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Serial Killers: Sublimity to Be Continued. Aesthetics and Criminal History

Klaus Bartels
Amerikastudien / American Studies
Vol. 43, No. 3, The American Sublime (1998), pp. 497-516
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/41157401
Page Count: 20
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Since scans are not currently available to screen readers, please contact JSTOR User Support for access. We'll provide a PDF copy for your screen reader.
Serial Killers: Sublimity to Be Continued. Aesthetics and Criminal History
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Abstract

"Serial Killers" perform, former FBI-agent Robert K. Ressler postulates, according to the formal patterns of weekly adventure serials, such as The Phantom. Ressler, who coined the term, thereby tacitly assumes an aesthetic motive in the case of habitual homicide. This essay inquires into the relevance of this hypothesis to the aesthetics of the sublime (as proposed by Burke, Kant, and De Quincey) and its implications for criminal history. The analysis makes clear that the motivations of serial killers can be partially attributed to a semiotic deformity. These findings and their implications are then extended to a discussion of the contemporary modifications of the traditional twofold aesthetic of the sublime and the beautiful. The sublimity of torture, on the one hand, and the beauty of artificial worlds and objects, on the other, are still the two poles of our perceptions and constructions of reality.

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