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This Thing of Darkness

Perspectives on Evil and Human Wickedness

At the Interface

Dr Robert Fisher
Series Editor

Advisory Board
Dr Margaret Snser Breen
Professor Margaret Chatterjee
Dr Salwa Ghaly
Professor Michael Goodman
Professor Asa Kasher
Mr Christopher Macallister

Dr Diana Medlicott
Revd Stephen Morris
Professor John Parry
Dr David Seth Preston
Professor Bernie Warren
Revd Dr Kenneth Wilson, O.B.E

Volume 7
A volume in the At the Interface project
Perspectives on Evil and Human Wickedness

Probing the Boundaries

This Thing of Darkness

Perspectives on Evil and Human Wickedness

Edited by

Richard Paul Hamilton


Margaret Snser Breen

Amsterdam - New York, NY 2004

The paper on which this book is printed meets the requirements of

ISO 9706:1994, Information and documentation Paper of
documents Requirements for performance.
ISBN: 90-420-1138-6
Editions Rodopi B.V., Amsterdam New York, NY 2004
Printed in The Netherlands

List of Illustrations


Editorial Foreword

Rob Fisher



Richard Paul Hamilton









Twentieth-Century Vampire Literature:

Intimations of Evil and Power
Katri Lehtinen


Evil Encounters with Others

in Tayeb Salih and Toni Morrison
The Case of Mustafa Saeed and Sula Peace
Salwa Ghaly


A Visual Theology of Evil and Redemption?

Wattss Eve Trilogy and Burne-Joness
Altarpiece of The Nativity
Kathy M. Bullough


Or Image of that Horror?

Imagining Radical Evil
David H. Fisher


Hier ist kein Warum?

Evil at the Limits of Understanding
Richard Paul Hamilton


Condemned to Artifice and Prevented

from Being a Pirate: How Prisoners
Convicted of Terrible Crimes
Recognize Themselves in Discourse
Diana Medlicott


The Apostasy of the Baptized:

Christians and the Holocaust
Deirdre Burke





The Exorcist: Personification of

Human Wickedness or Upholder of
Religious Duties?
Sandeep Singh Chohan


Wandering the Heath:

Niebuhr and the Need for Realism
Rob Fisher


Prohibition and Transgression

Georges Bataille and the Possibility of
Affirming Evil
Jones Irwin






List of Illustrations
Figure 1: George Frederick Watts, She Shall be Called Woman (c. 1875
Oil on canvas, 2578 x 1168 mm. Tate, London 2000.
Figure 2: George Frederick Watts, Eve Tempted (exhibited 1884).
Oil on canvas, 2578 x 1168 mm. Tate, London 2000.
Figure 3: George Frederick Watts, Eve Repentant (c. 18651897).
Oil on canvas, 2591 x 1194 mm. Tate, London 2000.
Figure 4: Edward Burne-Jones The Nativity, centre panel, (18621863).
Gouache, 22 1/2 x 20 in. A Private Collection.

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Editorial Foreword
This Thing of Darkness wrestles with a complex problem that lies
at the heart of the At the Interface/Probing the Boundaries series. The
problem is centred on persons. Although we are persons, we do not know
what it is to be one. Persons have become their own mystery to
themselves and in relation to other persons. The problem unfolds at the
heart of the mystery; persons are capable of exquisite artistry, profound
literature refined civility, and selflessness. Yet persons are also capable of
insensitivity, spite, brutality, and genocide.
Our propensity for both forms of behaviour may not be
accidental. Dostoyevskys rueful observation that not even the animals
can be so cruel as a man, so ingeniously, so artistically cruel, indicates
the peculiarity of the problem which we confront when dealing with
persons. A tiger or a cat will chase its prey, tear and gnaw at it, sometimes
play with it, and finally consume it. That is what tigers and cats do. They
would not machete a victims limb to serve as a warning to the rest of their
group, or stub out a cigarette on a five-year-old child who wet the bed, or
explode a nail bomb in a busy pub because they did not like the type of
person who associated with it. The same artistic refinement which persons
bring to their cultural and social achievements also bring them to their
destructive, violent and pernicious moments.
So varied is the nature of our evil and so apparently deep seated
that the shadow it casts over our identity and relationships is broad and far
reaching. The chapters in this volume are attempts to grapple with this
thing of darkness lying somewhere at the heart of persons. The intention
behind the chapters is deliberately multi-perspectival. The term evil is
riddled with ambiguity, the phenomenon as manifested in persons is
perplexing. No one solution can be forthcoming; no one discipline or
area of thinking will be capable of supplying a definitive answer.
Instead, we need to build a multi-layered picture of the evils that
persons do in an attempt to weave together the insights and perspectives
that all the areas of human thinking can supply.
Even then, we will only be beginning the study. The project is
ambitious, but undeniably worth the undertaking. So long as we are alive
and live with each other, the problems of being persons will continue to
merit vigilance and close scrutiny. The chapters that follow are the
beginnings of the conversation. You, the reader, are invited to join the
dialogue and discover the heart of personhood.
Rob Fisher

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This Thing of Darkness
I Acknowledge Mine
At the end of Shakespeares The Tempest, Prospero appears on
stage having vanquished all the forces ranged against him. Alongside him
are the conspirators, who originally expelled him from the Duchy of Milan
and who have vainly plotted to take power on the island. Also on stage are
the so-called mock conspirators, Trinculo, Stephano, and Caliban.
Prospero reveals his true identity. In doing so he accepts his responsibility
for Caliban with the phrase, this thing of darkness, I acknowledge mine.
We have taken part of this line as the title of this, the first book in the
series Perspectives on Evil and Human Wickedness. For us, the
relationship between Prospero and Caliban captures much about the
relationship between humanity and evil.
The initial similarities are self-evident: evil is experienced as a
paradox. It is something alien and something familiar. Further reflection
reveals deeper parallels. Prospero is only able to acknowledge Caliban
once he has humiliated him and reduced him to ridicule. It is as if
Prospero can only recognize his own culpability for evil when he has
conquered it. The only evil Prospero is able to acknowledge is an
emaciated and unthreatening version.
Caliban is an ambiguous figure. When played for pantomime, as
in the 2000 Globe production, we lose much of his essential pathos; we
lose also the force of his rebellion. After all, it is never clear who is the
true face of evil in the play. Is it the ugly and deformed Caliban
representing the elemental forces of untamed nature? Or is it the far more
attractive Prospero who uses his intellectual powers to exploit and
manipulate nature and those around him? In an age less optimistic about
the power of reason and science over nature, we are correspondingly
ambivalent toward Prospero.
If we regard the evil-doer as a monstrous brute, someone who
acts under the imperative of forces he can neither control nor understand,
we are likely to see Caliban as evil. However, if we see the evil-doer as a
man or woman possessed of many intellectual gifts and fully in control of
the situation, we are more likely to regard Prospero as truly evil. After all,
Caliban only becomes evil in the context of civilization. In n a paean to his
former innocence he spits at Prospero:
You taught me language, and my profit ont
Is that I know how to curse; the red plague on you,
For learning me your language! (The Tempest 1.2.365-267)



Only with the arrival of language and the possibility of
distinctions do we have the possibility of good and evil. It is no
coincidence that Prometheus and other Lucifer equivalents in ancient
societies bring with them both fire and the gift of language.
What then of the conspirators? Of all the characters in the play,
few of them have done any actual harm. Even the wicked Sebastian, who
originally cast Prospero and his infant daughter out of Milan, has
inadvertently done good in allowing Prospero to discover himself. The
power of Shakespeares play derives from his acknowledgement of the
sheer complexity of evil. The villains in The Tempest are not caricatures.
They represent the full range of human responses to evil. They are by
turns complicit, acquiescent, resigned, and defiant. The complexities of
The Tempest are those that face any writer who attempts to confront evil.
This is one more reason why the play is such an appropriate motif for this
Several of the contributors raise the issue of how to represent
evil and whether indeed we should. The book opens with Katri Lehtinens
article about vampires. It might at first seem that vampires, those stock
figures of cheap movies and trashy novels, have no place in a serious
discussion of evil. Lehtinens article quickly shows this not to be the case.
As she ably demonstrates, the changing ways in which vampires have
been represented throughout the last two centuries reflect the various ways
human beings have responded to and conceptualized evil. Moreover, in the
hands of feminist, Queer, and colored writers, the figure of the vampire
has come to represent all those groups marginalized and feared by
mainstream society. At the end of the chapter, we are left with the
disturbing prospect that the difference between vampires and ourselves
may not be as straightforward as we might believe.
Salwa Ghaly takes up the theme of marginality in her analysis of
the treatment of evil by Toni Morrison and the Sudanese writer, Tayeb
Salih. Ghalys piece is a sustained meditation on the question of
definition. Throughout the article, the question emerges of who has the
right to say that someone is evil. Like Caliban the characters in Morrison
and Salihs stories are designated as evil from the outside. It is precisely
their refusal to conform to the values of a society that oppresses them that
places them in this category.
Marginality and representation are two themes that re-occur in
Kathy M. Bulloughs discussion of the work of the pre-Raphaelite painters
George Frederick Watts and Edward Burne-Jones In the Eve trilogy, and
the altarpiece of The Nativity, the painters reflect upon the ways in which
women have been associated with the extremes of good and evil through
the figures of Eve and Mary respectively. Bulloughs feminist reading of
these works highlights the ambivalence and misogyny underpinning these



representations and again raises the problem of definition from the
No group of people has better understood the force of definitions
than the Jews of Europe, and no book devoted to understanding human
wickedness could overlook the Holocaust. The next chapter in our
collection, by David H. Fisher, discusses the problem of representing this
great evil. The chapter compares the works of the poet and Holocaust
survivor Paul Celan, particularly his Shulamite/Margarete series, and the
paintings of Anselm Kiefer, which were inspired by Celans poetry.
Fishers conclusion is that given the inadequacy of philosophical ethics in
the face of radical evil, perhaps only art provides the necessary space for
the ethical.
The Holocaust exposes the weakness of traditional philosophic
ethics. It also reveals a weakness at the heart of the Christian tradition.
The tacit collaboration of many German Christians, clerics or lay, is a
black stain on the history of the twentieth-century Church. Deirdre
Burkes chapter analyzes some of the root causes of that complicity. The
weakness of the response from the German churches and their sometime
collaboration with the Final Solution was a key factor in the process of
transforming ordinary men into racist murderers. She argues that a
central element was the teaching of contempt, the anti-Semitic doctrine
that held the Jews culpable for the murder of Christ and encouraged
Christians to ostracize and persecute Jews as a consequence.
My chapter continues this treatment of the Holocaust but moves
the focus from the victims to the perpetrators. I am concerned with the
question of why academic treatments of evil seem unconvincing when
contrasted with great works of literature. I compare the work of the Czech
Holocaust survivor, Jii Weil with some of the attempts to analyze Hitlers
evil discussed in Ron Rosenbaums Explaining Hitler. I suggest that one
explanation for the weakness of many academic approaches to evil is an
insensitivity to our everyday moral grammar. The category of evil-doer
functions to characterize someone as a person whose reasons no longer
count as mitigations. Our difficulty in understanding the evil-doer stems
from an unwillingness to extend a particular type of understanding to
Diana Medlicotts chapter involves understanding the evil-doer in
precisely these terms. Her interviews with men convicted of serious
crimes are conducted within the framework of the interpretative or
Verstehen tradition in the social sciences. The chapter provides an insight
into the problems of conducting such research, and suggests the need to
understand the reasons these men offer. She locates their narratives in the
framework of the discourse analysis pioneered by the French writer
Michel Foucault. What these men are all reacting against, she argues, is



their constitution as subjects by dominant legal and psychiatric discourses.
The image of the pirate is a powerful one here for it offers one method of
subverting the image of the criminal offered by mainstream society in its
attempt to marginalize these men. The pirate cuts a figure that is both
dashing and threatening depending upon our perspective, and as such,
captures the sheer ambivalence of evil.
The ambiguity of evil is also a theme that occupies Sandeep
Singh Chohan in his discussion of the role of the exorcist in the North
Indian religious traditions. The answer to the question of whether the
exorcist upholds religious duties or personifies human wickedness can
only be addressed in relation to the kind of magic he performs and the
wishes of the supplicant. This is connected with a pervasive dualism in the
Hindu tradition between good and bad magic. As with Lehtinens
vampires, the exorcist can be a force for good or a force for evil depending
upon the objective and context of his acts.
The figure of Prospero with which we began illustrates the ways
in which human beings can respond to evil. We can acquiesce or we can
resist. We can condemn or we can attempt to understand. We can stare
evil in the face or we can evade it. Rob Fishers chapter, which began life
as the annual Niebuhr lecture given at Elmhurst College, Chicago,
addresses one response from within theology. Reinhold Niebuhr counsels
realism as the appropriate response to great evil. Realism is often taken
to be tantamount to surrender. This is far from the meaning Niebuhr
intends. Instead he calls upon us to reject futile protest which often serves
to make us feel better rather than helping the victim. He asks us to
recognize the limitations imposed on us by our circumstances and to work
out the best available means of opposing evil. In effect, we are to follow
Prospero when he says:
Now my charms are all oerthrown,
And what strength I haves mine own.
(The Tempest, Epilogue)
Jones Irwins chapter closes the book with an apparently
dissonant voice. Irwins concern is with the possibility of affirming evil in
the ways suggested by Georges Bataille. Evil must be recognized as
something human rather than something to be overcome. That is, evil
partly constitutes what it is to be human and thus cannot be regarded as
alien. Irwins reading of Bataille challenges the prevailing interpretation of
his work as Nietzschean and anti-Christian and paradoxically locates him
closer to Augustine than to Nietzsche. Augustine and Bataille share the
idea that evil is not something outside the human being, but integral to him
or her. An interesting parallel emerges with Singh Chohans chapter here,
in that the Augustinian response to evil is formulated in opposition to
Manicheanism a dualistic view of the universe.



At the time of going to press, the twin towers of the World Trade
Center lie in ruins. Thousands are missing, feared dead. The dogs of war
are about to be let loose with untold human cost. The enemy has a name
that uncannily parallels our central motif. Like Shakespeares character,
the Taliban have come to represent all that is different and to be feared.
Yet, like Caliban, these monsters are of our own creation. While they did
the Wests bidding and fought against the evil empire, the Western
powers were prepared to turn a blind eye to their more unsavory
characteristics. In their rebellion they become evil-doers. At such a time
we need to re-assess what is involved in using terms such as evil. Now
more than ever we need to stare evil in the face and acknowledge both our
complicity with and our distance from it. And just like Prospero returning
to Italy, we must also recognize that this acknowledgement is only the
Richard Paul Hamilton
Birkbeck College, University of London

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My first debt of gratitude must be to Rob Fisher who instigated
this set of discussions and was a sensitive and supportive intermediary
between myself, the contributors, and Rodopi throughout the editing
process. I would also like to thank Dan Haybron, editor of the companion
volume, for his advice, encouragement, and good humour. Juliet Laxton
performed the role of co-editor in all but name. Particularly in the final
stages, she brought her usual sharp mind and keen eye for detail to this
volume, and for this she has my enduring gratitude. I would also like to
thank the trustees of the Tate Gallery, London, U.K. and the warden of
Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, U.K. for permission to re-print the
Richard Paul Hamilton
I would like to thank Richard Paul Hamilton for taking the lead
role in the editing. It has been a pleasure to work with him, as well as Rob
Fisher, on the compelling essays included in this volume.
Margaret Snser Breen

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Twentieth-Century Vampire Literature:
Intimations of Evil and Power
Katri Lehtinen

Vampire fiction has changed radically in the past two hundred
years. One of the forces behind this is the shift in the concept of evil
during that time. In nineteenth-century vampire fiction, the vampire
represents the evil against which religion and society fight. Clive
Leatherdale points out that Bram Stokers Dracula was published at the
end of the nineteenth century when faith was fading and was in need of
new vitality.1 Leatherdale claims: Christianity is predicated on the fact of
Evil. Dracula is the naked presence of that Evil.2 When Dracula, the evil
force, is defeated by the joined forces of goodness with the aid of religious
artefacts, crosses and holy wafers, it must follow that God existseven if
only in fiction.3 Thus, the role that the vampire plays in nineteenth-century
fiction according to Leatherdale demands that the character is
unquestionably evil, with no redeeming qualities.4
As long as this situation persisted, the vampire could not have
been described as anything but evil. But nowadays, when religion no
longer dictates the rules for behaviour, the term evil has lost its primarily
religious connotations. With the wider range of socially permissible
behaviour, especially sexual behaviour, we understand fewer things to be
evil. For example, homosexuality, which was once banned as a nonprocreative sexual act, is now acceptable. What this means for human
beings, and for vampires, is a wider range of acceptable behaviour. Thus,
even vampires are no longer evil per se: evil is no longer a nature, it can
only be applied to specific deeds. Evil has become a matter of degree.
While criminal or un-godly acts were previously characterized as evil, we
can now term them immoral, unethical, unwise, unjust, unfair, or just
unhealthy, depending on their gravity.
Therefore, we cannot use a religious view on evil in this chapter
since it is too limited. In the context of modern vampire fiction, we can
define evil as a misuse of power. While it is easy to recognize power, it is
more difficult to define it. Websters New World Dictionary gives as the
first definition: ability to do, act, or produce.5 Collins Cobuild English
Language Dictionary comes closer to a common view about power when
it defines a powerful person as having control over other people or over
events or activities.6 While neither offers an exhaustive explanation of

Twentieth-Century Vampire Literature

power, the Cobuild comes closer to how we will view power here: as the
ability to defend ourselves and choose our own actions.
Hence a misuse of power becomes an abuse of the ability to
choose our own actions, perverted into the ability to persuade, threaten, or
force someone into behaving according to our desires. This approaches the
Cobuild definition of evil according to which an evil person is very
wicked by nature and takes pleasure in doing things that harm people.7
On the basis of this definition, we can posit three pre-requisites for evil: it
is something innate; it is wilful; and it is harmful to others. Recent
vampire fiction is therefore an ideal place in which to examine evil, for
traditionally vampires cannot change what they are, or choose not to feed,
and so choose not to kill or harm their prey.
A. Nineteenth-Century Vampire Literature
In nineteenth-century vampire fiction, the vampire is a figure of
ultimate evil.8 The vampire is an outcast, living on the margins of society,
pretending to be human in order to feed among them. To satisfy his
appetites, the vampire feeds on young women and in the process unleashes
their sexual potential.9 The bite itself is veiled intercourse.10 Sexual scenes
could not be overtly portrayed in Victorian literature. What emphasizes
this interpretation of the vampire bite is the fact that the bitten woman
herself turns into a sexual predator. The vampire woman becomes the
antithesis of decent womanhood: aggressive, demanding, powerful, and
sexually uninhibited.
A good example of this is Bram Stokers depiction of Lucy, the
first English woman whom Stokers archfiend, Dracula transforms into a
vampire. A beautiful, decent woman in life, Lucy becomes a hellish
mockery of womanhood in undeath:
The sweetness was turned to adamantine, heartless
cruelty, and the purity to voluptuous wantonness. ...
[her] eyes seemed to throw out sparks of hell-fire, the
brows were wrinkled as though the folds of the flesh
were the coils of Medusas snakes ...11
Not only does Lucy become animal-like and alien after her transformation
into a vampire, but she goes on to take the initiative in sexual interaction,
telling her fianc how hungry she is for him.12
Lucys seduction of Arthur is made even more horrific by the fact
that just before she advances on him, she is seen with blood dripping from
her mouth, carrying a small child.13 Here is a child on which Lucy has
obviously fed and which she drops callously as a devil to the ground
when she sees her fianc.14 What could depict a female characters

Katri Lehtinen

perverse nature better than feeding on children and abandoning them to
make sexual advances on a man? In 1897 when Stoker published Dracula,
women were not considered to have sexual impulses, finding deepest
satisfaction in marriage and motherhood.15 Such a female character was
unnatural indeed.
The sexual improprieties of a female vampire do not end here. J.
Sheridan Le Fanus Carmilla, a delicate looking female precedent to
Stokers Dracula, reveals another male fear. If women could choose their
own sexual partners, could they not choose other women? Carmilla does,
as does Thomas Peckett Prests only female vampire, Clara. The sexual
nature of Carmillas attacks on or seduction of young women is
highlighted by the place in which she chooses to sink her teeth: the
womens breast.16 Male vampires in nineteenth-century fiction always bite
at the neck,17 if the site is identified at all.
Additionally, the attacks of male vampires on their victims are
uniformly heterosexual.18 While the possibility of a male vampire taking a
male victim can be hinted at,19 it is never described. Therefore, the male
vampire is just taking male characteristics to the extreme; after all, men
seek out women sexually. The female vampire, meanwhile, perverts even
biological sex in her evil, for she breaks the ultimate taboo by taking on a
male prerogative: the power to penetrate.
In this context, it is revealing that while female vampires can
threaten male victims as Lucy does Arthur in the scene from Dracula,
vampire women are only described as feeding on women and children.
The full horror of a woman penetrating a man could not be portrayed. We
only read a tantalizing description of the seduction that is cut short before
being actualized, as a famous scene from Dracula reveals. Here, Stokers
hero Jonathan is alone with three beautiful vampire women, one of whom
advances on Jonathan.
Lower and lower went her head as the lips went below
the range of my mouth and chin and seemed about to
fasten on my throat. I could feel the soft, shivering
touch of the lips on the super-sensitive skin of my
throat, and the hard dents of two sharp teeth, just
touching and pausing there. I closed my eyes in a
languorous ecstasy and waited waited with a beating
The mixture of longing and at the same time some deadly fear that
Jonathan feels was probably echoed in the reader.21 When Dracula
interrupts the penetration, the Victorian reader could be as disappointed as

Twentieth-Century Vampire Literature

Jonathan is, and as relieved: a man could not be penetrated by anyone,
male or female.
While the male and the female vampires break social and sexual
taboos, it is the female vampire in Victorian examples of the genre that
crystallizes Victorian fears. If women were given the chance to act on
their own impulses unchecked, they might no longer be satisfied with
what society granted them, but would perhaps turn their backs on
marriage, heterosexuality, and even children. In short, they would no
longer be women. If the male vampire is the centre of focus in a vampire
story, the female vampire threatens the social fabric.
This is why the female vampire meets her end in such brutal
fashion: she is punished for transgressing her sexual role by having a
wooden stake hammered through her chest.22 The women in Victorian
vampire tales are therefore penetrated twice: first by the fangs of the
vampire, then by the corrective phallus of society. Yet, the male vampire
is never penetrated by either. A male vampire is never the victim of
another vampires bite, nor is he staked in the end. Even the mighty
Dracula is killed by the slash and stab of a knife.23 Nevertheless, few
vampires are allowed to live: society mercilessly punishes those who dare
to cross socially prescribed boundaries. Society could not tolerate evil,
even in fiction.
B. Twentieth-Century Vampire Literature
In mid-twentieth-century vampire fiction, the vampire character
began to change. Secularization is one key issue here. A more important
factor is the shift in the balance of social power. Forces such as the Black
Movement, feminism, and gay and lesbian movements changed society
radically. In addition to winning their own battles, these movements
forced the white heterosexual male and the culture built around him to
acknowledge multiplicity, and the power of the oppressed. Against this
background it is hardly surprising that those who rose to challenge the
heteronormative, misogynous past of vampire literature were women and
gays and, to a lesser extent, African-American, Latinas, and other coloured
One of the first authors of vampire fiction to completely rewrite
the vampire figure was Anne Rice in Interview with the vampire,
published in 1976. In the tale, the vampire Louis tells his story to a
reporter. In the next novel, The vampire Lestat, Rice abandons this
distancing device and allows her main character to address the reader
directly: I am the vampire Lestat. Im immortal.24 Other writers quickly
followed Rices lead and vampires became the heroes of their own tales,
thereby transforming vampire fiction. Writing about vampires from the
first person narrative forces the writer to re-examine fixed notions of

Katri Lehtinen

vampires and vampire fiction: to be able to identify with the vampire, he
or she cannot be wholly evil. Yet while the need to drink blood and the
superior mental and physical powers of the vampire persist, the context of
abuse of power remains.
Nevertheless, the genre became populated with vampires with a
conscience in the latter part of the twentieth century. Vampirism came to
be seen, not as a violation as it was in the previous century, but as a form
of relationship. Now, anything can be interpreted as vampiric, and
vampirism can symbolize almost anything. On the pages of recent vampire
fiction, we meet vampires who feed on emotions or mental energy;
vampires who feed on menstrual blood, vaginal juices, and synthetic
blood.25 We meet vampires who sip blood in relationships between
consenting adults; vampires who devour several people in one feast, and
vampires whose bite is ecstasy.26 We read about vampire flowers, vampire
chairs, and vampire houses.27 Marriage becomes vampiric, incest becomes
vampiric, and even a childs demands become vampiric.28
Here lies the greatest difference between nineteenth- and
twentieth-century vampire fiction. In the nineteenth-century, writers did
not analyze or question the nature of vampires because to them evil was an
absolute and vampires were absolutely evil. In the twentieth century,
writers can interpret a vampire to suit their purpose. Nineteenth-century
texts can be interpreted to exhibit the writers subconscious desires, fears,
and nightmares. Twentieth-century texts are often highly self-conscious
and writers have very clear ideas of the forces behind their fiction. Their
message is often about power, evil, responsibility, and the relationship
between them.

Power In Vampire Fiction

While such an extended range of possibilities liberates the writer,
it also presents a problem. If each vampire is unique and unusual, how can
we define a vampire text, a vampire tale, a vampire novel? In our context
of human relationships, sexual issues, power, and evil, we can propose
several pre-requisites for vampire fiction. First, the vampire must have
been born a human being and transformed into a vampire by another. This
allows the character to experience powerlessness at the moment of
initiation, and feelings of power after transformation. Second, the vampire
must feed primarily on human beings so that equality and/or love in the
relationship between vampire and prey are possible. Third, for the
relationships to be physical and more explicitly sexual, the vampire must
feed on blood or other bodily fluids.
Yet most vampire fiction writers do not aim to leave the history
of evil inherent in vampires completely behind. Instead, in showing how
difficult power can be, especially to those who have it, writers like Rice,

Twentieth-Century Vampire Literature

Nancy Collins, and Jewelle Gomez show that power is dangerous if not
used with caution. I will examine the vampire tales by these three writers
in relation to the views of power they exhibit on the personal,
interpersonal, and social levels.
A. Personal Experiences of Power
On a personal level, the newly made vampire questions the nature
of evil in facing his or her potential to harm others, and the hostility of
surrounding humanity. The moment of initiation is often the defining one
for the vampire-to-be. The kind of vampire this creature becomes depends
on how he or she is made. A vampire born of a loving and supportive
relationship becomes kind and responsible, such as Freda Warringtons
Charlotte, or Gomezs Gilda. Throughout her human life, Gilda is known
simply as the Girl. When the original Gilda transforms her, the Girl
inherits Gildas name along with her powers:
[The Girl] couldnt look away from Gildas gaze which
held her motionless. Yet she felt free . She curled her
long body in Gildas lap like a child safe in her mothers
She felt a sharpness at her neck and heard the soothing
The imagery here speaks of freedom, gentleness, and a mothers care for
her child. The new Gilda takes the experience as a guide in her later
Few vampires, however, are as fortunate as Gomezs Gilda.
Often the act of making a new vampire remains an accident or a random
act of brutality, and the emerging vampire is often confused or embittered,
like Tanith Lees Sabella, or Collinss Sonja Blue. Collinss Sonja meets a
mysterious, charismatic man and accepts his offer of a romantic midnight
drive in his limousine. The dream date warps into a nightmare when
Morgan reveals his fangs and takes mental control of Sonja:
[Sonja] felt his will enter her, hot as pig iron. He
reached into her head and ordered her to crawl across
the backseat, and her body obeyed. She struggled
against him the best she could, but Morgan was far too
old and far too powerful to be denied by a sixteen-yearold girl.30
After the mental rape, Morgan rapes her with his fangs and then his
penis.31 He leaves Sonja for dead, bloodless in a gutter.32

Katri Lehtinen

Sonjas understandable fear and hatred of Morgan is only
quenched when she kills him, but before she becomes powerful enough to
overcome him, she has to learn how to understand, accept, and master her
abilities.33 Thus, whatever powers vampires have, the key to real power is
understanding what they are, as well as their limitations. Above all, it is
Apart from other supernatural powers, most vampires share
physical strength, and the need to drink blood. Writers often cast this as an
addiction. However, even when new vampires manage to control their
appetites, they sometimes have to resort to violence to defend themselves
against the attacks of human beings or other creatures of the night. In
these combats, female vampires show that when both the attacker and the
attacked have fangs and superior powers, the outcome is not what gender
would predict.34 Experience, wit, and strength of will are what count.
Thus, to the female writer and reader of vampire fiction, the female
vampire and her superiority over arrogant males can be a welcome power
Many writers realize that it is not enough to reverse the gender
roles: the roles would remain the same, only the ascribed gender would
change. Women writers describe female vampires that take on male
qualities, and manage to transcend gender when they leave humanity
i. Beyond Gender
Becoming a vampire means ceasing to be a human being, and this
extends to gender. What were gendered human qualities before the
transformation are now Queer vampire qualities. Women writers often
realize how liberating vampirism can be, particularly to a female
character. Rice voices this directly in the tale of Gabrielle, who is born in
the mid-1700s and turned into a vampire at the end of that century. When
Gabrielle becomes a vampire, she turns her back on social expectations.
She also shows her freedom in appearance by dressing up in male
clothing, commenting to her vampire son, Lestat: But theres no real
reason for me to dress that way anymore, is there? And Lestat realizes
that Gabrielle was not really a woman now, was she? Any more than [he]
was a man.35
The genital inactivity of Rices vampires highlights this
interpretation: while the penis can function, it becomes wholly
superfluous.36 Blood drinking replaces all physical pleasures. As sucking
is gender-neutral, sexuality becomes freed from gender rules and
heterosexual norms.
Therefore, in a hundred years, what was the ultimate social evil
crossing genders has become the ultimate act of liberation. However, not

Twentieth-Century Vampire Literature

everyone is ready for this. Many writers describe strictly heteronormative
vampires, especially when they are genitally active vampires.37 The
notable exceptions here are Rice, Poppy Z. Brite (1994), and Jeffrey
McMahan (1991) who write about gay male vampires, and several female
writers who write lesbian vampire short stories.38
The reactions of other vampires and human beings to those
vampires that exhibit unconventional gender qualities are often negative.
Rices Gabrielle may admit that the world cannot tolerate a woman like
herself and ends up in the jungle, needing to be alone in order to be truly
herself.39 Gomezs white lesbian vampire, the original Gilda, creates a
female sphere for herself when she chooses to be marginalized in a brothel
instead of trying to fit into a society that would not accept her.40 Collinss
strong and independent female vampire, Sonja, is almost killed by
Morgan, the vampire that made her, because she did not die at the attack
that made her into a vampire. When Morgan meets Sonja again, he has to
admit to himself: I stand in awe of her; my lovely, lethal masterpiece. ... I
love her. And that is why I must destroy her.41 What Morgans character
reveals here is that no one can own or defeat these vampire women: if they
cannot be accepted as equal, one will destroy the other.
This discussion raises the question as to whether these three
writers are feminists. After all, they concentrate or at least touch on
explicit gender issues and problems. Changing the status of women from
mere food to heroes in vampire fiction need not be a consciously feminist
decision. It may stem from the fact that society has changed. In the second
half of the twentieth century, it became politically incorrect to abuse
women in literature, even in a vampire context. A scene like the staking in
Stokers Dracula involving stake, breasts, hammer, blood, and screams
of pain is no longer acceptable.
Gomez is a self-acclaimed feminist, who incorporates her
political goals into her writing.42 Rice, however, concentrates on male
characters to the exclusion of women. This makes her problematic from a
feminist perspective. Rices few female characters can hardly be
interpreted as feminist archetypes. Gabrielle finds refuge from society in a
jungle.43 Claudia, a vampire at the age of four, never reaches full
womanhood.44 Akasha embodies the stereotype of a devouring bitch in her
plan to eradicate rape and war by devastating the male population.45 Even
Pandora falls under male rule at one point in her existence.46
Collins falls somewhere between the two. Her female vampire
Sonja was made a vampire in the late twentieth century when
discrimination against women was less apparent than in previous
centuries. Collins can make her point subtly in this social climate, unlike
Gomez whose scope spans several centuries. Collinss Sonja comes across
as a tough modern woman who does not let anyone underestimate her.

Katri Lehtinen

However, the feminist comment takes the form of undertones instead of
explicit statement.
However, the question as to whether the writers are feminist or
not is secondary to the fact that all discuss gender in relation to power and
ethics. The feminist underpinnings may explain why their female
characters seldom succeed in heterosexual relationships. Strong,
independent vampire women do not suffer dominant males gladly.
B. Interpersonal Power
Once the newly born vampires have re-created their identity, they
must feed. How the vampire sees blood drinking and their relationship
with others re-defines the concept of evil. A good example is Louis,
Rices most ethically tormented vampire. Educated by Lestat, a vampire
that presents himself to Louis as one without regrets, human
considerations, or moral dilemmas, Louis has to re-invent such concepts
for himself. Lestats only advice to Louis is Go kill.47 To Lestat,
vampires are the hand of God: part of the natural order, but above
humanity which vampires were created to prey on.48
Unfortunately, ethics are not that easy even for fictitious
vampires. Evil and wickedness are human concerns: animals cannot be
evil, because they are part of nature. What Rice is proposing here through
Lestats character is that vampires are like animals, natural predators, and
therefore not evil. But the readers of vampire fiction judge vampires by
human standards for several reasons. First, because vampires used to be
human; second, because they can still pass for human beings; and third,
because vampires feed on human beings. The last reason offends the
readers most: being so used to occupying the top rung of the food chain,
the idea that something could be above human beings strikes the reader as
ii. Feeding
If evil is no longer absolute then there must be grades of
wrongness. This is what the late twentieth-century writers address. On the
level of basic feeding, many writers find ways for their vampires to feed in
an ethical, or at least non-violent, manner. Gomezs Gilda and her fellow
moral vampires feed on human beings but never take more than what the
human being would lose in donating blood. The vampires always leave
something positive to replace the blood they have taken. One young man
needed the resolve to visit a sick friend.49 Gilda leaves a confused woman
who has given up on life with the desire for life, family, and new
experiences.50 Taking something the victims will not need and leaving
them something valuable behind equals a fair trade in vampire world.
Some vampires are not sophisticated enough for a trade such as
this and are forced to placate their consciences in other ways. Lesbian


Twentieth-Century Vampire Literature

writers often replace jugular blood with menstrual blood, like Carol
Leonard, or with vaginal arousal juices, like Katharine E. Forrest, which
can be enjoyed without doing damage to the vampires lover. Chelsea
Quinn Yarbros St. Germain feeds on his victims in their dreams, erotic
and vivid dreams that the victims remember only hazily in the morning.51
Tanya Huffs Henry Fitzroy prefers willing blood donors, such as Tony.
Tony and Fitzroy both enjoy the feeding process, and Tony admits that
watching Fitzroy feed is part of the turn on.52 Even Collinss Sonja
feeds occasionally on black market blood,53 as if to admit that feeding on
human beings is an unethical choice. When bottled blood fails to satisfy,
Sonja solves her ethical dilemmas by drinking on murderers and thieves,
and eventually on other vampires.54 In the end, Sonja comes to find her
place in the scheme of things as a destroyer of non-human prey.55
In Rices fiction, human beings are usually nothing more than
vampire fodder and some vampires slaughter humans for their pleasure.
We find an example of this in Azim, a powerful, ancient vampire who
creates a blood cult and gorges himself on his followers. Another ancient
vampire, Pandora, watches in horror as Azim sucks dry several worshipers
in moments.56 Most vampires, even in Rices work, do not tolerate such
indulgence, and Pandora condemns the cult as evil.57 Yet she joins Azim
in a moment of abandonment to her thirst.
Rices vampires tend to moralize yet fall prey to their own
desires: like Pandora, Louis also tries to keep his nature in check. Louis
admits that a diet of rats does not satisfy him. However, he cannot turn his
back on humanity, whether it is the humanity on which he feeds, or that
which is a part of him, his past. He cannot let go of his guilt of feeding on
human beings, but he cannot stop feeding on them. Only when he is
instructing his young protg, the child vampire Claudia, can he forget
his guilt and simply feed when he is hungry.
Other vampires in Rices work struggle with their desire to slake
their thirst on one victim and prefer to sip a little from several, as does
The smallest kiss, my precious one.
[The victims] eyes closed; his teeth pierced the artery
instantly and his tongue lapped at the blood. Only a
Although this victim does not come to any harm, and cannot recall the
event subsequently; her consent was never asked. This may be misuse of
power. But can we call this evil?

