Serial Killers and Wound Culture

by on Oct.28, 2010

I’m interested in serial killers; the letters of serial killers was one of my big interests when I wrote Dear Ra 10 years ago. I’m interested in the way style and the relationship of language to violence, artifice and violence, artifice and the body, wounds and language.

Right now I’m reading a fascinating book by Mark Seltzer called *Serial Killers: Life and Death in America’s Wound Culture*. It seems more related to my poetry and poetics than most books *about poetry.* I’ll write more about this later.

For now, here’s an interesting quote:

“The letter bomber is a writer who dreams of words with a direct physical impact. He dreams of words as weapons aimed at bodies: verboballistics.”

This reads the Unabomber’s obsessions with numbers and letters as a response to a digital society in which the body has become exchangeable with information.

5 comments for this entry:
  1. steve halle

    that book sounds provocative; i too usually learn more about poetry from looking outside of it.

    i have always been curious about serial killers and how they are automatically monstrous/inhuman/mythic; completely exiled from humanity. the film “monster” is one of the only things i’ve encountered that tries to wrestle with the complexity of serial killers’ humanness.

    it seems the difference between a poet and a unabomber is the degree of sociopathy: a representational/metaphoric versus an embodied expression of these “verboballistics.”

  2. Johannes


    One interesting argument this book makes is the extent to which the category of “serial killer” is a literary creation of true crime fiction; that is, the serial killers are self-conscious of their own status as “serial killers”. So that might be why they don’t view themselves as “human”; that’s another genre so to speak. More to the point maybe, Seltzer argues that the serial killer represents how these spectacularly violent atrocity exhibitions represents the attempt to negotiate a public space, to create a sense of collective identity in our “wound culture.” Perhaps “the human” that you don’t find in these movies is a “private” kind of human-ness?

    Yes, lets hope poets and killers are different!! It just seems to me that a lot of ideas I’ve been working on about the role of violence and artifice and private/public relationship Seltzer is bringing up in the form of these serial killers. I’ll let you know how it all plays out…

    It’s a little like the Great Lady Gaga discussions, which seem to say more about contemporary poetry than most discussions about contemporary poetry….


  3. Kate

    oh this is one of my favorite critical texts…i used it when i wrote my ma thesis a decade ago about public cruelty and talk show television…and find myself returning to this idea of “wound culture” over and over again in my critical and creative projects…

  4. Johannes

    That’s cool. Mostly nowadays I read things suggested to me by a young media theorist on our faculty here, Kate Marshall. It’s strange how the texts she suggests has so much more relevance to the way I think about poetry than the typical texts and methods being used in contemporary poetry discussions. Seltzer was her PhD advisor.


  5. Lara Glenum

    Verboballistics! Wound culture! Yum.