Hypnotist, Philosopher, Serial Killer, Friend: A Critical Review of Ian Brady's the Gates of Janus

By Metivier, Anthony | Nebula, December 2008 | Go to article overview

Hypnotist, Philosopher, Serial Killer, Friend: A Critical Review of Ian Brady's the Gates of Janus


Metivier, Anthony, Nebula


The Gates of Janus, a confessional-philosophical book by the British 'Moors Murderer,' Ian Brady, presents one of the very few prose offerings by a "serial killer." Stephen Milligen mentions a manuscript supposedly penned by John Wayne Gacy and submitted to Doubleday titled A Question of Doubt (149) but along with Charles Nimo, Milligen doubts that anyone ever actually published the work. (1) Brady's The Gates of Janus, in large part, attempts to smash certain cultural illusions about serial killers, while contradictorily arguing for our recognition of the importance, if not necessity, of the serial murderer in contemporary society. In this way, Brady takes the enlightenment of his reader as the goal of his text, and the book functions paradoxically as both an expose and a how-to guide. Nonetheless, Katherine Ramsland dismisses Brady as a "postmodern nihilist" (166). Ramsland, who draws the term "serial killer" back to the beginnings of recorded history, lumps Brady together with several other authors, whom she equally misinterprets. Consider, for example, the connection Ramsland makes between Brady and three major figures of literature and philosophy: "Inspired by Dostoevsky, the Marquis de Sade, and Nietzsche, [Brady] believed that certain men can rise above society's moral standards and do as they pleased" (166-177).

As I will demonstrate, Brady's text deserves greater consideration than this. After all, Brady explains why he thinks people find him repugnant while also finding him attractive and gives us insight, not into what makes a serial killer tick, but into a method of viewing, by which serial killers do not really exist at all. The probing, interrogative nature of Brady's self-study hardly resembles Ramsland's description, and, as we shall see, The Gates of Janus weaves an odd array of themes, such as friendship, hypnosis, and representations of the mastermind criminal, which if anything calls for a deconstruction of the myth of the serial killer. Brady's text offers a productive struggle to dismiss the notion of evil as an essence, and The Gates of Janus provides a fascinating means of tracking this line of argument in the mind of a controversial criminal.

For Brady, the term 'serial killer' is a misnomer. Moreover, he spots a disconnection between any analysis of a killer's motivation and the actual event or process of killing:

 
   I believe the term 'serial killer' is highly misleading, in that it 
   implicitly suggests to the general public that murder is the 
   paramount object or motivating urge in the mind of the killer ... 
   They naturally attribute this motivation partly because they value 
   human life above all else, and partly because, as their endless 
   fascination with the subject suggests, they have a vague conception 
   of murder as being somehow mystical, highly dramatic, or even a 
   nebulously romantic experience, replete with unimaginable 
   connotations of eroticism. And guilt for it must be paid for in 
   full. (85-86) 

Generalizing his own experiences and motivations to other killers, Brady argues that murder serves as a cover for the "dramatic" victimizations killers perpetrate upon their victims. Discussing crimes committed by himself and his girlfriend Myra Hindley, Brady asserts that killing and hiding the bodies on the Moors most importantly silenced their prey, thereby preventing any reports of the couple's crimes. Brady and Hindley made photographs and audio recordings of their abuse of young children as a means of reliving crimes enacted on living bodies. For them, Brady argues, murder itself offered no special excitement. Murder is "a necessary conclusion to an exercise of power and will ... a categorical imperative. A wearisome cleaning up after the fear" (89. Brady's emphasis).

Brady confirms the hypothesis offered by Robert Ressler of the FBI's Behavioral Sciences Unit, who has been credited with coining the term "serial killer", "because the behavior of these criminals supposedly reminded him of the movie-house serials he enjoyed as a child" (Milligan 98). …

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