Expressions of a self without a self in Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay Resumo: Num mundo em que mães matam os seus filhos, maridos matam as suas mulheres, filhos matam os seus pais, as pessoas matam-se para matar outras pessoas, parece que muitos de nós há muito perderam o verdadeiro sentido de nós mesmos e da nossa humanidade. Para nos lembrar deste significado antigo e precioso, Jeff Lindsay sentiu o desejo de criar um brilhante serial killer psicótico que luta com dilemas morais e com a natureza do bem e do mal. A originalidade do seu conceito vem da invenção de um psicopata astuto com um coração, um homem sem uma personalidade muito bem equilibrada, mas alguém que é capaz de expor e questionar o nível de autenticidade que demonstramos em diferentes aspectos das nossas vidas. Um maníaco homicida inteligente na tradição de Richard III e Hannibal Lecter, Dexter é um tipo muito original de vilão gótico, possuindo todas as duplicidades, ambivalências e paradoxos de uma identidade definida por ser um "puro monstro". Um técnico dos serviços médico-legais da polícia de Miami durante o dia e assassino justiceiro de serial killers à noite, Dexter mata apenas pessoas que merecem morrer, o que concede às suas acções violentas um valor social redentor. Superando os clichés de violência erotizada e os efeitos especiais científicos da série CSI, a narrativa de Dexter usa um humor negro inteligente para subverter o poder racional de peritos forenses, mostrando que um profissional eficiente pode ser tão pervertido por impulsos irracionais como os próprios criminosos e o que verdadeiramente provoca obsessão num serial killer pode transformar-se na mais normal obsessão de um homem comum: manter as aparências. Preocupado em parecer um membro da raça humana em perfeito equilíbrio emocional, a personagem de Lindsay lida com a violência como algo inebriante e emocionante, horrível e belo. Sempre que Dexter actua na caverna mais negra da moralidade, as suas muito expressivas amostras sanguíneas revelam que ele é o equivalente assassino de Jackson Pollock.
Palavras-chave:Dexter; Jeff Lindsay; self; monstro; duplo; gótico americano.
Abstract: In a world in which mothers kill their children, husbands kill their wives, sons kill their parents, and people kill themselves to kill other people, it seems that many of us have long lost the true sense of ourselves and our humanity. To remind us of that old and precious meaning, Jeff Lindsay felt the urge to create a brilliant psychotic serial killer, who wrestles with moral dilemmas and the nature of good and evil. The originality of his concept comes from the invention of an artful psycho with a heart, a man without a very well balanced self, but someone who is able to expose and question the level of authenticity we have in different parts of our lives. A smart, self-aware homicidal maniac in the tradition of Richard III and Hannibal Lecter, Dexter is a very original kind of gothic villain, possessing all the duplicities, ambivalences and paradoxes of a self defined by being a “neat monster”. A forensic blood-spatter specialist for the Miami Police Department by day, and avenging serial murderer by night, Dexter kills only people who deserve to die, which despite his violent actions defies the moral boundaries of the human condition. Surpassing the clichés of eroticized violence and the too serious scientific special effects of CSI series, Dexter’s narrative uses an intelligent dark humour to subvert the rational power of forensic experts, showing that an efficient professional can be as perverted by irrational impulses as the criminals themselves, and what really obsesses a serial killer may turn to be the most normal obsession for a common man: to keep up appearances. Concerned about passing as a fully emotional member of the human race, Lindsay’s character deals with violence as something intoxicating and thrilling, horrifying and beautiful. Whenever Dexter acts inside the blackest cave of morality, his very expressive bloody patterns show he is the murderous equivalent of Jackson Pollock.
Keywords: Dexter; Jeff Lindsay; self; monster; double; American gothic.
