The makers of From Hell take one of Moore’s lines as their statement of intent: mad doctor Jack ‘gives birth to the twentieth-century’. The Whitechapel Murders of 1888 are a paradigm for the cult of serial killers, the font of all conspiracy theories. Jack the Ripper is the ‘first tabloid star’. Moore’s epic deconstruction, with summaries and echoes of all previous Ripper scholarship, is a monstrous edifice; loud with shrieks and whispers, broken quotes, ghosts and doppelgangers. […]
What Moore proposes, and what the film necessarily refutes, is the belief that the past is unknowable. ‘In all our efforts to describe the past, to list the simple facts of history,’ he wrote in his introduction to the From Hell scripts, ‘we are involved in fiction.’ There can be no anachronisms when time is a plural concept. Nobody knows, or will ever know, or should know, who Jack the Ripper was. Jack is. Sustained and incubated by tour guides, crocodiles of sombre or giggling pilgrims processing around the locations where the bodies were found, the Ripper lives on. An invisible earner. A waxwork vampire.
Iain Sinclair “Jack the Rip-Off” on From Hell in the Guardian newspaper.
Sinclair has an interest, you see, as he was rendered as a character in the 16-part graphic novel written by his friend, Alan Moore; the graphic novel upon which the film, From Hell was based. Yet, the Sinclair-ish character in the graphic novel did not make the translation into cinema when the graphic novel was used as the basis for the film.
Sinclair frames the tension around the Ripper in terms of ‘knowing’ history; something akin to the ‘state of emergency (scholarship)’ signaled by the ‘culture wars’ and battles fought in the footnotes. ‘Knowing’ in this context not only includes an accurate historical and representational framing of past events, but the legitimation with which particular ‘framings’ circulate within culture.
“Jack is.” The ‘Jack’ that ‘is’ is the event of ‘Jack’. The first example of Jack-event was the ‘tabloid-star’ representation of the actual, historical Jack The Ripper at the time of the actual, historical Jack The Ripper. This is the only time the historical event of the Ripper determined the social event of Jack the Ripper. History is not perpetuated, only the event continually modulated or the time of the event (Aion) is not the time of history (Chronos). The Jack-event is continued and continually modulated by popular culture expressions of the Jack-event and by tour guide accentuations of these expressions. We are within a singular Jack-Event. The ‘tour guide’ is but a forgettable fragment of a Jack-Event cultural industry also constituted by the film, all other films, the graphic novel, all other creative works, and Sinclair’s newspaper article and all other newspaper articles. The Jack-event is an invisible earner, because the event of Jack subsists in every representation of the Ripper, and a rent is accrued from those who witness this ‘image’ of Jack.
Hmmm, is this another chapter in a book about popular culture and the event? The first ‘tabloid media star’? The Ripper.