth/woman (SL 102-3, 157).10 Later, I shall argue that Starling's exploration of the sadistic bestiary revolves around this discovery that the atopian thing of the depths is also the dynamic kernel of change impelling the social body and its founding motives: the self-interested pursuits, the strivings toward self-transformation and upward mobility, the illicit appetites for sadistic enjoyment, the sanctioned forms of serial consumption. Suffice it to say, for the time being, that from the outset the psychiatrist already confronts Starling with his own sadism in order to show her that the "dark world" where the atopian thing deploys its power is as impenetrable as he is (SL 103). It is an unquantifiable world in which destructive and productive energies, "good" and "evil" motives are inextricably intertwined. To Starling's request that he fill out a questionnaire which might help the FBI understand "what happened to [him]," Lecter responds with a statement on the irreducibility of destructive agency, suggesting that his criminal motives are likewise irreducible to the logic of quantification and categorization:

"Nothing happened to me, Officer Starling. I happened. You can't reduce me to a set of influences.... Can you stand to say I'm evil?"

"I think you've been destructive. For me it's the same thing."

"Evil's just destructive? Then storms are evil, if that's simple. And we have fire, and there's hail.... Typhoid and swans - it all comes from the same place.... You'd like to quantify me, Officer Starling." (SL 20-21)

In Harris's novel, Starling's descent into the "half of the world that's dark" (SL 103) inaugurates her acquaintance with the thing lurking in the underside of the "pathological public sphere,"11 a public sphere whose sadistic appetites are far more than incidental eruptions of the aberrant within the domain of law and order. As the FBI trainee soon finds out, Lecter's most complex and monstrous instruction is that typhoid and swans - destructive and constructive agents - not only come from the same place, they also come in equal and mixed parts. Accordingly, it is only when we start analyzing Lecter's monstrosity that we can come to terms with the ambiguities, the contradictions, and the critical potential of his pathological motives. For much of his problematic status in, as well as questioning of, the Law revolves around his narrative function as an extreme emblem of the Brownian movement that drives the liberal socio-economic order in its purely infinitive becoming, its progress beyond the confines of constructive or destructive agency. Like the evasive cannibal (with his ambiguous mixture of resourcefulness and brutality, refinement and monstrosity), the pathological public sphere is a psychotic body without organs - its fluid impulses mixed and unquantifiable, its consciousness torn between the rule of instrumental thought and the unpredictable eruption of unreason.12

[4]   At this point, a note on the relationship between Lecter's monstrosity and Starling's maturation is in order. First, it is important to specify that in Harris's bestiary the psychiatrist is the only character described as a "monster" (SL 6). And to the extent that he embodies the Sadean principles of energy and radical individualism, his monstrosity marks him as an atopian category in the order of species: a protean being whose becoming-monster represents an infinitive "becoming between two multiplicities," a metamorphosis into a constantly shifting "bloc-line" of subjectivity-animality deployed in an ontological "no man's land" (C 305, 360). The paradoxical nature of Lecter's (non)identity (a being definable only in terms of infinitive becoming) is most powerfully represented in the way his character is articulated through the novel's rhetoric of species, particularly the figural correlation of his predatory behavior with the immensity of his interdisciplinary skills - a genius "not measurable by any means known to man" (SL 190). Along with the subtle references to Rilke's panther earlier on in the novel, the chilling escape scenes present Lecter as an energetic and polymorphous being in whom the virtues of different species are conflated: a tear-licking moth consuming the trainee's painful memories, a winsome "dancer" elegantly handing over the hidden tip-off to a mesmerized Starling, a "cemetery mink" burrowing in "the dry leaves of a heart," a "rat-killing dog" attacking his victims with the power of a "snapping turtle" (SL 14-15, 216, 215, 228-29). In this context, the two main attributes of the cannibal - polymorphism and Sadean energy - partake of the (non)identity of the monster insofar as the latter is an atopian entity constantly interfacing between irreconcilable types of being. As an atopian category among species, the cannibal-as-monster is, to put it in Jean-Louis Poirier's terms, an "unthinkable ... mediator" and the index of an irresolvable "irrationality" within the order of beings.13 Occupying a "no man's land" in the topology of (eco)logical reason, the psychiatrist "incarnates [its] uncertainties" and marks a problematic questioning of "the limit that nature allows each type."14 More generally, coming to terms with the cannibal's agency in light of a "theory of monsters" and its atopian species makes it possible to envision him not only as a marginal individual dwelling in a realm "paralleling the ecological series," but also as a general index of marginality, exclusion, and polymorphous identity.15 From these comments two facets of Lecter's persona emerge which are of central relevance to Starling's maturation: his atopian status as a polymorphous monster beyond fixing within the ecological series; the connection between his polymorphism and his embodiment of energy as an expression of infinitive becoming. The psychiatrist's atopian position in the cognitive apparatuses of the Law indeed prefigures Starling's awareness of her monstrous position, and her coming to terms with the implications of such a position. The implications have to do, of course, with her initial role in the investigation and the splitting of her subjectivity upon her interpellation, its bifurcation along the following axes: first, the axis that forms the novel's legal subtext and describes the evolution of her "professional identity" along the interface between the letter of the Law and its obscene reverse, the law of sadistic enjoyment; second, the axis that constitutes the novel's rhetoric of species and dramatizes the interfacing of her "private identity" between cross-class and cross-gender modes of being. It is these two axes that we now need to explore in order to appreciate the linkage between Lecter's monstrosity, Starling's atopian position in the FBI, and the peculiarities of her marginal identity: the impossibility of fixing her mission under a particular technocratic function in the apparatuses of the Law; her translation of her marginality into the ethical dictates of justice, self-sacrifice, and commitment to the victims; her supersession of dominant masculine paradigms, with their implications of gendered subject positions and fixed familial roles.