Katri Lehtinen


iii. Vampire Relationships
Relationships suffer from blood compulsion as much as feedings
do. The desire to drink their lovers blood, even with his or her consent, is
just one aspect that can sour a vampires relationship with a human being.
One major issue here is the overwhelming physical strength of the
vampire. To return to Collins, even when Sonja tries to curb her vampire
nature, her relationships with human males end in disaster. One
relationship is destroyed when Sonjas vampire personality breaks loose
and rapes her lover.59 Another goes wrong when her lover resorts to his
fists to keep control in the relationship.60 Human males are no match for
Sonjas vampire nature and her superior physical strength: perhaps this is
why Sonja befriends a fellow creature of the night in the end.61 When
both have unusual powers, there is some chance of a balanced
We find the most equal relationships in Gomezs work, between
Gilda and her lovers, and between Anthony and Sorel, a gay vampire
couple. When both are of the same sex and both are vampires with equal
skills and powers, the relationship has a better chance of working than if
the relationship were otherwise. Warrington offers a rare example of an
equal heterosexual relationship between the human being Charlotte and
Karl the vampire. She describes their first blood kiss thus:
This was no violation. To be able to give him this
was a pleasure as intense as the repletion he drew from
her veins. [Charlotte] held him as he drank, her lips
against his hair...62
When Karl finally consents to making Charlotte into a vampire, the trust,
love, and respect evident in the scene above continue.
Heterosexual vampire romances are more usually battles of will.
Let us consider Rices Pandora and Magnus. Magnus dominates the
relationship while Pandora is still human, and he assumes he knows better
since he is older and wiser: a vampire who has experienced more than any
mortal. His arrogance does not change when Pandora is also transformed
into a vampire. To Pandora, they are now equal creatures and the
difference in the length of their existence, and their gender, should have no
bearing on the power balance between them as vampires. As Magnus does
not agree, their power battle drags on for centuries.63
The greatest polarity in vampire fiction is vampire-human being.
All other differences, such as male-female and even adult-child, pale
beside this. While the male-female divide can cause problems, as in the
case of Pandora and Magnus, the adult-child typically does not. The
relationship between Louis and the child vampire Claudia is one of the


Twentieth-Century Vampire Literature

most evenly matched in Rices work. Louis has existed for decades,
Claudia only for four years she remains forever a child, even though she
has walked the earth for sixty years as a vampire by the end of her story.
Thus, their sensual relationship smacks of incest: the two sleep in the same
coffin,64 and Louis admits the duality of their relationship in a description
to the interviewer: Father and Daughter. Lover and Lover.65
Nevertheless, Louis is bound to Claudia by his love for her, and
she makes the most important decisions for them both. Louis is so
tormented by his guilt that even a little girl stands as his equal. Louiss
relationship to his maker, Lestat, was like that of a slave to his master.
Louis does not want to repeat this mistake in his relationship with Claudia.
Unlike Lestat who keeps Louis in the dark about vital information on
vampire nature, and is a slave to Lestats will,66 Louis never keeps secrets
from Claudia. Louis realizes the dangers of manipulation and lies that
come with greater power.
Primary human relationships between parents and children, and
between spouses often receive much more gruesome treatment at the
hands of vampire writers than Rices example reveals. Most social evils
translate easily into vampire relationships. Rape, incest, and exploitation
are just other words for vampirism. In Tom Hollands work, we find a
chilling metaphor for incest in vampires who find the deepest satisfaction
in the blood of their relatives. While all blood is sweet to his vampires, the
blood of a relative is like a drug, made all the more dangerous by the close
kinship. Byron, Hollands vampire version of the poet, is irresistibly
drawn to his sister. But he is advised against it by a wiser vampire.67
Byron does not yet know that their kind of vampire will have to
completely drain the blood from a relative if they want to stay young,
instead of simply existing forever. In Hollands vampire world, incest is a
matter of human morality and only unwise for vampires because of the
subsequent need to kill their kin.
Perhaps the reason why subjects such as rape and incest are
easier to discuss and tolerate in a vampire setting is the non-genital
sexuality that is still common to modern vampires. While the biting and
sucking of blood can be interpreted, as it most often is, as a sexual act, it
remains sexuality without genitalia. Therefore, we can discuss incest, for
example, at a safe distance, since the incestuous act is so far removed from
real life situations. Nevertheless, incest often remains one of the most
serious violations of power in vampire fiction.
C. Social Power
Many vampire texts offer social comment. Yet, in Rices fiction,
human beings, humanity, and society are insignificant compared to the
struggles between vampires. Rices vampires move through history

Katri Lehtinen


unperturbed by human actions, or by human evil. But other historical
writers, such as Les Daniels and Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, use their vampire
characters as tools for narrating history from a single point of view. In so
doing, they reveal that it is not the vampires, but human beings that are the
true monsters.
Les Daniels depicts the massacre of the Aztecs, the Spanish
Inquisition, and the French Revolution as seen through the eyes of a
vampire, as examples of human brutality and greed.68 Yarbros Saint
Germain, a humane vampire if there ever was one, moves through history
forever a suspect because of his gentle ways, unusual habits, and skills in
medicine. In contrast, the human beings Saint Germain meets are stupid,
suspicious, and superstitious.69 Daniels and Yarbro do not depict their
vampires attempting to change society. The vampires simply tolerate it.
It takes a woman like Gomez a lesbian and African-American, to
take social criticism in a vampire context to its extreme. The tale of Gilda,
a slave turned vampire, re-tells vampire history, black past, and the lesbian
experience through her black lesbian vampire. Thrice marginalized,
Gomez examines power on interacting levels: Gilda faces contempt, fear,
and rage from her contemporaries on the basis of her skin colour, female
sex, and lesbian identity. As the tale unfolds, Gomez points out how
mistrust between different groups of people will destroy society, and
eventually the earth. By the end of the tale, it is the year 2030 and the
earth has become polluted and partly uninhabitable: food is scarce, yet
people remain as homophobic, racist, and sexist as ever.
Gomezs tale shows the evil social power can do when used by
self-interested people. However, her vampires choose to retreat from
society instead of trying to change it. The message is clear: if those who
have the power to make a difference turn their backs on fellow human
beings or vampires, the world will come to an end. While few other
writers are as explicit or as politically committed as Gomez, many come to
the same conclusion: power is evil, unless used responsibly.
Collins arrives at this conclusion but with more humour and less
politicizing. Collinss vampires notice, in much the same way as Gomezs
do, that leaving human beings to tend for the planet will only result in
disaster. Pangloss, an ancient vampire, describes humans to Sonja as
myopic little beasts intent on destroying their world,70 which is why the
oldest vampires have been husbanding the human race for centuries.71 In
the end, Sonja and Lethe, a daughter of two living vampires, join forces to
create a new human breed, a hybrid between the human and the
supernatural race. This new human race will not be blind to natural forces,
it will be able to see the results of their actions and can thus put to rights
the scales of nature [that] were thrown horribly awry.72


Twentieth-Century Vampire Literature

Collinss final message is a grand one: save the world from
human beings. While few other vampire writers aspire so high, they often
touch on social issues to emphasize the responsibilities power brings with
it. Recent vampire fiction has dealt with social issues such as race,73 the
homeless,74 AIDS,75 dating,76 the institution of motherhood,77 and that of
marriage.78 The writers approach the issues differently through unique
vampires and seldom have similar agendas. Despite the overt messages,
the hidden message is often that allowing a wrongdoing to continue is
tantamount to causing it to happen. Contemporary vampire fiction has
come a long way since its nineteenth-century beginnings.

Too much uncontrolled power will jeopardize relationships, and
destroy society, the human race, and the planet. If few writers offer
solutions to all of these problems, their work does examine different
power structures and challenge existing views on power and
responsibility. In so doing, they rewrite our concepts of evil. When we
look back on the examples taken from recent vampire fiction, we may ask
which acts can be termed evil. The reply depends on how we define evil.
If an act needs to be degrading, painful, or lethal and malicious to be evil,
then perhaps none of them are. Feeding is necessary and not something
that the vampire would do out of malice; therefore, it cannot usually be
defined as evil. Often feeding does not kill or injure the victim: the act
may remain non-consensual but not necessarily evil
In this framework, the only acts that are evil are superfluous or
needlessly violent feedings, use of unnecessary force in defending oneself
against others, and manipulating or coercing a lover in a relationship. This
view is supported by the fact that all those vampires who flout vampire
society rules who kill unnecessarily like Rices Azim, or feed brutally
like Collinss Morgan are destroyed by the main characters. The main
characters survive their tales, and prosper.


Leatherdale, 1986, 176.

Ibid., 185.
Ibid., 177.
Ibid., 186-187.
Websters New World Dictionary of American English, 1986, 3d ed.,
s.v. power.
Collins Cobuild English Language Dictionary, 1987, s.v. power.
Ibid., s.v. evil.

Katri Lehtinen


8. Belsey, 1994, 88-90.
9. Wolf, 1992, vii.
10. Tropp, 1990, 142; Tracy, 1990, 34-35; and Leatherdale, 1996, 149150.
11. Stoker, 1992, 217-218.
12. Ibid., 218.
13. Ibid., 217.
14. Ibid.
15. See Tropp, 1990, 137; Shuttleworth, 1992, 31; Russett, 1989, 43; and
Leatherdale, 1986, 139-140.
16. Le Fanu, 1990, 275.
17. Stoker, 1992, 132.
18. Ibid., 136-137, 157.
19. Ibid., 47.
20. Ibid.
21. Ibid., 46.
22. Ibid., 221-222; Le Fanu, 1990, 310-311.
23. Stoker, 380.
24. Rice, 1992b, 3.
25. See Simmons, 1989; Leonard, 1995; Forrest, 1993; Dyer, 1994.
26. See Yarbo, 1981, 1988, 1990, 1995; Rice, 1988; and Rusch, 1995.
27. Wells, 1997; Koja and Malzberg, 1994; Tremayne, 1992; and
Chetwynd-Hayes, 1992.
28. Tem and Rasnic Tem, 1994; Rasnic Tem, 1992; Rusch, 1995; and
Carr, 1996.
29. Gomez, 1991, 46.
30. Collins, 1994, 83.
31. Ibid., 83-84.
32. Ibid., 85.
33. Ibid., 108-112.
34. Ibid., 117.
35. Rice, 1992b, 172.
36. Rice, 1998, 263.
37. For example, Collins, 1994, 1995b; King, 1977; and Warrington,
1993, 1995.
38. Forrest, 1993; De la Pena, 1996; Brownworth, 1996; Califia, 1993;
and Leonard, 1995.
39. Rice, 1992b, 347-348.
40. Gomez, 1991, 18-24, 27-28.
41. Collins, 1995b, 30.
42. Gomez, 1991, 1997.
43. Rice, 1992b, 347-251.
44. Rice, 1992a, 74-75, 91-95, 102-105.


Twentieth-Century Vampire Literature


Rice, 1988, 291-306.

Rice, 1998, 338.
Rice, 1999a, 71.
Ibid., 83.
Gomez, 1991, 182.
Ibid., 123.
Yarbro, 1988, 33, 471-472.
Huff, 1992, 43-44.
Collins, 1994, 131.
Ibid., 151-153, 116-117, and 122-124.
Collins, 1995b, 241-242.
Rice, 1988, 65-66.
Ibid., 66.
Ibid., 22.
Collins, 1995b, 55-57.
Ibid., 76-80.
Collins, 1995a, 242-243.
Warrington, 1993, 306.
Rice, 1988, 271.
Rice, 1992a, 104.
Ibid., 102.
Rice, 1992a, 83-84.
Holland, 1996, 254-255.
Daniels, 1994.
Yarbro, 1995, 1990.
Collins, 1994, 139.
Ibid., 140.
Ibid., 251.
Gomez, 1991; De la Pena, 1996.
Cadigan 1995b.
Belkom, 1997; Simmons, 1992.
Cadigan, 1995a.
Sturgis, 1996; Carr, 1996.
Melanie Tem, 1992.

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Sex and Death in Victorian Literature, ed. Regina Barreca.
Houndmills: Macmillan.
Tremayne, Peter. 1992. Draculas Chair. In The Mammoth Book of
Vampires, ed. Stephen Jones. London: Robinson.
Tropp, Martin. 1990. Images of Fear: How Horror Stories Helped Shape
Modern Culture, 18181918. Jefferson, North Carolina:
McFarland & Company.
Twitchell, James B. 1985. Dreadful Pleasures. New York: Oxford
University Press.
Varma, Devendra P., ed. 1970. Varney the Vampyre, or: The Feast of
Blood, by Thomas Prest Peckett. New York: Arno .
Warrington, Freda. 1993. A Taste of Blood Wine. London: Pan.
. 1995. A Dance in Blood Velvet. London: Pan.
Wells, H. G. 1997. The Flowering of the Strange Orchid. In Vampires,
Wine and Roses, ed. John Richard Stephens. New York:
Wolf, Leonard. 1992. Returning to Dracula. In Dracula, by Bram Stoker,
New York: Signet.
Yarbro, Chelsea Quinn. 1981. Hotel Transylvania. London: Nel.
. 1988. Cabin 33. In The Penguin Book of Vampire Stories, ed.
Alan Ryan. London: Claremont.
. 1990. Out of the House of Life. New York: Orb.
. 1995. Better in the Dark. New York: Tom Doherty.

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Evil Encounters with Others in Tayeb Salih and Toni
Morrison: The Case of Mustafa Saeed and Sula Peace
Salwa Ghaly

Definitions belong to the definer, not the defined.

Toni Morrison, Beloved

Throughout history, evil has had different definitions and has
often been synonymous with that which is considered abnormal,
undesirable, or threatening, and therefore, condemnable. To probe the
junction of marginality and evil, this chapter situates evil within the
parameters of the French translation of evil, le mal. The various
meanings of le mal and mal in the French language, including evil,
sickness, and disquiet suggest a web of connections between abnormality
(understood as marginality or otherness evil, and pain. In this triad, the
evil person is him or herself the victim of society; the sadist becomes a
masochist; for the person who, out of self-preservation, inflicts pain on
others, is someone who is tortured from within. The interconnectedness of
these terms will shed light on the treatment of evil in two thematically
contiguous novels.
Tayeb Salihs Season of Migration to the North (1969) and Toni
Morrisons Sula (1973) are narratives which question the official stories
and stereotypes that the centre disseminates about the margin, or the
colonizer about the colonized. They also reassess the values and location
of that margin. Rethinking the traditional perspectives on identity and its
relation to culture, these authors eschew binary logic to explore multiple
forms and root causes of social marginality. In Salih, marginality is
imposed by a colonial symbolic order and a monochromic Sudanese
culture; these perceive and represent themselves as static orders, but are
continually shifting, even fracturing. In Morrison, marginality stems from
racism and the blighted legacy of slavery, whose adverse effects on the
black community are compounded by this communitys deeply engrained
sexism and misogyny. This chapter examines how, against the backdrop of
marginality, the notion of evil nourishes the two texts in a manoeuvre
meant to question monolithic systems of categorization and traditional
definitions or classifications.
When Salihs male protagonist, Mustafa Saeed, and Morrisons
Sula Peace are ostracized, they retaliate by committing acts that are


Evil Encounters with Others

deemed evil by societies which tactically promote hypocritical values and
double standards for the purpose of manufacturing consent. Faced with
an adversarial socio-cultural configuration, these rebellious characters pit
themselves against their communities and relish behaving outrageously,
antisocially, and criminally. The following discussion will illustrate how
both narratives employ the familiar sex-as-weapon theme and present
sexuality and violence as inextricably bound. Mustafa and Sula initiate
relationships devoid of any recognizable human emotion or motive; they
see in excess and sexual posing a semblance of victory over the culture or
group that has rejected them. Evil individuates them, but offers them no
liberation. It titillates them with a sense of agency that they realize is
ultimately feeble. This limited empowerment, which cannot be marshalled
against any emblems of power or social discipline, is potent enough to
wreak havoc in the lives of those who come into contact with them.
The two novels suggest that their early twentieth-century
protagonists are fated to a life of otherness. In Arabic, Mustafa means
the chosen one, and Sula means sola (the Latin feminine form of
solo). While they have ironic last names (Saeed meaning happy in
Arabic), both characters are alone in their attempts to unmask social and
political hypocrisies. At the end, they are fatally consumed by the battle
they wage in the face of traditional morality and authority. Death, their last
act of defiance, becomes the final rupture with and escape from society.

Salihs Season of Migration to the North

Tayeb Salih unravels the theme of evil partially within the
context of a confrontation between a colonized man and the culture of his
oppressor. The novel is framed by a first-person narrative in which an
unnamed young Sudanese man triumphantly returns to his native village
having completed a degree in English poetry in Britain. Like Mustafa, he
experienced life in the West, but unlike him, he looks upon re-integration
into his rural community as an unproblematic process. From what he
perceives to be a comfortable and unconflicting position, he pieces
together Mustafas story with the West, a story that, he thinks,
counterpoints his. Although he obtains some firsthand information from
Mustafa before his death, most of the pieces of the puzzle come from
documents found in the house of the deceased or from hearsay in the
The following discussion focuses on Mustafas life in England,
the nebulous North, or the evil empire. Through its agents of social
control and repression, this colonizing power circulates and reinforces
stereotypes about others, a move that Homi Bhabha (1994) sees as
symptomatic of a destabilized identity that continually needs to reassert
itself. Two institutions loom large in Mustafas life in England: the

Salwa Ghaly


university and the courtroom, two prime agents of social engineering that
anchor European identity in the stable values of self-control, courage,
and rationality. To peddle these values, these institutions promote the
aesthetics and values of orientalism against which the European man can
better focus and define his sense of self, confirm his superiority, and
justify the violence committed in the name of the white mans burden.
At Oxford, Mustafa gets his academic training in economics, a
field in which he excels and to which makes a valuable contribution. At
twenty-four, he succeeds in carving a niche for himself at the University
of London, where he writes The Economics of Colonialism, Colonialism
and Monopoly, The Cross and Gunpowder, and The Rape of Africa, all of
which have telling titles and appear to defy the colonial registers and
ideological correlatives. They also point to the intersection of religion,
politics and economics on the colonial agenda. While the university is the
locus of his short-lived intellectual and social success, he is courted by
aristocrats affecting liberalism as well as icons of the English Left.
The courtroom registers his moral demise and exposes his darker
self. In front of his former professors, friends and acquaintances he stands
accused of killing his wife and causing the suicide of three women.
Mustafa does not deny the charges or seek to defend himself; he sits back
and watches the inner workings of a legal system mobilized in the service
of the empire. His private and public lives converge in an agonistic court
process that endorses the colonialist discourse as much as it corroborates
how, even to his erstwhile friends, he remains primarily a black man who
issued from the heart of darkness, a man around whom obsessive clichridden perceptions linger. Some of the court spectators commiserate,
others see this exotic mans violence as proof of the validity of some of
their cherished stereotypes. Friends and enemies reinforce his
irreconcilable otherness and, referring to his African origins, stress his
uniqueness as an Arab-African genius. Flaunting its racism, the court, like
other regulatory bodies, explicitly bolsters and authorizes an accumulation
of enduring negative perceptions and images that help stabilize the
European subject. Its aim is not merely to judge a culprit and mete out
justice, but also to perpetuate the idea of the permanence of European
superiority and indomitable might.
Nevertheless, Mustafa convinces himself that all is not lost. As
the marginalized other, he is the hero at the heart of a legal trial; he sees
this position of centrality as a subversion of the colonizers claims to
rationality and infallibility. To him, this confrontation between the two
worlds comes in the aftermath of bloody wars and events that belie the
Wests claims to any moral authority. That Mustafa anchors his individual
grievances within the global context of the imperialist legacy points to the
way in which he assesses the heavy burden of history:


Evil Encounters with Others

In the court I hear the rattle of swords in Carthage and
the clutter of the hooves of Allenbys horses desecrating
the ground of Jerusalem. The ships at first sailed down
the Nile carrying guns not bread, and the railways were
originally set up to transport troops; the schools were
started so as to teach us to say Yes in their language.
They imported to us the germ of the greatest European
violence, as seen on the Somme and at Verdun, the like
of which the world has never previously known, the
germ of a deadly disease that struck them more than a
thousand years ago.1
Through an elaboration of the economics of colonization,2
Mustafa had hoped to narrow the historical chasm separating east and
west, north and south.3 His writings addressed to English readers in their
mother tongue betray a desire to initiate communication with the
oppressor, to criticize attitudes, and correct misinformation. In his search
for social acceptance, he had sought recognition as a first-class thinker
whose ideas could right historic wrongs. Silenced and neutralized,
however, he is reduced to the status of a token black brandished as proof
of the viability, even the morality, of the Wests mission to civilize
lesser peoples. He thus amounts to one of many tools used to legitimate
political and ideological agendas. The message is Look how tolerant and
liberal we are. This African is just one of us. He has married a daughter of
ours and works with us on equal footing.4 When Mustafa realized that
the unflinching imperialist order expected him to play the part of a
complicit mimic man, a role that marginalized him, he sought to rebel.
Imposed marginality, coupled with Mustafas knowledge that in a
colonial matrix socialism, justice, and equality are barren concepts, makes
of this character an angry, frustrated and dangerous man bent on revenge,
albeit symbolically. Rebuffed by England, Mustafa turns the tables against
English society by showing how lethal stereotypes can be. Unable to
struggle against the establishment of which he became a token part, and
seeing himself turned into a buffoon by insidious modes of domination
within that establishment, he retaliates by using sexuality as a weapon. In
his first-person account, images of the courtroom and his bedroom are
juxtaposed to show lines of continuity between the private and the public
domains, between sexual politics, the political order of the state, and its
emblems of discipline. Through sexuality, he enters into power
relationships with gullible women who, to him, represent Victorian
Britain. In preying upon them, he is symbolically vanquishing the evil
empire, and defeating its discourse of dominance. To him, his victory
over four Englishwomen is a triumph over the whole of English society.

Salwa Ghaly


Unshackled by any ethical considerations, he gives his predatory nature
full expression in the cold and calculating way in which he fragments his
self through aliases. In other words, he expediently adopts the identity of
many others so as to victimize women who have also fallen victim to
the Western mystification of the East. They are easy prey because they
have already been seduced by and assimilated orientalized visions of the
other. To some, he becomes an eastern pagan god, the child of the Sun,
an African demon or a Nile snake-god, a malevolent but irresistible
force that beckons them.5 To others, he is a Rousseauesque noble savage,
harmless and nave.
Myths and legends that one world propagates about another are
concretized in Mustafa Saeed who presents himself to his prey as an
authentic oriental. As Arjun Appaduarai has argued,6 there is a
correlation between the rise in demand for luxury goods and imperial
expansion. Packaging himself as someone who actualizes the stereotype of
the Arab-African, and proffering himself to his victims as an Othello,
Mustafa supplies everything this prey demands. In this manoeuvre, he
replicates the process by which he has been commodified and objectified.
Like those valuable eastern collectibles that fill his bedroom those
objects that are sought after by European tourists travelling in the Orient
and museum curators building up their collections through plunder
Mustafa becomes the object of womens desire. What they see in him,
what they seek to possess is not an individualized man, but the
impenetrable African savage exuding exotic charm, the mythologized
Other par excellence. They hope to acquire a living specimen of the east
that stands for that amorphous mass that is Africa (a continent that they in
part possess), just as they aspire to own rare Persian carpets or other
tokens of the colonized world. Once the women fall victim to his
stratagems, which mirror their own fantasies, Mustafa breaks the spell,
leaving them wallowing in despair as he prepares to stage his next
conquest. When they have succumbed to this infection or disease, or
images that the West has been weaving about the East for a millennium,7
they wither and die.
One glance at Mustafas bedroom, or as he calls it the den of
lethal lies,8 confirms that he has perfectly assimilated how he is
perceived by the West, and reveals how he utilizes the eastern myth to
negotiate his condition as fetishized commodity in demand. He designs
his bedroom as an orientalist trap that has all the accoutrements of the
orientalist imagination. When one woman inquires why Mustafa has Arab
features like those she has seen in orientalist paintings, but frizzy hair, he
responds my face is Arab like the desert of the Empty Quarter, while my
head is African and teams with a mischievous childishness.9 In the eyes
of these women, Mustafa feels he has been transformed into a naked,


Evil Encounters with Others

primitive creature, a spear in one hand and arrows in the other, hunting
elephants and lions in the jungles.10
Mustafas accounts of his relationships with the different women
possess the vivid colours and thematic predictability of orientalist
tableaux. A notable example is the affair with Ann Hammond, one of his
first victims and an Oxford student in oriental studies. Mustafa describes
her as being intoxicated by the magic of the east which she amplifies
through role-playing. In the throes of fantasy, he becomes a master and
she becomes a slave.11 She even changes her name to the more
romantic-sounding Susana. Ironically, Hammond is more attached to
Mustafas native than he himself is. As he puts it, unlike me, she yearned
for tropical climes, cruel suns, purple horizons. In her eyes I was a symbol
of all her hankerings.12 Although he ridicules and excludes himself from
this fetishistic attraction to the east/south, he still takes advantage of the
fact that as a simulacrum, he has paradoxically become the embodiment
of the orientalist chimera.
Mustafa succeeds in showing how the process by which he has
fallen prey to objectification can be duplicated with British women. In this
way, he thinks he can wreak symbolic damage on a society in which he
cannot be anything but a lie.13 After all, Season is highly critical of the
brutal way in which Sudanese society de-sexes women through the
socially approved act of genital mutilation.14 It is this same society that
condones the use of physical abuse to discipline insubordinate wives or
daughters. Mustafa sees his role-playing in England as a game that he
wins while pandering to the Western stereotypes. This is perhaps because
he is the product of a shame culture in which honour is conceptualized in
terms of a mans absolute control over his womens sexuality. It is by
defiling and violating Western women that he thinks he is avenging
Africa, the raped continent.
Mustafa adopts Western stereotypes to combat England, and retransmits the modalities of power by which he is oppressed. Ultimately,
however, he feels he cannot sustain this battle, and he yearns for death. In
killing his wife, he seeks to kill himself, and in court he hopes for, but
does not get, the death sentence. Following his seven-year prison sentence,
he returns to the Sudan where he is the prisoner of cultural myopia and
disabling visions, this time, of the West seen by the Sudanese as Other.
When the Western fragment of his identity clamours for recognition, he
constructs in his home country a European edifice, just as he had erected
an oriental shrine in England. He builds a secret library, a mausoleum near
the Equator, to which he transports the Western canon.
Mustafa was a hybrid at a time when hybridity was unacceptable
to the West and the East. Straddling these worlds, he stumbled as he
endeavoured to find some in-between zone where he could enjoy an

Salwa Ghaly


unscripted fluid identity. He was rejected by the two worlds to which he
had sought to belong. Salih does not privilege one culture over another. He
does not seek to challenge and rebut stereotypes, or counter jaundiced
perspectives and misconceptions with the truth. He offers no revised
vision of his homeland. Instead, he contents himself with interrogating
different modes of perception and their assumptions.

Toni Morrisons Sula Peace

We turn now to Sula, Mustafas counterpart, to examine how
Morrison explores marginality by privileging the gender axis. We will
highlight Sulas gendered experience of otherness and the issue of evil
attendant on it. Though as a Nobel Laureate, Morrison has been the first
African American to be canonized by this literary establishment, by
virtue of her gender and race she continues to be an other in mainstream
American society. This prompted her to probe the theme of otherness. She
re-envisions and narrativizes the history of her people in their different
geographic settings and at critical junctures since the Middle Passage
through mapping out the socio-historic trajectory of blacks in America.
Her narratives are haunting variations on the theme of collective suffering.
They are parabolic tales about a resilient minority doing its utmost to
shelter itself against or defeat the forces of evil represented by racism,
economic injustice, and patriarchy.
Morrisons themes revolve around trauma, alienation, madness,
self-abnegation, self-mutilation, masochism, and sadism. These are
articulated in the confrontation between a centre represented by dominant
institutions and a margin populated by disenfranchised African American,
mostly female, characters. We must stress the degree to which Morrison
has defamilarized and redefined this margin, which, to her, is never the
locus of regurgitated stories about victimization, but a strategic site for
autocritique.15 While traditionally thought of as adversarial and
antithetical to the centre, this site has integrated some of the oppressive
values of the hegemonic culture, necessitating a revision of the notion of
marginality, and the interplay of margin and centre. To Morrison, the real
fundamental human difference is not between white and black, it is
between man and woman.16 She therefore focuses on womens gendered
experience of reality. Furthermore, we can view her texts as
transgressive to the extent that they deconstruct myths cherished by the
centre and/or the margin. Sula is a transgressive text that resists
idealized literary representations of blacks; its disjunctive narrative
compromises oppositions like good/evil, virgin/whore and black/white.17
For McDowell, this work is rife with liberating possibilities in that it
transgresses all deterministic structures of opposition.18


Evil Encounters with Others

Besieged by white culture, Morrisons world is populated by
scores of selfless, stoical women who, retaining their dignity, try to shortcircuit socio-political and economic evils by any available means. One
such means is the marginalization of nonconformist elements. The fringe
mid-western community in Sula sets out to outlast evil by neutralizing
all forms of otherness. If unsuccessful, it rejects, disciplines, and bands
against deviant members without necessarily seeking to annihilate them.
The people of the Bottom have to tolerate political or social evil, like
natural evil, to overcome it. Evil is a natural force.
Sula is born into a world that does not forgive selfishness in a
woman, which is defined as a womans desire to improve her lot. When at
the age of twenty-seven (in 1937) she comes back to her hometown after
ten years of wandering, she is immediately attacked by her grandmother,
Eva. Unlike her mother, Hannah, Sula is combative and manly in a
society that has a sharp demarcation between femininity and masculinity.
For a woman to attempt to emulate a man or to claim some of his rights
is itself an aberration. When she has done what is traditionally reserved for
men and gone away, things do not bode well for her. Moreover, her
refusal to accept the values of a sexist world that incarcerates women in
the limited and limiting world of the household guarantees her a marginal
position in her community.
Minutes after her arrival, she confronts her grandmother and has
to delineate what is quickly perceived as a value-system that is antithetical
to the one upheld by Eva. Used to managing crises in her community, Eva
asks When you gone to get married? You need to have some babies. Itll
settle you.19 An incompliant woman has to be controlled and settled by
being saddled with backbreaking responsibilities. She has to fit into the
scheme of things in the community and accept the baggage that comes
with their notion of womanhood, which is inseparable from motherhood.
When Sula responds I want to make myself,20 Eva angrily calls her
selfish and insists that a woman has no business floatin around without
no man.21 Although her grandmother and mother lived without men, they
did not do so by choice. When Sula accuses Eva of setting fire to her own
son, a drug addict, to relieve him of his wretched life, the matriarch
exclaims: you crazy roach. You the one should have been burnt .
Hellfire dont need lighting and its already burning in you 22 Sula,
associated with evil and hell, declares that any more fires in this house
Im lighting them . Whatever is burning in me is mine.23 Then she
ominously declares: and Ill split this town in two and everything in it
before Ill let you put it [the fire] out.24
Perceiving her as an evil force out to unmask and debunk their
hypocritical sexual mores, her people band against her, which causes a
violent and self-destructive response from Sula who, like Mustafa,

Salwa Ghaly


retaliates by using sex as a weapon. The text sets out to register how she
harasses her people with her outrageous behaviour and perceived
wickedness and immorality. Indeed, Sula is an abominable curiosity,
the embodiment of chaos, unruliness, selfishness and violence, which a
traditional community denounces, especially in a woman. Singlehandedly, she rejects the values of the margin to which she belongs, a
margin that mirrors the centre in that it represses any stirrings of
discontent. Instead of constructing an alternative vision, she deconstructs
her community by declaring war on the traditional values her grandmother
cherished, and which kept the traumatized Ohio community together.
Sula has her grandmother, Eva, or Eve, the traditional,
feminine woman, committed and taken away to an ill run home built by a
white church for mentally disturbed people. The next target is her
childhood friend, Nel Wright, Miss Right, the good woman.25 Without
necessarily intending to, she breaks Nels home by seducing her husband
Jude, only to discard him without explanation: she admits to having never
fallen in love with him, which baffles Nel.26 The damage is irreparable,
and Jude does what most men in Morrisons world do: he leaves the
community for good. Nel, Sulas complementary other, is presented as
the prim and proper child who grows up to be a selfless wife and mother
who unquestioningly conforms to the stereotypes of womanhood. She is
everything that Sula was supposed to become but did not and would not.
In the eyes of her community, Sula is first a roach, then a
bitch,27 and then a witch.28 All three tags symbolize otherness in that
they deny her humanity. Like her mother, she pursues any man she
desires, and pushes the frontier of transgression into forbidden territory by
undermining one of the most intransigent taboos, namely, miscegenation.
We must stress two points here. First, while Hannah saw the
sexual act as a means of momentary happiness and an escape from the
limitations of her world, Sula uses it as an outlet that leads to a triumph
over a community that has marginalized her. The connection between
sexual relations and pleasure is not highlighted in Sulas case. She does
not seek the gratification of desire, but the freedom to live a life unfettered
by oppressive ideals of womanhood. As Susan Smith has argued, black
women activists have struggled to reconstruct themselves as subjects
within the sexual arena, a realm historically rife with black female
victimization.29 Sula decentres traditional patriarchal perspectives to gain
control over her sexuality in a world that objectifies woman. We can also
consider the association of wickedness and sex. While the sexual act can
be an expression of love and an act of communication, it can also
potentially inflict pain and cause injury. This possible connection arouses
Sulas curiosity.30 She does not relish the sexual liaison as much as the
freedom to do something that is deemed dangerous and socially


Evil Encounters with Others

unacceptable. In so doing, she situates sexuality in a domain beyond ethics
where a relationship is putatively dissociated from moral considerations or
obligations, and emotional attachments. Sula is claiming the same rights as
men, because in wresting those rights from the male domain, she shakes
the foundations of a community that relied upon the predictability and
selflessness of women for its existence and continuity.
The second point is that by attacking miscegenation as the
ultimate taboo, Sula is exposing, the double standards at work in her town.
The narrator ironically comments that the men and women who saw Sula
as an evil witch guilty of the lowest and filthiest act, were not deterred
by the fact that their own skin colour was proof that it had happened in
their own families.31 Though black men assume the right to have sexual
relations with white women a relationship they view as rape and a
symbolic victory over the dominant culture the converse is
As teenagers, both Sula and Nel quickly discovered that they
were neither white nor male, and that all freedom and triumph was
forbidden to them.33 Nel, whose parents had succeeded in rubbing down
to a dull glow any sparkle or splutter she had,34 resigned herself to the
grim realities of her world. One day, she passes judgment on Sulas life
declaring her friend to have been an unrealistic failure, because she
wanted to have it all. In Nels opinion, she should have realized that you
a woman and a coloured woman at that. You cant act like a man. You
cant be walking around all independent-like, doing whatever you like,
taking what you want, leaving what you dont.35 Sula refuses to accept
those facts of life, and proceeds to dismantle this world. Her
independence and detachment from the usual human pursuits leave
members of her town distraught. Worse yet,
Evas arrogance and Hannahs self-indulgence merged
in her, with a twist that was all her own imagination, she
lived out her days exploring her own thoughts and
emotions, giving them full reign, feeling no obligation to
please anybody unless their pleasure pleased her. As
willing to feel pain as to give pain, to feel pleasure as to
give pleasure, hers was an experimental life. She had
no centre, no speck around which to grow. She was
completely free of ambition, with no affection for
money, property or things, no greed, no desire to
command attention or compliments no ego.36
In other words, she is a difficult-to-categorize other, straddling
the uncomfortable line between masculinity and femininity, experimenting

Salwa Ghaly


with an androgynous existence without affirming any received values. She
passes through life without an ego, without honouring any responsibilities,
oblivious to gossip. Further, she acts at whim and never bothers to
contemplate the ethical repercussions of her actions.
Faced with her aggression against their moral order and way of
life, her community demonizes her. They begin to see in the copper
birthmark on her forehead, not a beautiful stemmed rose,37 but a snake or a
sign that she is a born other, a witch or devil who causes unusual,
inexplicable, and evil things to happen.38 When she has cast her spell on
the community, unusual incidents begin to take place, such as a man
choking on a chicken bone, and a boy dying of a head fracture. They
attribute all misfortunes to Sula. People remember that prior to her return,
there was a plague of robins,39 and that four robins lay dead on Evas walk
the day she arrived. Retrospectively, they interpret the plague as a sign
that a more forbidding evil force was to descend upon them. This hellish
force is Sula, against whom they unite because the presence of evil was
something to be first recognized, then dealt with, survived, out-witted,
triumphed over.40 With a devil in their midst,41 people in the Bottom
look at evil stony-eyed and let it run.42
According to the narrator, Sula becomes a pariah,43 an
abnormal other who, had she with the opportunity and talent, could have
been an artist. Art would have given expression to her gift for metaphor,
would have accommodated her restlessness, because, like any artist
with no art form, she became dangerous.44 But, contrary to what the town
believes, she is more dangerous to herself than she is to others. For
sorrow gnaws at her, even in the midst of intense joy. As a teenager, to
protect herself and her friend when attacked by the Irish boys who taunted
black girls, she cut her finger in an act of defiance that made the boys run
away for good.45 It also suggests that from an early age, Sula refuses to
bow to male intimidation. In this incident too, self-mutilation and
masochism are paradoxical means of self-preservation. Sula always sought
to defy the order of things, to unshackle herself, and to attenuate the ills of
sexism by warding off objectification. Eventually the fire that rages in her
breast consumes her and leads to her premature demise. She dies of an
unidentified disease, proving that this fight, though liberating, is

We can conclude then that the triad of abnormality, evil, and pain
is actualized in the characters of Mustafa Saeed and Sula Peace. Mustafa
pits himself against Western society when it spurns him, and drowns, or
commits suicide when the Sudan rejects him. Similarly, Sula is an
outsider who transgresses against the taboos of her culture and affirms a


Evil Encounters with Others

womans right to question the sexual morality that is traditionally imposed
on her gender. Mustafa and Sula, like the characters Georges Bataille
studies,46 violate the law of reason and rationality, which leads them to
hurt themselves more than they do anyone else. Sulas gendered
experience of marginality, in a quasi-matriarchal community, is triggered
by her desire to protect herself in a world where both her sex and race are
a liability. Ostracized, she fans the fire that rages inside her by committing
acts that are evil in the eyes of her community. She becomes the
embodiment of evil, regarded as a devil or a witch.
Perhaps Bataille was right when in he noted that there is a latent
desire to sever links with a fallen world in literary acts of transgression
against the established moral or social order.47 To know this world best,
we sometimes need to discover and uncover what the everyday rejects.
However, because this struggle against the perceived enemy has limited
success, our two characters eventually harbour a death wish. So what is
initially social malaise or alienation becomes a flirtation with death. What
begins as evil or sadism is transformed into masochism. Abnormality,
evil, and self-inflicted pain are interconnected in Mustafa and Sula. In
their characters, a fine line separates life and death, sadism and
masochism, and ultimately good and evil. Refusing to capitulate and to coexist with socio-economic evil, or the evils of empire and patriarchy, they
attempt to dent or deconstruct, if not defeat, the institutions that produce,
or perpetuate the symbolic order that commodifies them.
Salih and Morrison explore an empowering form of marginality.
Despite the characters suffering and deaths, this provides an
epistemological and aesthetic framework that contests binary oppositions
and definitions. Like their characters, the authors view otherness as
liberation from culturally conditioned moral orthodoxy, and an escape
from the control of hegemonic societies. The protagonists gestures of
rebellion lead the critic to a better understanding of how otherness
influences traditional definitions of good and evil. We can also situate
these gestures in the domain of resistance literature in that they challenge
the hierarchical binary logic that anchors the epistemology of imperialism.
In this light, we can see literary acts of resistance as a harbinger of cultural


Salih, 1969, 94-95.

Ibid., 58.

Salwa Ghaly



Ibid., 60.
Ibid., 59.
Ibid., 108.
Appaduarai, 1986, 37-38.
Salih, 1969, 33.
Ibid., 146.
Ibid., 38.
Ibid., 146.
Ibid., 30.
Ibid., 33.
Ibid., 81.
Gates, 1992, 309.
James, 1984, 226.
McDowell, 1990, 152.
Morrison, 1973, 121.
Ibid., my emphasis.
Ibid., 122.
Ibid., 62.
Ibid., 183.
Ibid., 145, 147.
Ibid., 191.
Smith, 1995, 95.
Morrison, 1973, 158.
Ibid., 146.
Ibid., 72.
Ibid., 110.
Ibid., 181.
Ibid., 153.
Ibid., 72.
Ibid., 147.
Ibid., 117.
Ibid., 152.
Ibid., 146.
Ibid., 157.
Ibid., 156.
Ibid., 74.


