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The Torture Garden Excerpt: Murder

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The scientist settled himself once more among the cushions of his armchair, stretched his legs, which were numb from being crossed too long and, his head thrown back, his arms hanging and his stomach soothed by good digestion, puffed smoke-rings at the ceiling:

“Besides,” he continued, “murder is largely self-propagating. Actually, it is not the result of this or that passion, nor is it a pathological form of degeneracy. It is a vital instinct which is in us all—which is in all organized beings and dominates them, just as the genetic instinct. And most of the time it is especially true that these two instincts fuse so well, and are so totally interchangeable, that in some way or other they form a single and identical instinct, so that we no longer may tell which of the two urges us to give life, and which to take it—which is murder, and which love. I have been the confidant of an honorable assassin who killed women, not to rob them, but to ravish them. His trick was to manage things so that his sexual climax coincided exactly with the death-spasm of the woman: ‘At those moments,’ he told me, ‘I imagined I was a God, creating a world!’ “

“Ah,” cried the celebrated writer, “if you are going to seek your examples among professional assassins—”

“Hold on,” the scientist replied, “simply that we are all more or less assassins. I liked to believe that, intellectually, we have all experienced analogous sensations to a lesser degree. We restrain the innate need of murder and attenuate physical violence by giving it a legalized outlet: industry, colonial trade, war, the hunt or antisemitism…

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