Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Portrait of the Artist As Jack the Ripper

Being a heresiologist I research conspiracy theories and historical who dunnits, one of the cases that will probably never be solved is Jack the Ripper. Who is back in the news this week.

It seems that crime author Patricia Cromwell has hypothesized that Jack
was the artist Walter Sickert, and is donating her collection of Stickland paintings to the Fogg Museum....which seems an appropriately named art gallery... Her theory and her collection of painitngs is not without controversy since Sickert is a well known painter, and it is alleged that in her forensic research she destroyed one of his paintings.

Cornwell was drawn to the idea that Sickert, noted for his scenes of London life, might have been the Ripper because he painted macabre scenes and was interested in the murders.

She bought the Sickerts largely to try to prove that he was the murderer. Cornwell used DNA testing on the paintings to compare it with DNA on what were, allegedly, letters from the Ripper, but to no avail.

Among the paintings Cornwell is giving is Putana a Casa, a picture of a prostitute, that she said “resembled mortuary photographs of (Ripper victim) Catherine Eddowes and is suggestive of the mutilation to the right side of her face”.

More than 170 names have been put forward as the Ripper, including the Duke of Clarence, Montague John Druitt, a barrister who killed himself just after the last murder, and Michael Ostrog, a Russian thief.

Cornwell gives away £3m art of ‘the Ripper’

A conservator from the center traveled with Ms. Cornwell to London last October, where they viewed and scanned correspondence allegedly written by Jack the Ripper. Research on Sickert and Ripper letters was later conducted at Harvard. A spokesman for Harvard University Art Museums confirmed to the newspaper that “although no conclusions have been drawn, the Straus Center compared Sickert’s paintings and prints to the Ripper letters.”

Ms. Cornwell’s identification of Sickert, who was 28 in 1888, as Jack the Ripper has caused a storm in the art world. The theory has been vigorously rejected by Sickert specialists, including Matthew Sturgis, the author of a definitive biography of the artist.The Chronicle: Daily News Blog: Harvard to Get Paintings by Artist

Mornington Crescent nude, contre-jour is one of a series of works that Sickert painted following the murder of a prostitute in Camden Town, the rough North London neighbourhood where he lived and had a studio. It has been argued that the real subject of this work is in fact the effect of natural light. The French term contre-jour means lit from behind that is, almost producing the effect of a silhouette.

Walter SICKERT | Mornington Crescent nude, contre-jour

As I said it is unlikely we will ever know conclusively who Jack was.

And one my favorite writers Colin Wilson, no less a controversial literary figure, has his own theories on who Jack was. In his history of criminology and in Order of Assassins: The Psychology of Murder he points out that Jack is the first 'public' lust murder and the first serial killer, who is identified as such in the press of the day.

As Wilson describes it, Faculty X is the opposite of the normal, dulled state of consciousness. It is our potential to grasp, with an incandescent brilliance and intensity of focus, the actuality of the world, including the reality of other times and places. “Our preconceptions, our fixed ideas about ourselves,” as Wilson puts, “means that we remain unaware of this power.” We trudge along, not engaging the full power of our mental abilities.

Most of us have had similar insights, often while recovering from a bad cold. But the contrast between mental states hit Wilson like a bolt of lightening. In his recent memoir, he writes, “The basic aim of human evolution, I decided, is to achieve Faculty X.”

A few artists are able to summon Faculty X at will. But so, in rather less creative form, do psychopathic killers. For that is the stranger side of Colin Wilson’s work — the part overlooked by The Times, for example, which repeated the standard Wilsonian claim that he was a philosopher of optimism.

Cheerful as that may sound, a very large part of his work over the years has consisted of books about serial murders. They, too, are Outsiders — in revolt against “a decadent, frivolous society” that gives them no outlet for the development of Faculty X. Such an individual “feels no compunction in committing acts of violence,” as Wilson explains, “because he feels only contempt for society and its values.”

These quotations are from his book Order of Assassins: The Psychology of Murder (1972), but they might have been drawn from any of dozens of other titles. Beginning with the Jack the Ripper-sque character Austin Nunne in his first novel, Ritual in the Dark (1960), Wilson has populated his fiction with an array of what can only be called existentialist serial killers. Inside Higher Ed :: A Killing Concept

Following along Foucualts thesis on Sexuality, that sexology developed and contributed to sexual identity and identification of sexuality, including fetishes, upon the publication of texts on sexuality in the 19th century, in particular Kraft Ebbings classic work; Psychopathia Sexualis. In other words the rise of publishing, books and newspapers, created and abetted the rise of the Lust Murderer and Serial Killer of the Victorian and Edwardian world.

The Lust murderer and Serial Killer is still with us today, increasingly so, thanks to alienation of the individual in mass culture of the Metropolis. In fact what made Jack so archtypical was both the mass media and the urban culture of London. What began as a form of sexual deviance; lust crimes; lycanthropy, vampirism, and violent Sado-Masochism,became a social deviance of urban culture.

Jack wanted publicity for his crimes. This has become the modius operandi of serial killers in North America, from the Black Dahlia Case to the Zodiac Killer.

It is not the case with real lust murderers like the Ukranian Vampire, and the cannibalistic Jeffery Dahlmer whose murders were conducted without publicity.

These Jack the Ripper like serial killings are conducted not only out of misplaced passion; lust but in hopes of fame. On this Wilson and Foucualt agree, it is about Power and the Appearance of Power.

Also See:

John Mark Karr's Fantasy

Mexican Murder Cover Up?

The Real Crime In Canada

Crime Comics


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