Evil Encounters with Others

46. Bataille, 1957, 23.
47. Ibid., 14-33.
48. Harlow, 1987; Quayson, 2000; Parry, 1987, 27-58.

Appadurai, Arjun. 1986. The Social Life of Things: Commodities in
Cultural Perspective. Cambridge, England: Cambridge
University Press.
Bakerman, Jane S. 1981. Failures of Love: Female Initiation in the Novels
of Toni Morrison. American Literature 52:541563.
Bataille, Georges. 1957. La Littrature et le mal. Paris: Gallimard.
Bhabha, Homi. 1984. Of Mimicry and Man: The Ambivalence of Colonial
Discourse. October 28: 125133.
. 1990. Nation and Narration. London: Routledge.
. 1994. The Location of Culture. London: Routledge.
Bjork, Patrick Bryce. 1994. The Novels of Toni Morrison: The Search for
Self and Place Within the Community. American University
Studies XXXI. New York: Lang.
Bloom, Harold, ed. 1990. Toni Morrison: Modern Critical Views.
Philadelphia: Chelsea House.
Eagleton, Terry, Frederic Jameson, and Edward Said. 1990. Nationalism,
Colonialism, and Literature. Minneapolis: University of
Minnesota Press.
Gates, Henry Louis. 1992. African American Criticism. In Redrawing the
Boundaries: The Transformation of English and American
Literary Studies, eds. Stephen Greenblatt and Giles Gunn. New
York: MLA.
Greenblatt, Stephen, and Giles Gunn, eds. 1992. Redrawing the
Boundaries: The Transformation of English and American
Literary Studies. New York: MLA.
Harlow, Barbara. 1985. Sentimental Orientalism: Season of Migration to
the North and Othello. In Tayeb Salihs Season of Migration
to the North: A Casebook, ed. Mona Takieddine-Amyuni. Beirut:
American University of Beirut Press.
. 1987. Resistance Literature. New York: Methuen.
James, C. L. R. 1984. At the Rendezvous of Victory: Selected Writings.
London: Allison and Busby.
Kawash, Samira. 1997. Dislocating the Colour Line: Identity, Hybridity,
and Singularity in African-American Narrative. Stanford:

Salwa Ghaly


Stanford University Press.
Makdisi, Saree. 1993. The Empire Renarrated: Season of Migration to
the North and the Reinvention of the Present. In Colonial
Discourse and Post-Colonial Theory: A Reader, eds. Patrick
Williams and Laura Chrisman. Harlow, Essex: Prentice Hall.
McDowell, Deborah E. 1990. The Self and the Other: Reading Toni
Morrisons Sula and the Black Female Text. In Toni Morrison:
Modern Critical Views, ed. Harold Bloom. Philadelphia:
Chelsea House.
Moore-Gilbert, Bart. 1997. Postcolonial Theory: Contexts, Practices,
Politics. London: Verso.
Morrison, Toni. 1973. Sula. New York: Signet.
Parry, Benita. 1987. Problems in Current Theories of Colonial Discourse.
Oxford Literary Review 9: 2758.
Quayson, Ato. 2000. Postcolonialism: Theory, Practice or Process?
Cambridge, England: Polity.
Salih, Tayeb. 1969. Season of Migration to the North. Trans. Denys
Johnson-Davies. Oxford: Heinemann.
Smith, Susan L. 1995. Whitewashing Womanhood: The Politics of Race
in Writing Womens History. Canadian Review of Comparative
Literature 22: 93103.
Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. 1991. Neocolonialism and the Secret Agent
of Knowledge. Oxford Literary Review 13: 220251.
. 1993. Can the Subaltern Speak? In Colonial Discourse and PostColonial Theory: A Reader, eds. Patrick Williams and Laura
Chrisman. Harlow, Essex: Prentice Hall.
Sprinker, Michael.. 1992. Edward Said: A Critical Reader. Oxford:
Takieddine-Amyuni, Mona, ed. 1985. Tayeb Salihs Season of Migration
to the North: A Casebook. Beirut: American University of Beirut
Tomlinson, John. 1991. Cultural Imperialism. London: Pinter.
White, Hayden V. 1973. Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in
Nineteenth-Century Europe. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins
University Press.
Williams, Patrick, and Laura Chrisman, eds. 1993. Colonial Discourse
and Post-Colonial Theory: A Reader. Harlow, Essex: Prentice

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A Visual Theology of Evil and Redemption?
Watts Eve Trilogy and Burne-Joness Altarpiece of
The Nativity
Kathy M. Bullough
This chapter focuses on four nineteenth-century paintings: She
Shall be Called Woman (c. 18751892, Figure 1), Eve Tempted (exhibited
1884, Figure 2) and Eve Repentant (c. 18651897, Figure 3) by George
Frederick Watts (18171904) and an altarpiece by Edward Burne-Jones
(18331898), The Nativity, The Annunciation, Visitation and the Flight
into Egypt (18621863, Figure 4). Watts was an artist on the periphery of
the Pre-Raphaelite circle and was introduced to Burne-Jones by Dante
Gabriel Rossetti. A recent Tate Gallery exhibition entitled The Age of
Rossetti, Burne-Jones and Watts associated these three artists with the
emergence of a distinctive British style of Symbolism which utilizes
images and symbols to explore emotions, feelings, and the interchange of
The figure of Eve is synonymous with sin, evil, death, and the
dangers of feminine sexuality. For centuries, Eve, the first woman of the
Judeo-Christian tradition, has functioned as a powerful cultural image that
promotes an association between femininity and the origin of evil. I will
begin this chapter with an examination of the representation of Eve in the
work of George Frederick Watts, focusing on his use of iconography to
assess how far his portrayal of Eve is consistent with traditional Christian
ideas of the Fall. I will then focus on the Virgin Mary who, as Second Eve,
corrected Eves sin. I will discuss the doctrine of Marys virginitas in
partu, the idea that she bore Christ without alteration to her virginity.
Drawing on theological parallels between Eve and Mary, this chapter
explores how Eves introduction of sin and death condemned her to suffer
the pain of childbirth whereas, through her reversal of Eves curse, the
Virgin Mary experiences a painless parturition.

George Frederick Watts, She Shall be Called Woman

(c. 18751892)
Oil on canvas, 2578 x 1168 mm. Tate, London 2000.
In She Shall be Called Woman the spectator is confronted with an
ethereal image of the first woman emerging from a whirl of powerful
natural imagery. The painting uses traditional motifs of innocence and
fertility to symbolize the perfection and beauty of the pre-Fall woman. The
lily and the dove in the bottom left of the painting are motifs traditionally


A Visual Theology of Evil and Redemption?

associated with the Annunciation. Hugh MacMillan commented on the
tall, snow-white annunciation lily,2 which traditionally denotes the
purity and innocence of the Virgin Mary. The white dove, another
Annunciation motif, is a traditional Christian symbol of the Holy Spirit
and can also represent peace, purity, and innocence. A visual parallel is
drawn between the pre-Fall woman and the purity of the Virgin Mary. By
adopting Annunciation iconography, Watts emphasizes the virginal
innocence of the newly created Eve. Similarly, he uses light in the painting
to emphasize purity and innocence. Watts intended the painting to
represent Eve in the glory of her innocence3 He portrayed her emitting
light,4 thus implying that purity is inherent in the pre-Fall woman.
Through the contrasting use of darkness, however, the painting
alludes to the potential for sin and evil associated with woman in the
Christian tradition. The detail of the womans upturned face is virtually
obscured by darkness and, as Watts commented, The upturned face is
dark in the midst of light, for the human intuitions may take the human
mind into a region where reason stops, dark with excessive light.5 The
darkness alludes to the Fall and its consequences, sin, and death.
Eves posture is confident and dominant, and consequently she
appears as a statuesque vision of femininity. The ascending movement that
pervades the canvas suggests that Eve is the completion of creation instead
of an after-thought of creation. Here we can draw a parallel with George
Tavards interpretation of the creation of woman in his book Woman in
Christian Tradition (1973). According to Tavard, woman is not made as
Adams helpmate just because he is lonely; she is created as the perfecting
element.6 Also, through the title of the painting, the spectator can witness
the moment when Adam sees Eve for the first time and salutes her thus:
this at last is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called
Woman, because she was taken out of man.7 However, depicting Eve as
the perfection and completion of creation heightens the tragedy of the later
events of Genesis 3 as the tragedy of the Fall is grounded in the perfect
ones involvement in sin. Overall, She Shall be Called Woman is a
glorification of the feminine qualities of the pre-Fall woman but within
this painting, Watts offers a suggestion of the ensuing tragedy.

Kathy M. Bullough


Figure 1: George Frederick Watts, She Shall be Called Woman (c. 1875
1892). Oil on canvas, 2578 x 1168 mm. Tate, London 2000.


A Visual Theology of Evil and Redemption?

Figure 2: George Frederick Watts, Eve Tempted (exhibited 1884). Oil on
canvas, 2578 x 1168 mm. Tate, London 2000.

Kathy M. Bullough


Figure 3: George Frederick Watts, Eve Repentant (c. 18651897). Oil on
canvas, 2591 x 1194 mm. Tate, London 2000.


A Visual Theology of Evil and Redemption?

Figure 4: Edward Burne-Jones The Nativity, centre panel, (18621863).
Gouache, 22 1/2 x 20 in. A Private Collection.

Kathy M. Bullough



George Frederick Watts, Eve Tempted (exhibited 1884)

Oil on canvas, 2578 x 1168 mm. Tate, London 2000.
Traditionally, Eve has been interpreted as a temptress associated
with the Fall and the introduction of sin. This interpretation is based on the
notion that Eve, having been tempted by the serpent, becomes a temptress
herself and consequently tempts Adam to sin. Wattss image of the
temptation scene is entitled Eve Tempted and thus suggests Eve is the
subject of temptation rather than a temptress herself.
In Eve Tempted the spectator is confronted with a luscious
depiction of an Eden bower abundant with images of sensuality and
sexuality. Eves pose is enticing, her curvaceous figure dominates the
canvas and the blossom vividly symbolizes the heat of mid-summer. As
Eve leans forward the spectator senses that she inhales the fragrance of the
blossom and seductively bites the apple as the foliage and flowers
provocatively caress her body. This sensual rendering of woman in the
painting reinforces a sexual interpretation of the Fall and perpetuates the
idea that sensual weakness is an inherent feminine characteristic. As John
Philips comments:
The eating of the forbidden fruit becomes a euphemism
for sexual congress between Eve and the snake, or
between Eve and her husband; or the eating of the
forbidden fruit imparts to Eve a sexual consciousness
that leads her to seduce her husband. The idea of Eve as
weak thus joins with the idea that Eve is demonic:
Having been seduced because of her weakness, she is
able to seduce her husband because she is filled with the
power of the Devil.8
This is emphasized in Eve Tempted as Eve is represented without
Adam, and woman is firmly cast as the first sinner whose action initiates
the Fall. Eves feline posture, which denotes entire weakness,9 is
reinforced by the leopard beneath Eves feet. In Eve Tempted the
traditional serpent-tempter is absent and a unique motif of a leopard is
introduced. As Diane Apostolos-Cappadona comments, the leopard was
an animal with ambiguous meaning ... [which] signified cruelty, sin, the
Devil, and the Antichrist (Rv 13:2) in western Christian art.10 In Eve
Tempted the leopard playfully basks in the sunlight, lying on its back,
seductively pawing the air, imitating the titillating movement of Eves
arms. Thus a direct visual parallel is made between Eve and the leopard
that associates femininity with evil. This association can be related to the
late-nineteenth-century image of the femme fatale or animal-woman.11
The femme fatale was a sexually powerful woman and her predatory


A Visual Theology of Evil and Redemption?

nature was often emphasized by the production of half-women halfmonster images or depictions of women surrounded by animals. As
Patrick Bade stated, In many paintings and descriptions of the femme
fatale there is a hint of bestiality. The fatal woman is often attended by
animals, and a kinship or secret understanding between them is implied.12
Eve in Eve Tempted corresponds, therefore, with the imagery of the femme
fatale, as the playful pose of the feline beast emphasizes an identification
between woman, sexuality and sin.

George Frederick Watts, Eve Repentant (c. 18651897)

Oil on canvas, 2591 x 1194 mm. Tate, London 2000.
In EveRepentant the spectator is confronted with an image of
death, debasement, and remorse. It is the exact antithesis of Eve Tempted.
As Mary Watts commented, in the third the Eve Repentant all is
changed, the earthly paradise is wrecked, and the agony of remorse is
expressed by the attitude of the tragic figure.13 The burgeoning flowers,
foliage and luscious fruit of She Shall be Called Woman and Eve Tempted
have decayed into the brambles, thorns, and rotten wood of Eve Repentant.
The representation of the thorns to symbolize disintegration anticipates the
punishment of man in Genesis 3:18 indicating that livelihood will be a
struggle and a toil as the ground which man will work is described as
bringing forth thorns and thistles. Similarly, the first part of the
womans punishment is to be characterized by pain and toil: I will greatly
multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth
Eve Repentant supports a sexual interpretation of the Fall as the
fallen Eve in anguish covers her body by throwing herself against the tree.
According to Augustine (354430 BCE), the interpretation of the Fall as a
sexual event is supported by the Genesis text which claims that man and
woman covered themselves because they were ashamed of their
nakedness. In the City of God (413426 BCE), Augustine suggested that
in Paradise the sexual organs, like other bodily organs, were able to
function without being driven or controlled by lustful passion. Sexual
intercourse was not sinful in itself; it was the uncontrollable desire that
accompanied sexual intercourse after the Fall that was deemed sinful.15
Consequently, the natural process of conception and birth bore the mark of
sin and, according to Augustine, original sin was passed on through the
generations by the same act that maintained human existence.
In Eve Repentant Eves lost innocence is conveyed by the
crushing of the lily, the flower that denoted purity in She Shall be Called
Woman. Eve appears remorseful for her sin, which creates a context for
the advent of redemption and forgiveness. Watts creates a context for the
Redeemer and his mother, the Second Eve, who will correct Eves sin. In

Kathy M. Bullough


order for Christ to redeem mankind he must be sinless and, to ensure this,
his conception and birth must be free from the contamination of original
sin. Christs sinlessness necessitates a miraculous conception and a virgin
birth. In Alone of All Her Sex: The Myth and Cult of the Virgin Mary
(1976), Marina Warner demonstrates this connection in the second sermon
of Augustines Sermones de Tempore:
Let us love chastity above all things, Augustine wrote,
for it was to show that this was pleasing to Him that
Christ chose the modesty of a Virgin womb. Augustine
thus bound up three ideas in a causal chain: the
sinfulness of sex, the Virgin birth, and the good of
In Eve Repentant the condition is created for the advent of the Virgin
Mary whose Son, miraculously conceived, will redeem mankind from the
state of sin that was initiated by Eve.

Edward Burne-Jones, The Nativity (centre); The

Annunciation, Visitation and The Flight into Egypt (wings).
(18621863.) Gouache, centre 22 1/2 x 20 in. Wings 22 1/2 x
10 1/2 in. Altarpiece. A Private Collection.
The Eve-Mary analogy can be traced back almost to the origins
of Christianity. In I Corinthians15, Paul drew a parallel between Fall and
Redemption: For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the
resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all
be made alive.17 This parallel between Adam and Christ was later applied
to Eve and Mary, and Eves role in the Fall was thus balanced by Marys
association with the work of Redemption. The parallel that originated with
Paul probably inspired the early Church Fathers understanding of the
Virgin Mary as the Second Eve, such as we can find in the writings of
Justin Martyr (c.10065), (Dialogue with Trypho), Irenaeus, (c.130-200),
(Against Heresies), and Tertullian (c.160225), (On the Flesh of Christ).
Many contrasts exist between Eve and Mary but here I am going to focus
exclusively on a narrative which maintained that the Virgin, unlike Eve,
retained her virginity in childbirth.
As the antithesis of the first Eve, Marys conceiving and bearing
of Christ are understood as miraculous events that constitute the exact
opposite of Eves pattern of conception and parturition. Eve conceived and
bore children in the natural human way that necessitated loss of virginity,
whereas the mark of Marys miraculous conception and parturition of
Christ was intact physical virginity. As the New Catholic Encyclopedia
suggests, Marys virginity in childbirth or virginitas in partu is a two


A Visual Theology of Evil and Redemption?

dimensional concept. One aspect of the doctrine emphasizes that Mary
retained her bodily virginal integrity intact and the second aspect
conveys that remaining a virgin in childbirth is a mark of her exemption
from the ordinary pangs of childbirth.18 Mary represents the reversal of
the curse to Eve. Western Christendom tended to focus on the preservation
of Marys intact virginity whereas the East celebrated Marys freedom
from the pain of labour.
The narrative of Marys virginity in childbirth is found in secondcentury apocryphal and legendary works, namely The Protevangelium of
James, and The Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew. In The Protevangelium of
James, Joseph goes to search for a midwife, leaving Mary, about to give
birth, alone in the cave. Joseph tells the midwife that his betrothed is
Mary, who was brought up in the temple of the Lord, and I received her by
lot as my wife, and she is not my wife, but she has conceived by the Holy
Spirit.19 The midwife asks if this is true and Joseph said to her Come
and see. Joseph takes the midwife to the cave that is engulfed by a bright
cloud where she responds:
My soul is magnified today, for my eyes have seen
wonderful things: for salvation is born to Israel. And
immediately the cloud disappeared from the cave and a
great light appeared, so that our eyes could not bear it. A
short time afterwards that light withdrew until the baby
appeared, and it came and took the breast of its mother
The midwife then tells Salome that a virgin has brought forth, a
thing which her condition does not allow.21 Salome refuses to believe that
Mary has given birth as a Virgin without proof and subjects Mary to a
virginity test. And Salome inserted her finger to test her condition. And
she cried out, saying, Woe for my wickedness and my unbelief; for I have
tempted the living God; and behold, my hand falls away from me,
consumed by fire!22 Salome then prays to God and is instructed to touch
the Christ child with her withered hand, which is then healed immediately.
The midwives function is to attest to Marys virginity rather than to assist
with the birth, which emphasizes the idea that the birth was free from
By drawing directly on apocryphal detail, the centre panel of the
altarpiece makes a definite allusion to Mary giving birth to Christ without
alteration to her virginity. Virginitas in partu would probably have been
familiar to Burne-Jones from legendary and apocryphal material and from
the work of his hero, Cardinal John Henry Newman. In the central panel
of the altarpiece, I suggest that the midwives, only previously identified as

Kathy M. Bullough


two women ... talking at the entrance,24 are derived from The
Protevangelium of James. The women, engaged in conversation, are
standing to the left of the stable door with their hands joined. The woman
standing with her back to the stable raises her hand to her face. On closer
inspection her hand appears to be deformed or withered and we can
identify her as Salome, the doubting midwife of The Protevangelium of
The rest of the Nativity picture may also rely on the apocrypha
for its composition and symbolism. The light in the stable seems to radiate
from the Christ child and is connected vertically to the heavenly light of
the star and the angels. This divine light which illuminates the darkness
can be interpreted as redemptive light and parallels can be drawn between
the cave of the Nativity and the burial chamber. According to Gertrud
even the doctors of the church, beginning with Irenaeus
in the third century, connected the cave of the Nativity
with the cave of Hades in which the dead of the old
covenant awaited salvation and by the same token,
Christs Incarnation with his Descent into Limbo.25
In apocryphal works, Mary bears Christ alone while Joseph is searching
for a midwife. In the altarpiece, the idea of Mary giving birth alone is
accentuated by the midwives standing at the doorway and Joseph sitting
outside the stable kindling a fire and reading. Thus the space inside the
stable is presented as sacred space for the Mother and Child alone. The
composition of the altarpiece reflects fifteenth-century paintings as,
according to Schiller, it was not until 1400 onwards that works began to
appear which show Mary kneeling alone before the naked Child, who is
surrounded by a supernatural light.26
In the fourth century, Ambrose (339397) linked the virgin birth
more directly with the concept of original sin, claiming that Marys
virginity functions to protect Christ from inheriting original sin. In other
words, Christs miraculous conception becomes the mark of his freedom
from sin and defilement. For Ambrose the concept of the virgin birth
includes virginitas in partu and, in bringing forth as a virgin, Mary is
intimately connected with the work of redemption. Virginitas in partu was
also promoted by Augustine who maintained that Christs birth differed
from other births because Marys motherhood was virginal. Augustine
argued for Marys perfect and perpetual virginity and he was the first of
the Latin Fathers to claim that Marys question in Luke 1:34 How shall
this be, since I have no husband? was evidence of her vow of virginity.27
Augustine authenticated Marys virginitas in partu by drawing parallels


A Visual Theology of Evil and Redemption?

between the manner of Christs birth and his Resurrection and
appearances. For Augustine, the belief that the adult Christ, risen from the
dead, could physically enter through the closed doors (John 20:19) is
paralleled by the infant Christ leaving his mothers womb without
violating it. Contrasts thus emerge between Eve and Mary as mothers.
According to Gregory of Nyssa (330395), Eves introduction of sin and
death condemned her to suffer the pain of childbirth whereas the Virgin
Mary reverses Eves curse and experiences parturition in joy.
How familiar Burne-Jones was with the above materials is
impossible to ascertain. What is likely is that any familiarity with
virginitas in partu, if not directly from the work of the Church Fathers,
may have derived from the work of Cardinal Newman. For Newman, the
fact of the Virgin birth was proof of Christs ability to redeem humankind
from sin.28 In other words, because Christ was miraculously and
immaculately conceived he was able to save humankind from the
corruption of sin. According to Newman, through Mary, Eves curse is
turned into a blessing, The very punishment of the fall, the very taint of
birth-sin, admits of a cure by the coming of Christ.29 According to
Francis Friedel, in Newmans thought, Mary was a virgin before, during
and after birth,30 and Marys virginal parturition is the sign of Christs
freedom from sin, the sign of his Incarnation and redemptive purpose.
Newman supports his view of Marys virginity by utilizing the work of the
Fathers and he claims that Mary ... is a specimen ... in the purity of her
soul and body, of what man was before his fall, and what he would have
been, had he risen to his full perfection.31

What can be drawn from these paintings in relation to evil and
redemption? The altarpiece alludes to Marys physical virgin-motherhood
and attests to a conception and birth that were separate from natural
conception. Christs conception and birth are presented as the antithesis of
natural conception and birth and as such reverse Eves curse. The Eve
paintings associate the first woman with the introduction of sex and sin. In
the paintings and in Christianity, it is Marys virginity that becomes the
mark of her redemption of Eves sin. Thus, through the concept of Second
Eve, Marys virginity and physical purity are highlighted. This in turn
reinforces Eves defilement and association with sin and evil. In different
ways, Eve and Mary represent a Christian connection between femininity,
sex, and sin. Eves prominent role in the Fall together with her loss of
virginity associate her with the introduction of sin, and the only alternative
offered is the paradoxical ideal of the Virgin-Mother.

Kathy M. Bullough




Wilton and Uptone, 1997.

Macmillan, 1903, 145.
Watts, 1912, 1:262.
Ibid, 1912, 2:139.
Tavard, 1973, 8.
Gen. 2:23 Revised Standard Version.
Philips, 1984, 62-64.
Watts, 1912, 2:141.
Apostolos-Cappadona, 1986, 304.
Dijkstra, 1986, 304.
Bade, 1979, 8.
Watts, 1912, 2:141.
Gen. 3:16 RSV.
Pagels, 1985, 82.
Warner, 1990, 54.
1 Cor. 15:21-22 RSV.
New Catholic Encylopedia, 1967-1979, 14:693.
Elliot, 1993, 64.
Ibid., 65.
Hirn, 1958, 252.
De Lisle, 1906, 65.
Schiller, 1971, 1:62.
Ibid., 1:79.
Ibid., 1:95. See also OCarroll, 1983, 364.
Friedel, 1928, 225.
Newman, 1873, 2:130.
Friedel, 1928, 226.
Newman, 1862, 410.

Apostolos-Cappadona, Diane. 1986. Dictionary of Women in Religious
Art. New York: Oxford University Press.
Bade, Patrick. 1979. Femme Fatale: Images of Evil and Fascinating
Women. New York: Mayflower.
New Catholic Encyclopedia. 19671979. Ed. W. J. MacDonald. 17 Vols.
New York: McGraw Hill.


A Visual Theology of Evil and Redemption?

De Lisle, Fortune. 1906. Burne-Jones. 2nd ed. London: Methuen.
Dijkstra, Bram. 1986. Idols of Perversity: Fantasies of Feminine Evil in
Fin-de-Sicle Culture. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Elliot, J. K. 1993. The Apocryphal New Testament. Oxford: Clarendon.
Friedel, Francis J. 1928. The Mariology of Cardinal Newman. New York:
Benziger Brothers.
Hirn, Yrjo. 1958. The Sacred Shrine: A Study of the Poetry and Art of the
Catholic Church. London: Faber & Faber.
MacMillan, Hugh. 1903. The Life of George Frederick Watts. London:
Newman, John Henry. 1862. The Glories of Mary for the Sake of Her Son.
In Discourses to Mixed Congregations. London: Paternoster.
. 1873. The Feast of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary:
The Reverence Due To Her. In Parochial and Plain Sermons.
Vol. 2. London: Rivingtons.
OCarroll, Michael. 1983. Theotokos: A Theological Encyclopedia of the
Blessed Virgin Mary. Wilmington, DE: Michael Glazier.
Pagels, Elaine. 1985. The Politics of Paradise: Augustines Exegesis of
Genesis 13 versus that of John Chrysostum. Harvard
Theological Review 78:6799.
Philips, John A. 1984. Eve: The History of an Idea. San Francisco: Harper
& Row.
Schiller, Gertrud. 1971. Iconography of Christian Art. 2 Vols. London:
Lund Humphries.
Tavard, George. 1973. Woman in Christian Tradition. Notre Dame, IN:
University of Notre Dame Press.
Warner, Marina. 1990. All Alone of Her Sex: The Myth and Cult of the
Virgin Mary. London: Picador.
Watts, M. S. 1912. George Frederick Watts: The Annals of an Artists
3 Vols. London: Macmillan.
Wilton, Andrew, and Robert Upstone. 1997. The Age of Rossetti, BurneJones and Watts: Symbolism in Britain 18601910. Tate Gallery
Exhibition, 19971998. London: Tate Gallery.

Or Image of That Horror? Imagining Radical Evil
David H. Fisher
Kent: Is this the promised end?
Edgar: Or image of that horror.
King Lear, 5.3.265-266
There is in man a natural propensity to evil; and since
this very propensity must in the end be sought in a will
which is free, and can therefore be imputed, it is morally
evil. This evil is radical, because it corrupts the ground
of all maxims . We are not to call this depravity of
human nature wickedness [Bosheit] taking the word in
its strict sense as a disposition . . .to adopt evil [Bse] as
evil into our maxim as our incentives (for that is
diabolical); we should rather term it the perversity of the
heart, which because of what follows from it, is also
called an evil heart.
Immanuel Kant
As the experience of evil explodes into a sense of the
infinite presence of evil the material overwhelms the
art; the rule of probability suffers a shock the human
countenance is obscured.
Geoffrey Hartman
The phrase radical evil marks limits of thought, representation,
and moral reflection. The first limit has been described by Reiner
Schrmann as the challenge of a phenomenology of ultimates. Philosophy,
according to Schrmann, should submit to rigorous thinking elements of
experience of which we do not have prior knowing. Philosophy must seek
a starting point which:
neither abandons ordinary experience nor transsubstantiates it into the extraordinary will have to be
looked for in something everyone is familiar with,
however poorly one will have to grasp irreducible
traits in everydayness and put them to the test of a
historical systematic investigation. Let us call such an
inquiry a phenomenology of ultimates.1


Imagining Radical Evil

Peter Haidu sees this first challenge as one of thinking Divinity within
the dialectics of unspeakability:
The irruptions into human life of the divine as that
which is awesome, that which strikes us with terror,
inexplicable because of the unpredictability of its
violence as well as the force of that violence It is a
concept of divinity that precedes the moralization of
divinity under the aegis of monotheism. . .it is a concept
of divinity which culture and civilization hold at bay,
rendering it also unspeakable.2
In both cases, radical evil suggests an undisclosed, unknown arche; an
origin which resists thinking while demanding to be thought.
The second and third limits suggested by radical evil involve
those acts whose motivations and consequences can be thought, but which
resist imagining and expression in narrative or visual forms. This
resistance to imagination and expression respectively challenges the
creative abilities of writers, sculptors, or painters, while inadequate
imagining or representation blocks moral reflection. In George Steiners
words, it has often seemed to be the case that The world of Auschwitz
lies outside speech as it lies outside reason.3 That which we cannot
imagine or express cannot serve as the initial moment in the process of
moral reflection. This process begins with an agents accurate recognition
of a situations features as morally significant. Perceiving the morally
salient features of a situation permits subsequent analysis and judgment.
The following remarks remain within the boundaries of aesthetics
and ethics focusing on the relationship between the second and third limits
posed by the phenomenon of radical evil. I will begin by discussing how
radical evil challenges the moral and aesthetic imaginations. I will then
turn to a comparative analysis of selected poems by the Jewish Holocaust
survivor, Paul Celan, and visual attempts to imagine the Holocaust by
Anselm Kiefer, a German painter inspired by Celan. Celans poetry and
Kiefers Shulamite series imagine the Holocaust in allegoric,
metaphoric, metonymic, and, ultimately, abstract forms. The movement
from allegory and metaphor, through metonymy to abstraction in Celans
poetry and Kiefers paintings, suggests the kind of art needed to imagine
radical evil. Radical evil, resisting imagination and the boundaries of
narrative, is represented through verbal or visual abstractions that allow
readers and viewers to attend, reflect on, and respond to it.

David H. Fisher



Radical Evil and the Resistance to Imagination and

Imagination of a situation or an object defines a figure or figures
against a background. The boundaries that circumscribe a figure establish
contrasts between it and a tacit, indeterminate background. Imaginative
failure occurs as a result of difficulty in establishing determinate
boundaries for a situation or an object. In The Critique of Judgment, Kant
proposes two types of object that resist imaginary boundaries.
Mathematically sublime objects are natural phenomena whose
quantitative extent defies the minds ability to imagine. Dynamically
sublime objects are forces whose qualitative aspects resist imagining.
Radical evil resists imagining in both quantitative and qualitative ways.
Mass murder and genocide illustrate the quantitative aspects of
radical evil. While we can conceptualize such acts, we have difficulty in
imagining them because of their complexity and scope, for reasons similar
to those given by Kant. Narrative or visual representations of mass death
do not capture fully the cumulative aspects of horrors undergone by
individual victims, in repeated events dispersed across extended periods
and in different locations. Seeing a pile of human bodies provides
evidence that an atrocity has taken place. A photograph of that same pile
of bodies serves as a representation of the consequences of the event. The
sight of the bodies and the evidence of the photograph do not capture the
experiences of dying of each individual victim. Rilkes prayer O Herr,
gieb jedem seinen eignen Tod is denied: none of the victims is
accorded the final dignity of his or her death. Sight and photographic or
film image are visual equivalents to a statistical abstract.4
Extreme cruelty suggests the qualitative aspect of radical evil.
Cruelty adds psychological or additional physiological dimensions to
already unmerited harm and suffering undergone by victims. In Sophies
Choice by William Styron, the cruel nature of the choice forced upon
Sophie by a Nazi doctor is obvious. Demanding that a mother choose in
an instant which of her two innocent children will die is cruel to both
children and the parent. As with the quantitative aspects of radical evil, a
degree of understanding is possible:
Asked why the incessant humiliation and cruelty, since
all the victims were marked for extermination in any
case, the Treblinka commander answered: To condition
those who actually had to carry out the policies ... to
make it possible for them to do what they did.5
Successful representation of the motivation for the doctors
experiment and its cumulative effect on Sophie in the novel and the film


Imagining Radical Evil

based upon it remains elusive. As readers or viewers, we may understand
how Sophies previous history positioned her to act in ways that caught
the physicians attention at Auschwitz. We may, perhaps, grasp some of
the reasons for the doctors decision to experiment with Sophie. We
cannot, however, fully imagine the process that leads from her choice to
her eventual double suicide with Nathan, her lover. We read or see a
sequence of events in the film interspersed with flashbacks, but the
sequence read and the flashbacks seen do not convey the cruelty of the
forced choice or its cumulative impact upon her.
Radically evil acts invert the order proclaimed by morality while
retaining the formal characteristics of goal-directed intentionality that
characterizes practical reasoning. To the extent that radically evil acts
appear to be rational, we cannot dismiss them as instances of pathology or
as the product of extrinsic determination. While an order of intending that
subverts and contradicts moral norms demands moral evaluation, it invites
analysis in the deterministic languages of precipitating psychological,
sociological, or economic causes. Such languages remove the intending in
part from the moral realm.
The representation of radical evil in visual or literary art also
challenges the aesthetic limitations of expressive media and the
psychological capacities of viewers and readers. It is difficult to imagine
or represent a whole universe of death (Miltons phrase for Hell) in the
space of a single painting, sculpture, epic poem, or novel. To the extent
that it is possible to do so in ways that resemble the phenomenon in
question, the result often appears disgusting, obscene, or grotesque.
Viewers reflexively turn away from seeing such images, as do readers
from following such texts. Finally, when extraordinary artists or poets
discover ways of overcoming both of these resistances to representation,
they confront a further limit. The successful artist runs the risk of being
charged with aestheticizing evil insofar as works of art or literature make
it possible to look upon or read about radically evil acts without suffering
revulsion. The artist is condemned for making attractive that which should
remain unspeakable and beyond sight.
Pre-modern and modern cultures understand these moral and
aesthetic limitations in different ways. In the pre-modern world of
medieval Europe, awareness of large-scale natural disasters such as
plagues or mass deaths from prolonged warfare led to the representation of
radical evil in apocalyptic iconography. Through a complex system of
correspondences and metonymies, radical evil was depicted as an uncanny
invasion of daily life by demonic forces. Parts of human and animal
bodies and ordinary objects were distorted to become parts of monstrous
beings; ordinary actions were represented as symbols of the obscene or the

David H. Fisher


disgusting. Hieronymus Boschs triptych The Last Judgment remains
the primary monument to this pre-modern way of seeing radical evil.
Such ways of imagining and representing radical evil assume a
distinction between the transcendent and the mundane, and between
appearance and reality. In an early modern artist such as Goya, we find
evidence of a gradual loss of belief in the credibility of this contrast. Even
when Goya uses images from inherited myth and tradition such as the
Titan Saturn devouring his children to express the horror produced by
mass death, his work shows a clear loss of faith in the probability of divine
retribution for human failings. In Nietzsches late modern understanding
of morality, the distinction between appearance and reality that was
central to the moral universe of Platonism and Christianity was rejected in
favour of a stance beyond good and evil. In the twentieth century,
repeated encounters with instances of mass murder caused by human
beings have produced two opposing responses: reduction and expansion.
Reductionists reject the validity of radical evil altogether. For
them, the phrase radical evil is nothing more than a way to denote
disapproval and shock at multiple wrongful acts performed by individuals.
Reductionists may admit that such acts, or the intentions motivating them,
are horrifying or shocking. They claim, however, that the way to
understand such phenomena is through reductive social scientific analysis.
Once we understand such acts as natural consequences of psychological,
sociological, economic, historic, or biological causes, the banality of evil
in Hanna Arendts phrase becomes all too apparent. We can then address
the precipitating causes of such acts.
Expansionists respond to radically evil acts by seeing them as
instances of a late modern natural supernaturalism, or as evidence of the
need for a postmodern sublime capable of dealing with the differend.
Natural supernaturalism is a way to characterize the inherited
secularization of inherited theological ideas and ways of thinking in
Romantic poets such as Wordsworth and Shelley.6 When applied to
radical evil, the phrase natural supernaturalism suggests parallels
between radical evil and attempts by literary and visual artists in the
nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to create a humanistic sublime.
Both seek to transcend the limitations of mere humanity. The humanistic
sublime is the expression in art or action of something more than human.
By contrast, those who see radical evil as an instance of a postmodern
sublime understand it in aporias characteristic of postmodernity. Radical
evil designates phenomena that demand and resist representation and
ethical analysis. This suggests a space that Jean-Franois Lyotard calls a


Imagining Radical Evil

The differend is the unstable state and instant of
language wherein something which must be able to be
put into phrases cannot yet be. . . .In the differend,
something asks to be put into phrases, and suffers
from the wrong of not being able to be put into phrases
right away.7
Lyotards primary example of the differend is Auschwitz:
Auschwitz is the forbiddance of the beautiful death
the formula would be, if we focus on the SS as
legislator: That s/he die, I decree it; or, if we focus on
the deportee as the one obligated That I die, s/he
decrees it . The authority of the SS comes out of a we
from which the deportee is excepted once and for all.
The deporteecannot be the addressee of an order to
die, because one would have to be capable of giving
ones life in order to carry out the order. But one cannot
give a life that one doesnt have the right to have.
Sacrifice is not available to the deportee, nor for that
reason accession to an immortal, collective name. Ones
death is legitimate because ones life is illegitimate.
This death must therefore be killed, and that is what is
worse than death. For, if death can be exterminated, it is
because there is nothing to kill. Not even the name Jew.8
Edith Wyschogrod responds to the difficulty posed by Lyotard:
the demand of alterity issues from the dead others, the
multiple wounded and suffering bodies that form a
society of bodies.This past can never be encountered
in face-to-face encounter but only as image. To be sure,
the visual image disincarnates beings, becomes their
reflection, but in so doing, the image opens a space
beyond beingsand thus allows for the emergence of an
ethical space of disclosure.9
The creation of such a difficult ethical space of disclosure
requires a poetic and visual imagination. Such imagination is able to build
upon the inherited symbolic system of a culture to describe radically evil
events that have occurred, and then to place that same culture and its
social instituting imaginary in question. Paintings of Kiefer that respond to
images in Celans poems illustrate that space of disclosure. We can best

David H. Fisher


understand the mode of perception engendered in that space as the
tremouring movement of the mind in its encounters with the sublime. Kant
describes this movement as follows:
This agitation can be compared with a vibration, i.e.
with a rapid alternation of repulsion from, and attraction
to, one and the same object. If a [thing] is excessive for
the imagination (and the imagination is driven to [such
excess] as it apprehends [the thing] in intuition), then
[the thing] is, as it were, an abyss in which the
imagination is afraid to lose itself. Yet, at the same time,
for reasons idea of the supersensible [this same thing] is
not excessive but conforms to reasons law to give rise
to such striving by the imagination.10
Celans poetry and Kiefers paintings bring about such tremouring,
initiating a process of moral reflection capable of recognizing what eludes

Imagining Radical Evil: Paul Celans Poetic Witness

Paul Celan was born in Czernowitz, the capital of Bukhovina,
into an educated Jewish family. He received an education from his parents
that combined German and Jewish culture. As a Jew, Holocaust survivor,
and poet, Celans work embodies tensions between multiple identities and
demands for representation of what defies representation. An inmate of a
slave labour camp whose parents were both killed in a death camp, he
spent the remainder of his life after the war in Paris where he worked as a
translator and wrote poetry in German, the language of his parents
When a friend asked Celan how he could go on writing poems in
the language that fashioned the Final Solution, Celan replied: Only in the
mother tongue can one speak his own truth; in a foreign tongue the poet
lies.11 He came to believe that only in German his mothers first
language as well as his mother tongue could he express the truth of the
Holocaust because the murders spoke it. In the wake of the canonization
of his best known and widely anthologized Todesfuge or Death Fugue
by the German literary establishment, Celans subsequent work became
resistant to easy interpretations. Refusing to produce texts that could be
taken as hermeneutic keys to the meaning of the Shoah, Celans poetry
became a witness that demands witness, as he suggests in the concluding
words of a late poem, Aschenglorie:


Imagining Radical Evil

zeugt fr den
(Nobody/bears witness for the/witness.)12
Celan composed Death Fugue in 19441945 following his
return to Czernowitz after eighteen months in a forced labour camp. He
had just learned of his parents death at the hands of the SS, and had either
heard the type of music played by Jewish musicians at camps as a forced
accompaniment to deaths, or had heard tales about it from other survivors.
On a rhetorical level, the four stanzas and final two lines of the
poem are a complex allegory, built from allusion, metaphor, and
metonymy into a synecdoche. The central allusions are to the literary texts
of the Biblical Song of Songs and Goethes Faust, and to the music of
Bachs fugues. The metaphors derived from the texts are the Shulamite
woman from the Song of Songs and Margarete from Faust.
The Shulamite was interpreted in Rabbinical exegesis as a
metaphor for Israel, beloved of YHWH, and in Christian exegesis as the
church or the individual soul loved by Christ. Margarete is Goethes late
Romantic metaphor for the eternal feminine linked to nature as a saving
power to rescue isolated, modern persons from death. In the first stanza of
Death Fugue, Margarete is introduced as the beloved of a death camp
Commandant. He writes to her when a starry night evokes the memory of
her golden hair. Shulamite and her ashen hair appear in the second stanza
as one of the victims for whom prisoners dig a grave in the hair.
Both women re-appear in the third stanza, with an emphatic
contrast between Margaretes golden hair and Shulamites ashen hair. In
the fourth stanza, Margarete again appears alone, with both women joined
in the final two lines of the poem:
dein goldenes Haar Margarete
dein aschenes Haar Shulamith
In the poems movement, allusion gives way to metaphor, metaphor to
metonymy (hair as a figure for each woman), and finally to a synecdoche:
the Holocaust is represented as the joining of blonde and ashen hair.
The title Death Fugue is significant in several ways. It indicates
the fugal, point-counterpoint form of the poem: the three main characters,
Margarete, Shulamite, and the Commandant intertwine as the opposing
voices of a fugue. Fugue and master suggest links between music
played at the death camps; the camps as a dance macabre, a part of the
music of what happens,13 and the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, the
master of the fugue. Bach, a trope for higher cultures ability to transform

