Book Fight!

Tough love for literature

Episode 62: Peter Sotos, Mine

5 Comments

Before we get into any details about the book, let’s just get a big TRIGGER WARNING out of the way up top. This novel, the last of the year’s donor picks, is deeply disturbing, and contains material that could trigger anyone who’s had personal experience with child abuse, pedophilia, or sexual assault. Hell, this book could probably trigger someone who hasn’t experienced any of that stuff, but just has a normal level of human empathy and sensitivity to suffering.

That said, we do our best in the episode to stay away from the most graphic stuff. We do read a couple excerpts, but they’re on the tamer side (there were plenty of passages we annotated, in the margins, with comments like “Yikes” and “Oh, Christ”). We do, however, talk (in a non-graphic way) about child pornography, child abductions, and issues surrounding pedophilia–it would be impossible to talk about the book without doing so. And it’s possible this book does have merit, beyond the merely shocking.

minepsotos_lg

While Sotos is an author interested in transgression, as his other works would attest, Mine‘s exploration of the psychology behind men who consume child pornography, and those who actually go so far as to abuse children, could deepen a reader’s understanding of that sort of mind, well beyond what you might get from To Catch a Predator, or an episode of Law and Order: SVU. Which, though disturbing, is work someone should probably be doing. As we discuss during the episode, however, it’s never entirely clear what the book’s point of view is, and a lot of its arguments and analysis seem intentionally opaque. How much of the “I” voice belongs to Sotos himself, for instance? How much of the book is collage-work from other sources?

What many people know about the author–if they know about him at all–is that in the mid-80s he was convicted for possession of child pornography. Though even that’s complicated, as he purportedly had those images–which came from an underground publication called Incest–because he was using them to construct a boundary-pushing, transgressive zine called Pure, which was devoted to serial killer lore. In interviews, too, Sotos often seems a bit cagey about his own relationship to the material he writes about, and the taboo desires explored in his work. You can read this interview he did with the publisher of Nine-Banded Books, which issued the paperback edition of Mine, to get a sense for how he talks about his work, and others’ interpretations of it.

OK, so if you’ve read all that, and are still interested, rather than simply grossed out, please check out the episode, which you can stream below. You can also find us in the iTunes store, where you can download individual episodes or subscribe (for free) so you never miss another installment. If you have opinions about Sotos, this book, or anything else we talked about on the episode, feel free to leave a comment below, send us an email, or hit us up on Twitter.

Also this week, we’ve got our first official rebuttal! Joshua Isard, former guest and author of Conquistador of the Uselesss, took issue with our panning of Howard Jacobson’s The Finkler Question in Episode 58. So, being the democratically minded dudes we are, we gave him some time to weigh in. That starts around the 30-minute mark, if you’d like to hear Josh’s (well-reasoned, actually) take on the book, but don’t think you’re up for the rest of the episode.

We’ve also got a blurb, for a donor whose name we’re not going to write on the website, so that she’s not forever SEO-linked to a book about kiddie porn. And our usual MATRs. In fact, here’s the link promised in Mike’s recommendation: after you’ve bathed in the filth of Mine, take a cold shower and then listen to some good tunes. Who loves ya, baby? (Probably lots of people, actually, but add us to the list.)

Honestly, we’ve probably oversold the ick factor of the episode itself (if not the book). We’re certainly not wallowing in the book’s gorier details, but instead trying to decide how we should read it, and what it might add to the body of psychological knowledge about pedophilia, child abuse, and violence against children.

Thanks, as always, for listening.

Stream:

Download Episode 62 (right-click, save-as)

Author: mikeingram25

writer, editor

5 thoughts on “Episode 62: Peter Sotos, Mine

  1. Mike’s characteristic cavalier approach to fact checking, which I usually don’t really mind, was especially in evidence this week and spoiled the discussion a little bit. His incorrect assertions about Sotos’ past may seem slight (for instance Pure Filth, his collaboration with Jamie Gillis is actually his latest book) but they could have lead the conversation down some interesting paths. For instance, Whitechapel is a pretty meaningless name but the weight of context that comes with the name Whitehouse could have really contributed to the discussion about context and censorship.