In a world in which mothers kill their children, husbands kill their wives, sons kill their parents, and people kill themselves to kill other people, it seems that many of us have long lost the true sense of ourselves and our humanity. To remind us of that old and precious meaning, Jeff Lindsay felt the urge to create a brilliant psychotic serial killer, who wrestles with moral dilemmas and the nature of good and evil. The originality of his concept comes from the invention of an artful psycho with a heart, a man without a very well balanced self, but someone who is able to expose and question the level of authenticity we have at different moments of our lives, suggesting that something is dreadfully wrong in the everyday world. His ambivalent nature also explains the nature of his crimes: he practices vigilant law enforcement, targeting murderous pedophiles and drunken drivers who would otherwise escape justice. Having a double identity he is a paradoxical entity because he lives in a constant contradiction within unity. Dexter thinks he has a double because he suffers from psychological disintegration provoked by a division between his social behaviour and his resistance to norms. As a double, he draws attention to the uncanny duality that ultimately defines the human condition. There is a coexistence, in his Ego, of two different psychological attitudes towards an outside reality. That is why he defines himself as “a psychic funk” (Lindsay 236) who is divided between a cool and rational side and “his illogical sense of memories” (ibid.) being at the same time a member of the human race and an unfeeling predator. While defending that many monsters of the horror genre are interstitial and/or contradictory, in The Philosophy of Horror (1990), Noël Carroll comments:
(…) with special reference to the paradox of horror, monsters, the objects of art-horror, are themselves sources of ambivalent responses, for as violations of standing cultural categories, they are disturbing and disgusting, but, at the same time, they are also objects of fascination - again, just because they transgress standing categories of thought. That is, the ambivalence that bespeaks the paradox of horror is already to be found in the very objects of art-horror which are disgusting and fascinating, repelling and attractive due to their anomalous nature. (188)
In Monsters in America, W. Scott Poole refers to these kinds of monsters in a chapter entitled “Deviant Bodies” that discusses America’s simultaneous fear, obsession, and eroticization, of serial killers from Psycho to Dexter. As a historian, Poole uses the monster to take aim at master narratives of American history, which he claims are inherently “full of lies and untruths”. Monsters, he argues, reveal the underbelly of American history, the truths that Americans are often too horrified to look at. Monsters are, in a sense, a by-product of master narratives because they often serve to reflect or interpret the unpleasant realities that have been excluded from the traditional, often triumphalist, story of American history. Lurking behind the monsters are the experiences of Native Americans, slaves, the poor, and women. This is the reason why Poole analyses the intersections of the monstrous with American history and culture from the colonial era to the present. In the chapter “Monstrous Beginnings”, American monsters are considered in the context of colonization and the European conquest of the North American landscape and its peoples. It is also referred the speculation over mastodons living in North American and legends of ‘Deer Woman’ and other monsters that reflect the European encounter with Native Americans. Poole doesn’t forget the horrors of slavery as they relate to a variety of monsters from the Snoligoster of Florida folklore to the monster of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. In “Goth Americana” this author analyses nineteenth-century literature in which the monster is frequently used to symbolize and make sense of such social institutions as whaling and slavery, as it happens in Herman Melville’s fiction. This author also reflects on anxieties over changing American domestic life as they relate to films such as The Exorcist, The Brood and Alien. Poole defends that monsters often reflect that which has been repressed by an entire culture and they must be understood within a broader social and historical context. He challenges our assumption that monsters are fictional beings because he thinks the line between story and history is highly permeable. Monsters, he argues, are real in that they both symbolise and help to configure worldviews. The way we see the world informs our monsters, but monsters also inform the way we see the world. By creating Dexter, Jeff Lindsay gives expression to these fascinating connections between his American monster and the cultural tradition in which he emerged.
A smart, self-aware homicidal maniac in the tradition of Richard III and Hannibal Lecter, Dexter is a very original kind of gothic villain, possessing all the duplicities, ambivalences and paradoxes of a self defined by being a “neat and polite monster” (42). His strange duality surpasses the conventional gothic dichotomies of good and evil, human and monster, questioning the definitions surrounding the human, humanity and the inhuman. A forensic blood-spatter specialist for the Miami Police Department by day, and an avenging serial murderer by night, Dexter kills only people who deserve to die, which despite his violent actions defies the moral boundaries of the human condition. In this context, Darkly Dreaming Dexter (2004) like Psycho (1959) can be seen, as David Punter observes, “to pose an ordinary but none the less important question, and one of peculiar relevance to Gothic: what is actually going on behind the facade of busy normality which characterises legally acceptable social life.” (157). Surpassing the clichés of eroticized violence and the too serious scientific special effects of CSI series, Dexter’s narrative uses an intelligent dark humour to subvert the rational power of forensic experts, showing that an efficient professional can be as perverted by irrational impulses as the criminals themselves, and what really obsesses a serial killer may turn to be the most normal obsession for a common man: to keep up appearances.