David H. Fisher


and uplift, is juxtaposed here with its antithesis, the death camps, where
persons were turned into corpses, ascending into the air like smoke and
er ruft streicht dunkler die Geigen dann steigt ihr als Rauch in
die Luft
dann habt ihr ein Grab in den Wolken da leigt man nicht eng.
(he [the commandant] calls out more darkly now stroke your
strings then as smoke you will rise into/air/then a grave you will
have in the clouds there one lies unconfined.)14
Reference to Bachs mastery also establishes a contrast with
Commandant as a trope for the master race. Celan describes the
Commandant as a blue-eyed master of Death from Germany. The poet
presents him playing with vipers instead of making music; ordering his
Jewish victims to play their music more sweetly as he strikes them with
a rod, loosens his hounds upon them, and finally shoots them, all the while
dreaming of his golden haired Margarete back home. Unfortunately for
Celan, Death Fugue was too successful:
In Paris, where he eked out a living as a teacher and
translator, Celan watched the German appropriation of
his poems . And he would not permit [Death
Fugue] to be anthologized in collections that included
authors sympathetic to Nazism during the war.15
In The Meridian, a speech accepting the Bchner Prize in 1960,
Celan offered his audience a rare prose statement of his beliefs about the
scope and aims of poetry:
Poetry is perhaps this: an Atemwende, a turning of our
breath. Who knows, perhaps poetry goes its way the
way of art just for the sake of such a turn? And since
this strange, the abyss and Medusas head, the abyss and
the automaton, all seem to lie in the same direction it
is perhaps this turn, this Atemwende, which can sort out
the strange from the strange.The poem becomes
conversation often desperate conversation.
Whenever we speak with things in this way we also
dwell on the question of their where-from and where-to
a question which points towards open, empty, free
spaces.The poem also searches for this place.16


Imagining Radical Evil

Celans poetry after Death Fugue moves toward this place by
moving away from allusion and metaphor toward an increasing density of
figural abstraction. In Stretto (the term for the overlap of musical voices
at the end of a fugue), Celan resisted the claim that the music of Death
Fugue had covered up and aestheticized the Shoah with a chilling
combination of word and ash:
Kam, kam.
Kam ein Wort, kam,
kam durch die Nacht,
wollt leuchten, wollt leuchten.
Asche, Asche.
Nacht-und-Nacht. Zum
Aug geh, zum feuchten.
(Came, came./Came a word, came,/came through the
night,/wanted to shine, wanted to shine.
Ash./Ash, ash./Night. Night-and-night. Go/to the eye, the moist
The poetic word cannot cause human ashes to shine in the night
through the cultural density after Auschwitz. It can at most become an
irritant, carrying ashes to the eyes of readers, causing tears. At the end of
the poem, the ashes are driven into the ground, covered with grass, but not
concealed. In Alchemical, the gold of Margaretes hair central to Death
Fugue becomes a figure for the reduction of flesh into charred remains:
Schweigen, wie Gold gekocht, in
verkholten, verkholten
Finger, rauchdnn. Wie Kronen, Luftkronen
(Silence, cooked like gold, in/charred, charred/hands./
Fingers, insubstantial as smoke. Like crests, crests of
In Aschenglorie, one of his last poems, after beginning with an
ironic reference to Shulamites ashen hair as her crowning glory (the
ashen glory of the title), Celan closes with the threatened loss of witness

David H. Fisher


zeugt fr den
(Nobody/bears witness for the/witness.)19
The movement through these later texts is from gold and ashes as
metonymies for two women, to gold and ashes as an image for what
remains of culture and society after Auschwitz. Despite occasional images
of light and salvation in Celans later poetry, it is clear that he felt
increasingly unable to use his art to mourn those who had died, or what
had died along with them. In many ways, Kiefers response to Celans
Death Fugue takes up the unfinished work of mourning implied by the
poetry in painting. Celans witness is represented on the surfaces of

The Truth in Painting: Anselm Kiefers Response to Paul

Kiefer was born 8 March 1945, and had just started studying with
Joseph Beuys in Dusseldorf when Celan drowned himself in Paris in April
1970. It is unclear whether news of Celans death touched Kiefer at the
time it occurred. In works such as Occupations and The Flooding of
Heidelberg in 1969, he had already begun exploring the implications of
the Nazi era. Beuyss insistence on making explicit links between art and
life stimulated Kiefer to search more deeply into the historic and cultural
roots of the Nazi era.20 His exploration included addressing the question of
guilt for events that had taken place before his birth.
From 1970 to 1973, he explored subjects with mythic as well as
historic overtones, including dark, thickly planted German forests, and
images of his studio surroundings infused with spiritual or religious
motifs. In 1974, he began using imagery of a dark landscape that was to
serve as the ground for many subsequent works including the
Margarete/Shulamite series of the 1980s. March Heath completed in
1974 is typical of Kiefers transformation of natural landscape into an
image for cultural emptiness. By writing the words markische Heide
(March Heath) across the foreground of the painting, Kiefer transforms a
familiar rural location prized as a country retreat, into a barren landscape.
In so doing, he works against sentimental attachment to the land as a
source of renewal or sacred meaning.
During the same period, Kiefer became interested in uncovering
the historic and cultural sources in Germans past for the Holocaust.
Ways of Worldly Wisdom in 19761977 links the faces of cultural
intellectuals (such as Schleiermacher and Fichte) and artists (such as
Stefan George and Friedrich Hlderlin) with vines growing out of a pile of


Imagining Radical Evil

burning logs in a forest clearing. The visual reference is to a battle in 9 CE
in which three legions of Roman soldiers were killed by a German tribe.
Kiefer became interested in arts alchemical or transformative power to
rework problematic features of his culture.
The palette serves as a potent and dangerous image of that power
in a 1974 work Nero Paints. Through the title and image of a red palette
lying over a small village on fire, Kiefer compares Neros burning of
Rome to the destructive-cleansing work of an artist. In Icarus March
Sands (1981), the artists palette takes flight above a seared, desiccated
landscape like the mythic Icarus, raising the question whether art, as a
spiritual quest, can heal decayed land and ascend to a higher plane as
A significant technical element for appreciating Kiefers
Shulamite/Margarete series, inspired by Death Fugue, can be found in
works such as Wayland Song (with Wing). These works are similar in
composition to March Sands but with a difference: Kiefer now began to
use straw mixed into the paint on his canvas. In a 1987 interview, he
described this straw symbolically, as a kind of manure: a form of energy
that provides warmth in the winter [which] eventually changes
composition through a process similar to fermentation and is thereby
transfigured.22 Straw figures prominently in paintings on a range of
German themes in the 1980s, including Nuremberg and the
Meistersingers, Midsummers Eve, and the Shulamite/Margarete
paintings. Straw is used to represent Margaretes golden hair, turning an
admired rare object into a plentiful, inexpensive source of energy that
can be appropriated for various purposes. It was during this period that
Kiefer first encountered Celans Death Fugue and began to respond with
reductive images of the two women.
In Your Ashen Hair, Shulamite, Kiefer juxtaposes Shulamites
long hair and naked body with an urban background, suggesting the harm
done to a defenceless victim by civilization. In Your Blonde Hair,
Margarete, Margarete is indicated only by words and straw, without any
attempt at figural representation. This same device is used in Margarete,
where the straw is lit with flames reminiscent of menorah candles. It is
also used in Your Golden Hair, Margarete Midsummer Night, where
the straw and flame stand out against a black background.
Two of Kiefers paintings respond directly to the last lines of
Death Fugue. In Your Golden Hair, Margarete, the artist represents
the final image of the womens hair from the poem in an arched figure of
straw shadowed by black lines. The black arched lines echo the diagonal
rows on an empty, blackened field whose furrows extend towards the
viewer. Shulamite and Margarete linked together become a gateway into
Germanys past. Andreas Huyssen writes:

David H. Fisher


in the Margarete/Shulamite series Kiefer succeeds in
doing for painting what Celan did for poetry more than
forty years ago . For him, as for Celan it is indeed
fascism that has brought about the ultimate crisis of art
in this century. Fascism has not only revealed the extent
to which poetry and painting can never be
commensurate to the world of historical violence. It has
also demonstrated how politics can ruthlessly exploit the
aesthetic dimension.23
In Shulamite, Kiefer reassigns the dedication of the Nazi architect
Wilhelm Kreiss Funeral Hall for the Great German Soldiers to
Shulamite, writing her name at the top left. He thus transforms the space
into a monument to the victims of the Holocaust instead of to their killers.
Celans poetry and the surfaces of Kiefers paintings involve
constant shifts between subject positions. In Death Fugue the first
stanzas use of wir (we) at the beginning joins the reader with the
Jews about to be murdered. As the blue-eyed master of death fantasizes
and writes to Margarete while shouting commands at his victims, readers
are shifted into momentary complicity with the killer and his beloved. At
the end of the poem, a shift occurs to the position of memory and witness
at a sad, remote distance in a final apostrophe. In a similar vein, Your
Golden Hair, Margarete permits several subject positions but in
synchronic rather than diachronic form. By foregrounding the golden
straw and black lines with superimposed text, the artist simultaneously
conveys a sense of identity with the victim, killer, and beloved positions.
He indicates movement between them by the dense dynamism of the
furrowed lines. The poem and the paintings close off lines of retreat into
the distance of abstract principle.

Seeing in the Dark: Ethics after Auschwitz

Contemporary analytic approaches to ethics assume the need to
ground everyday-moral beliefs, expressed in rules and embedded in
institutions and customs, on abstract, universal principles. Where such
principles conflict, analytic ethics seeks to resolve the conflict by a theoryinformed hierarchy that establishes the logical priority of one over others.
If theoretical conflicts such as those between the right and the good can be
resolved, then so can the moral dilemmas of everyday. The persistence of
such dilemmas in political and moral discourse has led some ethicists to
call for a return to virtue/character traditions of morality. These traditions
make culture and character the sources of moral action instead of
justifying principles. From a perspective on morality informed by


Imagining Radical Evil

Auschwitz, neither approach seems likely to be successful in rehabilitating
the possibility of morality.
Theodore Adorno and others noted the paradox: that it was a
nation with a long tradition of aesthetic, religious, and philosophical
culture that engaged in radical evil questions attempts to make culture or
its virtues the primary source of morality. Many perpetrators of genocide
justified their actions by appealing to moral abstractions (such as
Eichmanns perversion of Kants categorical imperative and ideal of duty).
This raises questions about the possibility of distinguishing between the
rational language of morality, and the illusions of ideology. These
difficulties have led many ethicists to abandon discourse of Auschwitz to
political science or aesthetics.
While there are many causes for the abandonment of Auschwitz
by philosophical ethics, one worthy of consideration here concerns the
different starting points for moral and ethical reflection. Moral reflection,
the basis for everyday human action or inaction, always begins with
seeing-as; with seeing phenomena as appropriate objects of moral
attention. Such attention is a way of configuring details into a pattern
demanding response like that which Celan speaks of:
The attention which the poem pays to all that it
encounters, its more acute sense of detail, outline,
structure, colour, but also of tremors and hints is
achieved by a kind of concentration mindful of all
our dates. Attention, if you will allow me a quote from
Malebranche via Walter Benjamins essay on Kafka,
attention is the natural prayer of the soul.24
Ethical reflection begins with a contrast between competing
principles or theories and seeks to understand these contrasts in the light of
yet larger contrasts. Reiner Schrmanns description of a phenomenology
of ultimates that I described earlier is an example of such larger contrasts.
While such conceptual contrasts are important as exercises in
justification, their abstract quality misses what is most significant in the
imaginary from which everyday moral reflection begins. Here is a sense
that assembled particulars, here and now, oblige response prior to analysis.
This is because no analysis can ever resolve all levels of contrast present,
without loss of the central dynamism involved, outside of the space
between these elements. We are always positioned between the need to
witness to an inherited past and to live for the sake of a future. As Celan,
evoking both his dead parents and the figure of Shulamite and Margarete
wrote in Stretto:

David H. Fisher


Ich bins, ich
ich lag zwischen euch, ich war
offen, war
hrbar, ich tickte euch zu, euer Atem
gehorchte, ich
bin es noch immer, ihr
schlaft ja.
(It is I, I/I lay between you, I was/open, was audible, ticked at
you, your breathing/ obeyed, it is I/ still, but then you/are
One classical alternative to modern ethics is moral casuistry, a
process of moral training through which individuals recognize features of
a present case as instances of a paradigm. It defines degrees of right or
wrong in the light of moral maxims and analogy with similar cases until a
judgment can be made. Casuistry only works in a stable moral or in a
specific institutional/practice context such as law.
After Auschwitz, moral reflection is now confronted by instances
demanding attention. These instances demand attention while resisting it,
against the background of an unstable changing culture. This culture
increasingly refuses to attend to the past, optimistic of a bright,
technological future driven by free market economics.
In this context, the gift of Celans poetry and Kiefers painting is
the attention to mass death: we can look only so long at piles of bodies and
emaciated faces. However, without this attention, there is a loss of the
motive of action, as Eliot once noted in East Coker.
Maurice Blanchot suggests, to give is to give living and dying
not at my time but according to the time of the other, which is the
unrepresentable representation of a time without present always
returning.26 If this is true, then what Celan accomplishes in his poetry,
and Kiefer witnesses to in that poetry is just such a representation of the
unrepresentable. Such art does not permit obligation to happen as a matter
of obedience to principle or as a requirement of moral character. Instead, it
does so as a response to what is read, heard, seen, and experienced as a
contrast. Examples of this include we, here/now, safe, distant, experience
the return of a time without present in the unrepresentable
representations of images, and of gold and ashes.


Imagining Radical Evil



Schrman, 1992, 388-389.

Haidu, 1992, 284.
White, 1992, 43.
Rilkes pray is quoted by Sewell, 1964, 166.
Haidu, 1992, 291.
Abrams, 1971.
Lyotard, 1988, 13.
Ibid., 101.
Wyschogrod, 1999, 92.
Felstiner, 1992, 242.
Celan, 1995, 178-179.
Heaney, 1998, 457.
Quoted in Felstiner, 1992, 250.
Felstiner, 1992, 249-250.
Celan, 1986, 47 and 50.
Ibid., 1972, 140-141.
Ibid., 178-181.
Celan, 1995, 178-179.
Rosenthal, 1987.
Celan, 1995, 80.
Ibid., 95.
Huyssen, 1995, 224-225.
Celan, 1986, 50.
Celan, 1972, 138-139.
Blanchot, 1986, 89.

Abrams, M. H. 1971. Natural Supernaturalism: Tradition and Revolution
In Romantic Literature. New York: Norton.
Blanchot, Maurice. 1986. The Writing of the Disaster. Trans. Ann Smock.
Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.
Celan, Paul. 1972. Poems of Paul Celan. Trans. Michael Hamburger. New
York: Persea.
. 1986. Collected Prose. Trans. Rosemary Waldrop. New York:
Sheep Meadow.
. 1995. Breathturn. Trans. Pierre Joris. Los Angeles: Sun and
Moon Classics.

David H. Fisher


Cornell, Drucilla, Michael Rosenfeld, and David Gray Carlson, eds. 1992.
Deconstruction and the Possibility of Justice. London:
Felstiner, John. 1992. Translating Paul Celans Todesfugue. In Probing
the Limits of Re-presentation: Nazism and the Final Solution,
ed. Saul Friedlnder. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Friedlnder, Saul, ed. 1992. Probing the Limits of Re-presentation:
Nazism and the Final Solution. Cambridge, MA: Harvard
University Press.
Haidu, Peter. 1992. The Dialectics of Unspeakability. In Probing the
Limits of Representation: Nazism and the Final Solution, ed.
Saul Friedlnder. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Heaney, Seamus. 1998. Opened Ground: Poems 19661996. London:
Faber & Faber.
Huyssen, Andreas. 1995. Twilight Memories: Marking Time in a Culture
of Amnesia. New York and London: Routledge.
Lyotard, Jean-Franois. 1988. The Differend: Phrases in Dispute. Trans.
Georges van den Abbeele. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota
Rosenthal, Mark. 1987. Anselm Kiefer. Chicago: Art Institute of Chicago.
Schrmann, Reiner. 1992. Conditions of Evil. In Deconstruction and the
Possibility of Justice, eds. Drucilla Cornell, Michael Rosenfeld,
and David Gray Carlson. London: Routledge.
Sewell, Elizabeth. 1964. The Human Metaphor. Notre Dame, IN:
University of Notre Dame Press.
White, Hayden V. 1992. Historical Emplotment and the Problem of Truth.
In Probing the Limits of Representation: Nazism and the Final
Solution, ed. Saul Friedlnder, Cambridge, MA: Harvard
University Press.
Wyschogrod, Edith. 1999. An Ethics of Remembering: History,
Heterology, and the Nameless Others. Chicago: University of
Chicago Press.

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Hier ist kein warum? Evil at the Limits of Understanding
Richard Paul Hamilton

Why are academic discussions of evil invariably unsatisfactory
when contrasted with literary depictions? In this chapter I argue that the
answer lies in the deep structure of our everyday moral grammar. To call
someone evil is to describe a form of life. It is a form of life that we refuse
to understand. The evil-doer deliberately places him or herself outside the
confines of our practices of making sense. We cannot make sense of the
evil-doers motives, largely because to do so would be to welcome him or
her back into our world. Great literature recognizes this; academia, as it is
currently organized, does not.
Academic discussions of evil seem preoccupied with the desire to
fill in the gaps, offering substitute motives, often in the form of a
functional explanation. Much good can be done by such a procedure,
particularly in helping us to understand complicity. Nevertheless, even the
most sophisticated functional explanation leaves us feeling unsatisfied.
We feel that the question has been evaded, put in abeyance. Nowhere is
this more the case than in the discussion of Hitlers evil. Over the last fifty
years we have become clearer than ever about the layer upon layer of
corruption, cowardice and complicity in the Third Reich, in Weimar
Society and in the international community that enabled Hitler to come to
power and execute his plans. We know more than perhaps we would
prefer about the role of both the mighty German Corporations and the
ordinary men of the police battalions in carrying out the routine murder
of Jews, Gypsies, and homosexuals. At the same time Hitler remains a
However, if Hitler is synonymous with the evil he perpetrated,
then we possibly know more than we think we do. We have a wealth of
literature devoted to depicting the evil of the Holocaust and the
occupation. In this chapter, I contrast one such literary account, that of
Czech author and Holocaust survivor Jii Weil, with the various academic
attempts to understand Hitler described in Ron Rosenbaums book
Explaining Hitler. Where Weil succeeds and the academics fail is that he
does not attempt to provide motive substitutes. Instead, he lays out in front
of the reader the sheer horror and strangeness of evil acts. Weil, unlike the
academics, does not flinch in the face of evil. He does not attempt to deny
the fact of complicity, nor does he make complicity and evil synonymous.
He simply bears witness.


Evil at the Limits of Understanding


Jii Weil: Looking Evil in the Eye

Jii Weil ends his novel, Mendelssohn Is On The Roof, with a
scene of chilling evil. Two Jewish girls who have survived the war so far,
Anne Frank style, are finally captured. The Czech police, too scared, or
too corrupt, to save them, turn them over to the Gestapo. As the Gestapo
man beats them to death, the girls recite nursery rhymes. It is not so much
the graphic nature of the depiction that gives it its power. If anything, this
is understated. Partly, it is Weils juxtaposition of the Gestapos brutality
with the innocence of the girls:
Again the Gestapo man lost his temper. He beat them
savagely with the keys. The little girls were almost
unconscious, but they still sang Andulka The Goose
Girl and The lime tree was burning. These were
songs they had learned when they still went to school.
Now they used them to defend themselves.
The addresses! yelled the Gestapo man.
But there were no addresses. Only pain, blood, and
darkness. They fainted. The Gestapo man struck them
with the keys and kicked them with his boots.

More significantly though, it is Weils juxtaposition of this scene with the

The Soviet army rolled out of the East from the plains of
Stalingrad, from Gumrak and Pitomnik, from Rostov
and the Don basin, from Kharkov and Kiev and Velikye
Luki, with tanks, Panzers, rocket launchers, artillery.
Unstoppable it advanced, and it broke, crushed, and
ground the once proud Wermacht, all dressed in its
finery and armed by the whole of Europe, into the snow.
The murderous army fled to the West with its crew of
troopers, generals in fancy uniforms, airmen without
planes, tank drivers without tanks, and along the way
they slaughtered, they still burned down villages, blew
up factories, mines and fortifications. They left behind
only blood, decay, and scorched earth, discarding their
plunder of rugs, icons, and furs.1
What these passages bring out so powerfully is the futility of evil.
There is simply nothing to gain by killing the girls; equally there would be
nothing to be lost by letting them go. Their killing, like the retreating
armys vandalism, is pointless. Whatever plausible accounts of the

Richard Paul Hamilton


Germans motives we might create, we already know that these will no
longer count as justifications.
In an earlier passage, Weils focuses on the perpetrators and he
portrays Reinhard Heydrich in equally chilling fashion:
To be master of a conquered land on its way to
becoming a German land is tiring and enervating work.
Life was better in those long-ago days before they seized
power, when he could fight the enemies of the Reich
directly, when he could chase them round the room at
meetings and then connect with a fist to the jaw. Life
was better when he could see the enemy standing before
him, visible blood trickling down his face, and he could
stomp on him with his high boots, polished until they
veritably glistened. Life was better at Columbia-Haus,
where he could interrogate conspirators of the Night of
the Long Knives, watching the blood soak through the
plaster wall of his office. Life was better in the Polish
campaign, dropping bombs on villages from his own
plane and then, because the Poles had no anti-aircraft
guns, flying low, barely above the ground, in order to
see the cottages burning, the confused human vermin
racing back and forth, the dead bodies lying on the
ground, frying in the flames.2
With a figure like Heydrich, we do not have any of the questions
surrounding his proximity to the killings, as we have with Hitler. Also, we
do not see in him a figure such as Himmler who, in Fromms description
of him, could under different circumstances have been an irascible post
office clerk.3
Weil, as an inhabitant of Heydrichs misnamed
protectorate, directly experienced the scope of his evil; indeed much of
Mendelssohn is devoted to exploring its consequences. Those who knew
Heydrich directly confirm Weils opinion: he was a man who gave every
impression of enjoying his work.
Let us now consider two apposite discussions in Aristotle. In the
course of his discussion of akrasia, he describes the condition of
brutishness.4 The brute, we are told, is someone who through natural
predisposition, or through exposure to brutality him or herself, falls
beyond the pale of our normal moral universe. The brute, however, is not
considered a significant threat compared with the vicious person. His or
her stupidity, and the transparency of the dangers s/he presents, allows us
to recognize him or her and protect ourselves. Brutishness may encompass
the Gestapo man, a moral imbecile, whose senses are too deadened to


Evil at the Limits of Understanding

realize that he is killing a six-year-old girl. But Heydrich, while violent, is
no brute. Similarly, although the Czech police who handed the girls over
may have been weak, Heydrich himself is no acrates. Either of these
descriptions would let him off the hook.
Heydrich is vicious and his sheer calculated malice locates him
much more in the context of Aristotles account of deliberation. Here,
Aristotle draws a subtle and important distinction between deliberating
cleverly and deliberating well.5 As I understand this distinction,
deliberating well requires the presence of a degree of sensitivity. While
cunning may be required to bomb a village, it does not require sensitivity.
Like all of Aristotles discussions, it is subtle, discriminating, and
persuasive, and ultimately unsuccessful. Where it fails, is that like most
philosophical accounts, it translates evil into terms with which we are
familiar and in doing so diminishes its force. We are reassured by the
argument. Heydrich is just like us except for one defect. If only we could
sit Heydrich down, we might be able to inculcate him with the necessary
To show what is wrong with the argument, let us create an
Aristotelian figure: the sadist. S/he is not a person who engages in the
more Bohemian kinds of role-play but someone who obtains a peculiar
pleasure from torturing and humiliating his or her victims. The greater
their victims unwillingness, the more intense their pleasure. Let us
imagine that we were to offer this person the opportunity to torture an
organic robot that emitted all the appropriate screams and howls. It is
likely that the sadist would refuse our offer. The reason for this is that they
obtain their pleasure not from the victims pain but from his or her
humiliation. We have here a course of action that involves deliberation.
S/he would, we imagine, need to work out ways to place his or her victims
in the required situation and also avoid detection. At the same time it
requires sensitivity. His or her satisfaction stems from the fact that all the
time they are undermining their victims autonomy, they remain intensely
aware of it.
The picture this calls to mind is of a group of German gendarmes
in the Polish village of Jozefw. They surround a group of Orthodox Jews
at gunpoint. The Jews have been ordered to wear the phylacteries and
prayer shawls of their faith. One elderly Jew is kneeling, hands in the air,
as if praying. A German is hacking at his beard with scissors. What should
strike us about this example, like that of the sadist, is that this action only
makes sense in the context of the Germans recognition of the religious
significance of beards. Why else would they do it? Trimming a horses
mane would not give them the same joy. The photo was a personal
memento, a trophy. In it, the gendarmes are laughing heartily. It was kept

Richard Paul Hamilton


we can imagine, so that the guard himself could relive his pleasure or so
that he could share it with others.
In both cases what we find difficult to understand is the ways in
which such people can have a set of recognizable emotional responses and
sensitivities and yet be capable of such great evil. For the rationalist, the
problem is that Heydrich and the gendarmes betray no obvious intellectual
defect. For the Humean, it is that they have sufficient sympathy to be
knowingly cruel and to savour their cruelty.
The problem of understanding here is not due to a conceptual
deficit. Nor does it consist in a lack of a theory of motivation. We know
that if pressed, Heydrich could tell a compelling story about why he hates
Jews and Poles. We appreciate the problem more when we reflect upon
another connotation carried by our everyday notion of understanding: not
being able to understand essentially means not wishing to be
understanding. It is not that we lack the intellectual resources to get into
the head of an evil-doer who laughs at his or her victims fate. We do not
wish to go there.

Hitler Laughing
This image of evil laughing, while familiar to us from literature,
is one that is the hardest for academic discourse to encompass. It is the
image that leaves us at the end of Ron Rosenbaums book Explaining
Hitler (1998). Rosenbaum, who has made an exhaustive study of Hitler
explainers, constantly draws our attention back to Hitler laughing at the
fate of the Jews planted in the East; of Hitlers references to the laughter
of International Jewry, and how he would have the last laugh. He contrasts
this with the images of Hitler as a baby. How, he asks, could Hitler the
baby, become Hitler the laughing monster?
His question is a rhetorical one, for his primary concern is with
the various attempts that have been made over the last fifty years to
answer this question. What typifies all of them, he argues, is their evasion
of the central question of whether or not Hitler was evil. It is as if by using
the word evil, we set a seal on possible explanations. Few historians
take David Irvings approach and deny Hitlers culpability. The only
serious historian who comes close, is Hugh Trevor-Roper who has been
repeatedly accused of falling victim to Hitlers spell.6 Allan Bullock, who
has been the most willing to confront the scale of Hitlers depravity
equivocates. When confronted by Rosenbaums direct question, his
response is If he isnt evil, then who is?7 Claude Lanzmann takes
another tack. In order to preserve some sense of the magnitude of Hitlers
evil, he argues that only images, and a particular set of images, namely,
his film Shoah, can capture it. Thus to engage in asking the question
why is, in a sense, to be complicit in the Holocaust.8 One of the most


Evil at the Limits of Understanding

disturbing sections in the book is Rosenbaums description of Lanzmann
haranguing an elderly Holocaust survivor who has dared to breach this
But, in a way, all of these academics are right. Their problem
with evil reveals an essential feature of our moral grammar. Evil functions
as a membership categorization device. By saying someone is evil, I am
putting that person in the category of those whose motives will not be
counted as justifications. I am not offering this as a definition; instead I am
suggesting that this is the way the speech act of calling someone evil
operates. It is for this reason that the old saw that to understand all is to
forgive all is both right and wrong. Certain types of understanding are
only open to us on the basis of a prior refusal to condemn. At the same
time, placing someone in the evil-doer category is a verbal equivalent of
throwing our hands up in the air.
Nevertheless, this is not to say that we cannot ask a series of
interesting and illuminating questions about the evil-doer. What it does
entail is that the grammar of these questions will be strictly circumscribed.
I think Alfred Schutz comes closest to capturing this in his famous
distinction between because-motives and in-order-to motives.9 While
we may continue to ask about both sets of motives in regard to figures like
Hitler or Heydrich, what breaks down is the ordinary connection between
because-motives and justification. Once we have placed someone in the
evil-doer category, any because-motive will simply be extra
Rosenbaum expresses this well in his discussion of the various
psychosexual theories surrounding Hitler. Did he suffer from monoorchidism; did he have incestuous relationships with his niece; was he a
suppressed homosexual, or a sexual sadist? Rosenbaums witty conclusion
is that the truth is far more worrying: Hitler appears to have had a normal
sexuality, a little repressed, but not excessively so for a Mittel-European;
and certainly nothing that would explain the transition from the baby to
the laughing Hitler. But here we should stop to consider. What if Hitler
did turn out to be a coprophiliac? I suggest that our reaction would be that
Hitler was a mass-murderer who was also a coprophiliac. The chain
between because-motives and forgiveness is broken. Motives can no
longer serve as mitigation.
Accepting this position would have no severe consequences and
would certainly not license Lanzmanns kind of mysticism. For if I am
correct, then I am merely describing what we do anyway. We can continue
to look for a variety of causal and quasi-causal explanations of figures
such as Hitler. We can continue also to look at the conditions that allowed
him to come to power, and more importantly the conditions that enabled
large numbers of people to sleepwalk into the grey zone. We can continue

Richard Paul Hamilton


to do all the things we typically do when understanding forms of life.
Nonetheless, the lessons of David Irving on the one hand and Jii Weil on
the other, ought to caution us that our everyday moral grammar places
limits on our ability to get inside the evil-doers skin. These limits, I
believe, we ignore at our peril.


Weil, 1990, 226

Ibid., 76.
Fromm, 1974, 199ff.
Aristotle, 1976, 237-238.
Ibid., 223.
Rosenbaum, 1998, 66-67.
Ibid., xxi.
Ibid., 251ff.
Schutz, 1967, 86-96.

Aristotle. 1976. Ethics. Trans. J. A. K. Thomson and ed. Hugh
Tredennick. Harmondsworth: Penguin Classics.
Fromm, Erich. 1974. The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness. London:
Jonathan Cape.
Rosenbaum, Ron. 1998. Explaining Hitler: The Search for the Origins of
his Evil. New York: Random House.
Schutz, Alfred. 1967. Phenomenology of the Social World. Trans. George
Walsh and Frederick Lehnert and ed. George Walsh. Chicago:
Northwestern University Press.
Weil, Jii. 1990. Mendelssohn is on The Roof. Trans. Marie Winn. New
York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux.

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Condemned to Artifice and Prevent from Being a Pirate:
How Prisoners Convicted of Terrible Crimes Recognize
Themselves in Discourse
Diana Medlicott

A strong tradition of reflection exists about evil and human
wickedness in abstract terms,1 as well as evidence of terrible individual
acts. The problem of forming a dialogue between abstraction and
specificity in this area has been with us since the Enlightenment, when the
assumption was born that human reason could definitively answer a wide
range of questions fundamental to human life.2 Abstraction has an inherent
instability and ideas need to be considered alongside concepts and
contexts in order to become intelligible. Problems of theory involve
problems of practice, of social relations and historical change.3
This chapter is an attempt to relate the abstraction of human
wickedness to the fragmentation of experience. I will be drawing on the
experiences of five prisoners who have been convicted of terrible crimes,
using material from interviews in which they engaged in personal
accounting,4 talking openly about their identities.
Such troubled identities, with highly charged personal histories,
are neglected in research,5 except as examples of clinical pathology. I will
begin by outlining my particular approach to achieving frank interviews in
the difficult environment of prison. I then describe the relevant penal
contexts, in terms of the historic evolution of an actuarial and managerial
culture. In the context of this culture, I analyze some interview data in
response to one significant question. This analysis suggests that prisoners
responses are usually grounded in discourses that are historically
implicated in a process of subjectification, whereby individuals are
systematically categorized as subjects of a type, for the purposes of
governing subjectivity and regulating behaviour. Finally, I draw upon
Rose (1996) to claim that psychology, psychiatry, and related disciplines
are the mode through which modern subjectivity in this context has been
constituted, but that this is reductionist and masks understanding of and by
those who have committed terrible crimes.

Talking to Prisoners: Disciplined Empathy as a Research

Prisoners are a valuable but elusive and neglected source of data
about a wide range of penal, institutional and behavioural phenomena.6


Prevented from Being a Pirate

What I sought from prisoners was narrative. Narrative is a life-plot chosen
by the narrator.7 The fact that people believe they possess identities
fundamentally depends on their capacity to relate fragmentary occurrences
across temporal boundaries.8 Because my interviewees had histories
filled with terror and violence, they were naturally reticent and distrustful
of authority figures. So I adopted a strategy of disciplined empathy, based
on a philosophy of listening.9 The human sciences are epistemologically
grounded in human experience, and willing, feeling and imagining lie at
the heart of the knowing subject.10 These categories enhance the model of
reason at the heart of Kantian consciousness, and explain our unique
capacity to empathize with other minds. The practice of empathy in
interviews encourages an intense kind of attentive listening, appropriate
for harsh prison environments that produce intense interior experience in
It was not difficult to empathize with my interviewees. Prison
crushes personal identity, producing anger, loneliness, boredom, guilt,
apathy, self-loathing and pain.11 I could mentally take the place of the
other, imagining how I myself would cope with the temporal and spatial
constraints and the daily humiliations of prison life. But empathy has to be
exercised with discipline, so that the overall shape of the interview
remains in the hands of the inquirer. The nature and details of the offense
were not my concern. Nor was the harm intended and done to their many
victims. The discipline of screening out these factors from the interview
situation came naturally because of a methodological commitment to
empathizing with their current predicament. I was interested in their
understanding of themselves: naturally, the factors that I chose to screen
out, in my interaction with them would be highly significant in their
personal accounting. My criteria of empathy included the setting up and
sustaining of a situation where mutual listening and respect were evident
through spoken and unspoken cues, the most significant of which
concerned the nature of eye-contact between interviewer and interviewee.
Interviews using this strategy are demanding for both interviewer
and interviewee. The prisoner, having spoken of painful inner feelings,
returns to his cell and to solitude in a potentially more vulnerable state of
mind than before. The interviewer, however, with her interview safely
recorded on tape, has her hit for the day and returns to a free life. The
accounts live on in the memory of both interviewer and interviewee, and
they will go on functioning as narratives for each. The capacity of such
research to do harm is considerable.12 In mitigation, we can claim that we
further our understanding of extreme behaviour by uncovering the
subjectivities of those who commit terrible crimes.

Diana Medlicott



The Penal Context

Aspects of the special contexts prisoners inhabit are influential in
the construction of their subjectivity. The first relevant aspect is historic
change. Between about 1750 and 1820, a transition in penal technology
occurred. The body became less of a target for physical punishment, and
attempts to change the soul became institutionalized through modes of
power and knowledge.13 Power materialized not just in overt political
relationships but covertly and pervasively in structural and social sites,
institutions, strategies and techniques.14 Finally in its most invasive form,
it washed through the modern individual as forms of knowledge and
practice. The modern prison is a place that actualizes the relationship of
power and knowledge upon the body and the soul in expressive and
disciplinary ways.15
The second and more micro aspect concerns the tri-partite penal
relationship of risk, rights and rehabilitation from the mid twentieth
century. The 1950s saw the principle of rehabilitation as the primary focus
in discussion and policy approaches. After the subsequent heyday of high
expectations and professional power in the 1960s and 1970s, as social and
rehabilitative attention focused on the client, professional groups saw their
authority eroded as rehabilitation was slated for its lack of effectiveness.16
In the 1980s and 1990s, policy became more punitive, and there was more
emphasis on risks and security. These shifts took place against a backdrop
of increasing crime, a real rise in the fear of crime, and increasing
expectations about crime control. Public identification with victim groups
grew. Welfarism and the social work professions increasingly became the
object of political attacks, and sneered at for their attention to the needs of
clients as individuals.
In the newly politicized penal re-configuration, offence-centred
work has taken over from client-centred work. A moral vocabulary is
missing: managerialism, bureaucracy and actuarial approaches are the
order of the day.17 Risk-assessment and risk-management are politicized
and pseudo-scientific ways of categorizing offenders as types. Prisons
must use sets of actuarial indicators to fulfil targets and show, over time,
increased efficiency. This bureaucratic actuarialism helps to make the
prison an instrumental institution of punishment, not a morally expressive
one. Technical objectives, such as security, control and efficiency, take
precedence over wider societal values.18
The new penal managerialism does not focus on the connections
between socio-economic disadvantage and patterns of offending. It does
not look at individual biography, developmental needs or personal
potential, except in terms of types and assessments of risk. It is penal
managerialism for a mass age, designed to be capable of processing a
mass population. For individual penal establishments, this culture


Prevented from Being a Pirate

translates into an imperative to demonstrate competent performance
through sets of actuarial indicators. The culture encourages bureaucratic
and defensive mentalities, and statistically justifiable practice. Nonmeasurable qualitative innovation, unless it helps to meet the actuarial
targets, is not encouraged.
During my research, I witnessed an event that neatly illustrated
the struggle between bureaucratic efficiency and humane understanding.
The medical officer sent a profoundly suicidal man back to the wing. The
wing returned him to the medical centre, which refused to accept him.
Neither location wanted to take responsibility for the almost inevitable
suicide because it would be a tangible sign of inefficiency. Accompanying
him on each journey was a fat stack of documents, laboriously completed
at a multi-disciplinary case conference that the prisoner was not permitted
to attend. On his third journey back to the wing, a wing officer, newly
back on duty, took the trouble to talk to him empathetically. He found that
his wife had been killed in a car smash seven weeks earlier. His three
children had been taken into care and he could not contact them. These
causes of his potentially fatal grief, mental disorganization and despair had
not been recorded in any of the documentation. Until the wing officer took
an interest in him as a suffering person, staff merely measured and
assessed him in terms of the risk he posed to efficiency.

