In my last post I quoted the killer’s reaction to seeing crime scene photos of his most recent creation, I cannot call it a work of art:
His works are his prayers, his testament to his own godliness and immortality, and that comes through.
I had kept reading a book which was repelling me with the detailed scenes of violence and torture partly because I wanted to see what “why” Levien could come up with for a serial killer.
After finishing the book I reflected on whether we should ask “why” horrific acts are committed.
I went back to my copy of Explaining Hitler by Ron Rosenbaum. In the book, which is subtitled The Search for the Origins of His Evil, the author explores the efforts of 20 different biographers of Hitler to explain his murderous behaviour.
Claude Lanzmann, the maker of the epic film, Shoah, has passionately argued the world must not ask “why”. Rosenbaum quotes Lanzmann:
And if you start to explain and to answer the question of Why you are led, whether you want it or not, to justification. The question as such shows its own obscenity: Why are the Jews being killed. Because there is no answer to the question of “why.” Because, in other words, any answer begins inevitably to legitimize, to make “understandable” that process.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, Dr. Louis Micheels, a Holocaust survivor has argued there has to be a “why”:
“….. However, in the civilized world to which so few of us, including Primo Levi, returned, there should be – sa soll ein warum sein. Without an attempt, no matter how difficult and complex, at understanding, that very world, where truth is most important, could be lost again.”
“Da soll ein warum sein”: There must be a why.
In Signature Kill the killer has been brutally treated as a youth. It is common to look to a killer’s cruel upbringing in explaining “why”. Yet only the tiniest fraction of abused youth become serial killers.
In Explaining Hitler, Rosenbaum takes that approach back to its most extreme in the attempted analysis of a baby photo of Hitler:
We could, considering what we know of what became of him, “backshadow” (the useful term coined by the scholar Michael Andre Bernstein to characterize this dubious but hard-to-resist habit of thought) into his dark, questioning eyes, into those lips pursed into what looks like a pout or a frown, a premonitory, melancholy, even a haunted and hurt expression. We could project upon that impressionable baby face the stirrings of some deep emotional disturbance in embryo. But we could just as easily see there not incipient demonism but a kind of gentleness and sensitivity. We could just as easily predict this child would turn out to be Albert Schweitzer.
The photo is at the top of this post.
In my work as a lawyer I spend a lot of time asking people “why”. Often their explanations do not make sense to me. I came to realize many years ago that when we ask “why” we are looking for a logical answer. Too often the answer is illogical. It makes sense to the person involved but is not logical. I have come to sum up that experience by telling clients “I cannot explain what does not make sense”. I say it every week at the office. I have learned to accept people commit illogical actions.
I will continue to ask “why” in real life and to look for explanations of “why” in crime fiction as I have an inherent desire to know “why” whether logical or illogical.
****Levien, David - (2015) - Signature Kill and Reaction, Not Review, to Signature Kill