Whenever Dexter pretends to be normal, we recognize his daily rites as things we all do every day, and this explains the audience’s interest in the opening credits sequence for the TV series, Dexter. It shows a man putting himself together (piece by piece, close-up by close-up) in the course of enacting his morning rituals. It begins with an extreme close-up of a mosquito (like Dexter, a blood-sucking predator). Dexter swats it easily indifferent to another kill, another day. A trickle of blood flows into the top of the frame and down the tender skin of the neck. Some drops splatter near the drain in the sink, evoking Hitchcockian memories of blood and drains. He is sure he can present a “normal” face to the world. He has been doing it all his life, every day. At the end, we see Dexter pulled together, the complete look, as he leaves his apartment and heads out into the world in the harsh light of day. Over-determined, controlled, Dexter catches our eye and flashes an unconvincing but polite smile. Cordial without being warm. He knows we know, but nobody else does. Like Norman Bates, he shares with us his little secret. A common secret that makes us anxious nowadays: modern monsters are no longer visible to the naked eye. Dexter’s effort in keeping his monstrosity under the cover of appearances expresses a pervasive anxiety that Jeffrey Weinstock, in “American Monsters”, distinguished as being particularly true in relation to two ubiquitous contemporary monsters, the serial killer and the terrorist. Underlining the idea that early representations of psychopaths in literature and film are defined by a horrific monster who appears human, Weinstock concludes that “as a consequence of the disconnection of appearance and monstrosity, a contemporary anxiety exists, as expressed in one slogan for the popular 1990s television series The X-Files,“Trust No One”, that anyone can be a monster.” (45) We should not forget that Dexter followed his step-father’s advice to “stay neat, dress nicely, avoid attention.” (93) and he “took pride in being the best-dressed monster in Dade County" (92). Defending that Gothic monsters challenge conceptions of humanity and blur conventional categories of otherness, pointing to dehumanization, alienation and broken relationships as central to twenty-first-century human experience, Monica Germanà also perceived this feeling of anxiety in her essay “Being Human? Twenty-First-Century Monsters”, defending that monsters are used “to warn us about the destructive side (...) of humanity. Concealed behind an obsession with monstrosity is an intense anxiety about what means to be human.” (69). However, like the TV series, Being Human, Dexter’s novels and TV series also offer and interesting depiction of the strange appeal of the other, the uncanny longing to exceed the boundaries of the self that is part of our human nature, in spite of revealing our most perverse impulses.
The title of Jeff Lindsay’s novel is itself representative of a kind of literary mode that is directly associated with the Gothic. Gothic fiction is known for the power its dark narratives hold in penetrating into the most obscure and irrational experiences of human existence to bring to the light of consciousness what had been kept secret and unconscious for a long period of time. As Dani Cavallaro states in Gothic Vision: “Narratives of Darkness evoke a universe of taboos in which the non-things which culture represses are brought to the foreground.” (48). Being a “clean, crisp outside and nothing at all on the inside” (Lindsay 49), Dexter is this “non-thing”, produced by an American society with which he has so many affinities and similarities. Describing himself as someone who is “empty inside” (14), incapable of love, having a family or any conscience, shame or guilt, Dexter shows his introspective power. This is a very important quality for a character who, in spite of being hollow, found a very particular and personal voice that expressed his individuality and his way of seeing the world. His power of expression and observation contrasts with his neutral and cold nature, because he is described as a murderer with a ph5.5. This means he is not a born killer, but a neutral being as only a Miami sociopath can be. In Gothic – Transmutations of Horror in Late Twentieth Century Art, Christopher Grunenberg explains that this fascination with serial killers is due to “a true fin de siècle spirit of cultural pessimism and spiritual malaise” (208), noticing there is a predilection for the Gothic in all areas of contemporary life and that “American culture at large has become suffused with Gothic assumptions, with Gothic characters and plots.” (xii).