[5]   Concerning the first axis, Starling soon becomes conscious that her fact-finding task is one of the most striking instances of her descent into the obscene "half" haunting the world of law and order (SL 103). As it turns out, if she has been "chosen" by a desperate Crawford it is partly in order to act as a sort of pornographic object of sacrifice proffered to the psychiatrist in the hope of teasing vital information out of him (SL 144). Starling's awareness of her atopian position in the Law becomes inseparable from the realization that it is because Crawford is "free of mercy" that she comes to perform an undefined function in the FBI: a trainee illegally transformed into expeditious investigator and informal sadomasochistic vamp (SL 37). Notwithstanding the importance of her mission, Starling is therefore from the outset a potentially disposable figure in a series of problem-solving scenarios; and as such, she is targeted as yet another sacrificial figure, a "paschal lamb" and an "Easter chick" trapped in yet another grotesque experiment and subjected to the cold-blooded logic of tests, trials, and errors (SL 17, 117). (It is not the least ironic twist in Lambs' symptomatological vision that the novel leaves it to Lecter - the incestuous father in "his obscene dimension" - to empower Starling through crucial factual knowledge, further criminalizing her use by Crawford even while making her increasingly indispensable to him.)16 As a form of marginalization, the contradictory positioning of Starling's subjectivity in the organs of the Law signals a division in her identity and a criminalization which help to breach her identification with the public persona of the FBI trainee, despite her conscious attempts to suture the identification gap by trying to earn acknowledgment and graduation - in short, by trying to be "chosen, and not sent away" (SL 277). As far as the first axis is concerned, it is this tension between marginalization and identification which is at the center of Starling's atopian position in the Law, a position which can be partly apprehended in terms of what Zizek calls the "split subject of interpellation" (M 57-62). As for the second axis, the novel's rhetoric of species - grounded in the references to energy, infinitive becoming, and metamorphosis - presents a network of homology between different figural modes representing elements of evolution and self-transformation: tropes of cross-species metamorphosis and their translation into the ethical discourse of justice and self-sacrifice (Starling as "paschal lamb" and "Easter chick" [SL 17, 117]); tropes of cross-gender identity and the way they determine the discourses of emergent socio-economic patterns (Starling-the-trainee as "self-made" female professional), and psychic/familial roles (Starling-the-heroine as narrative version of a self-constructed female subjectivity fully divorced from the male gaze). As she delves deeper into the Underworld of sadistic monsters and their metamorphoses, the young woman becomes increasingly aware that it is only through her dogged pursuit of justice for her new-found clan of sacrificial lambs - her "sisters under the skin" - that she can envision the splitting of her subjectivity as the foundation for a paradoxical form of selfhood: the selfhood of a monster occupying the scandalous gap between the (dead) letter of the Law and the principle of justice (SL 279). Erupting first as aggressive "rage" (against sexist, classist, speciesist injustice), Starling's ethic of justice eventually reexpresses itself in the form of infinitive energy deployed against the sadistic unreasons of the pathological social body (SL 163).

[6]   Crucial to Starling's awareness of her monstrous selfhood, the triad at the heart of her existential struggles (atopian position, justice, energy-as-infinitive-becoming) is ultimately irreducible to the dialectic of Law and justice insofar as it expresses itself beyond the two, as the basis for a genuinely self-founded subjectivity which allows the atopian monster to envision her ethic and her self-engendered identity at the margin of a patriarchal order that grants her little more than its reductive categories of class, gender, and species. In his own cryptic way, Lecter is the only character to point out the relevance of the triad to her ethical pursuits in particular and to her ontological self-realization in general. Although he closes his incongruously avuncular letter with the fond concession that "Some of [their] stars are the same," it is quite clear to the psychiatrist that if Starling is to avoid lapsing into the sadism of the other established technocrats, if she is to live up to her ethical ideals, she must keep channelling the rage of the marginal monster into an insatiable hunger for justice: "The lambs will stop for now. But, Clarice, you judge yourself with all the mercy of the dungeon scales at Threave; you'll have to earn it again and again, the blessed silence. Because it's the plight that drives you, seeing the plight, and the plight will not end, ever" (SL 351). Anything but a rhetorical flourish, Lecter's reference to their kinship in the stars and to the ceaseless enterprise of enforcing justice for the real and figurative lambs is an admonition that Starling too, as an atopian figure, must embody the dynamic of infinitive becoming, impelled as she is by the endless project of exposing the obscene inverse that haunts the liberal socio-economic and legal order. In other words, Lecter knows best that she must persist in being driven by the same Brownian energy at the core of that schizoid body without organs: the social body in the age of late capitalism. Accordingly, the psychiatrist's letter is an imperative reminder that if Starling is to achieve any degree of existential advancement - as opposed to mere careerist advancement - she must learn to embody the principle of advancement in its most literal form, that is, as energy translated into purely infinitive becoming. Lecter's final words spell out the necessity for her to envision herself beyond all possible fixation in a particular subject position, to strive toward projecting herself within the atopian horizon that signals the limit of ontogenetic, socio-economic, and gender categories: the margin where she can interface between Law and sadistic enjoyment, between domineering male subjectivity and dominated female subjectivity, between victimized poverty and arrogant technocracy.

