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The Early History of Modern Computing: A Brief Chronology

Computing Encounters Being, an Addendum

On the Origin of Objects (towards a philosophy of computation)

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Monday, September 04, 2006

Literature as Equipment for Prosecution

Posted by Scott Eric Kaufman on 09/04/06 at 10:19 PM

[X-posted from Acephalous]

When Harold Pinter won the Nobel Prize, I complained about conservatives’ sudden, easily explicable interest in contemporary theater.  ("So now you care about literature," I whined.)  Turns out politicos aren’t the only ones who develop an intense but fleeting interest in literary criticism.

Police do too.

Seems the British author John Fowles has run afoul piqued the interest of Austrian police investigating the eight year ordeal of Natascha Kampusch, the young woman kidnapped when she was ten-years-old and held captive until she escaped last week.  According to The Scotsman:

Police said they were investigating whether [Wolfgang] Priklopil knew about John Fowles’ novel The Collector, which tells the story of a man who kidnapped a girl and hid her in a secret basement cell in the hope one day she might fall in love and marry him.

"We have received several tips about the book," said Gerhard Lang, a senior police officer. He said no copy of the novel had been found at the house.

The "tips" notwithstanding, one wonders what the police want with The Collector.  Do they think it the pedophile-kidnapper’s equivalent of The Turner Diaries?  (The "novel" which inspired Timothy McVeigh’s "patriotism.")  Or do they—and I mean this seriously—do they believe it offers insight into Priklopil’s psyche?  If so, is that not the ultimate backhanded compliment? 

"You depict the sick mind better than any of your peers.  We commend you on your substantial artistic accomplishment and hope it will be admissible in a court of law."

If that is what they think The Collector to be, literature suddenly means as much as its most strident supporters claim.  It is the work of an incisive mind peering into the depths of the human soul (however inhuman its content may be). 

Mostly I think the Austrian police are looking for a blueprint, a formula, something which will dispel the idea that an actual human committed this crime of his own accord.  Systems console weak and weary minds, providing elaborate explanations for the simple but unfortunate fact of human depravity. 

This desire for pigeonholable explanations isn’t limited to those immediately involved, however.  Sometimes, banishing the banality of evil  from the realm of possibility happens at great remove:

Austrians, perhaps as a legacy from Sigmund Freud, place a great deal of importance on psychiatric help after trauma, so much has been made in the reporting of the case on the need for special psychiatric treatment.

Who needs Freud more now, I wonder.  The captive or her saviors?


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