The Responses
Toward the end of my interviews, when trust and empathy were
high, I allowed a long pause to develop, and asked this question: So what
do you see when you look in the mirror? Up until this point, the interview
strategy had been to weave circles of relevance, retreating from points that
produced obvious distress and returning to them subsequently.19 So this
direct question was startling to prisoners: the question was both prosaic,
yet captured symbolic meanings in ways that could only be individually,
experienced and expressed. Prisoners do not get much opportunity to look
in mirrors in prison. The question invited them to do the work of mirror
gazing entirely in their heads, and then represent that material to me.
People who have done anti-social things often use excuses and
justifications to disclaim responsibility for their deeds.20 This vocabulary
of motive can go much deeper than mere speech patterns.21 Scully (1990)
showed how her interviewees, all guilty of extreme sexual violence,
adopted reflexive roles and imaginatively constructed the attitudes and
feelings of their victims in ways that excused or justified the subsequent
attack. My question, however, did not prompt or allow for the production
of endless disavowal because it only referred to the self-relation and did
not encourage reflection on the offense or victim.

Diana Medlicott


None of the prisoners failed to understand the question: each
knew that they should say what sort of a human being he saw in the
mirror. It was an extraordinarily arresting moment: some who had been
articulate throughout dropped their heads and began to stammer. Most
sighed, some wept. At this moment, they confronted the other of the
unconscious self, described by Baudrillard (1993) as our last symbolic
capital. This symbolic aspect of self is the focus of a cultural imperative in
modernity.22 We all seek self-esteem and are offered many ways of
achieving it. Self-management and self-regard are fashionable projects in
high modernity,23 and techniques of normalization enable the moral task of
self-recognition and self-management. So my interviewees were culturally
accustomed to thinking about personal identity.
The first of my selected prisoners was at the end of a seventeenyear sentence. As he looked in the mirror, M. saw a person he respected,
different from his original self. On the wing, amongst both officers and
prisoners, there was recognition that this was a person worthy of respect.
M. had been transformed in prison. He had been brought up in an
extremely violent family, and behaved viciously and violently from
adolescence until nearly halfway through his life sentence. In his first
seven years in prison, he attracted a lot of attention from psychologists and
psychiatrists, and was classified as incorrigibly violent and aggressive.
After a particularly brutal stabbing incident, however, he began to reflect
on the sort of person he was. He started to study and reflect on the history
of slavery, and over a long period of time realized the futility of hatred as
the prime motivating force in his life. He used to feel terror and
claustrophobia in his cell. But he thought about the amount of space
available to his antecedents when they were shipped over to slavery. He
marked out this space in his cell, and as an act of honour, tried to live in
this space. He looked into his past from the perspective of black history
and examined his relationship with the world. He looked for principles
other than hate and violence through which he could live. He consciously
chose a different moral and cognitive basis for future thinking. For my
future, I chose to think with love, he said. His file contained no sign of
his profound change. He had progressed from being defined as a
pathological subject to being ignored altogether because he was no longer
any trouble.
This transition was a story of emancipation, not just from his
former behavioural patterns but also from the way in which he was
defined by psychiatric and psychological discourse. He turned to other
discourses of a more historical and cultural kind, and used what he found
there to ground a personal ethic of non-violence and love. This
transformation had come about through interior dialogue in solitude, and
he could not identify any one person in those seventeen years who had


Prevented from Being a Pirate

been a significant catalyst in his change. As he described the process to
me, he repeated conversations he had had with himself, in which he
addressed himself by name and interrogated his weaknesses and failings.
The nature of his redemption was moral, but psychiatric discourse does
not speak in a moral vocabulary, and it had nothing to say about his
extraordinary re-birth.
My second chosen prisoner saw himself through the lens of
psychology and learning theory. R. looked in the mirror and saw:
a Jekyll and Hyde, a split personality. I like my good
side, the side thats talking to you now. But my bad side,
I hate it. I really hate it. But its the way Ive been
brought up, and not only that, what Ive been through,
over the years. The things I do.Well, it went from a
habit to an addiction, and from an addiction to an
In his narrative, R. had found answers to the puzzle of himself in
superficial typologies taken from psychological discourse, which he had
then selectively applied to his identity. He was not prepared to take these
too far: he had had an abusive early life and stammered his way through
some appalling incidents. He insisted that his home life had been perfect
and loving, and that he didnt mind these abusive facets. He attributed
all his unpleasant behaviour to his bad side and the friendly, charming and
caring qualities to his good side. He described at length his care and
concern for fellow inmates, but was just as eager for me to know about his
suspicious, selfish and solitary characteristics. Me, I can change just like
the weather, he said proudly. He wanted any psychological help that was
available, because thats the way to sort out my split personality.
The third respondent was at first unable to see himself except in
terms of how others had harmed him. When P. looked in the mirror, he
expressed indignation:
I see that they really spoiled my life. Lots of people
make mistakes when they are young. But I am supposed
to pay for the rest of my life. I know exactly what sort of
person I am. I am not like the others in here. I am very
hard working. I stopped drinking and smoking they are
not easy things to do.
When I first talked to P., he expressed guilt and remorse for his
wrongdoing, but nine months later in a subsequent interview, his talk was
peppered with legal and juridical terms, the combined effect of which was

Diana Medlicott


to stress that he was technically innocent and did not deserve
incarceration. He had managed to construct a narrative in which he was
the victim of unreasonable judicial processes, and his lawyer was pursuing
an appeal on these grounds. When he looked in the mirror, P. only saw
them, and blamed them for his predicament. His narrative constantly
stressed that he was different from everyone else in prison: he possessed
the moral virtue so lacking in the other prisoners, and he reinforced this
through prayer and reading the bible.
The fourth of my respondents, T., was floundering in notions of
evil, and grappling with official discourse that sought to identify him as
untreatable. T. saw:
a really evil person looking back at me, because I see
everything Ive done, which only I know about. So you
see, Ive got the darker side of my past, as well as the
side that everybody else knows about, looking at me in
the mirror. And it scares me that I can be that bad, or
even worse.
T.s charge sheet was indeed terrible, but he took pains to detail
how he was an even worse person than it implied, because the worst of his
crimes had not come out in court:
I know me now, I want to change, dont get me wrong. I
dont want to be this bad person all my life, I want to
change. Change is pulling me, its something my heart
says. But Im frightened. Im gonna lose a lot when I
change. Ill lose the confidence to tell the truth, I got
to admit Ill lose the power.
Prison staff had presented T. to me as an example of a
psychopathic personality, incapable of change, but capable of simulating
the desire to change. He was identified in terms of his membership in a
special high-risk group: his dangerousness was estimated and attached
to him like a brand. He said calmly that he felt extremely safe physically
in prison: I dont want to be violent, but if I need to be, I can be.
Emotionally and psychologically he did not feel safe: Im no good at
protecting my mind or my feelings. I can protect my body, but the rest I
cant protect.
Psychiatrists defined T. as incorrigible and dangerous. These
reductionist labels seemed to limit any understanding of his personal
history, his desire to be different and the small signs of change. He felt
himself hovering fearfully on the cusp of change, but knew he would


Prevented from Being a Pirate

receive no encouragement from psychiatrists who had a vested
professional interest in proving him untreatable.
J., the fifth and final chosen respondent was different, in that he
did not construe himself from the vantage point of psychological, quasireligious or juridical discourse. He described himself as a committed
hedonist, who all his life had experienced an abundance of bolts of joy
and rapture in his life, often followed by terrible lows. Psychiatrists had
labelled him as suffering from bi-polar disorder in his childhood, and tried
to put him on medication. He had evaded psychiatric definitions,
preferring instead to take responsibility for his identity, enjoying the
pleasures and experiences of his high times, and enduring the
consequences of the low times. He had made a great deal of money
through terrible crimes, and had then used that money altruistically. He
expressed terrible guilt and remorse, but he took responsibility for his
crimes. In response to the mirror question, he replied:
I dont know, I dont like mirrors. Introspection tends to
be something I avoid, because its quite scary wandering
about the blasted crags of the psyche. I dont really care
for the introspective. Ive lived with so many different
personae for so long. I dont know who the real me is
anymore. I think thats the fairest way of putting it. I feel
broken up, like the multi-faceted compound eye of a fly.
I dont know. And I dont think I want to know, to be
I asked what thoughts he would carry out of prison, if he could be free. He
replied with some reflections on the inhumanity of medical staff. Then he
Plus the resolve not to be caught again. To be more
careful next time.
But not to stop? I asked.
No, not to stop. Like Macbeth, I am in blood, stepped
in so far that should I wade no more, it would be as
tedious as to go oer. Quite a nice image really. I mean,
youre at the point of no return. Youre halfway, so if
you turn back or keep going, your feet are going to be
just as wet. Again, thats a bit of a solipsism [sic], right?
I really dont know what to say Im stuck in my ways I
A long silence fell, and then he sighed heavily and said,

Diana Medlicott


You know, I would have loved to have been a pirate,
three hundred years ago. The twentieth century version
doesnt seem to have worked too well for me. I dont
think about the future. I never have. The present has
always been abundant enough for me. Ive always
sought excitement. I dont like life if it is flattened out
into grey.

The Responses as Regimes of Thought

All of these respondents had, at one time or another, been defined
through images of subjectivity drawn from legal/juridical, psychiatrized,
and psychological discourses. These images caused the respondents, in
their personal narratives, to refer to themselves as if they were selves of a
particular type.24 Others had recognized them as belonging to types, and
they threaded their identities, their biographies, and their future horizons
onto these typologies. For some, there came a time when these typologies
were inadequate as modes of self-understanding in relation to personal
change and development.
The issue of personal change points up the limitations of those
discourses that are productive of typologies. When M. changed, his
identity transcended, in obvious ways, the reductionist way in which he
had been typed as a human subject. Psychiatry used a blunt label on him,
but untreatability could not adequately capture the complex, contingent
and subtle phenomenon of his identity.
T. was another respondent who wanted to change and believed
that change was possible. He was experiencing official resistance: the
dominant psychiatric discourse insisted to him that he was incapable of
change. J., the last respondent, had refused all his life to belong to the
designated subject type defined by psychiatric discourse. As we shall see,
psychiatry made a special effort to fit him to into a typology.
The practical rationality of the first four prisoners stem from
regimes of thought, through which they narrated what was significant in
their experience, and spoke of themselves, sometimes inconsistently, as
agents in ways that historically map onto sets of governance.25 The
modern age of confession requires more than that the accused admits
having committed the crime.26 Rituals of discourse demand that the
speaking subject engages in self-examination, explanation and selfrevelation. Through reflection, recognizing themselves in discourse and
confession, the guilty must articulate their identities. The psychiatric and
psychological discourses, which underpin this self-recognition, are modes
of shaping and ultimately governing the private self.


Prevented from Being a Pirate

M., the first respondent, was significant because over a seventeen
year period, he had slipped out of the typification applied to him. Quietly
he had set about personal change. His resources in this transition were
drawn from history, moral discourse and intense personal reflection. When
his sentence was over, he walked free, and his records did not relate the
nature of the intense interior changes he had made.
Resistance, in a different way, characterized the narrative of the
fifth respondent. When he thought and spoke of himself as a subject, it
was through the mediation of literature, myth, philosophy and personal
desire. This respondent had evaded many attempts to identify and label
him in the course of his life through juridical, psychiatric or psychological
discourse. He had refused the identity of manic-depressive and the
treatment that accompanied the label: in this resistance, he was asserting
that the action of his life spoke for itself. He chose to draw on literature
and philosophy to explain himself to himself, discourses which, unlike
psychology and psychiatry, are not intimately tied to the practices of
government and control. He chose a pre-Enlightenment image that fitted
his private desires. A pirate would not have to explain himself to himself
or to others. He would live out desire, will, violence, greed and
imagination, and function best by paying no attention to his so-called type.
Subjectification in post-modernity the process of being typed as
a subject of one kind or another involves the requirement for the modern
subject to identify his or her subjectivity.27 Penal policy is currently
organized around modes of subjectification drawn from psychology,
psychiatry and sociology Through the rituals of discourse, subjects speak
of themselves: they are the subjects of the statements they make, and what
they say resonates with dominant discourses. Unconsciously or
consciously, they are colluding with the practices of government by
interpreting their conduct and identities in typified ways. In prison, they
experience timetables, rules, enclosures, deprivations, and the absolute
control of personal time and space. These governmental techniques do not
only control prisoners physically. They are webs of tension across a
space that accord human beings capacities and powers to the extent that
they catch them up in hybrid assemblages of knowledges, instruments,
vocabularies, systems of judgment, and technical devices.28
Individuals, like tribes and nations, historicize their lives in
narrative. Into the story of how they came to be the person that looks at
them in the mirror, these prisoners inserted their identities in ways derived
from sets of particular discourses. These discourses, filtered through to
individual consciousness, stem from psychology, psychiatry and law, and
share an articulation, in differing forms, of modern power-knowledge
relations. For these are discourses that name, divide and control. They
define what is normal and what is pathological, and they enable

Diana Medlicott


individuals to construe their own conduct according to types. In prison,
convicted because of terrible conduct, these discourses assume an even
more intense governmental role: they provide the lens through which
individuals constitute their most private identity. Identity stands
conceptually in a problematic space in post modernity. In this space, the
self is conceptually dispersed and yet at the same time it attracts
intensified government.29 Psychology and psychiatry are examples of
disciplines that act as modes of governance and control, constituting
individuals in typified ways so as to legitimize their treatment and control.
This process of constitution is an extraordinary accomplishment:
subjects not only collude with the practices of government, but define
themselves in terms of the underlying discourse. We need to trace the
descent of this collusion and self-definition: we need to construct a
genealogy of how individual subjectivity appears to the chooser to be
voluntarily chosen. To this extent, a genealogy of subjectification needs
to think human being as a kind of machination, a hybrid of flesh, artefact,
knowledge, passion, and technique.30
In constructing this genealogy, the issue of resistance to discourse
is significant. Sometimes it can tell us more than the official discourses
about the will and desire of those who have done terrible crimes. The
discourses of psychiatry, psychology and law often fail to interrogate the
desire and will of offenders and almost always fail to explain them. That
package of desires and aversions wrapped tightly around the core of
separate identity has not been allowed a language in post-modernity
through which to speak,31 and it cannot be properly understood. In the
governed dimension of the unruly self, where is now the space, and what
would be the language, in which to express desire, will and imagination?
The rational categorizations of modern psychiatric and
psychological discourse have produced reductionist classifications to
explain extreme behaviours in ways that facilitate control, but they do not
aid understanding of the crime or self-understanding by the criminal.
Some of my interviewees paid lip service to powerful discourses. This
served to objectify each self to himself. J., however, drew on a sublimated
imagination, and tried to express a deeply held truth from his innermost
self. It was part of a narrative that showed a lifelong resistance to
constituting discourses that provide knowledge of individual types.
Perhaps, because it spoke of desire and will, it provided more grounds for
understanding the crime and the criminal.
It is in these areas of desire and will that psychiatric and
psychological discourse is most deficient. We punish those who have done
dreadful things by incarceration, without understanding why they did
them, why they wanted to do them, or why they sometimes did them
involuntarily. In terms of the justification of punishment, this failure to hit


Prevented from Being a Pirate

the target does not matter theoretically, since justifications veer cynically
between retributivist and utilitarian formulations.
In terms of understanding the terrible offenses themselves, and
those who have committed them, with regard to change and rehabilitation,
this failure does matter. Since prisoners can only articulate themselves
through the explanatory discourses of subjectification, the opportunity
for them to articulate their moral identity, in terms of their desire and
imaginative subjectivity, is lost. Subjective desire should form the starting
point of any attempt to understand their identities. Unshaped by the
straitjacket of discourse, desire expresses more truthfully the originating
moral intent and impulse. The moral capacity is a rapacious one that seeks
space for wholehearted self-expression, taking metaphysical risks, and
engaging in extremes of behavior.32 The over-rational nature of modern
discourse does not recognize this ancient ethic of primordial spontaneity
that often underpins the acting-out of extreme phenomena. Enquiry into
the sort of offenses normally depicted as evil has to recognize some of
the deterministic consequences of an accumulation of force, a reserve of
activity, which spends itself not for the pleasure of spending itself, but
because spending is a necessity of its very existence.33
This kind of naturalistic ethics has the explanatory capacity to
shatter the cold inhuman reflection of discourse. It recognizes that each
offense emanates from individual will and desire. The trajectory toward
terrible deeds is contingent and highly personal for each individual, and is
the outcome of desire, recoil, advance and retreat away from and toward
the terrible. Retreat from the terrible has much to teach us, and my first
respondent shows that, sadly, extraordinary change in identity and
behaviour of this nature does not attract much official attention.
As Rose (1996) points out, our relation to ourselves is historical
and not ontological. We can say what we have done, but we cannot say
what we are, except through symbol and myth. Personal identity has never
functioned in a self-evidently coherent and unified way. But explanatory
post-Enlightenment discourses has conveyed offenders into the realms of
medical, penal juridical or quasi-religious technologies.34 So there is an
unreal expectation that we ought to be able to understand and explain
those who have done terrible deeds. This expectation translates into a
regime of subjectification which is brought to bear heavily upon serious
offenders.35 Discourse defines them, so powerfully that they themselves
articulate the explanatory discourses. Discourse passes into the grain of
thought of individuals, into their pleasures, attitudes, and beliefs.36 My
examples of fragmented experiences demonstrated this passage into hearts
and mind, as well as the significant resistance to discourse that ultimately
reveals its conceptual inadequacy. Explaining terrible crimes through

Diana Medlicott


reductionist discourses fails us: the subtle diversity of imaginative
subjectivity escapes scrutiny, and artifice masquerades as explanation.
Our culture has a ubiquitous passion for naming and fixing.37 It
strives to return to each of us the full responsibility for what we are.38
When we look in the mirror, we are supposed to see a named type,
produced from artificial discourse:
It requires that the individual should transform himself
into a slave to his identity, his will, his responsibilities,
his desire; and that he should start exercising control of
all his own circuitry, as well as all the worldwide
circuits that happen to cross paths within his genes,
nerves or thought: a truly unheard of servitude.39

Within the year, M. was free, holding down a regular job, and
supporting his family. R. and P. were proceeding through the system: they
had fallen into voluntary servitude,40 and they were speaking subjects,
defined by discourse to the satisfaction of the authorities and themselves.
T. was still struggling with aspects of the identity that had been fitted onto
him, trying unsuccessfully to show that he was not that psychopathological self.
Our culture is one in which we simulate and espouse truth and
sincerity,41 and each of these respondents had sincerely tried to recognize
himself. For M., recognition eventually came through moral discourse and
not the dominant discourse of psychology or psychiatry. For R., P., and T.,
recognition was occurring in ways created externally and inauthentically
through discourse:
Man is the eternal actor, certainly, but he is also a
natural actor, in the sense that his artifice is congenital this being, indeed, one of his defining human
characteristics . It is not a matter of urging man to
cast aside his mask (behind which there is in any case no
face), but what one can ask of man is that he should
become aware of his artificial state and confess it.42
Like M., my last respondent J. was distinctive in that he resisted
subjectification by discourse. In his resistance, he attracted more attention
than M, who retreated to his cell for years in order to study the history of
slavery and apply it to himself. In relation to the terrible things he had
done, J.s narrative spanned remorse, guilt, desire, and will. He tried to
discard masks and speak of his subjectivity without the artifice of


Prevented from Being a Pirate

discourse, but in a penal era without the words for it. He refused both the
medication and the identity constituted for him by psychiatry, which
sought to define him as a type of subject requiring government and
regulation. His resistance met an extreme solution. J., who had wished to
be a pirate and who had no desire to change, was sectioned under the
Mental Health Act and removed from prison to a special hospital for
indefinite detention. He had not conformed to dominant discourse, and in
the end discourse found a definitive way in which to constitute his


Adams and Adams, 1990.

Goldmann, 1973.
Norman, 1976.
Shotter, 1985.
Parr and Philo, 1995.
Medlicott, 1999a.
Josselson and Lieblich, 1993; Widdershoven, 1993.
Gergen and Gergen, 1988, 20.
Corradi di Fiumara, 1990.
Dilthey, 1976.
Medlicott, 1999b.
Bronfenbrenner, 1952.
Foucault, 1974, 1979.
Foucault, 1974.
Foucault, 1979.
Garland, 1990.
Feeley and Simon, 1994.
Garland, 1990.
Douglas, 1985.
Scully, 1990; Sykes and Matza, 1957.
Mills, 1959.
Baudrillard, 1993.
Giddens, 1999.
Rose, 1996, his italics.
Foucault, 1978.
Rose, 1996.
Ibid., 38.

Diana Medlicott



Smith, 1982.
Guyau, 1898.
Ibid., 211.
Foucault, 1988.
Rose, 1996.
Foucault, 1988.
Foucault, 1974.
Baudrillard, 1993.
Ibid., 165.
Ibid., 170.

Adams, M. M., and R. M. Adams. 1990. The Problem of Evil. Oxford:
Oxford University Press.
Baudrillard, Jean. 1993. The Transparency of Evil: Essays on Extreme
Phenomena. Trans. James Benedict. London: Verso.
Berkowitz, L., ed. 1988. Advances in Experimental and Social
Psychology, XXI. San Diego: Academic Press.
Bronfenbrenner, Urie. 1952. Principles of Professional Ethics: Cornell
Studies in Social Growth. American Psychologist 7, no. 8: 452
Corradi di Fiumara, G. 1990. The Other Side of Language: A Philosophy
of Listening. London: Routledge.
Dilthey, W. 1976. Selected Writings. Ed. and trans. H. P. Rickman.
Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.
Douglas, Jack D. 1985. Creative Interviewing. Beverly Hills, California:
Feeley, M., and J. Simon. 1994. Actuarial Justice: The Emerging New
Criminal Law. In The Futures of Criminology, ed. David Nelken.
London: Sage.
Foucault, Michel. 1974. The Order of Things. Trans. Alan SheridanSmith. London: Tavistock.
. (1977) Prison Talk. Trans. Colin Gordon. Radical Philosophy 16
. 1978. The History of Sexuality: An Introduction. Trans. Robert
Hurley. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
. 1979. Discipline and Punish. Trans. Alan Sheridan.
Harmondsworth: Penguin.
. 1988. The Dangerous Individual. In Politics, Philosophy and


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Culture, Interviews and Other Writings 19771984. Trans. Alan
Sheridan et al. and ed. L. D. Kritzman. London: Routledge.
Garland, D. 1990. Punishment and Modern Society. Oxford: Clarendon.
Gergen, Kenneth J., and Keith E. Davis, eds. 1985. The Social
Construction of the Person. New York: Springer.
Gergen, Kenneth J., and M. Gergen. 1988. Narrative and the Self as
Relationships. In Advances in Experimental and Social
Psychology, XXI, ed. L. Berkowitz. San Diego: Academic Press.
Giddens, Anthony. 1991. Modernity and Self-Identity: Self and Society in
the Late Modern Age. Cambridge, England: Polity.
Goldmann, L. 1973. The Philosophy of the Enlightenment. London:
Routledge and Kegan Paul.
Guyau, Jean Marie. 1898. A Sketch of Morality Independent of Obligation
or Sanction. Trans. G. Kapteyn. London: Watts & Co.
Josselson, R., and A. Lieblich, eds. 1993. The Narrative Study of Lives.
London: Sage.
Medlicott, Diana. 1999a. Prisoners as Knowledgeable Agents: A Resource
for Suicide Awareness and Prevention Policies in the Healthy
Prison. Prison Service Journal 124 (July):1214.
. 1999b. Surviving in the Time Machine: Suicidal Prisoners and the
Pains of Prison Time,. Time and Society 8, no. 2:211230.
Mills, C. Wright 1959. The Sociological Imagination. Oxford: Oxford
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Nelken, David, ed. 1994. The Futures of Criminology. London: Sage.
Norman, Richard. 1976. Hegels Phenomenology: A Philosophical
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Parr, H., and C. Philo. 1995. Mapping Ma Identities. London:
Rose, N. 1989. Governing the Private Soul. London: Routledge.
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London: Sage.

The Apostasy of the Baptized: Christians and the
Deirdre Burke
Franklin Littell refers to the Christian teaching of contempt and
its implications as false teaching that has led in our own time to mass
rebellion of the baptized against the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,
and to wholesale apostasy.1 This notion of the apostasy of the baptized
has particular relevance in a discussion of evil and human wickedness.
How was it possible that German society perpetrated probably the
greatest and most horrible crime ever committed in the whole history of
the world?2 How could a well-educated Christian society support the
segregation, concentration, and deportation of the Jews?
The task of understanding what happened during the Holocaust is
immense: was this a case of moral incontinence of individuals failing to
do the good that they knew, or was it an example of moral strength? Nazi
writings express the belief that praise should be heaped on those who
tackled this problem for humanity and were willing to go to the necessary
lengths of killing every Jewish man, woman and child.
Douglas Lackey warns: the evils of the Jewish Holocaust are so
numerous, so diverse, and so extreme that at first sight it seems
presumptuous to attempt to judge them at all, much less to judge them by
ordinary moral norms.3 However, judge we must if we are to learn from
these atrocious events. How could the German public condone the antiJewish campaign, even when it became eliminationist? What factors
influenced the decision-making process of German Christians?

German Christians
Moral questions about the Holocaust loom large. How was it
possible for human beings to treat Jews and other victims in such a way?
Such questions become more acute when we place them in a religious
framework, as religions claim to bind humans to the divine will. Alister
McGrath (1997) identifies three components of Christianity: a set of
beliefs, a set of values, and a way of life. When we look back to the
Holocaust we question Christian actions and responses in light of the
expectation that Christianity is based around such components, and can be
summed up by the key humanitarian principle love your neighbour as


Christians and the Holocaust

We need to explore the decision-making undertaken by German
Christians in this period by setting it within the wider historical context.
Conway stated that the Christian churches commanded the loyalty of
ninety-five per cent of all Germans.5 This figure is supported by D.
Barratts statistics for Germany, East and West, which remain above
ninety per cent at all times during the twentieth century.6 We need to
understand how Christians at the time were able to reconcile the Final
Solution to the Jewish question with their Christian beliefs, and to
consider if they deserve to be called apostates. Apostasy is defined as
going against or renouncing religious beliefs; we must therefore
investigate how Christian beliefs were related to the Final Solution. This
question is particularly important in the light of the Augustinian policy of
restraint that requires Christians to recognize that Jewish status within the
Christian world was divinely ordained.7 Thus, any action by Christians
against Jews could be interpreted as a violation of belief and constitute
To understand why individual Christians failed to recognize that
the anti-Jewish legislation was problematic, we must move from questions
about institutional responsibility to individual responsibility. This is
illustrated by Szeness statement about the Hungarian Roman Catholic
Church, which he identifies as strong, free and influential.8 With over
five thousand churches, the church possessed the only meeting places in
society and it also possessed the resources necessary to save Jews. Herczl
states that 1944 was the year which brought the Jewish question to the
doorsteps of the Hungarian masses when the implementation of laws
meant that every minor official and every gendarme became the masters
of the lives and fates of the Jews.9
We need to follow Daniel J. Goldhagen and shift the focus of
the investigation of the Holocaust away from impersonal institutions back
to the actors, back to the human beings who committed the crimes and to
the populace from which these men and women came.10 This requires a
focus on Christian society, which was involved in the Holocaust at all
levels: as bystander, victim, and rescuer but particularly as perpetrator.
The term perpetrator encompasses all those Germans who took part in
Kristallnacht, and members of the armed forces or police who deported or
killed Jews. We can consider most Germans as bystanders who knew
about anti-Jewish policies and actions, but did nothing in response.

The Moral Decision-Making Process

Historic study involves the exploration of motives and an
assessment of whether actions were justified. If we add a religious proviso
not to judge a person until you stand in their shoes, we need to consider
the context within which decisions took place.

Deirdre Burke


Ray Billingtons exploration of the question where do we get
our knowledge of right and wrong? provides a useful survey of the range
of external authorities that contribute to the development of an
individuals morality. Parents are described as the pipeline by which
norms and values are conveyed.11 The impact of parents cannot be
ignored because until a child begins to form associations with others
outside the home, parental attitudes on virtually any issue that may arise
are all that he is likely to experience.12 This is particularly appropriate for
a German society that had as its cornerstones Kinder, Kirche, Kche
(children, church, kitchen).
The law of the land is an essential ingredient in the moral
decision-making process as many facets of our behaviour ... reflect the
acceptance of certain procedures on the grounds that they are legal, and
the rejection of other because they are illegal.13 Within a democracy, the
purpose of law is to reflect the attitudes, priorities, even values
maintained by the majority of the community in which it is observed or
Religious beliefs and organizations can also contribute to how an
issue is viewed by believers. Billington comments on how the equation of
God with certain forms of behaviour may, for some people, give those
forms a sanction they would not otherwise possess.15
We should consider the influence of external authorities on
German society given its Lutheran background and the notion of
obedience to the state. German Christians did not act in a vacuum, they
acted in the confines of their society and its accepted norms.
Influences Upon Christian Decision-Making
A. The Impact of the Teaching of Contempt
Familiarity with two thousand years of Christian anti-Jewish
teaching was part of every Germans legacy. Theological anti-Judaism and
negative attitudes towards the Jews were part of the teaching of the New
Testament that would have featured in the liturgy and in sermons,
especially during the Easter period. Two millennia of negative Christian
teaching about the Jews acted as a set of blinkers that prevented Christians
from recognizing a problem with anti-Jewish policies and actions. E.J.
Fisher asks:
what was missing (or, more chillingly present) in the
Christian education they had received for centuries that
allowed them to remain blind to what they were doing?
Or indifferent to what others were doing in their name?16


Christians and the Holocaust

For Goldhagen, the issue is clear cut: At root, the problem had clearly
been a cognitive one, namely the failure of Churchpastors and Germans in
general to have recognized that the Jews by nature are not an evil tribe.17
Karl Barth was the main author of the 1934 Barmen Declaration, which
criticized Nazi attempts to control the church. Barth later admitted his
feelings of guilt for not having made [the Jewish] problem central, or at
least public, in the two Barmen declarations of 1934.18
The consequences for ordinary Christians who had grown up on
this diet of anti-Jewish teachings were far reaching. Conway reports that
most German Christians at the time felt no sense of apostasy because
Jews were not considered as existing within the Christian universe of
moral obligation.19
Thus, Christian teaching demonized the Jew, supported negative
Christian attitudes to Jews, and prevented Christians from making
judgments about the situation concerning Jews. For the believing
Christian, the positive future was necessarily tied up with a change in the
state of the apostate and unredeemed Jews.
B. Churches Support for the Nazi Regime
The churches support for the Nazi regime would have
encouraged believers to support the anti-Jewish program. Goldhagen is
scathing about the moral bankruptcy of the German churches, which he
claims was extensive and abject.20 The support for anti-Semitism was
shown by the seventy to eighty per cent of Protestant pastors who allied
themselves to the German National Peoples Party during the Weimar
Republic in the 1920s. Churches assisted the implementation of the
Nuremberg Laws in the 1930s by allowing party officials access to
genealogical records to identify Jews who had converted to Christianity.
These and other factors lead Goldhagen to conclude: the corporate voice
of a significant part of the Protestant Church leadership in Germany was
scarcely distinguishable from that of the Nazis.21
In addition to moral support that may have been passive, Weiss
identifies ways in which the churches gave active support: the church
even helped the regime keep the public in line: clergy chastised
conscientious objectors, and the bishops issued a joint public declaration
insisting that Catholic soldiers must do their duty and obey Hitler.22
These outward manifestations of support were partly due to the
signing of the Concordat in 1933, between the Vatican and the Nazi
government. The Vaticans aim was to protect the German Catholic
Church, but this agreement provided official recognition of the Nazi
government. R. Rubenstein and J. Roth note how the Vatican never
renounced the treaty, which is to say it never revoked its stamp of
legitimacy on the Reich.23

Deirdre Burke


This fact, when added to papal statements, would prevent
German Catholics from seeing anything wrong with Nazi policies. Pope
Pius XIIs words would also have failed to alert Catholics to challenges to
their religious beliefs: Dear friends, do not forget the millions of
Catholics serving in the German armies. Shall I bring them into conflict of
The involvement of German military chaplains, who served with
the armed forces in all areas of operations, provides one of the clearest
links between official Christianity and anti-Jewish policies. We can see
this in relation to the police battalions involved in the mass slaughter of
Jewish men, women, and children in Eastern Europe. Goldhagen followed
the paper trail of Police Battalion 101, who started their killing campaign
in July 1942 with the deaths of fifteen hundred Jews in Jozefw. They
killed over thirty five thousand Jews and deported around forty thousand
to death camps. This means that the five hundred men in this one police
battalion were responsible for the deaths of seventy five thousand Jews.
The openness of the slaughter of Jews Goldhagen claims,
provides evidence of the perpetrators obvious approval of their historic
deeds.25 In addition, the photographic images of cheerful and proud
soldiers is compelling evidence that they did not conceive of themselves
as having been engaged in crime, let alone in one of the greatest crimes of
the century.26
Goldhagen reports on the religious life of men within the police
Some of the men went to church, prayed to God,
contemplated eternal questions, and recited prayers
which reminded them of their obligation to other
humans; the Catholics among them took communion
and went to confession.27
Such accounts show the involvement of the church in the midst of the
killing, which normalized the situation and provided implicit approval for
such actions.
C. The Anti-Nazi Churches Criticisms
Those churches that did oppose the Nazi regime did not make
discrimination against Jews or the Final Solution a major point in their
criticism. German Christians could also have gained the impression that
churches approved Nazi anti-Jewish policies by their failure to apply
critical voices to the matter, especially when Christian voices were raised
against other aspects of Nazi policy. Goldhagen draws attention to this

Christians and the Holocaust


These religious leaders were the men who earnestly and
openly fought the so-called Euthanasia killings, as well
as other governmental measures, such as government
tolerance of duelling and cremation (but not the
crematoria of Auschwitz, of which they knew).28
Thus, the willingness to criticize some aspects of the regime and remain
silent on others encouraged indifference among followers or a tacit
acceptance that such anti-Jewish policies were suitable.
Weiss reported two occasions when Catholics protested against
government policy. First, Bishop Galens protest against euthanasia in
1941, and second, a grassroots protest against the removal of crucifixes
that was interpreted as the nazification of churches. The only record of any
protest was in Cardinal Bertrams letter in 1944 that stated that German
Christians would be upset if baptized Jews met a fate similar to the Jews
which was understood to be extermination.29
D. The Christian Context of Nazi Anti-Semitism
Nazi thinking about the Jews was presented within a Christian
worldview, and shown to be both a continuation and a culmination of such
thinking. Hitler states in Mein Kampf that the struggle for German
greatness was linked to action against the Jews: and so I believe today
that my conduct is in accordance with the will of the Almighty creator. In
standing guard against the Jew I am defending the handiwork of the
Lord.30 Such statements link the churchs teaching of contempt against
the Jews to Nazi anti-Jewish legislation.
This type of presentation would have addressed any concerns that
believers may have had about Nazi polices, by relating the policies to
beliefs and religious practices, and thus meeting the requirement set out by
Laurence Thomas:
The behaviour at issue must be morally embellished so
that it does not appear to conflict in a direct and explicit
way with a deeply held moral conviction or with the
requirement of another institution that has a considerable
hold on the performer.31
Christians were accustomed to hearing negative talk about the Jews, and
the record of Christian-Jewish relations provided subjugation and
degradation as the norm. This historic acclimatization could have led to
many German Christians interpreting the anti-Jewish legislation as the
return to the established norm rather than an aberration.


Deirdre Burke


Brenda Almond and D. Hill draw attention to the fact-value
distinction within philosophy:
Many events ... have demonstrated in a compelling way
the devastating consequences for human beings of
allowing facts and values to remain marooned on
separate islands, with philosophy representing here
peoples reflective capacities and their striving for ideals
making no attempt to build a bridge between them.32
This historic period demonstrates how men and women of principle were
unable to make this connection. The facts of the situation were either
never explicit, due to Nazi euphemisms, or were related to necessary
wartime measures.
First, we must consider the relationship between authority and
autonomy. Thomas identifies potential problems when individuals do not
question the judgments of authorities: the phenomenon of obedience to
authority gives us insight into how morally decent people can be moved to
perform immoral behavior.33 In following Billingtons list of external
factors that influence morality, we can see that the cards were stacked
against German Christians. The established sources of authority provided
almost unanimous support for the Nazi government: home, school, the
police, the judiciary, and almost all churches. These external factors would
have had a crucial influence upon individual morality in a persuasive
manner, which could be supported by coercion if necessary. Thomas
identified the moral character of communities as one of the most
significant factors in the development of hatred of the other: Widespread
ambivalence or indifference in a community resounds, creating a tonal
quality, if you will, that emboldens evil.34
Lawrence Kohlberg focuses upon the moral decision-making
process in his attempt to determine the stages of moral reasoning. He
refers to Hitler and Nazi Germany in discussing right and wrong: the
Germans who tried to kill Hitler were doing right because respect for the
equal value of lives demands that we kill someone who is murdering
others, in order to save lives.35
Kohlberg states that it is difficult to define moral principles using
the example of Hitler to show how the goals of a state can be elevated to
higher moral values.36 Kohlbergs cognitive stage theory claims to
possess the potential to stimulate and accelerate the moral thinking of
individuals within society, to rule out deviance and moral failure.
An additional factor for German society was the influence of
religion upon moral thinking. A religious-based morality can be
problematic if a person is given a moral code and told what is right and
wrong. Such an approach is described by Patrick Nowell-Smith (1954) as


Christians and the Holocaust

an infantile morality, which keeps people in a state of immaturity, and
may prevent individuals from making their own decisions. Thus, religious
people, who are used to following directions, may simply transfer their
allegiance from one situation to another. The built-in discipline to follow
the rules of their faith could be transferred to their obedience as a citizen,
particularly when their church provides support for the government.
Therefore, religion that claims to provide a guide for right
behaviour can be shown to contribute to human wickedness. This raises
questions about the relationship between individual decision-making and
institutional guidance, particularly with regard to religions and their
Thomass study, Vessels of Evil American Slavery and the
Holocaust, considers the influences upon individuals and develops a
theory that explained how such evils could occur. He explores the
fragility-goodness model of morality. This
enables us to make a great deal of sense of how evil can
gain a foothold in the lives of ordinary people who have
moral aspirations without, in the first place, casting a
pall of suspicion on the goodness of their moral
This chapter has identified features of the German experience
which help us to better understand the apostasy of the baptized. One of the
main contentions is that the influence of a Christian upbringing was of
paramount importance in two ways. First, Church teaching provided
negative ideas about the Jews that could help Christians understand why it
was necessary to discriminate against them. Second, a religious
upbringing helped to instil an obedience to higher authority into the
believer. Nazi policymakers who sought to tap into this characteristic by
extending such obedience to the state recognized this. The link made
between Christian teaching and Nazi views helped to legitimize antiJewish policies, and to bind believers to the state.


Littell, 1986, 1.
Winston Churchill in Braham, 1981, 1111.
Lackey, 1991, 141.
Luke 10:27.
Conway, 1968, xiii.
Barratt, 1982, 310, 314.

Deirdre Burke



Katz, 1994, 262.

Quoted in Herczl, 1993, 242.
Herczl, 1993, 242.
Goldhagen, 1997, 477.
Billington, 1993, 68.
Ibid., 66.
Ibid., 70.
Ibid., 72.
Ibid., 78.
Fisher, 1989, 2.
Goldhagen, 1997, 114.
Conway, 1968, 205.
Ibid., 207.
Goldhagen, 1997, 107.
Ibid., 434.
Weiss, 1996, 351.
Rubenstein and Roth, 1987, 209.
Cohn-Sherbok, 1997, 209.
Goldhagen, 1997, 245.
Ibid., 267-268.
Ibid., 111.
Weiss, 1996, 351.
Quoted by Gilbert, 1986, 28.
Thomas, 1993, 38.
Almond and Hill, 1991, 1.
Thomas, 1993, 38.
Ibid., 113.
Quoted in Mumsey, 1980, 57.
Quoted in Mumsey, 1980, 61.
Thomas, 1993, 43.