[7]   Herein resides the significance of the contrast between Lecter's and Crawford's roles in Starling's maturation. If Crawford's power to summon the trainee is limited to the sphere of official Law - the half-world of light, so to speak - her struggle with Lecter's symptomatological deconstruction of the latter affords her the dynamic position of an interstitial observer constantly interfacing between the clearly defined "field of the Law qua ... symbolic order" and the "obscene 'nightly' law" of the imaginary, the undefined domain where the fantasies of the serial consumer/predator culminate in their most extreme figuration: the motifs of flaying and cannibalistic consumption, of humans subjecting other humans to the same sadistic law which reduces animals to undifferentiated series of skins, furs, and body parts (M 55, 54).17 Lambs' figural coupling of consumption in general with the parasitism of the "thing that lives on tears" (the death's-head moth) is in this respect far more than a fanciful conceit (SL 103).18 The significance of the moth as the novel's totemic emblem bears out the evidence of a truth as symptomatic as it is fundamental: the revelation that the predatory "thing" which drifts within and between subjects is both a floating signifier and a dynamic kernel marking the inextricable involvement of the economy of advancement, production, and consumption with the economy of regression, predation, and parasitism: "Typhoid and swans - it all comes from the same place" (SL 103, 21).19 As Pilcher and Lecter well know, Starling's reduction of this totemic signifier to the category of "destructive" force is tantamount to a denial of the complex field of intersubjective practices and discourses it sets in motion: "Some [moths] are [destructive], a lot are," Pilcher reminds her, "but they live in all kinds of ways. Just like we do.... The old definition of moth was 'anything that gradually, silently eats, consumes, or wastes any other thing.' It was a verb for destruction too" (SL 102; emphasis mine). As with moths so with humans! Even Lecter could not think of a more inclusive definition for the omnivorous "Brownian movement" driving the productive-destructive cycles of the late capitalist social body - the irreducible nexus of destruction, waste, and parasitical consumption (SL 42). Furthermore, part of the horror and fascination of the novel's symptomatological outlook is that within its perversely agonistic logic of predation the representatives of public institutions cut an even scarier figure than the monsters, torn as they are between self-censorship and the urge to act out their "parasitical consumerism." Starling's first encounter with the sexual predator Chilton is a case in point. While relaying one of Lecter's gory attacks, ostensibly to warn her against violating security "rules," the man who best epitomizes the latent sadism of the psychiatric institution chooses to illustrate his point by flashing a photograph of one of the psychiatrist's victims in Starling's face: "Starling didn't know which was worse, the photograph or Chilton's attention as he gleaned her face with fast grabby eyes. She thought of a thirsty chicken pecking tears off her face" (SL 10-11). Contrary to such instances of predation, the final stages of Starling's "hunt" represent a very important aspect of her maturation to the extent that they define her participation in the predatory agon as an ethical and existential choice: the decision to be an interstitial observer of law enforcement and to assert the particularities of a monstrous selfhood positioned at the margin between Law and justice (SL 239 ff.). In her most lucid moments, the effects of such a decision appear in her strategic use of her atopian position in the Law as an instrument of critical reassessment and self-transformation: her outrage at and defiance of the FBI's sexism in not assigning a female agent to the investigation; her assumption of her role as avenger of her family's unjust impoverishment; her affirmation of her hybrid class status - which she proudly defends in the face of Senator Martin's sadistic classism.

[8]   So far, in the process of exploring the Law's intrinsic splitting and its effects on Starling's atopian subjectivity (her interfacing between the public Law and its reverse, the rule of sadistic enjoyment), my argument has gradually evolved into a two-faceted assumption about the pathology of the social body under late capitalism: to the public Law's monstrous underside there corresponds the monstrous reverse of socio-economic reproduction, the law of parasitical consumption as serial predation. In what follows, I will outline Starling's stance vis-à-vis the economy of this sadistic "law of series"; for it is key to the way she confronts Gumb and Lecter, converting her engagement with them into an instrument of self-realization and ethical action. In examining what she makes of her confrontation with the two characters, my aim is to trace the emergence of her agency in the interstice between two particular forms of parasitical consumerism - Gumb's and Lecter's - and the general nexus of discursive modes in which they are inscribed: economic (the discourse of production, consumption, and class distinction); zoological (the discourse of self-transformation and the rhetoric of species); and "esthetic" (the discourse of leisure and ludic pursuits). In view of these three discursive modes, the correspondences and antagonisms within the Starling-Lecter-Gumb triangle can be apprehended under the following rubrics:

