The many faces of cruelty

The sordid crime and subsequent flight of Luka Rocco Magnotta, former porn actor accused of killing and dismembering a student, dominated headlines around the world for weeks. Many people were even curious enough to watch the video of the crime, which was circulating on the Internet. Where does this fascination for horrible acts of violence come from?

Where does this fascination for horrible acts of violence come from?

With this question in mind, Sophie Boyer, research professor in the Department of Modern Languages at Bishop's University, began to explore representations of crime and sexuality in German literature from 1900 to 1933. On the one hand we see, during this period, the emergence of psychoanalysis as well as the first theories of criminology.

Sophie Boyer's research into authors such as Gertrud Kolmar, Rahel Sanzara and Hermann Ungar demonstrates that, for them, the figure of the criminal is elusive. So while theorists like Lombroso put forward the idea, for example, that one can recognize a criminal by his facial features, novelists show otherwise. And this difficulty in defining and categorizing – and therefore, understanding and even protecting oneself from – the criminal is what irritates and worries people, even today. It also explains, to a large extent, the fascination we feel for the most sordid of criminals.

The researcher has presented her work at several conferences in Canada, the United States and Europe, including the Journal of Arts & Science Mediterranean Conference for Academic Disciplines in Malta, in 2010, and the Third Interdisciplinary Conference of the Atlantic Alliance of Universities Crime Genre Research Group, Cork, Ireland, in 2009.