Jack the Ripper, the Dialectic of Enlightenment and the Search for Spiritual Deliverance in White Chappell, Scarlet Tracings
Murray, Alex, Critical Survey
Jack the Ripper is purported to have claimed: 'I gave birth to the twentieth-century.' In what follows I want to suggest that what Jack the Ripper 'gave birth to' was little more than a perpetuation of the paradox that lies at the heart of Western civilization: the dialectic of enlightenment. The rationalising impulse that led to the liberation of the modern subject from the tyrannical faith in myth, superstition, and sovereign power, and their embodiment in the objective world is, according to Adorno and Horkheimer, also responsible for its negation by reducing it to the status of that objective, or natural world from which it was attempting to liberate itself. A reading of lain Sinclair's 1987 novel, White Chappell, Scarlet Tracings, in relation to contemporary theorisations of modernity, such as that of Alain Touraine, suggests that any escape from the Ripper paradox, any 'spiritual deliverance' through historical investigation, requires a reconceptualisation of the relationship between subject and object, past and present--in short--a reappraisal of the project of modernity.
Jack the Ripper never existed. The facts in the case of Jack the Ripper are contained within a certain moment in time and space: Whitechapel, East London in Autumn 1888. Everything outside of this co-ordinate is conjecture. The only thing to be revealed in the investigation of Jack the Ripper is ourselves, and the one hundred and fifteen years of theorising, investigation and myth stands as a testament to the latent desires and crises that have lurked behind the facade of progress and reason that has driven modernity. The field of Jack the Ripper studies, or, as it has been dubbed, Ripperology, has grown steadily, from the feverish tabloid press phenomenon at the time of the murder, to the countless numbers of books purporting to tell "the facts;' reveal a 'final solution.' To investigate precisely what drives this discourse it is necessary to consider its inherent logic, and its relationship to the rationalising drive of modernity and the philosophical discourse which has both produced and challenged it.
The investigations of Jack the Ripper are multifarious and contradictory, yet all reveal certain Waits: determination, moral indignation, conviction, and perhaps, most tellingly, a faith in the rationality of human thought. Stephen Knight's Jack the Ripper: the Final Solution is one of the foundational texts of modern Ripperology. While the investigation of the crimes continues, from the fumbling police investigations at the time, to over 250 different studies--many offering a new suspect--Knight's study was responsible for the resurgence in Ripper scholarship. Knight's study, like many others, proffers a version of the crime that has peeled away the obfuscating layers of mythology to discover 'the truth': 'Jack the Ripper is a misnomer ... [F]or Jack the ripper was not one man but three, two killers and an accomplice. The facts surrounding their exploits have never before been teased from the confused skein of truths, half-truths and lies which have been woven around the case. Falsehoods deliberate and accidental have hopelessly enmeshed the truth ... The truth about Jack the Ripper is ugly. Many would rather not bear it, others will revile it. But it is the truth.' (1) With these unequivocal words Knight goes on to detail his story of The Ripper as Sir William Withey Gull, his driver, John Netley, and a third man that Knight suggests is either the artist Walter Sickert, or the Assistant Police Commisioner John Anderson. In this account Prince Eddie, Duke of Clarence met Annie Chapman while receiving painting lessons from Sickert and fell in love, sparking the bizarre series of royal conspiracies and Masonic rituals that resulted in The Ripper killings. While this version has since been severely discredited, Knight's certainty and claims to truth are indicative of Ripperology's attempt to posit itself as a rational, empirical discourse. …