[9]   - The political economy of commodification and fetishism (Gumb). Parasitical consumption in this economic mode manifests itself in Gumb's pursuit of becoming-moth/woman, an attempt ultimately devoid of any subversive potential. Besides its obscene motivation (violent appropriation of the other), this form of self-transformation and its corresponding economy are indeed the antithesis of cross-gender metamorphosis and its transgressive energy. The field of self-realization associated with Gumb's failed self-engendering elicits systematic connections between his position in a homocentric symbolic order and the mediatory techniques and technologies at work in his cellar, a phantasmagoric scene staging deep analogies between the logic of luxury production (the professional rationale with which he envisions his victims as tailor-made commodities) and the logic of fetishistic estheticism (his grotesque museum of reified moths and women, the locus of sadistic "games" and scopophilia [SL 345]).20 Inscribed in political economy's double logic - the production of commodities and their investment with fetishistic value - Gumb's addictions are in this respect different from Lecter's in one significant way: his predatory behavior is not grounded in im-mediate serial consumption. In other words, Gumb's brand of sadistic enjoyment compels him to the temporal displacement as well as the imaginary and symbolic mediation of his gratification through a variety of discursive systems, technological instruments, and technical practices: his televisual perception of his prospective self, his addiction to technologically enhanced scopophilia, his investment of the techniques and conventions of tanning and tailoring with deep affective content. Contrary to what they may suggest, Gumb's acts of predation do not refer to a process of self-engendering operating at the margin of the political economy of bourgeois subjectivity. Rather, their embodiment in practices and discourses of mediation and fetishism represents - projected on a private scene, as it were - a hyperbolic re-enactment of the mass consumption of pelts, a collective act of predation legitimized by "the Law qua ... symbolic order" (M 55). In a perverse duplication of the logic of the late capitalist marketplace, Gumb's horrible workshop and museum become living testimony to the blurring of the line between the extreme manifestations of sadistic consumption-as-parasitism and their displaced expression in a set of commonplace practices and discourses. In Gumb's field of self-realization, the latter appear metamorphosed into grotesque variations on the economically and culturally determined practices that frame the human and animal bodies in the marketplace. The reifying museums, the addiction to plastic surgery and standardized beauty, the globalization of the leather and cosmetics industries are at once reflected and warped in his obsession with setting human bodies into organic "tableaux" (SL 340), in his rigorous adherence to the esthetic and structural rules of cosmetic and vestiary codes, in his compulsive reification of the female and animal bodies through the medium of the technologically assisted gaze. (Here it is crucial to note the correlation that the novel establishes between Gumb's pseudo-surgical addiction and two of his obsessions: his addictive consumption of cosmetics and his fetishistic fixation on the agonistic logic of the beauty contest. A close analysis of the killer's character clearly shows that both the consumption and the fixation have nothing to do with transsexual identity-formation. To a lesser extent, the same can be said of the line the novel draws between Gumb's homosexuality and his aggressiveness.) In the end, the intricate network of practices and discourses underlying Gumb's economy reveals a fundamental irony in his sadistic pursuits: the fact that his aberrant motives - the "covet[ous]" urge (SL 218), the techniques of production and commodification, and the fetishistic consumption of bodies as mediatized images, tableaux, and leather garments - are the ultimate sign of his mimetic merging with the political economy of mass consumption rather than his transgression of it.21

[10]   - The symbolic economy of im-mediate consumption (Lecter). Lecter's predatory behavior reveals an urge to enact the fantasy of a symbolic economy based on consumption beyond displacement and mediation: im-mediate consumption played out at the margin of political economy and the logic of the marketplace.22 In this economic mode, Lecter's estheticized practice of cannibalism and affectless crime reflects his elitist aspiration after the distinction and radical "freedom of those who consume intensely," that is, those who adhere to the logic of destructive, anti-utilitarian consumption.23 The hunger for freedom and individualism implicit in Lecter's addictive criminality centers around his staging of sadistic destruction as a form of intensive consumption whereby the impulse to free the self from the determination of value, use, and commodification is transmogrified into the freakish compulsions of the extravagant cannibal, the tear-licking beast, and the manic esthete who "collect[s] church collapses, recreationally" (SL 21). In a grotesque radicalization of the symbolic economy of destructive consumption and its transgressive pretensions, Lecter's desire feeds on a similar illusion of emancipation from the utilitarian logic of bourgeois consumerism.24 Caught in the inherent ambiguities of such an economy, his drive to transcend the utilitarian sphere of commodified things in the name of social distinction reveals his deeply contradictory position in the law of series.25 Behind his affirmation of estheticism and distinction in the face of use value lurks a less than distinguished (ab)use of the others: their relegation to a series of "indefinitely interchangeable" body parts ("S" 709). Lecter's economy is in this sense no more than a monstrous hybrid between the utilitarianism of carnivorous consumption on a massive scale and the anti-utilitarian ideal of destructive consumption. True, by eating a very limited number of his victims' organs im-mediately (raw, that is), he appears to transcend the utilitarian logic of bourgeois mass consumption, projecting his destructive voracity as the "useless" carnage of a highly selective consumer. Ultimately, however, his serial consumption of his victims as body parts evokes the lambs of Starling's childhood - and, by implication, the parasitical greed of the society that subjects them to confinement and mass slaughter (SL 22-23, 26). Ironically, this antinomy - manifested in Lecter's failure to act out a fully symbolic, anti-utilitarian economy - compares with Gumb's compulsive crimes in at least one respect. Instead of affirming the psychiatrist's radical freedom, his destructive behavior in fact marks his partial dependence on the dictates of mimetic violence.26 More important, Lecter's economy bespeaks a contradictory split in his motives between two irreconcilable tendencies: on the one hand, his aspiration to radical freedom and individualism through "useless" consumption of his victims; and, on the other hand, his existential dependence on the victims for self-affirmation even while he seeks negation of their being (a paradox best expressed in the compulsive bond that develops between the predator and his most intelligent prey, Clarice Starling).27

