Friday, October 20, 2017

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The Gates of Janus: Serial Killing and its Analysis - Ian Brady

Christopher Owens reviews a controversial book authored by a serial child killer.






We're all too accustomed to staring into the supposed "abyss." Dostoevsky did it. Selby Jr did it. McNamee did it. And, because of this, we have classic after classic to read and absorb.

But what happens when the author is a convicted child murderer?

In 2001, American underground publishers Feral House caused no end of controversy when they announced the publication of The Gates of Janus which was described as "partly a philosophical analysis of the human condition and crime in general, and partly an attempt to profile specific criminals, in the manner of the FBI."

Eventually emerging in November 2001, The Gates of Janus was not what was expected. It wasn't an autobiography, nor was it an apology/explanation. It was, at it's heart, Moors Murderer Ian Brady nailing his philosophy to the page as well as offering his interpretations of other serial killers, some of whom he had spoken to (such as Peter Sutcliffe) and others he had studied from afar (like Dean Corll).

When the reader begins, it's easy to imagine the angle they approach the book from: a disgust at his actions, but also an abject curiosity at what motivates such a person to carry out such heinous crimes.

Long time Brady "supporter", Dr. Colin Wilson, provides an introduction, where he depicts a Brady who is remorseful for his actions, but will not allow society the opportunity to see him so weak in the face of their hypocrisy. Although the revelation that Brady's favourite book was A Christmas Carol(because the idea of turning back time and becoming a different person appealed to him) is surprisingly moving, Dr. Wilson's words set off alarm bells, as the reader questions what tricks/games Brady will he be playing in the main text.

As the main book begins, we are introduced to Brady's philosophy on life. Basically, this can be summed up in two sentences:

➽Criminals/killers can see beyond the hypocrisy of modern society, which regularly execute people under the flag of legality.

➽You don't have to be a serial killer to be a psychopath, but you can find them in high positions of government and business.

Of course, this is all very true and this is a common thread throughout. But, all too often, his hectoring tone betrays an almost sneering contempt for the reader. Consider the following passage, for example:

Conformists who observe, deduce and vaguely bemoan the immorality of their superiors are largely too afraid of penalty, or are too lazy to run the risk of acting upon their conclusions. People are not so remorseful or ashamed of their criminal thoughts; they are more afraid of criminal thoughts being ascribed to them by others. To compensate, they rationalise their timidity or indolence as an indication of moral character, and their vociferous clamour for harsher punishment of criminals is mob retribution against a will to power they covertly envy. This envy is exacerbated by the media’s colourful, exciting stories about criminals riotously enjoying every forbidden pleasure the ‘decent citizens’ can only dream about.

Admit it, you read that and saw a flicker of yourself in there, didn't you? But you were kept at a distance by the tone, so you could easily divorce yourself from the crux of what Brady is saying. This is a recurring theme throughout the first half.

However, when the book moves forward to discussing other serial killers, the essence of the book hits home when, discussing his conversations with Peter Sutcliffe, Brady states that:

Whether or not he has responded to treatment since his capture is now of no earthly consequence. He will never be released. Politicians serve the mob, not the individual.

Anybody's first reaction should be to scoff at Brady, asserting (quite rightly) that Sutcliffe deliberately went out of his way to murder innocent women. But then, the eye lingers over the last line about politicians. Then the reaction is to half heartedly agree, but still asserting that Sutcliffe should be locked up for life.

Then you ask yourself, how is Sutcliffe different from someone like (say) Robert Taylor, who walked free on a technicality? Or even Robert Thompson, one of the youngest convicted murderers of the 20th century? All three of these people committed horrendous and unprovoked murders. Yet they walked free for years, or continue to walk free in the case of Thompson.

It is at that moment when the reader realises the implications of Brady's line: people use each other. Using denies the object person their humanity. These characters hold an opinion of themselves that denies this basic relationship and identifies it as something else.

So, in the case of Brady, his murders allowed him to fulfil his pseudo Nietzschean 'will to power' fantasies, and denied his victims the right to live. Police officials use Brady as an example of the chaos that awaits society if the 'thin blue line' is not maintained. Psychologists use Brady as a window into a supposed nihilistic domain, using him as a way to back up their own fantasies masquerading as theories. Journalists use Brady, the police and psychologists to sensationalise the truth, sell more papers and whip up public opinion.