Dexter’s contradictory personality is like a mirror reflecting everyone and everything that surrounds him. When he asks himself “what was I?” he immediately answers: “a perfect imitation of human life” (Lindsay 79). This means he is a true reflection of today’s society. In his contradictions we can see ourselves. Like everyone else, he can build a careful life, be charming, socialize, stay neat and dress nicely, if he doesn’t mind pretending he is human. Consequently, he considers himself “a neat and polite monster, the boy next door.”(42). This closeness can be frightening, but at the same time very revealing, because this is the true monster’s role in Western mythology and in gothic fiction. As David Punter states: “Etymologically speaking, the monster is something to be shown, something that serves to demonstrate (Latin, monstrare: to demonstrate) and to warn (Latin, monere: to warn). From classical times through to the Renaissance, monsters were interpreted either as signs of divine anger or as portents of impending disasters. By the eighteenth century the horrific appearance of the monster had begun to serve an increasingly moral function (…) monsters promote virtuous behaviour.”(Punter and Byron, The Gothic 263). Dexter is this kind of monster with a moral purpose, created to denounce false moral conventions. His hybrid form defies any system of classification, because every monster problematizes binary thinking and surpasses the traditional concepts of normality. His past trauma made him a damaged being who is neither a man nor an animal, but something monstrous and different, that can therefore assume a human shape to show that he is often more human than the majority of people living in a repressive moral system. He can be a utopian and amoral sociopath, but he has a moral code with which he controls his Dark Passenger, his dark self - the darkest and most repressed part of human personality that we often avoid to recognize. This explains Dexter’s loneliness and isolation, which reminds us of Frankenstein’s feeling of exclusion: “Nothing else loves me, or ever will (…) I am alone in the world, all alone, but for Deborah. Except, of course, for the Thing inside.”(Lindsay 47). This Thing inside Dexter is not only his dark side but also his unnameable counterpart “that which in the real suffers from the signifier”, to quote the formula which Jacques Lacan employs in his seventh seminar, The Ethics of Psychoanalysis (115). According to this Lacanian theory, there is a phantasmatic construction of an unnameable void at the centre of the real, which resists and provokes symbolisation. Dexter represents this void, this no-thing, this radical strangeness and threat to subjective identity, something which is unsymbolisable but which, ironically, must be symbolised if we want to understand it in terms of art or fiction. This radically strange Thing is even the reason why we have culture. As Catherine Belsey says in Culture and the Real, “culture offers a detour that keeps the Thing itself at bay, defers with its own signifying presence the impossible jouissance of the encounter with pure absence, and gives pleasure in the process” (71). The most disturbing and intriguing aspect of this Thing (das Ding in Freud’s German) is that it is located at once inside and outside language, culture, art. A new theory of the Gothic for the twenty-first century can be created, according to Gary Farnell, from this experience of representing this inaccessible Thing, because “Gothic is the name for the speaking subject’s experience of approaching the Thing”(6). When Dexter exposes his own emptiness saying “whatever made me the way I am left me hollow, empty inside, unable to feel” (Lindsay 14), he reveals his gothic process of creation that starts with a hole in signification and shows the emptiness at the heart of the real.
However, this strangeness and distance from normal human beings is also what connects Dexter with his readers or TV viewers, who sympathise with his perspective while feeling uncomfortable about this intimate and strange connection with a serial killer, who makes them understand his motives to take justice into his own hands. This transgressive sympathy for the monster and subversive understanding of his actions began with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, where the representation of Gothic monstrosity caused a shift in sympathies and perspectives that allowed the monster to justify his monstrous behaviour, thus creating a deep empathy with the reader. Furthermore, the reader always wishes for that order and balance to be re-established, even if his hero uses Dexter’s peculiar method of making order out chaos (Lindsay 50-51). In a chapter entitled “The Monster”, David Punter underlines the possibility of establishing the monstrous other as a site of identification, particularly disturbing in the case of the serial killer:
there is often nevertheless a certain ambivalence in the representations of these modern monsters. Often seen as symptomatic of an increasingly violent and alienated society, the serial killer might seem to call for the most emphatic reassertion of social norms and the strongest reaffirmation of conservative values within the text. (Punter and Byron, The Gothic 265).