[11]   - Symbolic economy as marginal value(s) (Starling). Emerging in the interstice between Gumb's political economy and Lecter's symbolic economy, Starling's economic mode is both an extension and a supersession of the psychiatrist's. Like Lecter, she tries to affirm a sense of freedom and individualism by putting her motives at the margin of commodity rule. Eventually, however, her symbolic economy proves to be much more transgressive in that her ethic of justice puts her acts at the margin of any category of consumption - utilitarian or anti-utilitarian, mediate or im-mediate. Earlier on, I described Starling's role in the predatory agon in relation to her atopian position, a monstrous position whose radical marginality stems from its irreducibility to such economic categories as parasitical consumption, self-interest, careerist advancement, and upward mobility. As with her desire to redeem the lambs from slaughter, Starling experiences the pursuit of unconditional justice for her sisters as yet another attempt to express a measure of freedom from the political economy of self-interest by inscribing her priorities within the domain of ethical motivation. In the first case, she attempts the closest thing to disrupting the chain of carnivorous production and consumption (her admirable yet sadly quixotic attempt to spare the mare when she cannot redeem the lambs); in the second case, she puts her mission before her best interests (she embarks on the Bimmel case and risks flunking the exam and further alienating the FBI establishment). Keeping in mind her childhood experience - by far the most determining in shaping her sense of disinterested motivation - it is important to identify the particular dynamic involved in her appropriation and supersession of symbolic economy's destructive logic. Both moments (appropriation and supersession) occur essentially by means of a reversal. For while Lecter's symbolic economy singles out the victim for im-mediate consumption, Starling simultaneously adopts and supplants that economy by selecting the selfsame victim for exemption from any network of consumption (the mare, Catherine Baker Martin). While the "paschal lamb" of symbolic economy is the target of useless destruction, the sister/animal of Starling's economy is singled out for disinterested redemption (SL 17). From an economic point of view, the notions of exemption and redemption can be viewed in terms of marginal value - a form of value through which the subject of consumption, by being exonerated from the law of series, finds herself/itself valorized outside the economic domains of mediate or im-mediate consumption. It is this valorization of the victim of (ab)use as a free being which indexes the radically anti-utilitarian character of Starling's symbolic economy. From an ethical point of view, her adherence to an economy based on the marginal values of exemption and redemption marks the necessary correspondence between her transgressive role in the law of series and her monstrous position in the apparatuses of law and order. In the course of her agonistic hunt, the FBI trainee reaches a determining moment in her maturation when she recognizes that in order to inscribe her agency in a field that "transcends ... literal justice" (the letter of the Law), she must reckon with an "economic calculus [which] integrates absolute loss" - loss of her career and even loss of her life.28 Echoing Derrida's dialectic of interested and gratuitous motivation, Starling's initiatory investigation implies an engagement with the chasm between the realm of "strict ... exchange" and the "salary of ... surplus value" - the latter being reckoned in terms of such marginal values as freedom, disinterested action, and justice, as opposed to the utilitarian values of self-interest and parasitical consumption.29

[12]   In the final analysis, however, it is Lecter's letter rather than the economy of Starling's marginal values which dominates the novel, marking it with an abiding sense of anti-catharsis, the feeling that there will be no end to the economy of parasitical consumption and its utilitarian logic, no end to the law of series and its procession of sacrificial lambs. In relation to the letter, it is worth recalling the linkage between the psychiatrist's lecture on Gumb's seeming surgical addiction and his cryptic reference to the Wolf Man - a sort of schizoanalytic parody of Freud's theory of neurosis, but also a core statement in Lambs' diagnosis of the pathological public sphere: "Do you remember what we said about anger expressed as lust, and lupus presenting as hives? Billy's not a transsexual, Clarice, but he thinks he is, he tries to be. He's tried to be a lot of things, I expect" (SL 159; emphasis mine).30 As Starling discovers it through Lecter's vision, Gumb's desire "to be a lot of things" turns out to be more than the polymorphous lust of a schizoid individual literally deterritorialized in his hunt for an ideal self/skin; it is also the most symptomatic incarnation of the Brownian movement that shapes the late capitalist public sphere into an arena where the lust to consume subjects and objects expresses itself in the contingencies of "covet[ous]" impulse, mimetic violence, and pervasive predation (SL 218).31 At the level of Gumb's private drama, Lecter's reading of his covetous lust and its expression in violent appropriation of the other is less a Freudian take on the Oedipal fantasies of an addictive killer than a schizoanalytic insight into a polymorphous imaginary in which the indefinite dynamic of lupus indexes the "pack of wolves [that] turn into a swarm of bees" and the caterpillars that give way to women-butterflies - a bestiary of "heterogeneous" metamorphoses announcing the "multiplicity [and] becoming" of an atopian "Ego distended from within (C 305).32 Life is "too slippery for books," the psychiatrist warns Starling, reasserting his opinion that Gumb's fluid sense of ego is too complex to be reduced to psychoanalytic models of familial dysfunction or sadistic motivation (SL 140). Viewed from a schizoanalytic perspective, the chaotic movement of the apian swarm and the lupine horde is the most pertinent figuration of the private "line of pursuit" adopted by the lone schizophrenic hunter who substitutes the theater of self-engendering for the primal scene of the Oedipal triangle, the ab-errant trajectory of the wolf for the territorialized congregation of the lambs, the infinitive energy of becoming-woman/moth for fixed identification with the paternal "imago" (SL 157). In light of Lecter's letter, moreover, the condensed pun that combines the predatory swarms and the indefinite systemic illness is an apt metaphor for the Brownian deployment of the all-consuming hordes which people the marketplace: all the virtual wolves in sheep's clothing. (The rhetorical point of this figural nexus is driven home even more aptly by the eerie scene in the Smithsonian which anthropomorphizes the rapacity of the death's-head moth.) Considered in relation to this particular aspect of Lambs' rhetoric of species, the cannibal's note is also a testimony to the collective endurance of the law of series - the nightly double of the public Law - and its logic of consumption as wolfish predation. Lecter's recollection of the charged terms in which Gumb is described by his lover offers an important hint at the connection between Gumb's peculiar consumerism, the atopian "nothingness" of his ego, and the bottomless "lack" that drives the collective ego of the consumer class toward new desires: "He's not anything, really, just a sort of total lack that he wants to fill.... Nothing.... [Gumb] was at the bottom [Harris's emphasis], just as we've all been [emphasis mine]" (SL 165, 166). Thus, at the level of the public drama of collective consumerism, the lust to covet and appropriate is exactly like the urge that determines Gumb's fluid ego: atopian and irrepressible, a "volatile" will to destruction best represented by the secretive work of the death's-head moth in the dark recesses of the Smithsonian and in the suburban house (SL 165). Note the chilling parallel between the moth and Gumb's cellar games: "The fire lights glowed red in the Insect Zoo, reflected in ten thousand active eyes of the older phylum.... Now [the death's-head moth] sat sucking quietly while all around her in the dark the chirps and whirs resumed, and with them the tiny tillings and killings" (SL 252). With its dead stillness and its reified bodies, the domain of human ontogenesis is a space of fixation and display ("The floor devoted to man was still and no human figure moved, not the tattooed, not the mummified, the bound feet didn't stir"), while the insect realm, with the death-head's moth metonymically standing as its totemic signifier, teems with the irrepressible movement of parasitical consumption and reproduction (SL 251).

