Ruth Thorne-Thomsen - Levitating Man (Detail), 1983
Any dreams you have, or plans, or hopes for your future… I think you’re going to have to put that on hold. For the rest of your life you’re going to be looking over your shoulder. I’m just telling you this because I want you to know the truth. But the girl is safe.
As a society, we are fascinated by fictional psychopaths. Humankind has an ‘ongoing… fascination with tales of gruesome murders and evil villains. Popular culture abounds with depictions of the mad and the bad; and aberrant psychology has proved a fertile source of such material to the novelist and the reader alike. Perhaps no single disorder holds as much morbid cultural appeal as psychopathy.
There is no question… that readers feel empathy with and sympathy for fictional characters and other aspects of fictional worlds’, yet it is difficult to see how one can empathise and identify with a character who is himself incapable of empathy. If empathy and identification are both the goal and the reward of reading literature, then we are left with a striking ambivalence which needs to be explored.