Garrett Cook

MORBID ART

I had heard of the crimes, an indeterminate number of prostitutes butchered by a man in a black cape and deerstalker. Fond as I am of dark and gaudy fashion and vintage horror, it had a certain romance to it all. I did not know much beyond the fact that prostitutes were killed. I knew that they had been killed in a famously gruesome manner, the sort of thing that would be at home in the novel I’d been working on. I was seventeen and under-informed. I didn’t think I could see anything that would ever shock me. Who does when they’re seventeen? Why, you can hypothetically watch any movie on Earth! But, I was wrong. What I saw sometimes still appears in front of my eyes if I take too long trying to get to sleep, or replays in my mind whenever someone so much as mentions the words “Jack the Ripper.” True crime buffs see a lot of crime scene photos, but nothing like the one that stuck most with me.

The mangled body of Mary Kelly does not look like a woman. It looks like a heap of something, a person unceremoniously converted into meat. It induces a degree of nausea and an understanding that a desperate man devoid of limits and respect did this. While the other murders looked like they were performed by some rogue surgeon, that scene looks like a kid finger painting with organs. For sheer primal grotesquerie, I should have been shaken to the core by Mary Kelly.

But it’s another photo that haunts me to this day. That of Catherine Eddowes, the Ripper’s penultimate victim. The savagery of Mary Kelly’s death is one thing, but the state of Catherine Eddowes is another entirely. That face…good God, that face…seeing the photo, I knew what Lovecraft protagonists must have felt at the final inarticulate reveal, the sight of Pickman’s model or “The Unnamable”. I closed my eyes in revulsion and the body was still there. It is one thing to convert a person into hamburger, it is another to convert them into morbid art.

Catherine Eddowes was deprived of a face. Gleefully bisected, her identity and her capacity to speak, to scream were targeted. It is a grim sculpture that says “you are no one and you can say nothing.” Of all the things the Ripper and Victorian society did to those women, this is to me the worst. This isn’t an angry child or a surgeon’s work, this is a tableau that seems not like it is meant to hurt or act out some sexual sadism but to communicate. What metaphor for the insignificance of these poor streetwalkers could be stronger and more direct? I shudder to think.

I wondered as a young writer, if anything I ever came up with could be as passionate and expressive as this, horrible though it was. Could I possibly create words that provided such grim insight and stirred a person’s soul like this? Not only was I terrified, but on some sick level, I was also envious of the raw poetry this monster could commit. A shameful feeling, but one I couldn’t avoid. I couldn’t write a word of poetry or fiction for a week following the sight of Cathy Eddowes. Why bother?

Eventually, I wrote a poem and a play about the killings. Didn’t feel like enough. Because it wasn’t. Somebody was dead. Somebody was dead and silent and mangled. There’s no expressing that better. I have tried since to capture and help people understand the psychosis of a serial killer and of a world obsessed with such people, but I know I can’t stir the kind of awful feelings that Cathy Eddowes brought up in me. When it comes to true horror, Jack the Ripper is Blind Willie Mc Tell and the Late Great Johnny Ace. I can’t help but be obsessed and tormented by the knowledge that inside every poet is a monster and inside every monster is a poet.

 

— Garrett Cook is an author of Horror, Bizarro and Neopulp fiction. His passion for crime and desire to explore ethics inspired his Murderland series. Parts 1 and 2 are available at Amazon.com, as is his Wonderland Book Award nominated novella Archelon Ranch. His next book, Jimmy Plush: Teddy Bear Detective is coming soon from Eraserhead Press.

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Published on December 4, 2010 at 12:23 pm  Comments (3)  

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Great Article – thanks!
    It’s such an interesting commentary that you describe above. When you talk about Catherine having her identity and her ability to speak taken from her, I thought more of her power rather than her lack of it. Street walkers bare the brunt of all the ugliest things about society. We need them (still) to carry this burden and they do – with secret knowledge we can’t begin to fathom. Horrifyingly, they are aware of their role, with lucidity and clarity. Perhaps slicing her in this way was an attempt at destroying the most dramatic symbol of our darkest weaknesses. Street walkers are too powerful – this is why we hate them.

  2. That is incredible, poetic vision, Garrett, to have seen in those photos such communication, such contrast between what most of us know to be the intense value of life and one unable to appreciate it, or, if appreciating, still willing to try to take power from it with beyond the pale-abandon. It feels eerily similar to my response to the police report’s list of the possessions of Catherine Eddowes at her death, which is of course what inspired my novel. Thanks.

    • Hi, Alan,

      Great to see you here, and glad you enjoyed Garrett’s piece. Your novel sounds fascinating; will have to check it out.

      All the best,
      Brett.


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