In this perspective, every dark element in Lindsay’s narrative evokes positive values through their negative counterparts. It is as if everyone has a double and everything is inverted and seen on the other side of the looking-glass. As Dexter says: “It’s like, everything really is two ways, the way we all pretend it is and the way it really is.” (60) This is why irony is so constant and recurrent in this plot-twisting narrative. Dexter’s duplicity is part of this ironical process. Being “a neat and polite monster” (42), he is as paradoxical as Miami, the sunny and violent city where he lives. This explains the total indifference towards his comments, in the style of Patrick Bateman in American Psycho (1991), which are at the same time extremely funny and disturbing. An example of this is, when in chapter 17, he leaves home and observes it is just another beautiful Miami day, with mutilated corpses and possibilities of afternoon showers (Lindsay 164). Commenting on this dark irony, Dani Cavallaro concludes that: “Many dark texts are often as funny as they are scary: their mood is frequently one of grotesque humour and jocular tenebrism” (1). This ironical tone has led, Michael Hall, the actor who plays Dexter in the TV series, to state that “part of the show’s shadow appeal is that we live in a world in which many people feel more and more out of control. And Dexter is someone who, in his little corner of it, is taking control.”1
Miami’s artificiality, its tropical atmosphere and Cuban music help to draw a grotesque scenery that turns it into the most improbable place to find dead bodies. This justifies Dexter’s perception that “there is something strange and disarming about looking at a homicide scene in the bright daylight of the Miami sun. It makes the most grotesque killings look antiseptic, staged.” (23). It was certainly impossible for a killing artist like Dexter to find a better place to practice his art and to exhibit his well illuminated works. It’s just natural that he completely identified with a city which had been just as transformed by the presence of 250 murders, rapists and madmen (expatriated there from Cuban prisons since 1980) as it had been by the presence of the famous art museum, Art Basel. Art and Crime are as associated in Miami as in Dexter’s life, and these counter currents are present in Dexter’s personality. With a high rate of criminality and drug trafficking, Miami is a tourist centre also famous for Gianni Versace’s house, where the Italian fashion creator was killed in 1997. Living in this artificial paradise, Dexter, like Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver (1976), hits Miami streets feeling there must be someone to clean the city. His true identity comes from this deep moral conscience in a deeply immoral city. His Dark Passenger, like Batman, the famous American crime fighter, is a night creature that personifies his conscious urgency to do justice, while using an uncontrollable and irrational impulse to kill. But only through his dark self, is Dexter able to contact with Miami’s true reality which is kept hidden through its bright sunlight, and also with the repressed part of his personality whose return threatens his integrity. In spite of knowing the dangers of fragmentation provoked by the presence of the Double, Fred Botting recognizes the benefits of its confrontation, when he states that “threatened with dissolution, the self, like the social limits which define it, reconstitutes its identity against the otherness and loss presented in the moment of terror.”(9).
This search for identity and authenticity explains the artistic nature of Dexter’s dark side. It can be “The Thing” inside him, the tiger that circles to find his prey, the mask he used to hunt, but at the same time it is his need to imitate life, to find his own style and to experiment with new techniques. Besides being a murderer with a moral, he is a criminal with an aesthetic sense. His opinions about the mysterious crimes, committed by a new serial killer, seem to be expressed by an art critic deeply involved in a creative process he considers very parallel to his own. Only such an expert in the art of crime could be so sure that a certain mysterious criminal was trying to improve his vocabulary and style, or was making aesthetic experiences each time a new crime was committed to reach a higher sense of Beauty. In these terms a crime scene can be very similar to an art exhibition, and consequently it could only be described as such by Dexter, the art critic: “I didn’t have any immediate theories about what it meant. Sometimes great art is like that. It affects you and you can’t say why. Was it deep symbolism? A cryptic message? A wrenching plea for help and understanding? (…) This hockey rink setting, presentation was an important part of what he was doing.” (106).