Almond, Brenda and D. Hill, eds. 1991. Applied Philosophy: Morals and
Metaphysics in Contemporary Debate, London: Routledge.
Aristotle 1976. Ethics. Trans. J. A. K. Thomson, ed. Hugh Tredennick.
Harmondsworth: Penguin Classics.
Barratt, D. 1982. World Christian Encyclopedia: A Comparative Study of
Churches and Religions. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Billington, Ray. 1993. Living Philosophy: An Introduction to Moral
Thought. London: Routledge.


Christians and the Holocaust

Braham, Randolph L. 1981. The Politics of Genocide: The Holocaust in
Hungary. Vol. 2. New York: Columbia University Press.
Cohn-Sherbok, Dan. 1999. Understanding the Holocaust: An
Introduction. London: Cassell.
Conway, John Seymour. 1968. The Nazi Persecution of the Churches
19331945. Vancouver: Regent College.
Fisher, E. J. 1989. Why Teach the Holocaust? Paper at Peace/Shalom after
Atrocity Conference, Seton Hill, Greensburg, PA, April.
Goldhagen, Daniel J. 1997. Hitlers Willing Executioners: Ordinary
Germans and the Holocaust. New York: Vintage.
Herczl, Moshe Y. 1993. Christianity and the Holocaust of Hungarian
Jewry. New York: New York University Press.
Katz, Steven T. 1994. The Holocaust in Historical Context. Volume 1, The
Holocaust and Mass Death Before the Modern Age. Oxford:
Oxford University Press.
Lackey, Douglas P. 1991. Extraordinary Evil or Common Malevolence?
Evaluating the Jewish Holocaust. In Applied Philosophy: Morals
and Metaphysics in Contemporary Debate, eds. Brenda Almond
and D. Hill. London: Routledge.
Littell, Franklin H. 1986. The Crucifixion of the Jews. Macon, GA: Mercer
University Press.
McGrath, Alister E. 1997. An Introduction to Christianity. Oxford:
Mumsey, B., ed. 1980. Moral Development, Moral Education, and
Kohlberg: Basic Issues in Philosophy. Birmingham, AL:
Religious Education Press.
Nowell-Smith, P. H. 1954. Ethics. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
Rubenstein, R. and J. Roth. 1987. Approaches to Auschwitz. London:
SCM Press.
Santayana, G. 1905. The Life of Reason. Vol. 1. .New York: Scribner.
Thomas, L. M. 1993. Vessels of Evil: American Slavery and the
Holocaust. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
Weiss, J. 1996. The Ideology of Death. Chicago: Elephant.

The Exorcist: Personification of Human Wickedness or
Upholder of Religious Duties?
Sandeep Singh Chohan
The exorcist holds an esteemed position within Indian religious
traditions. This is due to a highly developed belief in magical powers and
the supernatural that harms human beings in a multitude of ways. The
exorcists role is a dual one: firstly to remove such afflictions and other
supernatural malaises; and secondly to impose harm on others as requested
by supplicants. However this ambivalent aspect of the exorcists nature
has yet to be explored in the study of Indian religious traditions.
The ambivalent nature of the exorcist in being able to practice
good and bad magic is mirrored in the dual nature of the Vedas, the
scriptural basis of the Hindu tradition. The Atharvaveda, the fourth and
final Vedic samhita (collection), has a complex system of good
(bheshajani) and bad (abhichara) magical practices that are reflected
within the exorcist. The dualism of magical practices in the Atharvaveda
and the exorcists prowess in being able to practice and utilize both forms
of magic creates a dilemma in defining the role of the exorcist. As a result,
the character of the exorcist as a personification of human wickedness or
as an upholder of religious duties must be addressed. In this paper I shall
explore the ambivalence of the exorcist in the Indian traditions by first
examining the dual nature of magical practices in the Vedas, and then by
analyzing the origins and development of the exorcist in both scripture and
popular religion.

The Dualism of Magical Practices in the Vedas

The Atharvaveda contains the majority of references to belief in
supernatural malaise and practices of exorcism, although there are several
references in the Rg Veda, the first and most important Vedic samhita in
the Hindu tradition. Popular belief is that the Atharvaveda is of a
composite authorship by the two mythological rishis (sages or poets),
Atharvan and Angiras. Both figures feature in the mythology of the Vedic
period, (4000BCE3000BCE) especially in connection with the Rg Veda.
Angiras is thought to have written a large number of hymns contained in
the Rg Veda. The authorship of the Atharvaveda is difficult to substantiate,
as is the authorship of any other Vedic samhita.
Rishi Atharvan is revered as the son of Brahma in early Vedic
mythology. It is unclear at what stage of the development in the early
Vedic priestly system Atharvan originates; however as the author of the


The Exorcist

Brahmavidya, he is prominent in the mythology of the Vedas. Atharvan
of the title of the Veda which refers to the bheshajani group of magical
practices. The bheshajani practices focus on good aspects of magic of a
benevolent nature focused on helping people through the natural life cycle
in order to assist them in their daily work and family life. The bheshajani
practices prescribed in the Atharvaveda cater for a wide variety of social,
economic, cultural and religious problems that may be encountered by
society during the Vedic civilization. Within the bheshajani group,
medical problems are treated by utilizing natural products that people
believed had magical and healing qualities.
Angiras plays a more formative role in the Rg Veda and is also a
prominent priest in Vedic mythology. Angiras is a member of the elite
seven Maharishis of Vedic mythology and is believed to be a progenitor
of mankind.1 The name Angiras is a derivative of Agni or fire, and is
therefore linked to the fire god Angiras, also known as the lord of
sacrifices, the purohit-priestly adviser, and magician of the gods. As fire
was principally used for religious rites and rituals, and was symbolic in
making offerings to the gods, Angirass identification with the fire deity is
a representation of his role as the sacrificer of demons. Several mythical
stories surround the personage of Angiras and his role in the ordinance of
sacrificial rites in the Vedic system. Angiras represents the hostile and
malevolent forms of magical practice known as abhichara. The main
purpose of the abhichara strand of magical practices is to inflict pain and
suffering on enemies. Within the Atharvaveda there is an inherent dualism
of practices in which good and bad magic co-exist, and which are
personified by the two rishis prominent in the mythology of the Vedas.
As well as the division between the bheshajani and abhichara
forms of magic, the Atharvaveda practices can be classified in a number of
different ways according to the aims of the magical formulae. Firstly,
charms to cure human beings of sickness inflicted by diseased demons are
prominent, as are charms for long life and good health. Secondly, charms
for royalty pertaining to social and economic harmony in the Atharvaveda
act as a commentary on the role of the royal families in Vedic civilization.
Thirdly, a group of hymns concentrates on women and their relationship
with their husband, close family, and other females who threaten their
marriage or family life. The measures taken in these categories to protect
kingdoms, royalty, families and individuals are from the abhichara
category of magical practice. For instance, women typically use abhichara
charms and incantations to protect their husbands from the wandering eyes
of other females, or to keep a roaming husband restrained within the
boundaries of marriage. Finally, the Atharvaveda focuses on numerous
charms and incantations to prevent the effects of sorcery, witchcraft and

Sandeep Singh Chohan


demonic possession. This final category includes the magical practices of
bheshajani that aim to prevent and heal the effects of malevolent magic.
Some comment is needed on the magical formulae used in
religious healing and the dual relationship between the practices of
bheshajani and abhichara categories. The practices of religious healing,
bheshajani and abhichara magic provide a comprehensive outline of the
major religious practices prescribed in the Atharvaveda and relate to the
development of the exorcist tradition in north India and amongst the
migrant communities in Britain. The Atharvaveda provides the first
scriptural foundation and evidence of magical and exorcist practices and
the essential role of a religious conductor in the exorcist tradition. Early
indications of the intricate relationship between the physical well being of
a person and the effects of demonic possession, sorcery, and witchcraft on
a victim occur in the Atharvaveda.
While demonic possession may be blamed for the physical illness
and discomfort that a victim may suffer, the stimulus of the attack could
be attributed to a number of possible causes: for example animosity
amongst friends or family members, which could cause them to employ
sorcery. The wrath of gods and goddesses could be another possible
reason for being affected by other forms of supernatural phenomena, as a
repercussion of a victims disobedience to the deities in question.
Although broken limbs and wounds were attributed to warfare or accident,
Kenneth Zysk suggests that other external afflictions can be caused by
noxious insects and vermin, often thought to be demonic in character.2
The magical formulae used in bheshajani and abhichara magic
are similar to the powers used in the process of religious healing and the
performance of exorcisms. The same religious priest can perform
bheshajani and abhichara practices despite the difference between them.
Margaret Stutley (1980) and Benjamin Walker (1968) view bheshajani
and abhichara magic as good and bad respectively, nevertheless the
conductor of the magic cannot decide whether such practices are for
benevolent or malevolent purposes and must therefore perform both. The
essential element in this process is the wish of the supplicant and the
practitioners duty in fulfilling the wish, regardless of the consequences.
The practitioner is bound by the powers he has gained to perform magic at
the bequest of a needy supplicant. Although the supplicants intentions
may not be honourable, the practitioner is not allowed a judgmental stance
and must fulfil his commission. A fine line divides the practices of
bheshajani and abhichara as supplicants use both to improve their lifestyle,
regardless of the outcome on other individuals. For example, if a wife
requires abhichara magic to restrain a husband in marriage, or to harm him
for having committed an adulterous act, the practitioner of the magic is
bound to carry out the supplicants wish. Another example of this is the


The Exorcist

use of the bheshajani practices that can protect and thus deflect a curse,
sorcery or witchcraft on to the source of the malevolent forces. The
intention of bheshajani magic is to protect supplicants, it can inadvertently
harm the original offenders nonetheless. If the bheshajani practices used to
exorcise a person in turn inflict the pain and suffering upon the source or
an enemy, the practice of bheshajani is no different to the abhichara

The Origins and Development of the Exorcist

Although the forms of good and bad magic are linked to
mythological figures of the Vedic era, the use of these magical practices
by the priests and religious leaders of that period are important
considerations in this paper. The prevalence of bheshajani and abhichara
in the Atharvaveda suggests that the religious priesthood performed both
forms of magic within society, as did others who were versed in such
practices. Within the mythical tradition of the Atharvaveda and the Vedic
society as a whole, the priestly families of Angiras and Atharvan were the
chief practitioners of magic and exorcisms. Stutley adds that the gods
venerate Agni, of whom Angiras is an epithet, as the chief expeller of
demons. The role of the Angiras priest was to protect the gods and their
religious rites from the attacks of demons against which the hymns of the
Atharvaveda could be used. The Atharvans were particularly adept
exorcists and employed the names of the gods (because of their inherent
power) for this purpose.3
A. The Role of the Brahmin
The role of the brahmin (a priestly caste) or other official
religious leaders in the Vedic era, and their practice of exorcism,
bheshajani, and abhichara magic are more difficult to define. Walker states
that the Atharvaveda was also called the Brahmaveda because it was the
chief sacrificial manual used by the brahmins. This argument is
problematic in that the trayi Veda, consisting of the Rg Veda, Yajur Veda
and Sama Veda, did not initially contain or recognize the fourth Vedic
samhita, the Atharvaveda. From the early stages of the Vedic religion, the
Atharvaveda has been marginalized because of the contents and focus of
this samhita on the popular and folk religion that it encapsulates. The most
striking difference between the trayi Veda and the Atharvaveda is the
emphasis that the first group places on the sacerdotal forms of religion.
The Atharvaveda focuses upon magical practices and belief in the world
of supernatural phenomena and malaise. Such focus has proved to be the
most contentious part of the Atharvaveda and led to its exclusion from the
canon of Vedic scriptures. The Atharvaveda was finally added to the
Vedic canon after sections of the Rg Veda were included in the samhita,

Sandeep Singh Chohan


aligning the scripture with the sacerdotal forms of religion emphasized in
the trayi Veda.
In examining the role of the brahmin in the Vedic era, it is
important to note that the pre-conception of the brahmin as a high caste
member of the varna system of Hindu society who is dutifully bound to
perform religious rituals and ceremonies is false. The brahmin is the
highest caste within the varna system, however within the brahminical
priesthood there are further divisions and sub-divisions which affect the
role and office of the brahmin. Walker comments on how the term
brahmin, far from being well defined, is vague and elastic in its
The role of the brahmin during the Vedic period and that of the
Atharvaveda is unclear. Stutley has argued that the brahmins used the
charms and incantations to protect themselves and their possessions,
nevertheless no substantial evidence exists to point to their use of the
Atharvanic magical practices for the purposes of exorcism. The charms
and imprecations brahmins use to protect themselves and their belongings
are of a malevolent nature inflicting pain on their attackers. There is little
evidence to suggest the brahmins use of the abhichara and bheshajani
magic for selfish purposes or to assist supplicants. Walker mentions a
lower priestly class, referred to as Ojhas, who are linked to the practice of
exorcisms. The Ojhas are regarded as social inferiors within the brahmin
caste because of their occupation as practitioners of the Vedic rites and
rituals and other magical practices. Walker states that the Pujari who
performs all forms of worship within the temple, the Jyotisha who
prepares all astrological charts and dates for auspicious occasions, and the
Maha Patra who presides over the funeral rites are all considered inferior
brahmins within the wider brahmin caste hierarchy.
Zysk, in his study of the religio-medical practices of the Vedic
civilizations, states that the bhisaj is another example of the prevalent
practitioners in magic for religious and medical purposes. The bhisaj is
regarded as a specialist in the process of religious healing and possesses
knowledge on the use of natural vegetation and herbs. However, it is
crucial that he also has a sound understanding of the hymns that refer to
demonic possession and their use in the process of religious healing. There
is no evidence of the bhisajs position in the priestly system of the Vedic
civilization, but we can assume that the bhisaj had a competent command
of the language and the religious rites of the priestly division in order to
perform religious healing.
As we can see, the role of the brahmin within the practice of
exorcisms is of a secondary and inferior nature that traditionally attracts
disapproval. Little evidence links the brahmin to the practice of exorcisms
and their use of the abhichara and bheshajani practices, apart from fleeting


The Exorcist

references such as those of Walker and Stutley. The question of the
exorcists origins and development in the Indian religious traditions must
be addressed.
B. The Role of the Exorcist
It is unclear at what stage non-brahmin or lower brahmins like
ojhas and bhisajs took on the role of exorcists. However the prevalent
belief in supernatural phenomena, malaise, and magical practices in the
Atharvaveda suggests that practitioners of these arts developed
simultaneously with the brahminical priesthood. D.M. Knipe (1995) cites
the development of the theistic trends in the Indian religions as turning
points in the role of the brahmin. As bhakti (loving devotion) became the
prominent religious practice, the role of the brahmin as officiator of the
religious rites, rituals and sacrifices declined, although the brahmins
retained official status as purohits and temple priests to impart Vedic
knowledge. As the theistic trends developed in the Indian traditions, the
brahminical priesthood became absorbed into the broad base of the Hindu
religion. As Knipe states:
Increasingly, brahman priests found themselves to be
one category among specialists of the sacred as
Hinduism slowly broadened its base to accommodate
virtually every religious expression of the multicultural
As the Hindu tradition broadened, the role of non-brahmin priests
and specialists in their respective religious roles increased. Knipe divides
the priesthood of the Hindu tradition by the medieval period into three
categories. The Vedic brahmins were the first group who retained their
focus on the Vedas. The second priestly group, also of the brahmin caste,
focused on the great epics of the Hindu tradition along with the Puranas
and Agamas. The language of the brahmins also changed from the
traditional Sanskrit, to vernacular languages, in keeping with the
development of theistic beliefs where vernacular languages appealed to
the wider society. A larger group of priests who were uneducated in the
scriptures and did not use the scripture as the basis of their religious office
developed in the medieval period. This provided an integral part of the
religious priestly structure in the Indian religious traditions. This group of
priests centred around shrines that venerated gods and goddesses famed
for their benevolence within set geographical locations.6
The centrality of the shrine in rural religious traditions makes it
possible for the exorcist to centralize and identify with the local religious
beliefs and practices of the community. Lawrence Babb (1975),

Sandeep Singh Chohan


W.D.OMalley (1935), and C.J. Fuller (1992) refer to this form of Indian
religion as Popular Hinduism. The application of popular to a
religious tradition implies a tradition that is centralized on the believers
daily beliefs and practices. Fullers definition of popular Hinduism as the
beliefs and practices that constitute the living, practical religion of
ordinary Hindus displays the focus of the religious setting in which the
exorcist tradition is openly practiced.7 S. Weightman (1984) has labelled
this form of religion the pragmatic dimension, where the religious
beliefs, rites and practices revolve around the pragmatic matters of life as
opposed to other dimensions in which the religious scriptures or goals of
salvation and liberation play a vital part.8
C. The Moral Ambivalence of the Exorcists Role
The ambivalent nature of the exorcist lies in the duality of the
magical practices in the Vedas that I mentioned earlier. Stutley states that
the magico-religious rites in the Atharvaveda are in a neutral state until the
practitioner utilizes the magical rites to assist in the practice of exorcisms,
or to inflict harm upon people. At this stage, the true dualistic role of the
exorcist is apparent. Although the title exorcist suggests that the main
purpose of the religious officiate is to expel harmful ghosts, demons, or
the causes of harm from a human being; the exorcist can also use the
knowledge that he has obtained to inflict pain and suffering on others.
Accordingly, the exorcist is not bound by the theory of good or evil, but is
bound to uphold his religious duty as the practitioner of these religious
rites. This is an underlying problem in the study of the Hindu tradition and
the Indian religious traditions as a whole; the connotation of evil that is
held in the religious traditions of India do not correspond to the western or
Christian understanding of evil. It is therefore possible to misunderstand
the exorcist, his role, his practices and the dualism of the magical rites in
the Atharvaveda. The Atharvaveda contains the legitimization in which a
person can be saved from a disease or magical attack, but in turn can
divert the attack to the source.
The diverse and complex belief system of an agrarian populace
whose worldview envelops magic, sorcery, witchcraft, spirit possession,
and ancestral possession aids the understanding of the exorcists
paradoxical role in popular belief systems. The array of supernatural
malaise that may affect a person or family is extremely large and complex.
Witchcraft, for example, is a possible cause of supernatural affliction that
may require the services of an exorcist or healer. The exorcist as diviner
may also be required to appease local tutelary gods and goddesses whom
people have displeased. A person afflicted by the malign gaze or evil eye
also requires the assistance of the exorcist. The removal of ghosts or
ancestral spirits that may have possessed an individual is achieved by


The Exorcist

fulfilling the wishes of the invading spirit. Finally, others who are adept at
and familiar with the processes and powers of sorcery can only cure a
person affected by malevolent sorcery.
It is in the removal of malevolent sorcery that the ambivalent
nature of the exorcist practices is best examined. Fuller states that within
the setting of popular religious tradition in India, the sorcerer and the
exorcist are synonymous with each other.9 Although the sorcerer uses
magical formulae and chants to harm individuals or families, the remedy is
also available from an exorcist who has mastered the practice of sorcery
but in order to avert the evil magic of other sorcerers.
G. Dwyer (1996), in his study of supernatural affliction and its
treatment in Rajasthan, suggests that the role of the exorcist and the
sorcerer as representations of good and evil respectively is ambivalent.
While the sorcerers role is regarded to be evil because of the negative
connotations it carries in western society, this is not always the case in the
Indian context. The ambiguity of the exorcist and the sorcerer is again
based on their religious and magical practices. Although the sorcerer may
use magical practices to inflict harm, the exorcist uses similar magical
practices to cure people of the afflictions. This is based on the processes
that both exorcist and sorcerer use to gain their powers.
Dwyer states that sidhi (magical powers) are obtained through
sadhana (ritual practices and methods).10 Within the Indian sub-continent,
especially in north India, several terms refer to the processes of gaining
magical powers. Bhakti, for example, refers to the ascetic practices that
may be performed to gain such powers. The magical powers, and the
process by which they are gained, do not define the way in which such
powers will be utilized; hence the process and status of both sorcerer and
exorcist are similar. Although believers regard the two figures as
opponents insofar as the sorcerer causes supernatural malaise and the
exorcist heals such afflictions, the process of gaining their respective
powers is the same. Theoretically the exorcist and sorcerer are both able to
assist supplicants and exorcise supernatural affliction, or inflict harm and
malevolent sorcery upon members of the community. The role of the
exorcist as a healer is subsequently placed under suspicion because in
order to heal a person of a magical affliction, the exorcist must master the
skills with which the magic has afflicted a person. The exorcist, as an
upholder of religious duty, attracts suspicion because of the processes of
sadhana and sidhi that he has in common with the sorcerer.
The complex beliefs, rites, and rituals that the exorcist practices
are problematic and contribute to the ambiguity of his character. In using
his sidhi to cure one person, the exorcist may inflict harm on another,
either intentionally or unintentionally. Although the aim of the exorcist

Sandeep Singh Chohan


may be to do good for his supplicants through the processes of exorcism,
he may cause suffering to others. Dwyer states:
Whether an individual who possesses supernatural
powers is considered in positive or in negative terms,
therefore, frequently depends upon whether one is
blessed or cursed by him. Furthermore, one person at a
certain point may see a practitioner in time as
performing helpful magic and, at a later stage, as
practicing sorcery.11
The duality of the magical practices that are present in the
Atharvaveda remains intact in the popular beliefs systems that are
widespread in India. Although originally the abhichara and bheshajani
practices were personified by the two rishis Atharvan and Angiras, there is
a degree of vagueness surrounding their role in society. The exorcists role
was promoted, as theistic trends developed in the Indian religious
traditions and popular forms of religion became centralized in the rural
society. However, the shared powers of sidhi and sadhana with the
exorcist further confuse the exorcists position as humanly wicked or an
upholder of religious duty. Although the practices and magical powers
used in sorcery and exorcism are the same, the conception that the use of
these powers by the exorcist determines his wicked or good nature is false.
The believers perception of the exorcist as relatively good or bad
practicing sorcery, or helping others is fundamental in understanding the
personification of the exorcist as either someone who is humanly wicked,
or the upholder of religious duties. The definition of the exorcist within
these two categories is difficult to ascertain, as the perception of the
supplicant is the defining factor. The ambivalent nature of the exorcist as
an upholder of religious duties or a personification of human wickedness
relies inherently on the supplicants needs and purpose for utilizing
magical practices.


Dowson, 1968, 16.

Zysk, 1985, 8.
Stutley, 1980, 2.
Walker, 1968, 170.
Knipe, 1995, 541.
Fuller, 1992, 5.

The Exorcist



Weightman, 1985, 57-64.

Fuller, 1992, 237.
Dwyer, 1996, 86.
Ibid., 96.

Atharvaveda. n. d. Trans. B. R. Kishore. New Delhi: Diamond Pocket
Babb, Lawrence A. 1975. The Divine Hierarchy: Popular Hinduism in
Central India. New York and London: Columbia University
Chakraborty, C. 1977. Common Life in the Rgveda and Atharvaveda: An
Account of the Folklore in the Vedic Period. Calcutta: Punthi Pustak.
Dowson, John, ed. 1968. A Classical Dictionary of Hindu Mythology and
Religion, Geography, History and Literature. London: Routledge
and Kegan Paul.
Dwyer, G. 1996. Supernatural Affliction and its Treatment: Aspects of
Popular Religion in Rural and Urban Rajasthan.. Ph.D. diss.,
Oxford University.
Eliade, Mircea, ed. 1995. The Encyclopaedia of Religions. London:
Fuller, C. J. 1992. The Camphor Flame: Popular Hinduism and Society in
India. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Griffith, R. T. H. 1985. Hymns of the Atharvaveda. Translated with a
Popular Commentary. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal.
Karambelkar, V.W. 1959. The Atharvavedic Civilization, Its Place in the
Indo-Aryan Culture: A Cultural History of the Indo-Aryans from the
Atharva Veda. Nagpur: Nagpur University.
Knipe, D. M. 1995. Priesthood: Hindu Priesthood. In The Encyclopaedia
of Religions, ed. Mircea Eliade. London: Blackwell.
OFlaherty, W. D. 1976. The Origins of Evil in Hindu Mythology.
Berkeley: University of California Press.
OMalley, L. S. S. 1970. Popular Hinduism: The Religion of the Masses.
Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.
Stutley, M. 1980. Ancient Indian Magic and Folklore: An Introduction.
London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
Walker, B. 1968. Hindu World: An Encyclopedic Survey of Hinduism.
London: George Allen & Unwin.
Weightman, S. 1984. Hinduism in the Village Setting. Milton Keynes:
Open University Press.

Sandeep Singh Chohan


Zysk, Kenneth G. 1985. Religious Healing in the Veda with Translations
and Annotations of Medical Hymns from the Rgveda and the
Atharvaveda and Renderings from the Corresponding Ritual
Texts. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society.

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Wandering the Heath: Niebuhr and the Need for Realism
Rob Fisher
In exploring the work of Reinhold Niebuhr, I am always struck
by the word pretension which he uses with frequency and emotion
sometimes consciously and deliberately, sometimes unconsciously, and
usually in the heat of argument and debate. Niebuhrs commentators may
also have subconsciously absorbed this word into their expositions and
analyses, without thinking it significant enough to warrant explicit
Throughout all his writings, Niebuhr contends with a complex
paradox that operates at an international, national, and individual level,
and which he can only begin to unlock through the word pretension. In
part, the word refers to, and is a reaction to the context in which he works
and writes. This situation arises from the end of World War I and
encompasses the brutal destructiveness of World War II. In this situation,
the credibility of the intellectual climate of liberal theological and
philosophical thinking is torn between attacks from conservatism
represented by Karl Barth, and a scientific and naturalistic humanism.
Niebuhr is clear that the harsh realities of events on the world stage
combined with the concrete daily experiences of life call for a more clearsighted and realistic response. Along with the names of Henry van Dusen,
John Bennett, Harry Emerson Fosdick, and Walter Horton, Niebuhr is
often credited with being the founder of American Realistic theology.2
Here the word pretension refers to the emergence of an
intellectual climate that cannot retain any bond to past traditions. I think
this is partly due to Niebuhrs disappointment with Socialism. He was
loyal to the Socialist ideal and believed that it could unite workers and
intellectuals in a coalition for action and social ownership. However, the
recent events in European history pointed to its destruction, as in
Germany, or its discredit, as in Russia.3 The contradiction between the
socialist goal and historic reality leads Niebuhr to call for the responsible
application of hope within the harsh limits of historic circumstances.
Indeed, Niebuhr insistently calls for the American support of Britain in the
war against Hitler.
This call for support even to the point of intervention gives us
a clue to the meaning of pretension here. In his book Christianity and
Power Politics, Niebuhrs disgust is aimed at ineffective and indifferent
forms of action. Niebuhr acknowledges that the Socialist perspective on
the war as a clash of imperialistic ideologies is true; but he cannot tolerate
this perspective is blind to specific circumstances that are of vital


Niehbuhr and the Need for Realism

importance. Indulgence in the utopian luxury of pacifism is not an option.
The fault lies in the vapid nature of a liberal culture still imbued with
implicit Christian values, and whose
will-to-live has been so seriously enervated by a
confused pacifism, in which Christian perfectionism and
bourgeois love of ease have been curiously
compounded, that our democratic world does not really
deserve to survive.4
The pretension lies in the paradox of care and concern with events on the
world stage, with the indifference to getting involved in these events. The
pretension is exposed by our complacency.
Let us consider the scene of appalling devastation in the TV
coverage of the floods in Mozambique in February 2000. The television
reporter in a helicopter above the floods commentates in a voice thick with
pathos in a helicopter designed to carry twenty-five people, we managed
to save twenty-seven lives. At this point, I explode:
Yes and if it werent for a reporter, a camera operator
and sound person, it could have been thirty! And who,
exactly, are the we who managed to save these lives?
Because I bet you didnt operate the winch, or pull each
poor person on board. I bet you just stood there and
filmed the whole blasted lot.
My parade of impassioned moral outrage is therapeutic but
troubling. My verbal barrage is a symbol of my frustration at the inability
to do something, an expression of the feeling that if I were there, things
would be different. But I am not there; it is unlikely that I could get there;
and even if I could, there would be little difference I could make. Yet this
could also be a pretension. I could get there, if I made the effort. Perhaps I
could make a difference if I went there. Deep down, the pretense is the
parade of moral outrage.
I hate the reporter for being there and doing nothing; what I hate
more is the reporter being there making millions of witnesses to suffering
and tragedy, all of whom probably feel exactly the same way I do. What I
hate even more, in all the scenes of ethnic cleansing across the world, is
the fact that s/he made me aware of it. It is the shattering of those dearly
loved ideals of the compassion for fellow human beings, and the desire to
put right injustice and misfortune which calls forth the rage against the
television. In the wake of that rage, I am left to contemplate what the
concrete cash-value benefits of those ideals are.

Rob Fisher


My reaction is an idealistic tirade against what I feel to be the
gross injustices of this world: things should not be like this. My response
is the desire to put things right, to alter history, to alter creation itself so
that we should not have to be witnesses to scenes of barbarism, suffering,
and death. Here lies the irony: with the burning desire for appeasement
comes the realization that nothing I can do will make a difference. Once
the protests have died down, and the pretension has been exposed for what
it is, then a more realistic view is brought to bear. Given who and where I
am, and the means at my disposal, what can I do realistically? This is the
feeling Niebuhr wants us to have; to leave behind the parade of naive,
idealistic moral outrage, and in the cold light of day, work out what is
achievable. In passing, there is the danger of another moral pretension,
namely the I can do nothing used as an act of resignation, or excuse for
giving up.
Niebuhr is not alone here. Dostoyevsky captures the force of this
paradox in The Brothers Karamazov. Here, Ivan Karamazov the atheist
who (curiously) believes in God is goading his brother Alyosha, a
trainee novice, into making a display of moral outrage such as this. Ivan
relates the story of an eight-year-old serf boy who is playing with stones,
one of which strikes the paw of the Generals favourite dog. When the
General learns of what has happened, he orders the boy stripped and shut
up in the lock-up overnight. Next day the General dresses in his full
hunting uniform, and in front of the boys mother, orders him to run. The
boy runs: the General sets his pack of borzoi hounds on the boy, and all
the bystanders watch as he is torn to pieces in front of his mother. Ivan
ends the story thus:
I believe the General was afterwards deprived of the
right to administer his estates. Well, what was one to do
with him? Shoot him? Shoot him for the satisfaction of
our moral feelings? Tell me Alyosha!
Shoot him Alyosha said softly, raising his eyes to his
brother with a pale, twisted sort of smile.
Bravo! yelled Ivan with something like rapture. If
you say so, then youre a fine hermit! So thats the sort
of little demon dwelling in your heart, Alyosha
Ivans rapture exposes the pretension at work here. He has
already realized that what we would ideally like to do take him to a quiet
corner and shoot him may satisfy our sense of moral outrage. However,
this is a course of action that is never likely to happen even if we had the
opportunity. Ivan has already reconciled himself to the fact that what was


Niehbuhr and the Need for Realism

achievable in such a situation has already happened. The General was
deprived of the right to administer his estates. However slight, what was
achievable in relation to that situation had been achieved. Although our
loftier moral ideals have not been satisfied, a realistic and realizable
response has taken place. It is this question: what should I do? that led
Martin Luther King to get involved in civil rights issues.
Despite Niebuhrs comments on democracy, and his refusal to
equate love with the avoidance of conflict, he still struggled with the
paradox of the evils of war, and with what was achievable. Writing in May
1941, Niebuhr considers the impact on America of a Nazi victory in
Europe. He backed down from economic arguments about the staggering
burden of many decades of military and naval expenditures and an
American willingness to subject its economy to the strain of meeting
competition from a system which, for the first time in history, has
combined slavery with efficiency.7 It took a moral argument to expose
what he saw as the pretension of non-intervention in World War II.
Niebuhr argues that there can be no possibility of considering national
interest without becoming involved in the more general moral questions of
what we owe, as a people, to our common civilization.7 With the parade
of moral outrage out of the way, Niebuhr realizes that he wanted
American military action to put an end to the atrocities in the camps. But
he could not achieve this. Instead, from 1943 he lobbies Roosevelt to
allow an increase in immigration numbers for European Jews. He partially
achieved this goal when Roosevelt established the War Refugee Board.
The clear-sighted realism he brought to bear on this situation is
continued in his book Jews After the War. Niebuhr argues that the Jews
needed, and had the right to a homeland in Palestine. It is not enough to
guarantee individual rights: the world community is responsible for
guaranteeing collective rights. In the case of the Jewish people, this was
the right to live as Jews in a homeland that would enable them to develop
a national identity. The creation of a homeland for the Jewish people
would mean injustice to the Arabs, and the Americans and British would
have to use the power of the victors to create such a homeland. Niebuhr
does not shrink from stating that justice depends on imperialistic
realism.8 By imperialistic realism, he means the responsibility of the
Allied powers in bringing organization and structure to guarantee peace. If
you are a super power, you have super responsibility. In accepting or
forging the role of being a world leader, you are responsible for avoiding
the pretensions that power and economic wealth enables. You are also
responsible for creating a space in which the less powerful can act as a
balance to the super powers, and have a forum in which their voices can
be heard.

Rob Fisher


Niebuhrs realism in this matter is a clarion call for present
circumstances. The work of the United Nations is valuable and significant
and the proclamation of human rights is a fine ideal. But neither is capable
of stopping people getting macheteed to death. The war crimes trials in
The Hague act as a delayed appeasement to our sense of injustice at the
massacres in Kosovo in 1998. It would have been better not to have
needed these trials if there were an armed international force that could be
mobilized to protect peoples human rights with force if needs be. This
is a short-term solution; our hope would be that the policies of the United
Nations will eventually bear fruit. But until such a time, the short term and
achievable goal of saving the lives of the innocent, the minorities, and the
dispossessed is of supreme importance. The pretense of action through the
imposition of economic sanctions, or reclassification of the problem as
internal civil war or an outbreak of sectarian tension is not. This is the
pretense the British government hid behind in the case of the white
farmers in Mugabes Zimbabwe. Blairs cowardice was exposed on the
national news when he refused to mount economic sanctions against
Mugabe because it would not be in their best interests.
Niebuhr does not address pretensions on just the international
level or national level. The heart of the paradox and the source of
pretension lie closer to home. In the opening paragraph of The Nature and
Destiny of Man, he identifies these:
Man has always been his own most vexing problem.
How shall he think of himself? Every affirmation which
he may make about his stature, virtue, or place in the
cosmos becomes involved in contradictions when fully
analysed. The analysis reveals some presupposition or
implication which seems to deny what the proposition
intended to affirm.9
The real question emerges if we interpret Niebuhrs moral argument in the
international context as asking what we owe, as a people, to our common
civilization. What does our knowledge of what we have in common
commit us to?
Identifying what we have in common is not easy. Niebuhr decries
the easy conscience bred by modern society. It surprises him that we
feel happy to live with the pretension that we can put many of our social
evils down to environmental factors. Nothing, he says,
seems to disturb modern mans good opinion of himself.
He considers himself the victim of corrupting
institutions which he is about to destroy or reconstruct,


Niehbuhr and the Need for Realism

or of the confusions of ignorance which an adequate
education is about to overcome. Yet he continues to
regard himself as essentially harmless and virtuous.10
The pretension of our ease with ourselves and others is quickly exposed,
particularly when it comes to the exercise of power. Human beings
suppose they have self-sufficiency and self-mastery which breed a
false complacency and false security in the way we live our lives. What
goes unrecognized is the dependent nature of our individual and social
existence. Niebuhr notes: this proud pretension is present in an inchoate
form in all human life but it rises to its greatest heights among those
individuals and classes who have more than an ordinary degree of social
The paradox rests on the insecurity most people feel or come to
feel in the way they deal with other people. In living our lives, in seeking a
job, we seek to establish ourselves in a role that will bring respect. For
Niebuhr, this is where the problem lies:
the more man establishes himself in power and glory,
the greater is the fear of tumbling from his eminence, or
losing his treasure, or being discovered in his pretension.
Poverty is a peril to the wealthy but not to the poor.
Obscurity is feared not by those who are habituated to
its twilight but by those who have become accustomed
to public acclaim.12
The paradox extends to the level of morality. Complacency and security
lead to a sense of self-righteousness where others are judged and
condemned by our own sense of standards. Again Niebuhr notes: moral
pride is the pretension of finite man that his highly conditioned virtue is
the final righteousness and that his very relative moral standards are
absolute.13 The paradox is therefore the unwillingness of the pretentious
to recognize their pretensions.
Again, Dostoyevsky helps to illuminate the paradox of this
concern. Ivans opening skirmish with Alyosha reveals an interesting
I never could understand how one can love ones
neighbours. In my view, it is ones neighbours that one
cant possibly love, but only perhaps those who live far
away . To love a man, its necessary that he should
be hidden, for as soon as he shows his face, love is

Rob Fisher


In other words, it is easy to love from the comfort and security of our own
homes surrounded by the warmth and familiarity of the relationships we
share. It is easy to feel compassion for the ill-dressed beggars who hang
around the city centre, easy to express disbelief and indignation for the
disfigured victims of ethnic cleansing and wars. It is too easy.
The paradox forces itself home when we come face-to-face with
human suffering. Then, the pretense of compassion turns to the realism of
disgust, pity turns to contempt, and indignation turns to involuntary relief.
The pretensions of our greatness our moral decency, generosity, and
care are exposed for the easy conscience for which they are a cover. It
also highlights the grounds of what we have in common. The one is
present in the midst of the other; and both are necessary if we are to come
to terms with our relationships with and responsibilities toward others.
Dostoyevsky and Niebuhr are emphasizing that things need to
make sense at a practical, pragmatic, and realistic level at the level of the
particular. The danger, however, is that the language and reality of the
particular are transported to other contexts where there is not the same
sense of urgency or practicality. We have already seen Niebuhr warning of
this in the arena of politics and international relations. Now he sides with
Ivans point that what it is to be a human being has become ideological. It
has become an abstraction of the particular and specific reality that
persons are. With this abstraction, a new language has arisen. It is the
language of universal human rights, of responsibilities, and duties. Sadly,
the reverse is also true: the respect for and love of others become easy, and
so do hatred, violence, oppression, and extermination. Once the language
of our bonds with others becomes abstract, and the human faces and
bodies in which this language originates are left behind, we are no longer
dealing with real people. Instead, we are dealing with indistinguishable
Michael Ignatieff offers a powerful critique of this universalized
humanism of our day. He notes the complexity involved in our notions of
respect, and the intermingling of compassion and contempt. He questions
the real cash value of our modern mantra of respect as an intrinsic right
of all human beings.15 What is there to respect, he asks, in a poor beggar
covered with sores, raving and tearing at his clothes in a deserted hovel in
a storm? What respect ... is owed a human being as human being?16 See
also Sen, 1981). It is one thing to answer this question from the comfort of
our own homes, and the security of our social community; it is another to
answer this question when we stand outside these boundaries.
Confronted by the reality of needy persons from whom we cannot
avert our gaze, we are transported to the heath lands of humanity.
Shakespeares commentary on the heath, an image which has a long and


Niehbuhr and the Need for Realism

rich history in English literature, captures well the shock of recognition
forced on us by the paradox of our own nature.17 King Lear, alone at night
in the raging storm on the heath with no one but the fool for company,
encounters the poor, dishevelled Edgar disguised as Tom OBedlam. Lear
listens to Toms tale of woe and is forced into the confession: Thou art
the thing itself: unaccommodated man is no more but such a poor, bare,
forked animal as thou art.18 Following the confession, Lear tears at his
clothes, stripping himself of the vestiges of difference, perhaps in an effort
to uncover the commonality he shares with all those on the heath.
The word unaccommodated is central to Lears confession. We
need to understand it in two senses. First, there is the notion of stripping
which is physically symbolized by Lears tearing at his clothes. The
removal of clothing, which marks our personal distinctiveness, reveals that
we are but poor, bare, forked animals. There is also the notion of
dereliction, the sense of abandonment, and of being abandoned. In the
modern heath of Europe between 19391945, Hannah Arendt captures the
force of dereliction:
We lost our home, which means the familiarity of daily
life. We lost our occupations, which means the
confidence that we are of some use in this world. We
lost our language, which means the naturalness of
reactions, the simplicity of gestures, the unaffected
expression of feelings. We left our relatives in the Polish
ghettos and our best friends have been killed in
concentration camps, and that means the rupture of our
private lives. ... We were once somebodies about whom
people cared, we were loved by friends, and even known
by landlords as paying our rent regularly.19
Stripped of context, we are aware of the fragility of human
existence, and the unpredictability of human power. It points to the need
for personal space, and for personal place in which persons can be be
themselves and be in community. Arendts concern with totalitarian
regimes places the spotlight on the consequences of removing status from
persons. Without status, there is no identity civil, legal, or personal.
Dispossessed of identity and status, the refugee loses the right to speak, to
act, and to be. Any sort of action becomes possible in relation to such
persons because there is no recognition of your person.20 For Arendt, it is
the plight of the rightless that points to the loss of a community willing
and able to guarantee any rights whatsoever which has symbolized the
dereliction of modern Europe.21 Without recognition of the person, the
language of rights and responsibilities becomes pointless.