[13]   Having traced the connections between Gumb-as-atopian-ego and the moth-as-atopian-signifier, I shall now conclude with the other two elements that have a direct bearing on the rhetorical significance of the moth: Lecter's at once magical and clownish escape, and its relevance to Starling's subject position. Unlike the moth caged in the cellar of the Smithsonian and the would-be moth aborted in the cellar of his suburban home, the cannibal's flight is indeed the ultimate sign that the atopian thing which "silently eats, consumes, or wastes any other thing" is still at large and at work (SL 102). As we have seen, the death of the imaginary moth (Gumb) does not put an end to the symbolic moth as floating signifier and totemic emblem of consumption; and, of course, Lecter's own deterritorialization through the perfectly banal channels of the facial surgery center and the organized trip to South America is there to prove it with consummate irony: dressed and made up as an ordinary sheep, the cannibal suffers himself to be "herded" for a moment "through customs with a big tour badge on his chest," reborn under the factitious "credentials of another identity" (SL 350). Hence, his warning that the "plight" of the sacrificial lambs "will not end," that this plight is in fact the very motive force which "drives" Starling's self-realization and defines her marginal position as that of an atopian monster continually interfacing between the public Law and its obscene reverse, the law of sadistic enjoyment (SL 351). Similarly, when Ardelia Mapp exhorts her friend to "go wild," there is more to her friendly incitation than sheer colloquialism (SL 348). Between the peremptory tone of the letter and the exhortation to affirm her wildness, Starling finds herself once again confronted with the fact of her marginal (non)identity, a radical condition that stands in hilarious contrast to the mush that closes the novel. With its sentimental rhetoric glaring through the thin guise of intertextuality, the bed scene is perhaps better read as ironic lip service to domesticity and the generic conventions of "popular fiction" (after her initiatory voyage through the Underworld, the potentially gender-bending she-Ulysses returns to the familiarity of dogs and men, closing the narrative circle and confirming the homology between the ideology of heterosexuality, the expectations of bourgeois readership, and her status as domesticated heroine). Long before this facetious return to the fold, however, after having explored the existential choices of Starling's childhood and young womanhood, we know full well that her ethical mandate is the antithesis of domesticity: an open-ended project confirmed as the pursuit of a lifetime by Lecter's letter, which clearly spells out that there is neither family romance nor bourgeois domestication for the wild heroine, who must go on stalking the Brownian trajectory of the atopian thing if she is to live up to her self-created ethical standards. The psychiatrist's remark that she "judge[s]" herself "with all the mercy of the dungeon scales at Threave" is in this sense a reminder that if she wants to represent an ethic of justice she must remain as marginal as the principle of justice itself, dwelling in the virtual interstice between the letter of the Law and its (incomplete) enactment (SL 351). For a woman initiated in the atopian position of the monster, acting according to the dictates of justice not only presupposes an unconditional bond with all paschal lambs and Easter chicks, it also means assuming an irredeemable debt whose temporary remission she will "have to earn ... again and again" (SL 351).


I am grateful to Ann Kibbey and the collective at Genders for their astute comments on an earlier version of this essay.

1. In this essay, I focus on the novel rather than on its film version because I believe the former presents much more complexity and subtlety than the latter.

2. Thomas Harris, The Silence of the Lambs (London, 1994), pp. 1, 3, 277, 4. Hereafter cited parenthetically as SL. Concerning Starling's interpellation by Crawford, see Louis Althusser's seminal essay on the function of state apparatuses in determining the position of the interpellated subject (Louis Althusser, Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays, trans. Ben Brewster [New York; London, 1971], pp. 127-86). For an important complement to Althusser's theory of interpellation, see Jacques Lecan, Écrits 2 (Paris, 1971), pp. 168-91. See also Slavoj Zizek's elaboration on the Lacanian Che Vuoi? (Slavoj Zizek, The Sublime Object of Ideology [London; New York, 1989], pp. 36-47, 105-29), and his application of Lacan's theory of the symbolic order to the "split subject of interpellation" (Slavoj Zizek, The Metastases of Enjoyment: Six Essays on Woman and Causality [London; New York, 1995], pp. 57-62). Hereafter Zizek's Metastases of Enjoyment will be cited parenthetically as M.

3. On the theme of mentorship and social advancement, see Bruce Robbins, "Murder and Mentorship in The Silence of the Lambs," boundary 2 23.1 (1996): 71-90.

4. Maurice Blanchot, " Sade," Sade: Oeuvres, ed. Jean-Jacques Pauvert (Paris, 1953), pp. 709, 722-23, 711. Hereafter cited parenthetically as "S." See also Roland Barthes, Sade, Fourier, Loyola [Paris, 1971], pp. 162 and passim.).

