Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi, “The Monster of Florence”

“I knew that Mario Spezi had already struggled with the evil expressed by the Monster case. One day, I asked him what he had learned. “Nobody understood evil better than Brother Galileo,” he told me, referring to the Franciscan monk turned psychoanalyst he had turned to for help when the horrors of the Monster case began to drag him under. Brother Galileo had since died, but Mario credited him with saving his life during the time of the Monster’s killings. “He helped me understand what is beyond understanding.”

“Do you remember what he said?”

“I can tell you exactly, Doug, I wrote it down.” He dug out his notes of the session where Brother Galileo spoke about evil and read them to me.

The old monk began by making a powerful play of words on the fact that the Italian word for evil and sickness are the same— male— and that the words for speech and study are also the same— discorso. “Pathology can be defined as discourso su male, study of sickness,” Brother Galileo said. “I prefer to define it as male che parla, ‘evil that speaks.’ Just so with psychology, which is defined as the ‘study of the psyche.’ But I prefer ‘the study of the psyche struggling to speak through its neurotic disturbances.’ There is no longer true communication among us because our very language is sick, and the sickness of our discourse carries us inevitably to sickness in our bodies, to neurosis, if not finally to mental illness. When I can no longer communicate with speech, I will speak with sickness. My symptoms are given life. These symptoms express the need of my soul to make itself heard, but cannot because I don’t have the words, and because those that should listen cannot get beyond the sound of their own voices. The language of sickness is the most difficult to interpret. It is an extreme form of blackmail which defies all our efforts to pay it off and send it away. It is a final attempt at communication. Mental illness lies at the very end of this struggle to be heard. It is the last refuge of a desperate soul who has finally understood that no one is listening or ever will listen. Madness is the renunciation of all efforts to be understood. It is one unending scream of pain and need into the absolute silence and indifference of society. It is a cry without an echo. This is the nature of the evil in the Monster of Florence, and this is the nature of the evil in each and every one of us. We all have a monster within. The difference is in degree.”

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