Concerned about passing as a fully functioning member of the human race, Lindsay’s character deals with violence as something intoxicating and thrilling, horrifying and beautiful. Whenever Dexter acts within the blackest cave of morality, the expressions found in the bloody patterns he produces indicate that he could be seen as a murderous equivalent of Jackson Pollock. The similarity of Dexter’s spatters to this Abstract Expressionist painter has been noted by many critics. Dexter’s own “paintings” are a reverse engineering of a crime scene, attempting to map out the criminal’s actions and as such they are also created under carefully controlled circumstances. He displays them like art on the walls of his office and they are also used in many promotional materials for the TV show and on the cover design for the hardback edition of Dexter by Design (2009) which shows Dexter standing in front of a red splattered white canvas with an artist’s palette all in red and a bloody butcher knife. In this book, Dexter recognizes the parallel between his hidden calling and the works he sees in Paris museums: “Art is, after all, all about making patterns in order to create a meaningful impact on the senses. And isn’t this just exactly what Dexter does? Of course in my case ‘impact’ is a little more literal, but still – I can appreciate other media” (Lindsay, Dexter by Design 5). Dexter’s true art, however, cannot be so publically displayed. His most valued collection, Dexter Morgan collection, consists of the blood slides of his victims, which he keeps neatly and discreetly filed in a box inside the air conditioner. Due to his very special aesthetics, he was able to perceive in another serial killer perfectly modelling his modus operandi, the same artistic tendencies he developed. In a dialogue with his sister Deborah, about his own alter-ego, he says: “But we’ve also insulted him. We’ve given his lowbrow brain-dead redneck all the credit for his work, which is like telling Jackson Pollock your six-year-old could have painted that” (117). In spite of his sister being astonished at this comparison (“Jackson Pollock? The painter? Dexter, this guy’s a butcher.”), he reminds her that “In his own way, Deborah, he is an artist. And he thinks of himself that way.” (118). An important aspect of his double identity is that Dexter enjoys being at the same time an artist and a killer, someone who is desolated whenever “life does not always imitate art” (113), or when a crime scene is not “a real artist’s studio” (106). This happens because his killing art is always very careful, precise and clean, completely adequate to the homicide scenes in Miami, where the sunlight “makes the most grotesque killings look antiseptic, staged.” (23). His crime scene analysis is usually not only very scientific but also very artistic, what integrates Dexter in the American Gothic tradition of scientists with very sophisticated aesthetic tastes, as it is the case of some Hawthorne’s and Poe’s characters, those artful psychos as cultivated, sensitive and intelligent as Thomas Harris’ Hannibal Lecter. His extensive research to determine guilt, the creation of a kill room, the stalking and capture of the subject and the dismemberment and disposal of the body are all vital parts of his ritual process. Within the context of the narrative, the only audience for almost all of his true art process is the victims. As Edmund Burke explained in his Philosophical Enquiry into the origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful (1757), art works that induce a violently emotional state, such as terror, can be sublime. For the person strapped nude to Dexter’s table, the aesthetic experience is short lived, but undeniably intense. The reader or viewer of the Dexter series can experience this gothic sublime anew with every novel and episode. People find pleasure in the fear and terror they feel following Dexter’s adventures. Like him we belong to the same human race that feels this delight blended with uneasiness.