Rob Fisher


Second, with dereliction comes nakedness. The beggar on the
streets, though ill dressed, is still dressed. We may cover ourselves up in
an attempt to conceal the fact that the human being is vulnerable. Homo
sapiens is clothed only in skin, and unlike the other animals that have fur
or feathers to cover them, we stand vulnerable in our flesh.
Upon arrival at the concentration camps, families were
dismantled, grasping the remnants of their homes, clothed in the remnants
of their family life, and carrying what few belongings they could muster.
In the heath lands of the camps, they were stripped of their belongings and
their families, and left, standing naked, in the cold.
Ours is the first century to make an experiment on this
scale: to take millions upon millions of social beings and
to reduce each of them to that abstraction, never before
seen in such quantity natural man, the pure human
being, the staring victim behind barbed wire, poor Tom,
the thing itself.22
If the concentration camps are becoming a faded memory, the scene is still
too common. In the refugee camps, people fight for Red Cross food
parcels, stand in a jungle of waving arms hoping to have their cup filled
with rice or water. Ignatieff concludes that in the end, people such as these
have only one claim to make:
Lears claim, Toms claim, that because they are human
they deserve to live. This last claim ... is the weakest
claim people can make to each other: it is the claim
addressed to anyone, and therefore to no one. When
there is no family, no tribe, no state, no city to hear it,
only the storm hears it.23
Ignatieff echoes Lears sentiments: Is man no more than this?
Consider him well,24 which echoes the sentiments of the writer of the
book of Hebrews 2:6: what is man that thou shouldst be mindful of him?
When we are excluded and dispossessed, and have been stripped of our
context; when we stand naked on the heaths of our own making, only the
flesh remains.
The body is what we have in common: nothing else. The body of
the human being grants natural equality, and is where the struggle to be
human is fought. The levelling power of the heath reveals the vulnerability
of our common existence, a creature of flesh with needs and desires. Our
commonality speaks clearly through the suffering of the body.


Niehbuhr and the Need for Realism

The test of being human does not lie in constructions around the
family and other social groups. Instead, it lies in how we deal with those
who are excluded by these abstractions: the disabled, the insane, the
strangers. If, unaccommodated, we are no more than poor, bare, forked
animals, it is no wonder that compassion hides disgust, and pity conceals
contempt. Beneath our pretensions lies something with which we do not
feel at all comfortable and which binds us together, namely, the concrete
reality of the vulnerable human body.
Niebuhr would also react to an overly optimistic view of human
being. However, he would disagree with my reduction of the human being
to the boundaries of the body. His position is clear:
If man insists that he is a child of nature and that he
ought not to pretend to be more than an animal, which
he obviously is, he tacitly admits that he is, at any rate, a
curious kind of animal who has both the inclination and
the capacity to make such pretensions.25
I would agree with Niebuhrs caution here about the extremes of a
naturalist stance. However, he continues:.
If on the other hand he insists upon his unique and
distinctive place in nature and points to his rational
faculties as proof of his special eminence, there is
usually an anxious note in his avowals of uniqueness
which betrays his unconscious sense of kinship with the
Here, we discover the paradox that revolves around the ambiguity of what
it is to be human.
For Niebuhr, to be human is to be a creature that is not
exclusively animal or mind, but which finds the two uneasily conjoined.
Naturalism, he argues, fails to appreciate the degree to which the human
spirit breaks and remakes the harmonies and unities of nature.27
Optimistic idealism does not appreciate that human freedom rises above
reason and therefore rests in a false security of our ability to control
nature. Neither naturalism nor idealism can understand that man is free
enough to violate both the necessities of nature and the logical systems of
reason.28 The error of these positions is that they do not measure human
beings in a dimension sufficiently high or deep to do justice to either his
stature or his capacity for both good and evil or to understand the total
environment in which such a stature can understand, express, and find

Rob Fisher


If Niebuhr is right, then the grounds of all our pretensions at all
levels rest within persons. They do so because every person, says Niebuhr,
is a unity of thought and life in which thought remains in organic unity
with all the organic processes of finite existence.30 The ambiguity of what
we are as persons stems from the constant oscillation in how we view
ourselves. In echoes of Pascal, this is the oscillation between our greatness
and our wretchedness. In other words, between being able to transcend
nature and direct our own destiny toward creative and destructive ends,
and being limited by the physical boundaries of our embodiment. The
ambiguity of the creative creature, who lives and falls between the two
stools of how we see ourselves, generates the anxiety and insecurity that
are the source of pretension. At the juncture of nature and spirit, the
realism of what we are as physical creatures always restrains and often
undermines the pretensions of our expectations. Being human is difficult;
it is a struggle. Our lack of vigilance about our humanity breeds pretension
and indicates an abdication of that humanity.
Niebuhrs call for responsible action in the world returns us to his
view of the organic unity of who we are as individuals, and to Lear. The
organic relatedness of all things opens the door to understanding realistic
and responsible action. We can interpret Lears remarks about the human
being in terms of persons being unaccommodated. But we must interpret
this in light of his initial recognition: thou art the thing itself. In other
words, the heath is the place where we are not yet fully human.
Tzvetan Todorov argues that one of the problems of modern
European thought is its failure to accept the fact of living together as
necessary; human being is largely conceived in solitary and asocial
terms.31 Niebuhr would agree with this. Todorov points to Rousseau as
considering the archetypal human being as a being who needs others.
From the moment we live in community, we feel the need to attract the
gaze of others.
The other no longer occupies a place comparable to
mine, but a contiguous and complementary place; he is
needed for my completeness. ... We are dealing here
with a constitutive need of the species and not with a
Social existence partly defines what it is to be human. We are indebted to
others for our completeness, indeed, for our very existence: The need of
the others gaze is the very definition of man.33
Todorov argues that only socially are we fully human. When we
gaze upon other people, we set the grounds for the possibility of
cooperation and relationship. Again, the test is our treatment of strangers.


Niehbuhr and the Need for Realism

Leviticus 19:18 issues the imperative to love thy neighbour like thyself.
The definition is enhanced in Matthew 5:4347 where the Sermon on the
Mount identifies the neighbour as s/he who is different from us and who
does not belong to the same community as ourselves. The Parable of the
Good Samaritan points to the neighbour as being someone who is in need.
Todorov draws the conclusion that Jesuss insight is that we should not
distinguish between our own and others; every person is worthy of respect
and love simply because they are human. This is love and respect for
specific creatures ... enemies deserve it no less than friends.34
For Todorov, the idea of the other is relative and positional:
it implies our constitutive complementarity (and intersubjectivity is
organized here around you, not I).35 The other is different from me by
virtue of his/her physical, social, and cultural characteristics. This is only
so because of the position in which they stand to me, even if they belong
to the same group and same community, or family. The gaze creates the
boundaries of the human being.
Arendt extends the argument. She argues that intersubjectivity is
the ground of our commonality. Human beings are historically and
socially conditioned; but what we are is always changing.36 It is
impossible to form an abstract or universal conception of humanity
because humanity has no essence. As individual human beings, we are
incomplete. We are always in the passing moment from the fluidity of the
future and the fixity of the past. Arendt sees the idea of action as the
grounds of our togetherness. In acting, I insert myself into the world and
the midst of a community. By acting in the context of others, is it possible
to build human community. She formulates the idea of community in the
notion of plurality which is: the condition of human action because we
are all the same, that is human, in such a way that nobody is ever the same
as anyone else who ever lived, lives, or will live.37
For Arendt, plurality captures the sense of what we have in
common: our humanity, and a context that is sufficiently similar to enable
us to live and work together. It also captures the sense of distinctiveness:
the development of novelty and creativity that makes me particularly and
distinctively me. All this belongs within the boundary of community and
the project of human togetherness.
We can add Niebuhrs thoughts as the final piece in the jigsaw.
The key to responsible action and successful community is love. The
individual and the community need to be seen in terms of the same
organic relationship as the human being in and of him/herself. Niebuhr
Community is an individual as well as a social necessity;
for the individual can realize himself only in intimate
and organic relation with his fellow men. Love is

Rob Fisher


therefore the primary law of his nature, and brotherhood
the fundamental requirement of his social existence.38
We cannot see the individual, or social and communal existence
in optimistic or pessimistic terms. Niebuhr states that because we are an
organic unity of vitality and reason, human community cannot be a
purely rational ideal. Instead, it must be an interpenetration of all
powers and potencies, emotional and volitional as well as rational.39
To take an example of the moment, the internet can be a
dangerous place where we can find pornography, paedophilia, racial
hatred, and holocaust denial. They are there however, because that is what
our society is as an organic unity. It is pointless trying to deny their
existence, or develop software to filter them out. As unsavoury and as
offensive as these things are, they are nevertheless a cold fact about
human communities which needs to be recognized and accepted. Niebuhr
is clear that our self-transcendence of nature means that no fixed limits
can be placed upon either the purity or the breadth of the brotherhood for
which men strive in history.40 Human community will never be secure
because it shares the same oscillating base that belongs to humanity.
Niebuhr which faces us: the indeterminate character of these possibilities
of both good and evil in social and political relations justifies the dynamic
interpretation of the social process.41 The challenge for today, in the face
of technological progress, is how to relate to an ever-increasing awareness
of the breadth of fellow human beings: the task of creating community
and avoiding anarchy is constantly pitched on broader and broader
Niebuhrs insistence on love as the driving force of human
community is pivotal to an understanding of modern social action. Love,
he says, is the pinnacle of the moral ideal.43 Let us not forget what we
have said about moral idealism and moral realism. Love stands both
inside and beyond history: inside in so far as love may elicit a reciprocal
response and change the character of human relations; and beyond history
in so far as love cannot require a mutual response without losing its
character of disinterestednes.44
We can illustrate Niebuhrs point by looking at Star Trek. Many
of the communities into which Jean-Luc Picard beams are primitive and
barbaric. Coming from an advanced civilization and with all the resources
of a Starship, it would be possible for Picard to use his knowledge and
power to intervene in these societies. He could destroy their traditions,
moral codes, and tribal structures, and instigate the kind of civil society he
represents. The problem here is that while he has acted into the history of
their society, he has not acted into their history. Their history has been
replaced with something discontinuous with it.


Niehbuhr and the Need for Realism

Star Fleet Command has regulations that prevent this kind of
intervention. Under the Prime Directive, Captain Picard must familiarize
himself with the customs and traditions of the people. He must integrate
himself into their society, and use what is good within it as a basis for
inaugurating the way forward to the higher, civilized way of living.
What emerges will be new, but it will also be continuous with the history
of that society. It will have been action into their history, and in and
through it. There are continuities and discontinuities.
This is the moral ideal of love and the model of responsible
action in the worlds theatres. This is what Niebuhr realizes as being the
long-term goal for human community. It is not the destruction of history,
community, and society, but its gradual completion. Along the way, there
will be conflicts and disappointments. Just as we struggle to be human, so
we must struggle to achieve human community. All human
communities, says Niebuhr, are more or less stable or precarious
harmonies of human vital capacities.45 That is why responsible action
must tread a careful path between the moral ideal of love, and the realism
of what love can achieve in relation to such communities.
Niebuhrs realism needs to be heard again today. There needs to
be a careful consideration of the balancing act that we are all required to
undertake. In the short term, the realism of our lives emerging from the
heath might mean that power, inequality, and violence are the currency
which hold sway. In the long term, the moral ideal of love will be drawn
from the concrete and particular lives of human beings. It will be possible
to find a way of giving all people an organic context in which they can be
affirmed, and affirm for themselves, what it means for them to be.


Fox, 1985, and Bingham, 1961.

Livingston, 1971, 446-447.
See Fox, 1985.
Niebuhr, 1940, 47.
Dostoyevsky, 1958, 1:284.
Niebuhr, 1941, 6.
Niebuhr, 1941a, 6-7.
Niebuhr, 1942, 255.
Niebuhr, 1941b, 1: 1.
Ibid., 1:94-95.
Ibid., 1:188-189.
Ibid., 1:193-194.

Rob Fisher



Ibid., 1:199.
Dostoyevsky, 1958, 1:276.
Ignatieff, 1994, 43-45.
Ibid, p. 43. See also Sen, 1981.
Danby, 1949, and Wilson Knight, 1930.
Shakespeare, 1972, 125.
Arendt, 1978, 56.
Arendt, 1951, and Whitfield, 1980.
Arendt, 1951, 294.
Ignatieff, 1994, 51.
Shakespeare, 1972, 125.
Niebuhr, 1941b, 1:1.
Ibid., 1:124.
Ibid., 1:75.
Todorov, 1996a, 1.
Ibid., 1996a, 4.
Ibid., 6.
Todorov, 1996b, 102-103.
Ibid., 96.
Arendt, 1958, 26-45.
Arendt, 1946, 8.
Niebuhr, 1941b, 2:244.
Ibid., 2:244-255.
Ibid., 2:245.
Ibid., 2:247.
Ibid., 2:257.

Arendt, Hannah. 1946. What is Existenz Philosophy? Partisan Review 13
(winter): 553.
. 1951. The Origins of Totalitarianism. New York: Harcourt Brace
and World.
. 1958. The Human Condition. Chicago: Chicago University Press.
. 1978. The Jew as Pariah: Jewish Identity and Politics in the


Niehbuhr and the Need for Realism

Modern Age. Ed. Ron H. Feldman. New York: Grove.
Bingham, June. 1961. Courage to Change: An Introduction to the Life and
Thought of Reinhold Niebuhr. New York: Charles Scribners
Sons. Danby, John F. 1949. Shakespeares Doctrine of Nature: A
Study of King Lear. London: Faber & Faber.
Dostoyevsky, Fyodor. 1958. The Brothers Karamazov. 2 Vols. Trans. D.
Magarshack. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
Feldman, Ron H., ed. 1978. Hannah Arendt, The Jew as Pariah: Jewish
Identity and Politics in the Modern Age. New York: Grove.
Fox, Richard. 1985. Reinhold Niebuhr: A Biography. New York:
Ignatieff, Michael 1994. The Needs of Strangers. London: Vintage.
Isaac, Jeffrey. (1992) Arendt, Camus, and Modern Rebellion. New Haven:
Yale University Press.
Livingston, James 1971. Modern Christian Thought: From the
Enlightenment to Vatican II. New York: Macmillan.
Niebuhr, Reinhold. 1940. Christianity and Power Politics. New York:
Charles Scribners Sons.
. 1941a. Social Justice in a Defence Economy. Christianity and
Society 6 (spring): 3143.
. 1941b. The Nature and Destiny of Man: A Christian
Interpretation. 2 Vols. New York: Charles Scribners Sons.
. 1942. Jews after the War. London: Inter-University Jewish
Federation. Sen, Amartya. 1981. Poverty and Famines: An Essay
on Entitlement and Deprivation. Oxford: Clarendon.
Shakespeare. 1972. King Lear Ed. G. K. Hunter. Harmondsworth:
Todorov, Tzvetan. 1996a. Living Alone Together. New Literary History
27, no.1:114.
. 1996b. The Gaze and the Fray. New Literary History 27, no.1:
Whitfield, S. J. 1980. Into the Dark: Hannah Arendt and Totalitarianism.
Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
Wilson Knight, G. 1930. The Wheel of Fire: Essays in Interpretation of
Shakespeare's Sombre Tragedies. London: Oxford University

Prohibition and Transgression: Georges Bataille and the
Possibility of Affirming Evil
Jones Irwin
Je crois que lhomme est ncessairement dress contre
lui-mme et quil ne peut se reconnatre, quil ne peut
saimer jusquau bout, sil nest pas lobjet dune
Georges Bataille
(I believe that man is necessarily put up against himself
and that he cannot recognize himself and love himself to
the end unless he is condemned.)

Georges Batailles work on the concept of evil sounds an
idiosyncratic note in an otherwise homogeneous area of research.
Although interpretations of what constitutes evil differ radically, a
unanimity exists on one fundamental point: evil is to be avoided. Despite
the great divergence in thinking between, for example, Christianity and
Nietzschean atheism, the two philosophies can agree on at least this.
Bataille, however, is keen to subvert this established consensus on the
meaning of evil. For Bataille, evil is to be affirmed: I believe that evil has
a sovereign value for us.1 He reaches this extraordinary conclusion
through a thinking that paradoxically brings him closer to Christianity than
to Nietzsche.
In this essay, I introduce the discussion of evil through an
analysis of Nietzsches lucid survey of the concept of evil in his text On
The Genealogy of Morals. I then trace how Batailles own analysis leads
him away from Nietzsches critique of evil towards a paradoxical
affirmation of evil. Finally, I conclude with an interpretation of Batailles
place within the history of philosophy and ethics, problematizing the
widespread conception of his work as simply an adjunct to Nietzsche.

Nietzsches Genealogy of Evil

In On The Genealogy of Morals, Nietzsche traces the distinction
between good and evil to the development of what he terms slave
morality.2 From a historic perspective, this category of ethics is loosely
associated with the development of a Judeo-Christian ethic: with the Jews
there begins the slave revolt in morality.3 It is opposed in principle to the


The Possibility of Affirming Evil

development of a parallel ethic, Nietzsches so-called noble morality
that is linked to Hellenism.4 Whereas slave morality is said to posit an
opposition between good and evil, noble morality posits an opposition
between good and bad.5
As Norman (1983) has noted, these
categorizations are not accurate from a strictly historic perspective, but
they do provide a useful framework within which to understand the
genealogy of the ethical.
For our purposes, two main points are worthy of note in terms of
this genealogical analysis. First, there is the opposition that is posited
between good and evil.6 Initially this movement took its cue from Judaism
but it has now developed to encompass culture as a whole: The slave
revolt in morality: that revolt which has a history of two thousand years
behind it and which we no longer see because it has been victorious.7
Second, in Essay 1 (and developed in Essay 2), Nietzsche links
this emphasis on condemnation with his neologism ressentiment.8 Instead
of being based on affirmation, slave morality is reactive in essence from
the beginning:
The slave revolt in morality begins when ressentiment
itself becomes creative and gives birth to values: the
ressentiment of natures that are denied the true reaction,
that of deeds, and compensate themselves with an
imaginary revenge ... in order to exist, slave morality
always first needs a hostile external world; it needs,
physiologically speaking, external stimuli in order to act
at all its action is fundamentally reaction.9
Here, Nietzsche traces the anxiety over evil to the negative emotions of
envy and self-abnegation.10 Contrasted with this slave morality is the
apparently superior and healthier noble morality that has the alternative
binary of good/bad in place instead of the good/evil opposition.11 Noble
morality consists in a positive affirmation of goodness instead of a
condemnation of bad. Indeed, Nietzsche notes a benevolence in the
attitude that the noble expresses towards the bad:
One should not overlook the almost benevolent nuances
that the Greek nobility, for example, bestows on all the
words it employs to distinguish the lower orders from
itself; how they are continuously mingled and sweetened
with a kind of pity, consideration, and forbearance
the well-born felt themselves to be the happy; they
did not have to establish their happiness artificially by
examining their enemies, or to persuade themselves,

Jones Irwin


deceive themselves, that they were happy (as all men of
ressentiment are in the habit of doing).12
In terms of this fundamental Nietzschean opposition, therefore,
evil has a most pejorative status as the product of ressentiment and slave
morality. Historically speaking, Nietzsches claim is that the dominance of
noble morality has given way to the ubiquity of its opponent. The slaves,
and their preoccupation with evil, have become the new masters.
Nietzsche reinforces this historic genealogy with an acute psychological
analysis. Modern humanity is a being of ressentiment, preoccupied with
condemnation and reaction, incapable of authentic responsibility and
action. Nietzsches self-appointed mission may be the liberation of
modern man from such a predicament. Here, he looks to a man of the
This man of the future, who will redeem us not only
from the hitherto reigning ideal but also from that which
was bound to grow out of it, the great nausea, the will to
nothingness, nihilism; this bell-stroke of noon and of the
great decision that liberates the will again and restores
its goal to the earth and his hope to man; this Antichrist
and antinihilist; this victor over God and nothingness
he must come one day.13
Nietzsches man of the future is posited as a liberator from the
hegemony of slave morality and, with regard to our own purposes, as a
freedom from the ethos of evil. To quote another of Nietzsches texts,
this future will be beyond good and evil.14 As an ethical concept and a
psychological attitude, Nietzsche dismisses the model of evil as reactive
and unhealthy. It is within the context of this influential diagnosis of evil
that I want to take up an analysis of the radically alternative interpretation
of evil put forward by Georges Bataille.

Batailles Defense of Evil

Batailles La Littrature et le mal is his most extended analysis of
the concept of evil. It consists of a series of essays devoted to disparate
literary figures (from Emily Bront to Jean Genet), unified by their
affirmation of evil:
These studies are the result of my attempts to extract the
essence (le sens) of literature. Literature is either the
essential or nothing. I believe that the Evil (le Mal) an


The Possibility of Affirming Evil

acute form of Evil which it expresses, has a sovereign
value for us.15
One of the most revealing essays concerns Batailles analysis of
Baudelaires concept of evil. This essay is significant because it
challenges Sartres reading of Baudelaire and his interpretation of evil.
Bataille defends Baudelaires affirmation of evil against Sartres
accusation that such evil is merely childish. Sartre had observed:
He [Baudelaire] defined genius as childhood regained at
will . But if the child grows older, grows superior to
his parents in intelligence and looks over their shoulder,
[he may see that] behind them there is nothing. The
duties, the rites, the precise and limited obligations
suddenly disappear. Unjustified and unjustifiable, he
suddenly experiences his terrible liberty [sa terrible
libert]. Everything has to be begun again: he suddenly
emerges in solitude and nothingness. That was what
Baudelaire wanted to avoid at all costs. 16
Sartre thereby reproaches Baudelaire for his emphasis on evil
insofar as the affirmation of evil could only ever be a childish gesture. For
Sartre, to affirm evil against good is to avoid the authentic responsibility
of terrible liberty which (and here Sartre follows Nietzsche) is beyond
good and evil: The deliberate creation of Evil that is to say, wrong (la
faute) is acceptance and recognition of Good (Bien).17 Moreover,
sets himself to denying the established order, but, at the
same time, preserves this order and asserts it more than
everwere he for a moment to stop asserting it, his
conscience would return to peace with itself.18
A line of continuity exists here between the analysis of Sartre and
the earlier genealogy of morals given by Nietzsche. When both consider
evil, they see it from the perspective of what Nietzsche calls slave
morality. For Nietzsche and Sartre, it is irrelevant whether one is
condemning (Christianity) or affirming (Baudelaire/Satanism) evil. In
each instance, one is part of a reactive psychological attitude that fails to
take responsibility for affirming freedom. Its origination within a model of
prohibition determines the concept of evil: we should not do evil. To
affirm evil, as Baudelaire does, is not to break with this model. It is to
assert the prohibition as we transgress it. That is, evil is only possible

Jones Irwin


when the existence of a distinction between good and evil actions is
already accepted. For Nietzsche and Sartre, this is to remain within a
circularity of thought and action that can only be broken if we deny good
and evil simultaneously.
Bataille, however, seeks to problematize this unsympathetic and
contemptuous (mprisant) reading of Baudelaire and more generally, of
the concept of evil19:
Baudelaire chose to be wrong, like a child. But before
we condemn him we must ask ourselves what sort of
choice we are dealing with. Was it made for lack of
anything else? Was it just a deplorable mistake? Or
was it the result of excess? Was it made in a miserable
but no less decisive manner? I even wonder whether
such a choice is not essentially that of poetry? Is it not
the choice of man? (un tel choix nest-il pas, dans son
essence, celui de la posie? Nest-il pas celui de
Here Bataille is radically reinterpreting the structure of Baudelaires
choice and the structure of evil. Evil is no longer a childish aberration
which we might hold in contempt. It is the choice of humanity, by which
Bataille may mean that it is no longer to be seen as just one choice
amongst others. Bataille describes un tel choix dans son essence
(this choice in his [human] essence),21 within the essence of poetry
and mankind. Evil is now not accidental: it is of the essence.
Bataille defends and reinforces this conception of evil throughout
his analyses in La Littrature et le mal (1957). The final essay on Jean
Genet serves as a useful clarification of some of the issues addressed in
the earlier chapter on Baudelaire. Here again, it is one of Sartres
commentaries that is the primary target of Batailles theory of evil. As
with his analysis of Baudelaire, Sartre interprets Genet as being locked
into a circularity where good and evil are mutually dependent. On Sartres
reading, in affirming evil, Genet (like Baudelaire) reconfirms the necessity
of good. Bataille attempts to question this Sartrean interpretation again:
Genet has experienced the climax of the forbidden, a
delight that is familiar and elemental and yet closed to
modern thought. That is why he has to draw his reasons
for doing evil (de mal faire) from the horror that evil
deeds (mauvaise action) inspired him with and from his
basic love of Good (amour original du Bien). This is not
as absurd as Sartre thinks 22


The Possibility of Affirming Evil

Bataille explicates his point with a more practical and personal example:
I can take any example [une ralit commune] the
taboo against nudity that regulates social life today.
Even if one of us pays no attention to this form of
decency, his partners nudity will excite his sexual
impulses. From then on Good, which is decency, is his
reason for doing Evil: an initial violation of the rule
incites him, by contagion, to violate the rule still more.23
This, for Bataille, is a universal example of the centrality of taboo
and transgression to sexual practice. It is a symbol of an interdependency
between good (here, modesty) and evil (here, nudity) which is
fundamental to existence. In the following section, I will analyze how
Bataille elaborates on this general conception of existence and its relation
to Christianity.

Evil, Sin, and Batailles Relation to Christianity

In a footnote in a translation of his Genet chapter, Bataille refers
to a criticism which Sartre had made of one of his public lectures:
I remember a conversation after a lecture, when Sartre
reproached me for my use of the word sin: I was not
religious, and in his eyes, my use of the word was

Sartre misunderstands the thematics of sin in Batailles work. For Bataille,

this is another symptom of Sartres misunderstanding of the problematic
of existence. Sartre (like Nietzsche) interprets the concept of sin as a mere
product of slave morality, concentrated in the historic development of
Judeo-Christianity, and something which can be left behind as part of a
misguided, childish past:
But if the child grows older, grows superior to his
parents in intelligence and looks over their shoulder, (he
may see that) behind them there is nothing. The duties,
the rites, the precise and limited obligations suddenly
The concept of evil, for Sartre and for Nietzsche, has no
legitimate place in a post-Christian universe. Nietzsches expresses his
most vehement criticisms of Christianity as a slave morality in On the
Genealogy of Morals. They set the context for Sartres discussions of

Jones Irwin


Baudelaire and Genet.26 A fundamentally anti-Christian worldview forms
the basis of the Baudelairian and Genetian philosophies of evil. They
represent an inversion of Christian values. This inversive movement,
however, remains wedded to a Christian framework in its recognition of
the value of evil that originated within a Christian context. To escape
this inversion requires an attitude of complete indifference to good and
evil. This means striving to be neither good nor evil, but free.
In my introduction, I referred to a paradox within this scene of
interpretation. The specificity of Batailles advocacy of evil puts him at
odds with the Christian worldview that advocates a privileging of good
over evil. However, it also puts him at odds with the above Nietzschean
and Sartrean worldview. This view sees the concept of evil as dated and
bounded up with a religious metaphysic. Paradoxically, I want to claim
that Batailles philosophy of evil is closer to the Christian view than it is to
the post-Christian view.
How can this be possible? Let us first remember Batailles
disagreement with Sartre: Sartre reproached me for my use of the word
sin.27 The apparent crux of this problematic of sin is Batailles relation to
Christianity. Unlike Nietzsche and Sartre, Bataille inherits his vocabulary
and terminology from Christianity. At the same time, with reference to his
emphasis on evil, he inverts the traditional Christian conception of the
place of evil within the general scheme. Whereas evil was the lowest
point, it has now become the highest point. Bataille is simultaneously
faithful and unfaithful to the Christian tradition. Is such a paradox
Part of the problem in attempting to explicate Batailles relation
to Christianity, in this context, derives from problems in identifying a
homogeneous entity that we could designate as Christianity, or the
Christian Tradition. From a Thomistic perspective,28 for example,
Batailles emphasis on sin and condemnation is excessively chaotic. It
would appear to divest the human being of autonomy and responsibility
for moral action and to cast aspersions on the harmony of Gods created
universe. However, to take an alternative example from the Christian
canon, from an Augustinian perspective Batailles apocalyptic emphasis is
in keeping with a Christian theology of pestilence and damnation. Do we
not, for example, recognize an Augustinian air in the following extract?
This is the point of my book. I believe that man is necessarily put up
against himself and that he cannot recognize himself and love himself to
the end unless he is condemned.29
Augustinian Christianity demonstrates an analogous sense of
condemnation. Augustine gives an exposition of this concept in his text,
the Retractations.30 Here Augustine seeks to explain the apparent paradox


The Possibility of Affirming Evil

that humanity is ignorant of goodness and responsible for evil by invoking
the concept of a divine punishment:
But all this applies to men as they appear on the scene
after the condemnation of death if man would be
good if he were constituted differently, and he is not
good because he is in his present condition; if he has not
the power to become good, whether because he cannot
see what he ought to be, or because he sees and yet
cannot be what he ought to be, or because he sees and
yet cannot be what he sees he ought to be, then this
surely is a punishment.31
In the Augustinian world of humanity, evil is not just predominant, it is all
encompassing. For Augustine, the human being, on his or her own terms,
is completely incapable of moral action. We are slaves to sin and the only
route out of this moral malaise is through the grace of God. This has led
some commentators, such as John Rist (1972), to criticize Augustine for
moral irresponsibility: if the human being is only capable of sin, is this not
an implicit affirmation of sin?
To some extent, Rist is making the same point against Augustine
that Sartre makes against Bataille. The accusation is that the emphasis on
the necessity of sin absolves humanity of responsibility. Indeed, Rist notes
that some commentators might even question Augustines Christianity on
this point.
The pagan (non-Christian) influence on Augustine is strong at
this point,32 and includes the influence of Manicheanism.33 Mani, the
leader of the Manicheans, had claimed that good and evil were equal
principles in the universe, in constant combat for dominion. Augustine had
been a Manichean for a period earlier in his life, and eventually converted
to Christianity. As a Christian, Augustine could no longer hold with the
conception of good and evil as equal principles. His continuing emphasis
on human evil is, however, a residue of Manicheanism in his later thought.
It is within this context of a powerfully paganized Christianity that we can
best understand Batailles relation to Augustine. Augustine interprets the
Garden of Eden story in a Manichean light; as if from a human
perspective, evil had triumphed over good. Henceforth, evil rules over
humanity and humanity can only save itself through such evil. This
Augustinian insight leads Bataille to posit a link between transgression
and redemption. As Mark C. Taylor observes:
Batailles appropriation of Catholicism is a dialectical
reversal that establishes a coincidentia opposiorium in

Jones Irwin


which differences collapse into identity. In this perverse
religious economy, redemption is a function of
transgression . The religion of surrealism, Bataille
maintains, resurrects the original link between
transgression and the sacred.34
It is as if Bataille, like Augustine, is writing in direct opposition
to Pelagius. Pelagius had claimed that it was only through moral action
and moral responsibility that human beings could achieve grace and
salvation. Redemption, according to Pelagius, is only possible through
merit, through the Good. Augustine, on the contrary, disavowed any
human capacity for good and for merit. Salvation can only come through
the grace of God but such grace is only possible, from a human
perspective, in the context of interminable evil and sin. In a passage from
his text La Part Maudite (1967) (The Accursed Share (1988a)), Bataille
clarifies this point:
Salvation in Christianity liberates the ends of religious
life from the domain of productive activity . Hence
those deeds by which a Christian tries to win his
salvation can in turn be considered profanations.35
Strictly speaking, salvation therefore occurs in and through sin and evil;
redemption becomes a product of the transgression of the good.

Conclusion: From Evil to Hyper-Morality

I believe that the Evil an acute form of Evil which it
[literature] expresses, has a sovereign value for us. But
this concept does not exclude morality: on the contrary,
it demands a hypermorality [mais cette conception ne
commande pas labsence de morale, elle exige une

The most influential contemporary reading of Bataille sees his

work as little more than a development of Nietzschean themes in a
contemporary setting.37 Indeed, Sartre reads Bataille in an even less
forgiving light as some sort of sub-Nietzschean libertine.38 My analysis of
his concept of evil has been leading towards the conclusion that Batailles
philosophy should be viewed as a kind of heterodox Christian meditation
on existence instead. This has its roots in an Augustinian tradition. Similar
interpretations make sense of Baudelaire and Genet, and the thought of
Pierre Klossowski (1989) is another example of analogous work.


The Possibility of Affirming Evil

Ironically, many of these thinkers are currently interpreted as
being vehemently anti-Christian. One of the main reasons for this
interpretation relates to the dominance of Thomism as the Christian
philosophy. Bataille and Klossowski, for example, are anti-Thomistic but
this should not lead us to interpret them as necessarily anti-Christian.
Much work remains to be done on this complex philosophic and
theological problematic. Undoubtedly, much of the difficulty will involve
people recovering from the shock that evil may not be such an alien
phenomenon after all.
We may wonder at the consequences of this new-found proximity
of evil. I have already mentioned John Rists conception of an Augustinian
irresponsibility. Does Batailles affirmation of evil lead to complacency
with regard to responsibility, morality? Bataille himself refers to a hypermorality that must accompany any philosophy of transgression. How are
we to make sense of this rather vague conception of hyper-morality?
In order to clarify this Bataillean concept, I will refer to Richard
Normans discussion of the problem of defining what is or is not moral
action.39 Norman sets up a useful thought-experiment in relation to the
possibility of genuine moral action. He asks the reader to take the example
of a neighbour who asks us for help. We have, argues Norman, three
possible motivations for response in this situation that he enumerates as
First, we help the neighbour because it puts them in our debt, a
debt they will have to repay at a later date. This is an example of an
unequivocal kind of egoism that sees other people as instruments for our
own ends and does not qualify as genuine moral action.
Second, we help the neighbour because helping others leads us to
enjoy happy and thriving lives. Helping others is something worthwhile
because on this level of motivation it leads to self-fulfilment. Norman
makes the point that difficulties re-emerge here in ascribing to this kind of
action the title of moral action. The problem stems from the fundamentally
egoistic motivation of this second kind of action. We help our neighbour
because it is self-fulfilling; it leads to happiness, and a sense of thriving,
for us. Do we require, Norman asks, an attitude of altruism instead of
egoism to make an action genuinely moral? If so, this second kind of
action remains too egoistic to be properly moral.
Taking this line of argument, however, leads into serious
difficulties in terms of our interpretation of the history of ethics. Much of
what considers itself to constitute morality in our contemporary world
(personal morality, state morality, and religious morality) takes its cue
from the originators of the ethical tradition, Plato and Aristotle. Platos
discussion of justice in the Republic and Aristotles discussion of the good
life in the Ethics have had a major determining influence on culture. The

Jones Irwin


morality of the Western world, for example, remains determined by a
variation of Platonic-Aristotelianism. We could make a similar argument
for the East. Aristotle influenced the development of Islamic and Judaic
ethical thought from the medieval period onwards.
On Normans terms, however, both Platonic and Aristotelian
ethics are within this second category of fundamental egoism and should
be divested of the title of genuine moral systems. Plato (1941) first refers
to the metaphysical existence of the Form of the Good that is beyond
Being. He nonetheless seeks to motivate people to moral action by his
arguments for the co-dependency of happiness and goodness in the
Republic. If this were not enough, in Book 10 of the work, he concludes
with a declaration that any sins in this life will be punished ten times over
in the next world. This system of rewards and punishments is, as Norman
claims, aimed at egoistic motivation for ethical action.
With Aristotle (1953), the case is similar. Whereas Plato never
qualifies the metaphysical ascendancy of the good, Aristotle goes so far as
to subordinate the good to the demands of individual happiness. It is
happiness, and not goodness, which is the supreme end of human life. In
broad terms, we can say that if we define ethical action as altruistic action,
then neither Plato nor Aristotle defends properly moral action. Such a
reconsideration of what it means to be ethical has serious implications for
our discussion of Bataille and evil. Here we can refer to Normans third
category of ethical motivation.
The third possibility is when we help our neighbour because they
need help. Here, our motivation centres exclusively on our neighbour. The
questions of self-fulfilment and personal happiness are no longer relevant.
Norman notes how this category of action appears to correspond closely to
what we normally mean by altruism, that is, selfless action, action done
exclusively for the sake of the other.
This employment of Normans discussion of moral motivation
leads us back to our question concerning Bataille. How can a philosophy
of evil lead to what Bataille calls hyper-morality? In a rare positive
statement concerning Bataille, Sartre refers to the philosophy of evil being
not about human nature, but about the human condition. If we develop this
interpretation, we can say that Batailles emphasis on an evil humanity is
contextual. It relates to the plight of the twentieth-century human being
and let us remember that much of Batailles work was written during or
under the shadow of the Second World War and Fascism.40 Augustines
description of humanity is also contextual. It is more concerned and
directed at the human condition than human nature (in this case, the
context is the Fall).
While the contexts are different, the fact of contextualization
warns against reading Augustinian or Bataillean evil as the final or


The Possibility of Affirming Evil

definitive analysis of humanity. By definition, a context has limits and is
transformable. The finitude of context and its inherent transformability are
most relevant to our problematic of ethics. Taken as definitive, Batailles
association of evil with hyper-morality appears nonsensical. An emphasis
on evil per se can only lead away from the possibility of morality, towards
nihilism. The same argument constitutes the basis for the Pelagian (and
Thomistic) riposte to Augustinian thinking on humanity.
As I have argued elsewhere,41 this is to forget the contextual
aspect of Augustinian (and here Bataillean) philosophy. The vehemence
with which Augustine (in The City of God (1984)) argues against human
virtue is not just negative. It is also part of his attempt to question human
complacency and pride. The danger of asserting human virtue la
Pelagius is that, from a Christian standpoint, we neglect the proper
worship of God; we start to worship humanity instead. To this extent,
Augustines emphasis on human evil represents a heightened moral
vigilance against the danger of human conceit and arrogance, a hypermorality. The parallels with Batailles stress on evil are evident. Batailles
claim that his philosophy of evil is a hyper-morality succeeds if we read it
as vigilance against the false and conceited claims of traditional morality.
Normans categories are instructive here. From a Bataillean or
Augustinian perspective, Plato and Aristotles claims to represent the
Good fail in terms of the fundamental egoism which directs their
philosophies. In contrast, the apparently irresponsible and nihilistic evil of
Bataille and Augustine is directed by a sense of human limitation and sin
that, contrary to appearances, can have positive and negative
consequences. For example, a proper sense of human limitation might
induce a sense of humility inconceivable to Plato or Aristotle. Such
humility may be the missing link in the Platonic-Aristotelian chain, a fatal
lapse that (on Normans terms) puts them ultimately outside the arena of
genuine moral action.
Nothing can be certain amidst the evil, sin, and transgression of
the Augustinian and Bataillean world. Paradoxically, it is perhaps this
most horrific description of the human condition that leads us closer to the
wellspring of selfless altruism.


