The Comforts of Evil

Mckeown, Mick orcid iconORCID: 0000-0003-0235-1923 and Stowell-Smith, Mark (2006) The Comforts of Evil. In: Forensic Psychiatry: Influences of Evil. Springer, Totowa, NJ, pp. 109-134. ISBN 978-1-59745-006-5

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This chapter reflects upon recent UK legislative proposals for the detention of dangerous individuals with severe personality disorder as a starting point for deriving insight into the deployment of the terminology of evil in everyday discourse. We concern ourselves, specifically, with the public safety role of high security hospitals and consequent contribution to the assuagement of collective anxieties. This, in turn, is linked to Julia Kristeva’s notion of the abject, with an analagous relationship to anxiety containment seen in people’s encounters with horror movies.

Diagnostic categories such as dangerous and severe personality disorder (DSPD) and its forerunner, psychopathic disorder, have had their clinical value called into question. Arguably, such doubts over the practical use of these concepts can be accomodated if they are useful in other ways. We suggest here that one such ancillary function is the containment of anxieties connected with abjection. Abject entitities or experiences threaten the integrity of the self and engender feelings of horror, abomination and revulsion. The containment of dangerous individuals in special hospitals both serves the purpose of establishing a physical separation from the public world and effects an alleviation of abject fears. This contribution to both physical and emotional security mirrors psychological processes at work in the consumption of horror films, wherein representations of the abject are safely projected onto the movie screen.

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