And it happens in the real world all the time. As Jello Biafra once sang: "Kiss ass while you bitch so you can get rich. But your boss gets richer off you."

When the reader pieces all of this together, it sends a chill down the spine. It makes you think about the oft quoted line that one bad day can change your life forever. By recognising that you share a view with an individual who has abused and killed children, you think "could that be me one day?"

And then, you throw up.

The book closes with an afterward from the highly controversial writer Peter Sotos. Formerly a member of the influential extreme noise/power electronics act Whitehouse, Sotos has been a bête noire for true crime writers, his writings often stretching the boundaries of decency and taste, making the point that the mass media are often even more exploitative when it comes to selling murder to bored housewives and frustrated office workers.

In this afterward, he takes the readers to task for reading the words of Brady, by reprinting part of the infamous transcript of Lesley Ann Downey's torture and giving brief descriptions of some of the photographs Brady and Hindley took of Downey in that time period. After all this, his line about "how desperate are you for perfect context" brings some uncomfortable truths home.

By quoting not only Brady, Wilson but also the mass media outlets and other books covering the Moors Murders, Sotos takes the point about people using other people to it's logical conclusion. He closes his section with the outraged line that " This, then, is child pornography", which seriously unsettles the reader, even more so than before.

Not a book to be approached lightly. But if you want an insight into an area of humanity that most wish to suppress, then approach with caution.


Ian Brady, 2001, The Gates of Janus. Feral House Publishing ISBN-13 978-0922915736

Christopher Owens reviews for Metal Ireland and finds time to study the history and inherent contradictions of Ireland.

Follow Christopher Owens on Twitter @MrOwens212    

15 comments :

AM said...

Great review of a disconcerting subject

Feel te love said...

Nasty stuff, wonder how serial murders like the scaps will go down in the future.

Feel te love said...

The scap would put Brady to shame if there were a competition of evil villains. Thanks to Gerry and the cult.

Christopher Owens said...

AM,

thank you for the compliment. Greatly appreciated.

Feel te love,

judging by the book, Brady would have looked down on Scap because his murders were government approved, whereas Brady considered murders of his ilk to be the true expression of humankind's superiority and addiction to supreme pleasure. Would be interesting to visualise a conversation between the two of them!

Steve R said...

Just a pity Brady can't be questioned on his bullshit. He murdered children, the most vulnerable in society. Fuck him, and his book.

AM said...

Steve,

Rudolf Höss was incomparably worse but his book is still a valuable account of his role in Auschwitz. Even obnoxious books help enhance public understanding. Better to have them on library shelves than burn them in fires.

Steve R said...

AM,

Fair point. I have not read Boss's autobiography either though I am sure it would be repugnant. This very articulate review suggests however some sort of sadistic faux apology, one that should be treated with the utter contempt it deserves.

Christopher Owens said...

Steve,

Peter Sotos does a good job of calling Brady out and reminding the readers of his crimes. And AM is correct: as loathsome a man he was, I would much rather have a book like this being out in the open for discussion, rather than being suppressed.

Steve R said...

Christopher,

I wasn't having a go at you and agree that no book should be banned, but any critique by Sotos is tempered by the fact that he's also a person of low moral character, especially when it comes toward child pornography and sexual violence.

Christopher Owens said...

Steve,

I understand you weren't having a go at me. I know that 99.999% of the population will have the same reaction as you re. Brady (certainly I have when discussing his crimes) and I understand that the concept of reading his words would sicken most.

As for Sotos, yes he was convicted for possession of child pornography. However, it was (to my knowledge) never verified that the image in question (which took the form of a photocopied fanzine cover) featured underage performers. The Chicago police had spent one million dollars on a surveillance operation on him (which lasted nine months) and came up blank. The subsequent raid on his house came up blank as well, apart from the fanzine image. The lingering suspicion is that this was used to justify the surveillance.

Of course, if it was genuinely child pornography, then he should be locked up.

Steve R said...


I copied the below from the Chicago Tribune. In my opinion it sheds new light on the motive of Sotos with regard to his repellent review..


$100,000 Bond In Child Pornography Case
December 06, 1985|By Linnet Myers and Dave Schneidman.
A $100,000 bond was set Thursday for a Near North Side man who, according to prosecutors, distributed a homemade magazine that outlined ``the pleasures of child abuse, torture and murder in pornographic detail.``

Peter Gus Sotos, 25, who was arrested Wednesday in his apartment at 748 W. Belden Ave., allegedly manufactured a magazine called Pure, which included pictures depicting the ``lewd exhibition`` of boys and girls, Assistant State`s Atty. Dan Jordan told Cook County Criminal Court Judge Francis Gembala.