5. Why the association of Sade and Carroll? In this essay, the linkage between the two is to be found in the relation between cruelty, irony, and what Gilles Deleuze defines as the Carrollian art of "the descent" (Gilles Deleuze, The Logic of Sense, trans. Mark Lester [New York, 1990], p. 135). Indeed, the cruel irony to which Sadean as well as the Carrollian heroine is subjected centers upon the contingencies of a sudden descent into and traumatic discovery of an "underworld." In Sade, the passive heroine is immersed in the underworld of "crime" - the latter being understood as a general category of polymorphous perversion - while in Carroll the descent of the heroine involves her passive acquaintance with the underworld of polymorphous animal transformations.

6. Marquis de Sade, La Philosophie dans le boudoir ou Les Instituteurs immoraux, ed. Yvon Belaval (Paris, 1976), pp. 164-87.

7. On the homologous articulation of the discourses and practices of sexism and speciesism under the logic of late capitalist commodification, see Carol J. Adams, The Sexual Politics of Meat (New York, 1990), pp. 39-62.

8. Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Capitalisme et schizophrénie: mille plateaux (Paris, 1980), pp. 343 ff. Hereafter cited parenthetically as C.

9. On the significance of the "dark thing" in Harris's novel, see Lacan's elaboration on the Freudian "das Ding" (Lacan, Écrits 1 [Paris, 1966], pp. 209-89).

10. My understanding of the atopian is based on Michel de Certeau's conception of "a-topia" and "alterity" (Michel de Certeau, L'Absent de l'histoire [Tours, 1973], pp. 171-80). Of particular interest to my reading of Lambs, is de Certeau's theorization of atopia in terms of "spaces [that are] indefinitely other [and] unknown to the 'geometric' or 'geographic' space of visual constructions, panoptical or theoretical" (de Certeau, "Pratiques d'espace. La ville métaphorique" Traverses 9 [1977]: 5). See also Monique Plaza's psychiatric approach to the textual/discursive manifestations of atopia (Monique Plaza, Écriture et folie [Paris, 1986], pp. 38-53, 113-21, 160-98).

11. Mark Seltzer, "Serial Killers (II): The Pathological Public Sphere," Critical Inquiry 22.1 (1995): 122-49. See also William E. Connolly's paradoxological approach to the "problem of evil" (William E. Connolly, Identity/Difference: Democratic Negotiations of Political Paradox [Ithaca; London, 1991], pp. 1-15); and Jean-Pierre Dupuy's application of René Girard's theory of mimetic violence and victimization to the context of the liberal public sphere (Jean-Pierre Dupuy, Ordres et désordres: enquête sur un nouveau paradigme [Paris, 1982], pp. 125-85).

12. See also Robbins, "Introduction: The Public As Phantom," The Phantom Public Sphere, ed. Bruce Robbins (Minneapolis; London, 1993), pp. vii-xxvi.

13. Jean-Louis Poirier, "Éléments pour une zoologie philosophique," Critique 375-376 (1978): 695.

14. Poirier, "Éléments pour une zoologie philosophique," p. 695.

15. Poirier, "Éléments pour une zoologie philosophique," pp. 695, 699.

16. Slavoj Zizek, Enjoy Your Symptom!: Jacques Lacan In Hollywood and Out (New York, 1992), p. 124.

17. See Adams, The Sexual Politics of Meat, pp. 39-62.

18. On the relation between parasitism and the logic of consumption in the liberal marketplace, see Michel Serres, The Parasite, trans. Lawrence R. Schehr (Baltimore, Maryland; London, 1982), pp. 139-98.

19. In other words, the novel's rhetoric of species emphasizes the narrative function of the moth as a symbolically invested object which, though "a certain structural causality," generates a "series of effects in the symbolic reality of subjects.... That would be ... the precise definition of the real object: a cause which in itself does not exist - which is present only in a series of effects, but always in a distorted, displaced way.... [It is] an impossible kernel, a certain limit which is in itself nothing; it is only to be reconstructed retroactively, from a series of its effects.... [This object is] 'nothing at all,' and empty place, a pure pretext for setting the action in motion... It is a pure semblance: in itself it is totally indifferent and, by structural necessity, absent; its signification is purely auto-reflexive, it consists in the fact that it has some signification for others, for the principal characters of the story" (Zizek, The Sublime Object of Ideology, pp. 163, 182; emphasis mine). See also Deleuze's analysis of the "paradoxical element" as "floating signifier"(The Logic Sense, pp. 58-65 and passim.)

20. For a similar analysis of the analogies between the logic of productivism and the scene of Sadean theatrics, see Barthes, Sade, Fourier, Loyola, pp. 129-32, 156-60. On the novel's thematics of the gaze and the reification of the body into commodities, trophies and "tableaux" (SL 340), see Donna Haraway, "Teddy Bear Patriarchy: Taxidermy in the Garden of Eden, New York City, 1908-1936," Social Text 11 (1984): 20-64. Haraway's essay is a development of her argument that "technologies of visualization recall the important cultural practice of hunting with the camera and the deeply predatory nature of photographic consciousness" (Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature [New York, 1991], p. 211). See also Craig Owens, "The Discourse of Others: Feminists and Postmodernism," The Anti-Aesthetic: Essays on Postmodern Culture, ed. Hal Foster (Seattle, 1983), pp. 70-77; and Susan Sontag, On Photography (New York, 1977), pp. 3 ff., 10 ff., 22-23, 104-5.

