Yet More Thoughts on Hannibal (Lecter)
“You can tell that Hannibal is fiction because Jonathan Jones has not been murdered and put on ostentatious display.” – Dr Philip Sandifer
The first chapter of Red Dragon includes mention of the moon (of course), Sirius and Jupiter. The second chapter mentions a meteor shower. The first of two mentions of meteor showers in the book. The second mention (of the Perseids, in the second case) is directly followed by a quotation from scripture. The people of the novel Red Dragon are haunted by stars and planets, and by rituals and scripture.
Nothing in Red Dragon is more horrifying than the short digression on how tabloids work. Yet this chapter is also evidence of the empathy of the book’s narrator. His empathy extends even to the unscrupulous reporter, Freddy Lounds. His pride, his resistance to scorn, his refusal to be exploited. Meanwhile, cancer, to the tabloids, is a fact of life, as are serial killers. But the tabloid Freddy works for also deals in sightings of Elvis, and astronomers who glimpse God.
The narrator of Red Dragon is the empath. Will Graham’s empathic gift is more talked about than seen. It is Dr Bloom, not Graham, who interprets Francis Dolarhyde’s eating of the Blake painting as an attempt to stop killing. Graham noticeably fails to empathise with anybody throughout the book. He observes Crawford, Molly, Lounds, Reba, Dolarhyde, Lecter, Chilton, and all, as from the outside looking in. Crawford is more imaginative that Graham because he projects what he needs onto Graham. Crawford is more like Dolarhyde than Graham is.
Even as it recites the standard line on ‘sociopathy’, Red Dragon contradicts it as much as it accepts it. The ‘sociopaths’ in this book are not always lacking empathy. Lecter certainly can, and Graham acknowledges it. I have always thought that sadism requires empathy. How can you enjoy the pain of others if you cannot imagine it?
In Red Dragon, Hannibal already has his maroon eyes which reflect the light in points of red, and his preternatural senses. He gains his prodigious memory and his extra finger, like a Gallifreyan’s second heart, later, in The Silence of the Lambs.
Speaking of which, Dolarhyde talking to Lounds sounds like a Robert Holmes villain.
Also, that scene is regurgitated in a bowdlerised form in The Dark Knight, in the scene in which the Joker kidnaps a Batman-copycat and tapes it.
In Hannibal Rising, the boy Hannibal emerges from privilege, from the Renaissance, from the Sforzas (a right bunch of bastards). But he also emerges from the aftermath of Barbarossa. His childhood tutor is a Jew who escaped the holocaust. He is adopted by a woman from Hiroshima. His early years are haunted by mention of the Nuremburg trials. He is born of the 20th century’s ultimate horrors.
Cannibalism is part of WWII-Gothic. Most particularly Barbarossa-Gothic. Thanks the Siege of Leningrad, and to Andrei Chikatilo’s (possibly bogus) childhood reminiscences, it is linked to the aftermath of the German invasion of the Soviet Union (see also Child 44). It is particularly appealing to the capitalist culture industries to depict the people of the Soviet Union preying upon each other “like monsters of the deep”, for reasons which should be tediously obvious. Famine is relevant in that it reveals the inherently predatory and competitive nature of humans, etc. As if the best way to judge the inherent worth of people is by looking at the behaviour of minorities in extremis. The capitalist culture industries are, as ever, very selective about which famines to mention. The one caused by Nazis (the other bunch of totalitarian zealots) may be brought up. The famine which followed the capitalist blockade of revolutionary Russia and the capitalist-backed Russian Civil War, is less often mentioned.
The TV show revelled in the related field of Eastern European-Gothic earlier this season. Eastern Europe, as constructed by the Western-European imagination, is now Gothic several times over. It carries all the old freighting of the pre-20th century Gothic (i.e. vampires, Dracula, werewolves, castles, etc) and also all the baggage of the mid-20th century (Barbarossa, the camps dotted across Poland), and finally all the baggage of the late-20th century (Communism, Ceau?escu, Bosnia, Milosevic, Srebrenica).
The TV version of the tiger scene from Red Dragon is the first to properly represent the event as an erotic projection of Dolarhyde’s. Dolarhyde is trying to communicate his own nature as a predator to Reba. He takes her to touch the tiger after she tried to touch his face. He wants to experience her touch vicariously. The tiger is his stand-in. Also, he wants to let her feel him, but also does not want to hurt her, because he enjoys her being alive. In the book, his first response to her fingers near his face is to imagine how many of her fingers he could bite off without fully depriving her of her ability to get around. His empathy for her is slow growing and never grows very great. Even at the end he is still using her. This is not a romance. The tiger is not a shared experience. It is a symbol (a Blakean one, of course) which Dolarhyde consciously employs, like the painting, like the teeth, like the mirrors, etc. Similarly, he integrates Reba into the fantasies he has projected (an interesting word, in context) onto the painting. The TV version pulls off a masterstroke when it creates a dream/hallucination of Reba as the woman clothed with the sun.
Dolarhyde consumes The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed with the Sun (though Harris seems a little unsure which of Blake’s series he is talking about). Dolarhyde goes for the original, to conquer and destroy its aura. He agrees with Benjamin about the original’s historical embededness – though he, Dolarhyde, imagines this in terms of the sentience of the Dragon itself, a shard of his own demonic narcissism and inadequecy. Dolarhyde agrees with Berger in that the value of the original has become the fact that it is the source of the copies and reproductions. The copies and reproductions will, Dolarhyde hopes, be robbed of their power once the original is destroyed. But he of course fails to understand that what he sees in the painting is put into it by him… or rather, he fails to percieve this fact consciously. His decision to destroy it by eating it is perhaps an unconscious recognition of the subjective nature of the Dragon. He tries to return it to the pit of his own guts.
Hannibal is caged in Red Dragon, and not voluntarily as on TV. How to express his frustration? And how, relatedly, to express the uncanny way in which his influence pervades the book precisely because he is closely confined inside one little part of the world/story? Lecter’s confinement is part of what gives him his uncanny power. He is literally hidden, occulted. He can seep into every part of the story precisely because seep is what he must do.