Dexter’s criminal practices are used like therapy, as art is used to cure depressions or neurosis. He was taught by his father that in order to channel his criminal urge he could kill people who deserved to die. The unfeeling predator he really was could turn into “a useful citizen, a pillar of the community” (54). Consequently, crime has a great power, like every artistic activity, to transform irrational impulses into something positive and beautiful. The reason why he identifies the criminal acts of a serial killer he admires with the art of Jackson Pollock is simply because he identifies with this famous American painter. Like him he was a lonely, troubled and sad person, victim of irrational and violent impulses. If Dexter’s violence was tamed while he was chopping bad people up as they lay strapped, screaming and naked on a steel table, Pollock also gave free course to his negative urges whenever he used his raw energy and crude strength to produce a distinctive style full of frightening intensity that gave origin to his most violent paintings between 1944 and 1946. Much like Dexter, he really needed his art to free himself from his destructive tendencies. This is often visible in some scenes where he demonstrates such fury as the one that led him to stab a kitchen table with a butcher knife ripping the tablecloth into shreds, or when he broke a window on every floor of a building. Pollock’s depressive crises due to alcohol and a succession of periods of emotional instability showed he also had a dark side, and that he, like Dexter, probably felt the presence of that Dark Passenger who very often “was driving from the backseat”(130) of a car that actually was responsible for his death.
In addition to this, we may say that in Abstract Expressionism, the famous American art movement with which Pollock’s name is directly associated, one can find many parallels with gothic fiction regarding the importance given to unconscious imagination and to all the irrational dark forces that are opposed to the faith in a rational organized universe and to the validity of reason as an important cognitive instrument. In “The Problems of Literary Gothicism”, Richard Benton acknowledges this similarity when he refers to “the kinds of questions that Gothic proposes through the creation not of ‘real persons’ but of stylized figures larger than life, which are images of the psychological archetypes dredged out of darker depths of human experience, symbols of our ‘primitive’ thinking, the tigers we ride on within the unconscious depths of our inner selves.”(8). Pollock’s art discerned these inherent tendencies in the mind that seeks out expressions of its "dark side", and it was also very influenced by an archaic mythology of primitive cultures which gave origin to hybrid images produced by the association of animal with human elements. These were inspired by Picasso’s paintings which very often represented double faces of a terrifying nature that could well portray Dexter’s divided profile. Following Picasso’s famous advice that one should destroy to create, Pollock and Dexter seem to be soul mates in their demand for the true expression of their emotional unrest and unpredictable behaviours caused by uncontrolled impulses.
This explains why Pollock’s black paintings and Jeff Lindsay’s dark narrative have so much in common. Both artist and writer seem to reject the conventional ways of artistic representation by creating works full of ambiguity that confront the viewers or the readers with their anxieties and with the evil forces that constitute the most important sources of contemporary terror. Both seem to be fascinated by works of performance art, where the gothic sublime can be felt as a result of a combination of beauty and terror that creates a terrible beauty, which Dexter so much appreciates as one can notice in the following crime scene description: “It was beautiful – in a terrible sort of way, of course. But still, the arrangement was perfect, compelling, beautifully bloodless. It showed great wit and a wonderful sense of composition. Somebody had gone to a lot of trouble to make this into a real work of art. Somebody with style, talent and a morbid sense of playfulness.” (190). We could say that the author of this crime or art object was as careful in creating his work as Jeff Lindsay was when writing his dark narrative, which seems to follow Poe’s concept of “unity of effect”. It thus turns itself into irony for the gothic genre, the psychological thriller and the traditional serial killer’s fiction, by subverting all their clichés: “Nothing was coincidence with this killer. Everything was deliberate, carefully measured for aesthetic impact, explored for artistic necessity.” (183). There was also no coincidence when Lindsay created a serial killer that was the victim of a childhood trauma caused by a prolonged contact with blood. This was also going to become his future job as a blood-splatter, and he was as sensitive to the vividness of splat patterns as an art critic to Pollock’s drip paintings. The “amazing wild horror of flying blood” (50), which Dexter used to analyse in common crime scenes, was something to be avoided in the crimes he committed, because he was trying to escape from his past through a repression of an abject experience to which he would return at the end of the novel. The reconstitution of Dexter’s traumatic event, at the same place where it had happened and through a final meeting with his Irish twin brother, his real double, was very necessary to free him from his doubts about unconscious murders, but also to exorcise his past demons and to identify his true self: “Something nameless was born in this place, something that lived in the darkest hidey-hole of the thing that was Dexter.” (253). As Julia Kristeva says in Pouvoirs de l’Horreur - Essai sur l’Abjection, the abject is a resurrection that depends on the death of the self: ‘‘C’est une alchimie qui transforme la pulsion de mort en sursaut de vie, de nouvelle significance.’’(22). Without this knowledge Dexter would have lost his self-conscience forever and could never consolidate his fragmented identity, because as Dani Cavallaro concludes:
Although we are trained to believe that the expulsion of the abject is the precondition of our coming into being as autonomous subjects, our mastery of the abject is ineluctably incomplete insofar as its ghostly presence relentlessly threatens to engulf and disintegrate our identities and our boundaries. It is a black hole on the edge of identity into which we may implode anytime. (201)
Darkly Dreaming Dexter shows this true power of horror and gothic fiction, in general, when it confronts us with the truth about our divided nature and with repressed guilts or fears through a systematic discourse of the irrational. As a doppelgänger tale, this novel also undermines the modern idea of the self as invulnerable and in control of its passions. The turbulence of Dexter’s psychic existence in search of unity in spite of its division can be shared by many of us, as well as his defence mechanisms to escape dissolution in a violent world where many of our nightmares seem to be so undistinguishable from reality. As David Punter concludes: “These narratives insist that the potential for corruption and violence lies within all, and the horror comes above all from an appalling sense of recognition: with our contemporary monsters, self and other frequently become completely untenable categories.” (Punter and Byron 266). This is in fact the darkest vision in Lindsay’s novel and Dexter’s empty self is, after all, not very different from us. This fact is even more evident in the TV series because, as Helen Wheatly observes in Gothic Television, “the uncanny quality of television viewing is the soap opera’s ability to echo and reflect the ‘real lives’ ” (269). Highlighting the tension between the surface and the reality of American life, Wheatly argues that some American film directors, as David Lynch in Twin Peaks, bring the horrid and the normal into justaposition until the viewer is unsure what is normal anymore. If a TV show can’t capture the nuances of Lindsay’s writing and the subtleties of Dexter’s delightful deranged mind, the TV series possesses this uncanny quality through which the unfamiliar becomes simultaneously familiar to the domestic viewer. Due to this medium’s repetitive structures and repetitive patterns, this uncanniness can create, according to Wheatley, some important anxieties that surround the broadcast of Gothic television such as fears about bringing death/horror into the domestic viewing space. Similar dangers are noticed by Nicola Nixon in “Making Monsters, or Serializing Killers”, where she defends that “the alarmist rhetoric about serial killers as influential fictions made by the media emphasizes eighties and nineties America’s fascination not with serial killers or mass murderers as such, not with ‘real’ violence and real victims, but with the screen that represents them.” (232). In this consists the dark side of the TV screen, its “other side” that Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist succeeded in representing through a little girl’s interaction with the “TV people”, that monstrous entity that Nixon identified with “the authorless but authority-filled killer screen that drives fantasies, reaches out and snatches kids from their homes, and transforms them into demons.” (233). Considering the serial killer a blank incomprehensibility, this author concluded that he serves as a convenient vessel for the articulation of what American society finds truly monstrous in late twentieth century and that “the real American serial killer is, finally, identical to his fictional monster counterpart: a textual figure that can simultaneously expose and occlude what is culturally too horrible to be viewed directly.” (233).
To conclude, we could say that Dexter can be a product of our own creation and a projection of our worst nightmares. In his empty self, Americans can find themselves. As Stephen Crane’s The Monster (1898) makes clear, monstrosity is an anthropocentric concept because human beings define that which is monstrous in relation to themselves. If the monster is usually the other, the inhuman, the “not me”, contemporary culture has been showing through different media that all monsters are merely human creations not very different from their creators. Like Dexter, many other American monsters and their doubles will take many uncertain forms in the future due to their adaptability, but we can be sure, as Jeffrey Weinstock predicts in “American Monsters”, that “they will mirror and give shape to future American anxieties and tabooed desires.” (53).
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1 Michael Hall in Adam Sternbergh. “A Killer Role.” New York Magazine. http://nymag.com/arts/tv/reviews/21657/ Accessed at 12 July 2015.