What evil looked like : the practice of reading the criminal body in 19th- and 20th-century Europe / by Thosaeng Chaochuti.
This dissertation examines the idea and practice of reading the criminal body in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Europe. An Italian criminologist named Cesare Lombroso argued in his 1876 groundbreaking work L'uomo Delinauente (The Criminal Man) that criminals possessed certain physical characteristics that distinguished them from non-criminals. He believed, therefore, that it was possible to identify individuals with criminal tendencies simply by reading their bodies. Writing several decades before Lombroso, Edgar Allan Poe already seemed to propound the same idea in "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," "The Purloined Letter," and "The Man of the Crowd." A closer examination of these short stories reveals, however, that Poe was, in fact, skeptical of the supposed decipherability of the criminal body. The same skepticism was expressed not only by the majority of the German criminologists working at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries, but also by the German people who were not necessarily familiar with criminological works, but who were led by the phenomenon of the "Hochstapler," or impostor, and a few high-profile serial murder cases to question the possibility of reading the body of the criminal. This growing doubt in the minds of the German criminologists and the German public is reflected in Fritz Lang's film M and Thomas Mann's novel Bekentnisse des Hochstaplers Felix Krull: Der Memoiren erster Teil (Confessions of Felix Krull: Confidence Man [The Early Years]). Given this serious questioning, one may expect the idea of the decipherable criminal body to fade slowly away into obscurity. Such was, however, not the case for Nazi officials and anti-Semitic writers attempted to revive this Lombrosian concept in the Third Reich. They did so not only by claiming that Jews were inherent criminals whose depravity and criminality could be read on their bodies but also by disseminating this idea in propagandistic texts such as the newspaper Der Stürmer and the children's books Der Giftpilz ("The Poisonous Mushroom") and Der Pudelmopsdackelpinscher ("The Poodle-Pug-Dachshund-Pinscher").
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