Brain Food

How Hannibal Lecter Gets Inside Our Heads

Hannibal Lecter is the ironic answer to Delbanco's prayers. By putting a mythic face on the faceless evils of our time, he refutes Hannah Arendt's declaration that evil, after Eichmann, is banal and bureaucratic, more a societal or an institutional cancer than a tumor on the soul. A psychopathic psychiatrist who dances on the grave of "the dead religion of psychoanalysis," Lecter personifies a century's worth of popular antipathy toward Freud and his heirs, widely perceived as godless pseudoscientists who have censored religion's moral language, leaving only hollow phrases like "antisocial behavior." Lecter tells Starling in Silence, "You've given up good and evil . . . for behaviorism. You've got everybody in moral dignity pants— nothing is ever anybody's fault. Look at me, Officer Starling. Can you stand to say I'm evil?"

Marshall Arisman

By Hannibal's end, however, the pop-psych behaviorism, the postmodern irony, and the baseball cap culture beyond the book's borders have trumped Lecter's patrician hauteur and his deft way with a fait-tout saucepan. Hannibal Lecter, scion of the Gothic tradition, is eaten alive by our age of irony.

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