Bataille, 1997, 8.
Nietzsche, 1967, 36.
Ibid., 33.
Ibid., 28.
Ibid., 31.

Jones Irwin



Ibid., 36.
Ibid., 33.
Ibid., 36.
Ibid., 33.
Ibid., 30.
Ibid., 38.
Ibid., 95.
Nietzsche, 1973.
Bataille, 1997, 8.
Sartre quoted in Bataille, 1997, 39.
Quoted in Bataille, 1997, 39.
Sartre quoted in Bataille, 1997, 38.
Bataille, 1997, 52.
Ibid., 43.
Ibid., 217.
Ibid., 206.
Ibid., 35.
See Baudelaire, 1980 and Genet, 1965.
Bataille, 1997, 206.
Aquinas, 1998.
Bataille, 1997, 43.
Augustine, 1973.
Ibid., 67.
Dodds, 1965.
For a discussion of Manicheanism, see Lieu, 1985.
Taylor, 1973, 187.
Bataille, 1988a, 120.
Bataille, 1997, 8.
Land, 1992.
Sartre, 1947.
Norman, 1983.
Bataille, 1988b.
Irwin, 2000.

Aquinas, Thomas. 1988. Selected Writings. Ed. and trans. Ralph
McInerny. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
Aristotle. 1976. Ethics. Trans. J. A. K. Thomson, ed. Hugh Tredennick.


The Possibility of Affirming Evil

Harmondsworth: Penguin.
Augustine. 1973. Retractations. Trans. Dom M. Pontifex. In Philosophy in
the Middle Ages, eds. Arthur Hyman and James J. Walsh. New
York: Hackett.
. 1984. The City of God. Trans. Henry Bettenson, intro. J. J.
OMeara. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
Bataille, Georges. 1957. La Littrature et le mal. Paris: Gallimard.
. 1967. La Part Maudite. Paris: Editions de Minuit.
. 1988a. The Accursed Share. Trans. Robert Hurley. New York:
. 1988b. Guilty. Trans. Bruce Boone. San Francisco: Lapis.
. 1997. Literature and Evil. Trans. Alaistair Hamilton. New York:
Marion Boyars.
Baudelaire, Charles. 1980. uvres Compltes. Paris: Gallimard.
Dodds, E. R. 1965. Pagan and Christian in an Age of Anxiety. Oxford:
Oxford University Press.
Genet, Jean. 1965. The Thiefs Journal. Trans. Bernard Frechtman.
Harmondsworth: Penguin.
Hyman, Arthur, and James J. Walsh, eds. 1973. Philosophy in the Middle
Ages. New York: Hackett.
Irwin, Jones 2000. Augustine and the Impossibility of Moral Action. Paper
at North American Patristics Society Conference, Chicago, May.
Klossowski, Pierre. 1989. Roberte Ce Soir and The Revocation of the
Edict of Nantes. Trans. A. Wainhouse. New York: Marion
Land, Nick. 1992. The Thirst for Annihilation: Georges Bataille and
Virulent Nihilism. London: Routledge.
Lieu, S. N. C. 1985. Manicheism in the Later Roman Empire and in
Medieval China. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
Markus, R., ed. 1972. Augustine: A Collection of Critical Essays. Garden
City, NY: Doubleday.
Nietzsche, Friedrich. 1967. On the Genealogy of Morals. Trans. Walter
Kaufmann and R. S. Hollingdale. New York: Random House.
. 1973. Beyond Good and Evil. Trans. R. S. Hollingdale.
Harmondsworth: Penguin.
Norman, Richard. 1983. The Moral Philosophers. Oxford: Oxford
University Press.
Plato. 1941. Republic. Ed. and trans. F. M. Cornford. Oxford: Oxford
University Press.
Rist, John. 1972. Augustine and Predestination. In Augustine: A
Collection of Critical Essays, ed. R. Markus. Garden City, NY:
Sartre, Jean-Paul. 1947. Situations I. Paris: Gallimard.

Jones Irwin


Taylor, Mark C. 1993. Nots. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

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Notes on Contributors
Margaret Snser Breen is Associate Professor of English at the
University of Connecticut, where she specializes in gay and lesbian
literature. She has served as Associate Editor of The International Journal
of Sexuality and Gender Studies and has edited Understanding Evil: An
Interdisciplinary Approach (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2003). Her co-edited
collection Butler Matters: Judith Butlers Impact on Feminist and Queer
Studies will be published by Ashgate in 2004.
Kathy M. Bullough completed her doctoral thesis on the
protrayal of Eve, the Virgin Mary, and Mary Magdalen in the art of
Rossetti, Burne-Jones, and Watts. She studied at St. Martins College,
Lancaster, UK, where she taught undergraduate courses on Christianity in
art and literature.
Deirdre Burke is Subject Coordinator for Religious Studies in
the School of Humanities, Languages, and Social Sciences at the
University of Wolverhampton, UK. She completed her Ph.D. on The
Holocaust in Education: Teacher and Learner Perspectives in 1998. Her
current research focuses on educational and religious issues related to the
Holocaust. Burkes publications include: Attitudes to Death during the
Holocaust: Writings from the Ghettos, Journal of Beliefs & Values:
Studies in Religion and Education, 20, no. 2 (1999):173183, and
Holocaust Education: Issues of Pedagogy and Content (2001). In
Remembering for the Future: The Holocaust in an Age of Genocide, eds.
John K. Roth and Elisabeth Maxwell. London: Macmillan.
Sandeep Singh Chohan is a research student in the Religious
Studies Department at the University of Wolverhampton, UK. He is
currently conducting his doctoral thesis on The Role of Exorcism in
North Indian Religious Traditions and its Adaptation amongst Hindus,
Sikhs, and Muslims in Britain. Chohans publications include The
Religious Dimension in the Struggle for Khalistan and its Roots in Sikh
History in the International Journal of Punjab Studies and the
forthcoming Punjabi Religion amongst the South Asian Diaspora in
Britain in South Asians in Diaspora: Histories and Religious Traditions,
published by Brill.
David H. Fisher is Professor of Philosophy and a faculty
member in the History of Ideas Program at North Central College in
Naperville, Illinois. His current work focuses on topics that combine
philosophy of law, ethics, aesthetics, and cross-cultural approaches to
revenge violence. He is the author of an essay on Theory in The


Notes on Contributors

Encyclopedia of Aesthetics and has published articles in The Journal of

Value Inquiry, Soundings, The Journal of Aesthetics, and Anglican
Theologican Review. He is active in the Association for Integrative
Studies, the annual Law, Culture, and Humanities Conference, and the
International Association for Philosophy and Literature.
Rob Fisher was Course Leader at Westminster College, Oxford,
and Principal Lecturer in Philosophy, Theology, and Theodicy. He is
presently Founder and Managing Director of Conference Connections Ltd,
and CEO of Learning Solutions. The latter promotes interdisciplinary
research, teaching, and publishing in Vocational, Secondary, and Higher
education. His research interests include the problems of evil and
suffering, and he has launched wickedness.net as an online resource for
exploring perspectives on evil and human wickedness and a new e-journal
to promote a multidisciplinary forum for the discussion of issues central to
evil. He is also interested in all aspects of persons, being on the Steering
Committee for the International Forum on Persons.
Salwa Ghaly is Assistant Professor at the University of Sharjah,
United Arab Emirates. Her research attempts to establish aesthetic,
stylistic, and ideological lines of continuity among writers of the core and
the periphery in the work of Sylvia Plath and Hanan Al-Shaykh or Joseph
Conrad and Buchi Emecheta. She has long been interested in the theme of
borderlands and geographical sites where cultural, racial, and gendered
identities are disrupted and called into question. More recently, however,
she has turned her attention to identities constructed behind walls and in
bunkers in war situations. She is currently writing a book on how
heterological narratives on war promote intersubjectivity and tolerance.
Richard Paul Hamilton was an associate lecturer in the
Department of Sociology, Manchester Metropolitan University,
Manchester, UK, and is now working for the national Subject Centre for
Philosophy and Religious Studies Learning and Teaching Support
Network at Leeds University, UK. He is also a research student in the
School of Philosophy, Birkbeck College, University of London. His major
research interest is the extent and limits of scientific explanations of
human conduct, from a perspective informed by ordinary language
philosophy and phenomenology and he is currently completing a Ph.D. on
social scientific explanations of love. Hamiltons publications include:
The Insignificance of Learners Errors: A Philosophical Investigation of
the Interlanguage Hypothesis, Language and Communication 21, no. 1
(2001):7388. He also has a number of articles forthcoming which attack
the current fashion of evolutionary psychology.

Notes on Contributors


Jones Irwin did his undergraduate Philosophy degree and his

Philosophy Masters at University College Dublin and completed his Ph.D.
on Plato and Derrida at the University of Warwick, UK. He has taught
Philosophy at the University of Limerick and the University of Warwick,
and he is currently Lecturer in Philosophy in St. Patricks College, Dublin
City University, in the Republic of Ireland. He is also Reviews Editor of
The Philosopher journal. His main research interests are ancient and
medieval thought and contemporary French philosophy under the general
headings of religion, thanatology, nihilism, and poetics. He is the editor of
Understanding War (Rodopi, forthcoming 2004).
Katri Lehtinen is a research student at the University of
Helsinki, in her native town. Her Masters thesis focused on gender issues
in the works of four major writers of nineteenth-century vampire fiction.
Following this, she published an article in a Finnish language womens
studies journal, on the role of women in these writings. The themes that
she explores in the present volume are expanded in her doctoral
dissertation, which has become more of a hobby than a work in progress,
because, as she explains, life happened. She currently lives in Brussels.
Diana Medlicott is Professor in the Department of Human
Sciences at Buckinghamshire Chilterns University College, UK. She
received her M.Sc. from the London School of Economics and Political
Science, and her doctorate from Middlesex University. Her research
interests focus on imprisonment, violent crime, and young offenders, and
she is particularly interested in inter-disciplinary approaches. Medlicotts
publications include Surviving the Prison Place: Narratives of Suicidal
Prisoners (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2001).

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References to illustrations are in bold italics.
abhichara, 103, 104, 105, 106, 107,
abnormality, 21, 31, 32
Abrams, M.H., 55, 66
acrates, 72
Adam, 38, 43, 45
Adorno, Theodore, 64
aesthetics, 23, 52, 64, 147
aesthetic, 32, 52, 54, 63, 64, 148
Africa, 23, 25, 26
African, 4, 13, 23, 24, 25, 27, 34
African-American, 4, 13, 27, 29, 30,
akrasia. See incontinence
alienation, 27, 32
Almond, Brenda, 99, 101, 102
altruism, 140, 141, 142
ambivalence, xii, xiv, 99, 103
Ambrose, 47
androgynity, 31
Angiras, 103, 104, 106, 111
Anglican Theologican Review, 147
Apostolos-Cappadona, Diane, 43,
Appadurai, Arjun, 34
Aquinas, Thomas, 137, 143
Thomism, 137, 140, 142
Arab-African, 23
arche, 52
Arendt, Hannah, 55, 122, 123, 126,
129, 130
Aristotle, 71, 72, 75, 101, 140, 141,
142, 143
Aristotelian, 72, 141, 142
Aristotelianism, 141
Association for Integrative Studies,
the, 147
Atharvan, 103, 106, 111
Atharvaveda, 103, 104, 105, 106,
107, 108, 109, 111, 112, 113

Augustine of Hippo, xiv, 44, 45, 47,

48, 50, 137, 138, 139, 141, 142, 144
Augustinian, xiv, 94, 137, 138, 139,
140, 141, 142
Auschwitz, 52, 54, 56, 60, 61, 63,
64, 65, 98, 102

Babb, Lawrence, 108, 112
Bach, Johann Sebastian, 58, 59
Bade, Patrick, 44, 49
Bakerman, Jane S., 34
Barmen Declaration, 96
Barratt, D., 94, 101
Barreca, Regina, 16, 19
Barth, Karl, 96, 115
Bataille, Georges, vi, xiv, 32, 34,
131, 133, 134, 135, 136, 137, 138,
139, 140, 141, 142, 144
Bataillean, 140
Batailles, Georges
Bataillean, 141, 142
Baudelaire, Charles, 134, 135, 137,
139, 144
Baudrillard, Jean, 81, 89, 91
Belkom, Edo van, 14, 16
Belsey, Catherine, 2, 16
Bennett, John, 115
Bertram, Cardinal, 98
bestiality, 44
Beuys, Joseph, 61
Bhabha, Homi, 22, 34
bhakti, 108, 110
bheshajani, 103, 104, 105, 106, 107,
bhisajs, 108
Billington, Ray, 95, 99, 101
binary oppositions, 32
Bingham, June, 115, 130
Bjork, Patrick Bryce, 34
Blair, Anthony, 119
Blanchot, Maurice, 65, 66

blood, 2, 5, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 70,
71, 84
Bloom, Harold, 34, 35
Bosch, Hieronymous, 55
Bse, 51
Bosheit, 51
Braham, Randolph L., 102
Brahma, 103
Brahmaveda, 106
Brahmavidya, 104
brahmin, the, 106, 107, 108
Brite, Poppy Z., 8, 17, 18, 19
Bronfenbrenner, Urie, 78, 91
Bront, Emily, 133
Brownworth, Victoria A., 17, 19
brute, xi, 71
brutality, ix, 6, 13, 70, 71
Bullock, Allan, 73
Bullough, Kathy M., v, xii, 37, 147
Burke, Deirdre, v, xiii, 93, 147
Burne-Jones, Edward, v, vii, xii, 37,
42, 45, 46, 48, 50
___Works, v, vii, xii, 42
___Works, 37

Cadigan, Pat, 14, 17
Caliban, xi, xii, xv
Califia, Pat, 17
Carlson, David Gray, 67
Carr, Jan, 14, 17
casuistry, 65
Celan, Paul, xiii, 52, 56, 57, 58, 59,
60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65, 66, 67
___Works, 57, 58, 60, 62, 63
Chakraborty, C., 112
Chetwynd-Hayes, R., 17
Chohan, Sandeep Singh, vi, xiv,
103, 149
Chrisman, Laura, 35
Christ, xiii, 37, 45, 46, 47, 48, 58
Christianity, 1, 45, 48, 55, 93, 96,
97, 102, 115, 130, 131, 134, 136,
137, 138, 139, 147
Christian Churches, the, xiii, 45,
48, 50, 94, 96, 100
Christians, v, xiii, xiv, 37, 38,
43, 48, 50, 58, 93, 94, 95, 96,
97, 98, 99, 100, 101, 109,

116, 130, 131, 136, 137, 138,

139, 140, 142, 144, 147
Lutheran, 95
Protestant, 96
Roman Catholic, 45, 46, 49, 50,
94, 96, 97, 98
Cohn-Sherbok, Daniel, 97, 102
Collins, 8
Collins, Nancy, 6, 10, 13, 17
colonial, 21, 23, 24
colonialist, 23
colonization, 24
decolonization, 32
community, 21, 22, 28, 29, 31, 32,
69, 95, 99, 108, 110, 118, 121, 122,
125, 126, 127, 128
complicity, xii, xiii, xv, 24, 63, 69,
concentration camps, 122, 123
death camps, 58, 59
labor camps, 57, 58
contempt, xiii, 93, 98, 121, 124, 135
Conway, John Seymour, 94, 96, 102
Cornell, Drucilla, 67, 91
Corradi di Fiumara, G., 78, 91
Cox, Greg, 17
criminal, xiv, 87
criminals, xiii, 77, 78, 83, 84, 87,
88, 94, 97, 119
cruelty, ix, 26, 53
cruelty, 73

Danby, John F., 122, 130
Daniels, Les, 13, 17
darkness, ix, xi, 23, 38, 47, 70
Datlow, Ellen, 17
Davis, Keith E., 92
De la Pena, Terri, 14, 17
De Lisle, Fortunee, 47, 50
death, 16, 19, 22, 26, 32, 37, 38, 44,
45, 48, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59,
60, 61, 62, 65, 70, 97, 102, 117,
119, 138, 147
deaths, 32, 54, 58, 97
definition, xii, xiii, 1, 2, 74, 87, 109,
111, 125, 126, 142

definitions, xiii, 21, 32, 84
DeKelb-Rittenhouse, Diane, 17
democracy, 95, 118
Devil, the, 43
differend, the, 55, 56
Dijkstra, Bram, 43, 50
Dilthey, Wilhelm, 78, 91
discourse, v, xiii, 23, 24, 34, 35, 63,
64, 73, 81, 82, 83, 84, 85, 86, 87,
88, 89
psychiatric, xiii
divinity, 52
divine, the, 47, 52, 55, 93, 138
Dodds, Ernest R., 138, 144
Dostoyevsky, Fyodor, ix, 117, 120,
121, 130
___Works, 117, 130
Douglas, Jack D., 91
Dowson, John, 104, 112
dualism, xiv, 103, 104, 109
dualistic, xiv, 109
Dusen, Henry van, 115
Dwyer, G., 110, 111, 112
Dyer, S.N., 17

Eagleton, Terry, 34
Eichmann, Adolf, 64
Eliade, Mircea, 112
Eliot, Thomas Stearns, 65
Elliot, J.K., 46, 50
embodiment, 26, 29, 32, 125
empathy, 78, 80
Enlightenment, the, 77, 86, 88, 92,
epistemological, 32
epistemology, 32
ethics, xiii, 9, 30, 52, 63, 64, 65, 88,
131, 140, 141, 142, 147
ethical, 9, 10, 25, 55, 56, 64,
133, 141
the ethical, xiii, 31, 132, 140
European, 23, 24, 25, 26, 74, 115,
118, 125
Euthanasia, 98
Eve, v, vii, xii, 29, 37, 38, 40, 41,
43, 44, 45, 48, 50, 62
evil, i, iii, v, vi, ix, xi, xii, xiii, xiv,
xv, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 10, 13, 14,

21, 22, 24, 27, 28, 30, 31, 32, 37,

38, 43, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54,
55, 56, 57, 67, 69, 70, 71, 72, 73,
74, 75, 77, 83, 88, 91, 93, 96, 99,
100, 102, 109, 110, 112, 124, 127,
131, 132, 133, 134, 135, 136, 137,
138, 139, 140, 141, 142, 144, 147
banality of, 55
evils, ix, 12, 28, 32, 93, 100,
118, 119
paradox of, xi, 64, 115, 116, 117,
118, 119, 120, 121, 122, 124,
radical, xiii, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55
evil-doer, the, xi, xiii, 69, 73, 74, 75
exorcism, 103, 106, 107, 111
exorcist, the, xiv, 103, 105, 108,
109, 110, 111

Fall, the, 37, 38, 43, 44, 45, 48, 141
fascism, 63, 141
Feeley, M., 79, 91
Feldman, Ron H., 130
Felstiner, John, 57, 59, 67
femininity, 28, 30, 37, 38, 43, 48
feminine, 22, 29, 37, 38, 43, 58
femme fatale, 43, 44
feminism, 4
feminist, xii, 8, 9
Fichte, Johann Gottlieb, 61
Fisher, David H., v, xiii, 147
Fisher, E.J., xiii, 95, 102
Fisher, Rob, v, vi, ix, xiv, xvii, 115,
Forrest, Katherine V., 10, 17
Fosdick, Harry Emerson, 115
Foucault, Michel, xiii, 79, 85, 88,
89, 91
Fox, Richard, 115, 130
freedom, 6, 7, 29, 30, 46, 47, 48,
124, 133, 134
French Revolution, the, 13
Friedel, Francis, 48, 50
Friedlnder, Saul, 67
Fromm, Erich, 71, 75
Fuller, C.J., 109, 110, 112


Galen, Bishop, 98
Garland, D., 79, 92
Gates, Henry Louis, 27, 34
gender, 7, 8, 9, 11, 27, 32, 148
gendered, 7, 27, 32, 148
genealogy, 87, 132, 133, 134
Genesis, 38, 44, 50
Genet, Jean, 133, 135, 136, 137,
139, 144
genocide, ix, 53, 64
George, Stefan, 61
Gergen, Kenneth J., 78, 92
Gergen, M., 92
German Corporations, the, 69
Gestapo, the, 70, 71
Ghaly, Salwa, v, xii, 21, 148
Giddens, Anthony, 81, 92
Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von, 58
___Works, 58
Goldhagen, Daniel J., 94, 96, 97,
Gomez, Jewelle, 6, 8, 9, 11, 13, 14,
good, xii, xiv, 2, 27, 29, 31, 32, 45,
55, 63, 69, 83, 93, 103, 104, 105,
106, 109, 110, 111, 120, 124, 127,
128, 131, 132, 133, 134, 135, 136,
137, 138, 139, 140, 141
Good Samaritan, the, 126
Gordon, Joan, 17
Goya, Francisco de, 55
greed, 13, 30, 86
Greenberg, Martin H., 17
Greenblatt, Stephen, 34
Gregory of Nyssa, 48
Griffith, R.T.H., 112
Gunn, Giles, 34
Guyau, Jean Marie, 88, 92

Haidu, Peter, 52, 53, 67
Hambly, Barbara, 17
Hamilton, Richard Paul, iii, v, xv,
xvii, 69, 148
Harlow, Barbara, 34
harm, xii, 2, 6, 10, 53, 62, 78, 103,
105, 109, 110

Hartman, Geoffrey, 51
Heaney, Seamus, 58, 67
Hebrews, Book of, 123
Hell, 54
Herczl, Moshe, 94, 102
heteronormative, 4, 8
heterosexual, 3, 4, 7, 9, 11
Heydrich, Reinhard, 71, 72, 73, 74
Hill, D., 99, 101, 102
Himmler, Heinrich, 71
Hindu, xiv, 103, 107, 108, 109, 112
Hirn, Yrjo, 46, 50
Hitler, Adolf, xiii, 69, 71, 73, 74,
75, 96, 98, 99, 102, 115
Hlderlin, Friedrich, 61
Holland, Tom, 12, 18
Hollinger, Veronica, 17
Holocaust, the, v, xiii, 52, 57, 58,
61, 63, 69, 73, 93, 94, 100, 102, 147
Final Solution, the, xiii, 57, 67,
94, 97
holocaust denial, 127
Shoah, 57, 60, 73
homophobia, 13
Horton, Walter, 115
Huff, Tanya, 10, 18
human, ix, xii, xiii, xiv, xv, 1, 2, 5,
6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 22, 27,
30, 38, 44, 45, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55,
60, 64, 71, 77, 81, 85, 86, 87, 89,
93, 94, 99, 100, 103, 104, 109, 111,
116, 119, 120, 121, 122, 123, 124,
125, 126, 127, 128, 135, 137, 138,
139, 141, 142, 148
human rights, 119, 121
humanistic, 55
humanity, xi, 6, 7, 9, 10, 12, 29, 55,
93, 122, 125, 126, 127, 133, 135,
138, 141, 142
Huyssen, Andreas, 62, 63, 67
hypocrisy, 22, 28

identities, 57, 77, 78, 85, 86, 88, 148
identity, ix, xi, 9, 13, 21, 22, 25, 26,
27, 63, 78, 81, 82, 84, 85, 86, 87,
88, 89, 118, 122, 139

ideology, 64
ideological, 23, 24, 121, 148
Ignatieff, Michael, 121, 123, 130
immorality, 29
imperialist, 23, 24
imperialistic, 116, 118
incest, 5, 12
incontinence, 93
innocence, xi, 37, 44, 70
insensitivity, ix
International Association for
Philosophy and Literature, 147
International Forum on Persons, the,
International Journal of Punjab
Studies, 149
Irenaeus, 45, 47
Irving, David, 73, 75
Irwin, Jones, vi, xiv, 142, 144, 148
Isaac, Jeffrey, 93, 130
Islamic, 141

Keesey, Pam, 17, 18

Kiefer, Anselm, xiii, 52, 56, 57, 61,
62, 63, 65, 67
King, Martin Luther, 118
King, Stephen, 18
Klossowski, Pierre, 139, 140, 144
Knipe, D.M., 108, 112
Kohlberg, Lawrence, 99, 102
Koja, Kathe, 18
Kosovo, 119
Kreis, Wilhelm, 63

James, C.L.R., 34
Jameson, Frederic, 34
Jewish, 52, 57, 58, 59, 70, 93, 94,
95, 96, 97, 98, 100, 102, 118, 130
Jews, xiii, 56, 57, 63, 69, 72, 73, 93,
94, 95, 96, 97, 98, 100, 102, 118,
130, 131
Jones, Stephen, 18
Journal of Beliefs & Values: Studies
in Religion and Education, 147
Jozefw, massacre at, 72, 97
Judaism, 95, 132
Judaic, 141
Justin Martyr, 45
Jyotisha, the, 107

Lackey, Douglas, 93, 102

Land, Nick, 139, 144
language, xi, xii, 21, 24, 56, 57, 64,
87, 108, 121, 122, 123, 148, 149
speech, 52, 59, 74, 80
Language and Communication, 148
Lanzmann, Claude, 73, 74
law, the, 32, 57, 65, 86, 87, 95, 127,
Le Fanu, J.Sheridan, 3, 4, 18
Leatherdale, Clive, 1, 18
Lee, Tanith, 6, 18
Lehtinen, Katri, v, xii, xiv, 1, 148
Leonard, Carol, 10, 18
lesser peoples, 24
Leviticus, Book of, 126
liberal, 24, 115, 116
Lieu, S.N.C., 144
Littell, Franklin H., 93, 102
Livingston, James, 115, 130
logic, 21, 32
love, 5, 8, 11, 12, 16, 17, 18, 19, 29,
34, 45, 81, 93, 116, 118, 120, 121,
126, 127, 128, 131, 135, 137, 148
Lucifer, xii
Luke, Saint, 47
Lyotard, Jean Francois, 55, 56, 67

Kant, Immanuel, 51, 53, 57, 64

___Works, 53
Kantian, 78
Karambelkar, V.W., 112
Katz, Steven T., 94, 102
Kawash, Samara, 34

MacMillan, Hugh, 38, 50

madness, 27
magic, xiv, 26, 103, 104, 105, 106,
107, 109, 110, 111
Maha Patra, the, 107
Makdisi, Saree, 35

mal, le, 21, 34, 133, 135, 144
Malebranche, Niccolo de, 64
Malzberg, Barry N., 18
Manichean, 138
Margaret Snser Breen, xvii, 147
Margarete, xiii, 58, 59, 60, 61, 62,
63, 64
margin, the, 21, 27, 29
marginality, xii, 21, 24, 27, 32
marginalized, xii, 8, 13, 23, 24,
Markus, R., 144
Mary, 37
Mary, The Virgin, xii, 37, 38, 45, 47
masculinity, 28, 30
male, 3, 4, 7, 8, 11, 21, 30, 31
masochism, 27, 31, 32
masochist, the, 21
Matthew, Book of, 126
Matza, D., 80, 92
McDowell, Deborah E., 27, 35
McGrath, Alister, 93, 102
McMahan, Jeffrey, 18
Medlicott, Diana, v, xiii, 77, 78, 92,
Mein Kampf, 98
Mills, C. Wright, 80, 92
Milton, John, 54, 112
misogyny, xii, 21
monstrous, xi, 54
Moore-Gilbert, Bart, 35
moral beliefs, 63
moral dilemmas, 9, 63
moral reflection, 51, 52, 57, 64, 65
moral order, 31, 32
mores, 28
slave, 133, 134
Morrison, Toni, v, xii, 21, 27, 28,
29, 32, 34, 35
___Works, v, 21, 22, 27, 28, 29,
30, 31, 32, 35
motives, 69, 71, 74, 94
motivation, 53, 73, 140, 141
Mozambique, 116
Mugabe, Robert, 119
Mumsey, B., 99, 102
murder, xiii, 53, 55, 69
myth, 25, 55, 86, 88

natural supernaturalism, 55
naturalist, 124
Nazis, the
Nazi, 53, 61, 63, 93, 96, 97, 98,
99, 100, 102, 118
Nazism, 59, 67
Nelken, David, 91, 92
New Catholic Encyclopedia, 45, 49
Newman, Cardinal John Henry, 46,
48, 50
Niebuhr, Reinhold, vi, xiv, 115,
116, 117, 118, 119, 120, 121, 124,
125, 126, 127, 128, 130
Nietzsche, Friedrich, xiv, 55, 131,
132, 133, 134, 135, 136, 137, 144
Nietzschean, xiv, 131, 133, 137, 139
Norman, Richard, 77, 92, 132, 140,
141, 142, 144
Nowell-Smith, P.H., 99

OCarroll, Michael, 47, 50
OFlaherty, W.D., 112
OMalley, W.D., 109, 112
ojhas, 108
Ojhas, 107
Orient, the, 25
orientalism, 23
Other, the, 4, 10, 25, 26, 35, 91
alterity, 56
otherness, 21, 22, 23, 27, 28, 29,

pacifism, 116
Pagels, Elaine, 44, 50
pain, 8, 21, 29, 30, 31, 32, 37, 44,
46, 48, 70, 72, 78, 104, 106, 107,
Parr, H., 77, 92
Parry, Benita, 32, 35
Pascal, Blaise, 125
Paul, Saint
Letter To The Corinthians, 45

pedophilia, 127
Pelagius, 139, 142
Pelagian, 142
Penal policy, 86
perpetrators, 94
persons, ix, 58, 59, 121, 122, 125,
perversity, 3, 139
phenomenology, 51, 64, 148
Philips, John, 43, 50
Philo, C., 77, 92
philosophy, 51, 91, 92, 101, 102,
129, 144, 147, 148
pirate, the, xiii, xiv, 85, 86, 90
Plato, 140, 141, 142, 144, 148
Platonic, 141, 142
Platonism, 55
poetry, xiii, 22, 52, 57, 59, 60, 61,
63, 65, 135
police battalions, the, 69, 97
Pope Pius XII, 97
pornography, 127
postmodernity, 55
power, xi, xii, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 9, 10,
11, 12, 13, 14, 22, 24, 26, 43, 58,
62, 69, 70, 71, 74, 79, 83, 86, 106,
118, 120, 122, 123, 127, 128, 138
abuse of, 5
Pre-Raphaelites, the, 37, 147
Prest, Thomas Peckett, 3, 18, 19
pretension, 115, 116, 117, 118, 119,
120, 121, 124, 125
prison, 26, 77, 78, 79, 80, 81, 83,
84, 86, 90
Prometheus, xii
Pujari, 107
punishment, 44, 48, 79, 87, 138
purity, 2, 38, 44, 48, 127

Quayson, Ato, 32, 35
Queer, xii, 7
gay, 4, 8, 11
homosexuals, 69
lesbian, 4, 8, 13

racism, 21, 23, 27

ethnic cleansing, 116, 121
miscegenation, 29, 30
racial hatred, 127
racist, xiii
rape, 6, 8, 12, 30
rationality, 23, 32, 85
reason, 52, 78
realism, vi, xiv, 118, 119, 121, 125,
127, 128
rebellion, xi, xv, 32, 93
redemption, 44, 47, 48, 82, 138, 139
religion, 1, 23, 99, 100, 103, 106,
108, 109, 111, 139, 148
religious, xiv, 1, 61, 64, 72, 84,
88, 93, 94, 97, 98, 99, 100,
103, 104, 105, 106, 107, 108,
109, 110, 111, 136, 137, 139,
140, 147
representation, xii, 37, 44, 51, 52,
53, 54, 55, 57, 62, 65, 104, 147
representations, xiii, 27, 53, 65, 110
ressentiment, 132, 133
Rg Veda, 103, 104, 106
Rice, Anne, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12,
14, 18
Rilke, Rainer Marie, 53
Rist, John, 138, 140, 144
Roche, Thomas S., 18
romantic, 55, 58, 66
Roosevelt, Franklin Delano, 118
Rose, Nikolaus, 77, 85, 86, 87, 88,
Rosenbaum, Ron, xiii, 69, 73, 74,
Rosenfeld, Michael, 67
Rosenthal, Mark, 61, 67
Rossetti, Dante Gabriel, 37, 50
Roth, J., 96, 102
Rousseau, Jean-Jacques, 125
Rowe, Michael, 18
Rubenstein, R., 96, 102
Rusch, Krisitine Katharyn, 18
Russett, Cynthia E., 18
Ryan, Alan, 18

race, 13, 14, 27, 32, 59

sadism, 27, 32

sadist, the, 21, 72, 74
Said, Edward, 34, 35
Salih, Tayeb, v, xii, 21, 22, 24, 25,
27, 32, 34, 35
___Works, 21, 22, 26, 34, 35
Santayana, George, 102
Sartre, Jean Paul, 134, 135, 136,
137, 138, 139, 141, 144
Satanism, 134
Schiller, Gertrud, 47, 50
Schleiermacher, Friedrich Ernst
Daniel, 61
Schrmann, Reiner, 51, 64, 67
Schutz, Alfred, 74, 75
Scully, D., 80, 92
selfishness, 28
selflessness, ix, 30
Sen, Amartaya, 121, 130
Sewell, Elizabeth, 53, 67
sexual, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 12, 22, 24,
28, 29, 30, 32, 43, 44, 74, 80,
sexual intercourse, 2, 44
sexuality, 7, 12, 22, 24, 26, 29,
30, 37, 43, 44, 74
sexism, 21, 31
sexist, 13, 28
Shakespeare, William, xi, xii, xv,
122, 123, 130
___Works, xi, xii, xiv, 51, 122,
123, 125, 130
Shelley, Percy Bysse, 55
Shires, Linda M., 18
Shotter, John, 77, 92
Shulamite, xiii, 52, 58, 60, 61, 62,
63, 64
Shuttleworth, Sally, 18
Simmons, Dan, 14, 18
Simon, J., 79, 91
sin, 37, 38, 43, 44, 45, 47, 48, 136,
137, 138, 139, 142
slavery, 21, 81, 89, 118
Smith, H., 29, 87, 91, 92
Smith, Susan L., 35
social sciences, xiii
human sciences, 78
interpretative or Verstehen
tradition, xiii
socialism, 24, 115

socialist, 115
The Left, 23
society, xii, xiv, 1, 2, 4, 8, 12, 13,
14, 21, 22, 24, 26, 27, 28, 31, 56,
61, 93, 94, 95, 99, 104, 106, 107,
108, 110, 111, 119, 127, 128
Song of Songs, 58
Soundings, 147
Spanish Inquisition, the, 13
spite, ix
Spivak, Gayatari Chakravorty, 35
Sprinker, Michael, 35
SS, the, 56, 58
Star Trek, 127
Steiner, George, 52
Stephens, John Richard, 19
stereotypes, 21, 22, 23, 24, 26, 27,
Stoker, Bram, 1, 2, 3, 4, 8, 18, 19
___Works, 1, 2, 3, 4, 8, 18, 19
Sturgis, Susanna J., 14, 19
Stutley, Margaret, 105, 106, 107,
108, 109, 112
Styron, William, 53
subjectivity, 77, 79, 85, 86, 87, 88,
sublime, the, 53, 55, 57
supernatural, the, 7, 13, 47, 103,
105, 106, 108, 109, 110, 111
natural supernaturalism, 55
Sykes, G., 80, 92

taboo, 3, 30, 136
Takieddine-Amyuni, Mona, 34, 35
Taliban, the, xv
Tavard, George, 38, 50
Taylor, Mark C., 138, 139, 145
Tem, Melanie, 19
Tem, Steve Rasnic, 19
temptation, 43
Tertullian, 45
The Encyclopedia of Aesthetics, 147
The Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, 46
The Journal of Aesthetics, 147
The Journal of Value Inquiry, 147
The Philosopher, 148
The Protevangelium of James, 46,

theology, xiv, 115, 137
Third Reich, the, 69
Thomas, Laurence, 98, 100, 102
Todorov, Tzvetan, 125, 126, 130
Tomlinson, John, 35
Tracy, Robert, 19
tragedy, 38, 116
Tremayne, Peter, 19
Trevor-Roper, Hugh, 73
Tropp, Martin, 19
Twitchell, James B., 19

understanding, xiii, 7, 32, 44, 45,
53, 55, 73, 74, 75, 77, 78, 80, 83,
85, 87, 88, 93, 107, 109, 111, 125,
un-godly, 1
United Nations, the, 119
Upstone, Robert, 37, 50

vampire, xii, xiv, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7,
8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 148
vampiric, 5
vampirism, 5, 7, 12
Varma, Devendra P., 18, 19
Vatican, the, 96, 130
Vedas, the, 103, 104, 108, 109
Vedic period, the, 103, 107
Vedic samhita, 103, 106
victims, xiii, 3, 9, 10, 25, 26, 53, 58,
59, 63, 72, 78, 80, 93, 121
violence, 7, 22, 23, 24, 29, 52, 63,
78, 80, 81, 86, 121, 128
virginitas in partu, 37, 45, 47, 48

Walker, Benjamin, 105, 106, 107,
108, 112
war, xv, 8, 29, 57, 59, 65, 70, 115,
116, 118, 119
World War One, 115
World War Two, 115, 116, 118,
Warner, Marina, 45, 50
Warrington, Freda, 19

Watts, George Frederick, v, vii, xii,

37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 43, 44, 50
Eve Repentant, 41
Eve Tempted, 40
She Shall Be Called Woman, 39
The Nativity, 42
___Works, vii, xii, 37, 39, 43,
44, 45
Watts, Mary, 44
Weightman, S., 109, 112
Weil, Jiri, xiii, 69, 70, 71, 75
___Works, 70, 71, 75
Weiss, J., 96, 98, 102
Weisskopf, T.K.F., 17
Wells, H.G., 19
White, Hayden V., 35, 67
Whitfield, S.J., 122, 130
wickedness, xiii, xiv, 9, 29, 46, 51,
77, 93, 100, 103, 111, 147
Widdershoven, G., 78, 92
Williams, Patrick, 35
Wilson Knight, G., 122, 130
Wilton, Andrew, 37, 50
Wolf, Leonard, 19
womanhood, 2, 8, 28, 29
Wordsworth, William, 55
World Trade Center, xv
Wyschogrod, Edith, 56, 67

Yarbro, Chelsea Quinn, 10, 13, 19

Zimbabwe, 119
Zysk, Kenneth, 105, 107, 113