We speak of the alleged abnormal human, the person who exists in a marginal and paradoxical place in society who is unable, by his nature, to conform to the accepted practices and beliefs of a society. He operates and behaves contrary to the interests of society and even contrary to his own interests. He is this way because his nature is unnatural. The bonds of society, most significantly the intrafamilial bonds, are inaccessible to him and he attacks the people and institutions that bind society together. He is:
unaware of the necessary tendency of interest and the supreme point of his interest is to accept the game of collective interests. Is he not a natural individual who brings with him the old man of the forests with all the fundamental prosocial archaisms and who is, at the same time, an unnatural individual? In short, is not the criminal precisely nature against nature? Is this not the monster? (Abnormal 91)
Most significant is the paradox. He is a natural man, an expression of bestial desires without regard to social norms. And yet, he is also completely unnatural. He is a social being bent on the destruction of the social and an expression of nature which runs counter to nature. He is nature against nature AND culture against culture. He cannot fit. He is an ogre who devours his own children and savagely attacks his family, his wife, his babies. No organic or cultural limit can contain or define him.
These monsters were and are the exceptional ones. They are still with us, though they have undergone variations and have changed their outward expressions. Society and culture have changed but the monster remains an intrinsic feature of our world. It is not as if this monster has become a peripheral figure.
Once upon a time these monsters were the primordial ancestors of kings. Before they took on the status of monster, these characters saw to the safety of the earliest human social units. These men prowled the margins and fended off wolves. They held the lines against invaders. But then culture took a turn and the social arrangements changed:
At the origin of humanity were two kinds of people: those devoted to agriculture and animal husbandry and those who protected them because ferocious wild animals threatened to eat the women and children, destroy the harvests, and devour the herds, et cetera. Hunters were required to protect the agricultural community from wild beasts. Then a time came when hunters had been so effective that there were no more wild beasts. The hunters consequently became useless and, disturbed by their uselessness, which would deprive them of their privileges as hunters, they transformed into wild beasts and turned against those they were protecting. They in turn attacked the herds and families they should have been protecting. They were the wolves of mankind. They were the tigers of primitive society. Kings are nothing else but these tigers, these hunters of earlier times who took the place of the wild beasts prowling around the first societies. (97)
The keepers of culture were these violent beasts who, after finding that those who depended on them had relegated them to irrelevance, turned on the people who they once protected. And the people found that they could not do without them. Thus the only humans who were capable of turning on their own kind, and were willing to prove it, rose to the status as rulers, complete with the sanction of the Gods. What else could have made something which is capable of destroying and devouring both the natural bonds of human to nature and the social bonds of human to human.
Hand in hand with Lacan’s sickening desire toward incest and its patriarchal prohibition, the violent beast is part of everything we revile and he manifests himself still. Foucault’s parable would seem to draw out a space within culture that is otherwise relegated to something anathema to culture. These things must be contained or destroyed. They are not us and they are against all that is decent and humane.
These offenders of decency are inhuman beasts who have somehow gone wrong. By now the psychiatric classification of instincts as the groundwork for modern psychiatry would have pathological classifications for those who seem to express nothing but violence and lust. Whatever base animal instincts that may be latent within us are necessarily civilized and re-directed into cultural norms which now facilitate the “normal” human set of relations that is culture. But this beast is quite the opposite. It is sacred. It is that part of culture that we cling to with every holy impulse and legal and social norm.
Having lost the need for kings, the regal monsters have been forced to hide among us. They are the worst kind of threat because they look, act and speak just like us. We see them everywhere, in schools, public transportation, places of worship—they even hold positions of power and authority which, and they are endowed with special trust. We are the ones who invite the vampire in.
The unfamiliar and fabulous paradox of the monster is that it occupies the same position as the holy figure. They are the same animal. It is easy to allow this paradox in a kind of fairy tale, but the mechanisms of social power that isolated the monster are in fact the same mechanisms that isolated the holy aberration and these two creatures are one and the same. In the space of the abnormal, the predatory human-monster is not an external threat but an intimate and central character in social and cultural arrangements. Rather than the predatory inhuman degenerate, the abnormal and violent man is the intimate and even ruling subject at the heart of all that we hold up as our highest and most sacrosanct spaces within culture.
Those creatures of modern life we hold to be most sacred, although we do not call them sacred anymore since we learned to insert the idea of sovereignty in place of the sacred—those creatures marked off as having a particular status as protected—these are the sites of our most monstrous fantasies. Here we focus the machines of contemporary vengeance. The monsters who violate the sovereign bodies of the protected were long deprived of one of two coordinates of existence. They were stripped of time, often for the rest of their lives. We do worse now. The monsters are invested with the full weight of contemporary knowledge.
The monster is now surrounded by classifying regimes which follow his every move. Having determined the line which marks the ultimate transgression, these monsters now become characters in the vast electronic database of the human realm. Crossing the line, the monster will never regain his human status. His monstrous characteristics, listed and explained and referenced to vast systems of psychology, sociology, and criminology, are inscribed in an electronic sacred text. This is our modern epic of origins.
The monster cannot go away and we cannot “civilize” ourselves beyond him because he is the King at the heart of all we are.