    I do find it funny that Mike has such a zest for alluding to his own flair for destroying lazy arguments and research of students when he never fails to throw out a few inaccurate assertions and logical fallacies in every episode. It’s a small point in a usually enjoyable show but it’s definitely there.

    I really applaud you both though for doing this episode and taking it seriously, the show was getting a little too jokey for me recently (other listeners may disagree but I boringly actually like hearing you discuss your genuine thoughts on books) and this shows you are more than capable of tackling serious subjects well.

    I don’t think you can really declare a moral imperative to have clarity when discussing awkward issues, your hesitancy when discussing this was well-founded.

    It’s funny, I know you kind of gave up on reading Amazon reviews for your authors but Sotos has some incredible one-star ones, some of which actually explain the use and purpose of his work better than he ever has. For instance, his book focusing on the dunblane massacre has some outraged reviews from people who were expected a straightforward true crime retelling. But why were they seeking these books out in the first place? And is what he does in these books any more manipulative and insulting than the Good Vs Bad emotional pornography most true crime is at its heart. I wonder if the subjects of Sotos books really hate him any more than the countless families who’ve been coaxed into memorialising their loved one with an interview that became window dressing for a forensic retelling of their grisly murders.

    No for not exploring his stuff as a wider critique of true crime, there are more pressing things to discuss with him obviously but I think it’s worth thinking about.

    • Thanks for the clarifications (though they maybe could have been … nicer? I hope my students would report that I don’t mind at all being corrected on things). It’s interesting to note that Pure Filth is more recent than I thought. So I’m not sure what to make of his career arc in that case, unless that book is more complicated/nuanced than it would appear from its descriptions. It’s pretty tough to track down info on the books, at least the kind of trustworthy/vetted reviews I’d usually rely on to get a sense of someone’s work. The Whitechapel/Whitehouse thing was just me not looking at my notes while I was talking, though I guess I don’t know where the name comes from? I actually wanted to talk some more about his musical career, but we just had too much else on our plate with the book. Which I still don’t know what to think about, frankly.

      Mike

      • Actually, Pure Filth doesn’t fit as neatly into Sotos’ career trajectory as the above poster implies. It was published in 2013, but it was one of those books that had actually been held up in development for around a decade, so it actually isn’t his most recent work in terms of when it written/compiled. Sotos actually talks about his motivations regarding the book in this lecture excerpt at St Marks’ Bookstore here (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iwst5iQuF1M) and in this interview at Quimby’s Bookstore here (http://quimbys.podbean.com/e/quimbys-podcast-8-were-having-a-good-time-with-that-goat-wish-you-were-here-decadence-with-adam-parfrey-and-peter-sotos – the part with Sotos starts at about 28:45), if anyone is interested. (It’s also perhaps worth listening to because although Sotos is referring to Gillis’ work, I think a lot of what he says could be applied to his own stuff.)

        The Whitechapel/Whitehouse thing is no big deal. I think that Sotos’ link to the early UK Industrial Music scene and it’s focus on transgression would be pretty germane if you guys were doing a broader overview of his work and how it evolved from the early stuff to his most recent, but I think is a minor side issue regarding this specific work, though it might have been interesting to hear your thoughts on it. The name of the band derives from a UK softcore porn magazine that was cheekily named after Mary Whitehouse, who was kind of a British Phyllis Schafly who crusaded against ‘filth’ like Doctor Who, etc.

        (Anyway, if it’s not apparent. I was the donor who sponsored the episode. I definitely have some more specific comments I’d love to write up here once my work week comes to an end and I have a bit more time to process my thoughts, but I really enjoyed your very intelligent and insightful discussion of a book that is very difficult in terms of style and subject matter. Also, I’m sorry for completely traumatizing Tom.)

        -Michael

  2. Thanks, Michael. And thanks for recommending the book. It was interesting to learn about Sotos’s career, even if it was sometimes a bit of a struggle to read some of the more graphic parts of this particular book. If you’ve got more comments, send ‘em along!

    Mike

  3. I’m having brunch with Peter Sotos tomorrow AM – I’ll ask him if he’s heard this podcast. This is the first time I’ve heard BOOK FIGHT, and I agree that it’s admirable that you guys took it seriously & grappled with it. But – as Peter himself has said at times – his books are “severely connected” and require a certain amount of work to connect the dots. That the material is so very-very ugly, makes it even less accessible.

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