While dismembering her boyfriend, Isabel pretended to be butchering a deer. It was her first offense. The prosecution psychiatrist dismissed the evidence of her long history of abuse, including having had sex with her father since the age of three, saying that there was no indication that physical assault or incest had adversely affected her. Her boyfriend-victim might disagree.
-- From Prologue to Violence
Prologue to Violence reveals what happens to those who survive horrific childhoods, only to commit terrifying crimes of their own. Interning on a hospital prison ward, Abby Stein listened to offenders blandly recite nightmarish tales of their own childhood abuse and casually describe their similarly egregious perpetrations, if indeed they remembered these volatile interactions at all. Although "transgenerational transmission of violence" was used as a shorthand explanation for crime amongst her colleagues, the forensic literature offered no compelling theory about exactly how violence in an early interpersonal situation transmogrified later engagements so stunningly, or that accounted for perpetrators' apparent lack of consciousness and agency for annihilative encounters.
Building on the theoretical foundations laid by Harry Stack Sullivan, Stein argues that many of the cruelties her subjects have suffered remain unsymbolized, and thus are unavailable for reflection, or conversion to more benign forms. She explores how unformulated traumata become embedded in Manichean scripts that provide meaning for otherwise inexplicable experiences of brutality and betrayal. In doing so, Stein challenges prevailing beliefs about criminal character and motivation, holding for instance that sex murderers - far from being driven by deviant sexual fantasy - have little or no capacity to engage sexuality in imaginative ways, that conscience is not absent but overactive in many criminals, and that psychopathy is a relatively useless diagnostic construction.
Stein's interdisciplinary approach draws upon salient research and theory from multiple perspectives, including interpersonal and relational psychoanalysis, neuroscience, traumatology, Post-Cartesian philosophy, criminology, cognitive and narrative psychology, and forensic psychology. Her insights provide a framework for understanding not only assault, rape, child molestation, and homicide but the dissociated, aggressive performances that mark our everyday lives.
--- from the publisher
Foreword - Donnel Stern
1. Who Me? Locating Agency in Violent Narratives
2. Slippery Characters: Methods and Sources
3. Conversing With Mutes
4. Criminals' Bad Luck
5. Maximum Perversion
6. Dreaming While Awake
7. Conclusion: Consciousness, Culpability, and Control