21. See Seltzer's analysis of the addictive killers' mimetic symbiosis with their socio-economic background, the pathological public sphere (Seltzer, "Serial Killers[II]", pp. 141-49). From an economic perspective, the violent character of Gumb's covetous desire is also a function of his mimetic symbiosis with a society founded on the principle of consumption through collective mimesis and covetousness. On this particular aspect of mimesis, see Dupuy's application of the Girardian theory of mimesis and violence to the dynamic of mass consumption in the late capitalist marketplace (Dupuy, Ordres et désordres, pp. 125-85).

22. Concerning Lecter's fantasy, it is important to make a distinction between two types of symbolic economy: a symbolic economy of displaced enjoyment through consumption - an economy governed by the symbolic order; and a symbolic economy grounded in the logic of immediate consumption as destruction and, supposedly, liberation from the economy of the symbolic order. On the distinction between the two forms of symbolic economy, see Jean Baudrillard, Pour une critique de l'economie politique du signe (Paris, 1976), pp. 180-82, 194-99, 212-18, 256-68.

23. Georges Bataille, La Part Maudite (Paris, 1967), p. 96. In his critique of Bataille's theory of intensive consumption, Jean-Joseph Goux convincingly traces a link between the anarchy of this type of consumption and its emergence in social contexts of class domination: "All the examples of ... societies" governed by the logic of intensive consumption prove that they are "extremely unequal, even cruelly hierarchical societies in which spectacular consumption is the tool with which the powerful maintain their position above the dazzled, miserable masses" ("General Economics and Postmodern Capitalism," Yale French Studies 78 [1990]: 220).

24. In Bataille's theory, this form of consumption is rooted in an anti-utilitarian "destruction whose essence is to consume without profit that which could remain in the bondage of useful deeds.... The [object of destructive consumption] is a surplus taken from the mass of useful wealth. And it can only be withdrawn in order to be consumed without profit.... It is the accursed share from the moment it is chosen... But its curse wrests it from the [commodified] order of things" (Bataille, La Part maudite, pp. 95-97). See also Baudrillard, Pour une critique, pp. 256-68; and Jacques Derrida, L'Écriture et la différence (Paris, 1967), pp. 369-407.

25. On the limits and contradictions of Bataille's (and Baudrillard's) conception of anti-utilitarian consumption, see Goux, "General Economics and Postmodern Capitalism."

26. Based on a hyperbolic re-enactment of the law of serial consumption, mimetic violence operates according to a "promiscuous analogism" of sorts: "The mimetic or 'imitative' character of serial criminals has frequently been noted.... What becomes apparent is a hypertelic violence.... The chameleonlike character of these crimes takes the form of such an ... exorbitant drive.... This appears as a sort of imitative contagion.... One detects throughout [the narratives] of serial violence, for example, a series of promiscuous substitutions between bodies and representations...; between the serial consumption of visual spectacles and repetitive acts of violence.... This promiscuous analogism operates by way of the logic of substitution and simulation that everywhere inhabits the milieu of addictive violence. Such a logic ... issues in an excessive literalization" (Seltzer, "Serial Killers [II]," pp. 146, 141-142; emphasis mine).

27. For a detailed study of the paradoxical relation between predator and prey, see Claire Lejeune's brilliant elaboration on René Thom's predatory cusp (Claire Lejeune, "Du Point de vue du tiers," René Thom et al., Morphogenèse et imaginaire, Circé 8-9 [1978]: 91-118).

28. Derrida, Donner la mort, L'Éthique du don: Jacques Derrida et la pensée du don, eds. Jean-Michel Rabaté and Michael Wetzel (Paris, 1992), pp. 94, 96. According to Derrida, this calculus is rooted in an "economy" of "sacrifice" which implies "the suspension of strict economy, exchange.... This infinite and asymmetrical economy of the sacrifice [is] an economy which integrates the abdication of the salary ... the abdication of the commodity.... One must make a distinction between two salaries: one is a salary of recompense, of equal exchange, of circular economy; the other is a salary of absolute surplus value, incompatible with ventures or investments.... [T]he mediocre salary of exchanger-recompense and the noble salary that one obtains through disinterested sacrifice or through the gift" (Derrida, Donner la mort, pp. 96, 100, 99).

29. Derrida, Donner la mort, pp. 96, 99

30. See Sigmund Freud , From the History of an Infantile Neurosis, The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, vol. 17, ed. James Strachey (London, 1955). Of course, Lecter is very unlikely not to know that lupus presents as butterfly patterns; but it seems to me that he deliberately chooses the semantically ambivalent "hives" (rash and bee swarms) to enrich his pun, as it were.

31. See    n. 11.

32. See Freud on the "innumerable variations and new editions" of the Wolf Man's animal dreams (Freud, From the History of an Infantile Neurosis, pp. 36 ff.). See also Freud's analysis of the butterfly-woman-clothing nexus (Freud, From the History of Infantile Neurosis, pp. 89 ff.). Traced back to the "primal scene," Freud argues, the "pathogenic effect" of his analysand's polymorphous dreams suggests that "it was not only a single sexual current that started from the primal scene but a whole set of them ... his sexual life was positively splintered up by it" (Freud, From the History of an Infantile Neurosis, pp. 43-44).

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SALAH el MONCEF is associate professor of American culture at the University of Nantes, France. He was a Fulbright doctoral fellow at Indiana University at Bloomington. He has written highly acclaimed essays on modernist poetry and postmodern fiction. He has recently completed Atopian Limits, an interdisciplinary study on postmodern American narrative.

Copyright ©1999 Ann Kibbey. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.


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