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  • Writer's pictureLauren

“Okay, but what about serial killers?”

Listen, let’s set the record straight: I have a history of being squeamish. When I was twelve, I couldn’t watch a cartoon character get stabbed in the back. I haven’t seen ninety-nine percent of horror films because I would rather stab myself before risking having anyone hear me scream. In a perfect world, bugs don’t exist and grime doesn’t feel so grimy. Got it? Cool.

Okay, but what about serial killers? If you’ve hung around me for more than five minutes in almost any social situation, you’ve heard me crack a joke about murder. (I say almost, because I do try to avoid murder jokes at funerals.) And even though my family has been worried about my sanity since about 2014, I know I’m not the only one. Why tragedy? Why monsters? Why serial killers?

The short answer is that humans are weird. The longer answer is a long and winding path that touches almost every hyper-fixation I’ve had in the last three years and probably won’t make sense until I (hopefully) pull it together.

First, allow me to introduce the concept of abjection. According to the French philosopher Julia Kristeva, the abject is, essentially, pieces that were once part of 'a person' that have since been rejected in order to form or maintain an identity.

Got that? Me neither. It took me a few reads to get the gist of what she was saying, but from what I understand, abjection is essentially the act of defining one’s identity by what isn’t there instead of what is. The example she gives us is that of the mother: in order for a baby to form their own identity, they must first abject our mothers and the impetus of our creation. It is only when we have lost that fundamental piece of ourselves that something new is created. It is only when we stop being a part of our mothers that we can begin crafting an identity of an individual.

This theory corroborates with the natural process of synaptic pruning. (I know, I’m throwing a lot of fancy words out. And before you start thinking I actually Know Things, I didn’t know Egypt was part of Africa for literal years.) Within the first two years of a baby’s life, the neurons in their brain are rapidly connecting, to the point where their amount of connections are double the number an adult has.

This means, of course, that the road to adulthood will result in the pruning of about fifty percent of those connections, also known as synapses. The journey in search of identity is one of loss; your sense of self is not found in who you are, but who you aren’t.

“Lauren,” you say. “This is all very cool and you are very smart with great improvised lines, but what about serial killers?”

Excellent question. Let’s go back to abjection. With this baseline understanding of the concept, there are endless extractions one can make, depending on the lens one is using for said extraction. Sociologically, the abject describes phenomena such as xenophobia, where society deems a certain group of people repulsive and thus casts them away in order to preserve the ‘purity’ of its identity.

On a more personal level, however, the abject is found in the uncanny and macabre— corpses, for instance, are a particularly useful example. The bone-rattling shudder you get when you brush up against the clammy hand of a dead person? The visceral unsettling in your gut as you look at the waxy face of someone that had been alive two, three, four days ago? Abjection, baby.

Confronting a shell of the human body in real life is a violent tear in our perception of the world. While we know, on an objective level, that things like corpses and serial killers and animals with way too many eyes exist, our subconscious has rejected these concepts to keep internal order. Instead of being subjected to the horrors of the world and falling apart, we abject them.

Art treats abjection differently. This comes as a surprise to no one, because art tends to be the rebellious teenager of society. Movements like Dadaism and Gothic literature place an emphasis on peeling back the polished curtain and revealing everything we have shoved out of sight.

And yes, there is a line between exploring the abject and glorifying it. If I went down that path, I would probably never shut up, so I won’t. Because we’re here to talk about serial killers.

Tragedy, horror, grimdark. These genres tend to be a form of abjection in themselves. Everyone knows that it’s never really about serial killers, or monsters, or corpses. And it’s not really about defeating evil, either. The key is understanding it.

Why not write about serial killers? Why not write about monsters with too many eyes and not enough legs? What are you afraid of? Why are you afraid of it?

Abjection is a human concept, but Catholics aren’t called to be stagnant in our shortcomings. In a plane of existence where nothing exists, nothing holds us back from reading a story again, pinpointing where things went wrong and how we should’ve seen that Suspiciously Polite And Seemingly Well-Adjusted Bob was the killer all along.

Because the truth of the world is that, for all its beauty, there is something rotting in the darkest part of the forest. The truth is that sometimes, we’re too caught up in our own fragile mortality to venture out to see if the monster in the woods is really a monster, or simply a corpse. Simply a human body, waiting to be buried in the ground. The truth is that it is much easier to walk into the dark forest when the dark forest is only paper and ink.

And I don’t know about you, but I much prefer getting metaphorical blood on my hands than real blood. Prison doesn’t really suit me— I look terrible in orange.

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