The magazine`s first edition, published last year, said that ``child abuse is a sublime pleasure.`` It also said the ``pleasures`` of torture

``reach their pinnacle when the victim is a small child,`` Judge Gambala was told.

Sotos became the first person charged under the revised Illinois Child Pornography Act that took effect Nov. 18, which makes possessing,

manufacturing and distributing child pornography a Class 1 felony punishable by a prison sentence of 4 to 15 years. He also was charged in a misdemeanor complaint with obscenity.

Assistant State`s Atty. Robert Cleary said Sotos allegedly put the magazine together using lewd photos of children that he photocopied from illegal commercially produced pornographic magazines. The text detailed the torture and murder of children, and some nonpornographic photos illustrated those stories, Cleary said.

The magazine`s third edition, which featured the recent murder of Melissa Ackerman of Somonauk, was stopped from circulation by Sotos` arrest, said state Inspector Gen. Jeremy Margolis.

According to Sotos` lawyer, James Meltreger, Sotos is a graduate of Holy Cross High School who attended Northern Illinois University for one year and the Art Institute of Chicago for 3 1/2 years.

Meltreger said Sotos had been working as manager of a used record store in Evanston and has no criminal record. If freed on bond, Sotos would live with his mother and two brothers on the Northwest Side, the attorney said.

Meltreger argued that Sotos isn`t accused of taking any of the photos or of having any direct contact with the children.

Judge Gembala then set the $100,000 bond and continued the case until Dec. 19.

Cleary said the investigation--conducted by the inspector general, the Cook County state`s attorney`s office, the state police, U.S. Customs and Chicago police--is continuing. But he said ``there is very little hope of ever tracing the kids`` depicted in the pictures because the photos came from other illegal magazines and could be years old.

Margolis said Scotland Yard found a copy of Pure in Edinburgh, in the home of a suspect in a series of brutal child abductions, murders and grave robbings. Investigators are trying to determine how the magazine was distributed.

``We simply do not know the extent to which this garbage has been circulated worldwide,`` Margolis said.

Christopher Owens said...

Steve,

there are a few inaccuracies in that report:

- "...pictures depicting the ``lewd exhibition`` of boys and girls..." = All the explicit imagery is from mainstream pornography, and it's obvious that the people in question are adults.

- "Sotos allegedly put the magazine together using lewd photos of children..." = A glance at all three issues of Pure reveal no such thing. There are photographs of children, but they are of missing children, and have been clearly been cut from newspaper reports.

As for the text about torture etc, yes that is in there but, similar to the point I made about the book in my review, it is Sotos adopting the mindset of such a person to reveal the loathsome nature of their character, and to criticise the media and reader for finding rape, torture and murder fascinating reading. Nowadays, such an approach is not uncommon. But try explaining that to a police service who've spent a million dollars on around the clock surveillance on someone they "know" is a serial killer, and a media who will believe the police no matter what.

Also, he was in his mid 20's when he wrote Pure. Today, he's nearly 60. What comes across as juvenile shock tactics in Pure has been refined over the years into something much more pointed.

Steve R said...

Chris,

That's a fair point. What passes for mainstream entertainment these days is far beyond what was considered good taste in the 70s and 80's. There has definitely been an increase in torture aesthetic, Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ and other works is evidence of this.

Christopher Owens said...

Steve,

you're bang on about The Passion of the Christ. I remember finding it bizarre that coachloads of Christians were heading to see it, despite it being heavily influenced by the (as you say) torture aesthetic that is prevalent in much of modern cinema today. What was even more surreal was that, across the street from the Movie House on Belfast's Dublin Road, a cafe was set up so people could come in and discuss the film. It sounded like an Onion article!

I can understand your attitude towards Sotos. Although I know people who have met him and said they found him to be a gentleman, he wouldn't be someone I would deliberately seek out. As I mentioned in the review, there are people who can stare into the abyss without getting engulfed and I admire that trait. But I think staring into it too frequently can alter your basic perceptions of right and wrong. Not something I want to happen to me.

Simon said...

It's also maybe useful to steer clear of the abyss completely.