Wednesday, 25 November 2009
‘I know but one thing, that I know nothing’.
What can I know? By the word knowledge I don’t just mean the knowledge produced through the work of philosophy or academic discourse, or discourse per se, that is, the locus of a social bond; nor do I refer simply to the esoteric knowledge located in arcane texts and objects; nor do I mean the savoir faire, the know-how, of the musicians, the in-competence that produces BM’s magnificent yet ‘hellish racket’. All of these are important, and one can see that in so far as BM is an effect of discourse, it is a discourse that exacerbates the problem of the social bond through refusing comprehensibility by excoriating to the point of laceration voice and language in sonic aggression. And yet it is precisely through such sonic ascesis that the social bond is sustained, if negatively. Music is nothing but social bond, establishing a community of listeners somewhere that can perceive, and as such become bound by, a particular organization of sound. Otherwise music is no different from the indifferent howling of the wind that BM seeks to evoke, but always for somebody, if only just for oneself, to place oneself at the very limit of oneself where one is dissolved to NOTHING. This is the amusic of black metal: ‘my feelings already enclose me as in a tomb and yet, above me, I imagine a song similar to the modulation of light, from cloud to cloud ... in the unbearable expanse of the skies ... How can I avoid the intimate, never-ending, horror of being? ... This heart crying a thousand tender joys, how can I fail to open it to the void?’
As such, the blackened knowledge that I wish to invoke is, as the title of this symposium suggests, a hideous gnosis. This gnosis, like any gnosis hideous or not, is starred in the bleakness of the sky by the truth that is revealed through the work of intuition or of an ‘instinctive’ knowledge; that is to say, a knowledge that doesn’t know how it knows or even that it knows.
‘My music does not come from a philosophy but from a pre-critical compulsion, an instinct which comes prior to the thought and does not depend on it ... The negativity of my sound is simply the representation of my most hidden emotions’ (Ovskum).
Given that this so-called instinct comes in the form of music, it should more accurately be called a drive. An instinct (alimentary or sexual, say) that does not have a direct relation to its object but is mediated or shaped by a symbolic form is called a drive. And a drive has an indirect relation to its object, which is to say that it circulates it. Which is another way of saying that it has no object, there being no object; its God is dead. In the case of music and song this is the invocatory drive, a designation of course particularly appropriate to BM which perhaps consists entirely as an invocation: calling on God in order to contemplate and exult in the torment of his extinction, or the invocation of Satan in the conjuring-up of evil, that which will not serve.
In so far as it was harnessed and articulated by language, ‘Freud considered the drive to be structured like a montage’ (Lacan). In BM, the invocatory drive is articulated by the music to form the martial/amorous lamella-armour of the warrior decked in metal plates, spikes and bullet belts that is darkly erotic in the sense of being jenseits (beyond, the other side of, the dark side of) the lustprinzips. The lamellar armour of the drive forms an intensive surface that extends the organism (the voice) ‘to its true limit, which goes further than the body’s limit’ (Lacan), establishing its territory in and as the sound that unfolds an abyssal darkness into which the voice qua voice fades away. The unanswerable invocation reveals the deadly meaning of the lamella in the sense that the only meaning is the meaning of death. The prosthetic armour may for a while offer a semblance of protection, of existence, but its presence signifies only the vulnerability and inevitable death of the organism that it brings into battle. It is of course the armour, the weapons, the metal not the organism that actually contests the battle. Sound, that always refers back to a prior dissonance, that is always the sound of the elemental war for existence, kills even at the moment that it heralds the coming of death and silence. ‘This is why every drive is virtually a death drive’ (Lacan).
Invocation requires ritual and in BM that ritual is sacrifice:
At long last, did one not have to sacrifice for once whatever is comforting, holy, healing; all hope, all faith in hidden harmony, in future blisses and justices? Didn’t one have to sacrifice God himself? (Nietzsche)
The sacrifice of the subject of knowledge, the sacrifice of the subjectifying power of knowledge, discourse, speech at the attenuated limits of an excoriated voice become mere gasping breath that is always the last breath expiring in the sovereign space between life and death. In the strange processional yet timeless history of metal it is important to remember that black metal displaces death metal in order to find its brief illumination in the light of the freezing moon. This is not simply because the imaginary violence of the former gives way to the more profound imagination of violation that characterizes the latter. Violated, the BM voice is silenced in the midst of its hellish racket as it becomes pure sonic death-drive, nothing but a corpse-painted lamella, an undead tessellated sound-surface, endlessly breathing its last-breath death rattle as the metal goes into battle.
Hideous gnosis, the in-competence of an amusical death drive, which loses itself, dissipates itself at the site of nonknowledge marked by the name of death in the crucible of metalorical transformations...
Notes towards etc. (see below)
‘When you play black metal you don’t play it like you were a human ... no no no, you play it like you’re a warrior’ Raffi (cit. Keith Kahn-Harris, Extreme Metal.
‘You play it like a warrior’, Legion, Marduk (ibid)
Mayhem, Emperor, Darkthrone, Beherit, Gorgoroth ... the names of some of BM’s most exalted bands would seem to bring together the sovereign anomie that Giorgio Agamben suggests characterizes the current state of affairs, ‘the state of exception’ that is turning Western democracies into totalitarian states (Agamben, 2005). But this is exactly what needs to be refused, just as certainly as the temptation to assign to BM the status of symptom: the exceptional symptom of the exception in which the fascism immanent to Western democracy enjoys itself in its pure negativity. Agamben cites Pseudo-Archytas's treaty On Law and Justice, in which the word Basileus is translated as ‘sovereign’ rather than ‘king’ because it ‘lays the foundations for a conception of sovereignty that is entirely unbound by laws and yet is itself the source of legitimacy’. This distinction is essential, but not for the reason Agamben finds in Pseudo-Archytas where ‘the distinction between the sovereign (basileus), who is the law, and the magistrate (arkhōn), who must only observe the law, is made the origin of twentieth-century Führerprinzip and of Carl Schmitt's theories on dictatorship. In the space opened by the severance of law and violence, a severance that implies a doubling of violence, Agamben fantasises about ‘a word that does not bind, that neither commands nor prohibits anything, but says only itself’, a word that would name a utopian state of unfettered ‘use and human praxis that the powers of law and myth had sought to capture in the state of exception’ (88). But there is no word that does not bind or prohibit or kill that which it names. Except, perhaps, the name of a loving God ...
Satanic laughter erupts from the depths of the forest. Agamben has no place there, even if the distinction first made by Pseudo-Archytas must remain: basileus should be translated as sovereign rather than king and legislator; and I name BM basileus in honour of its sovereign force. This force is not the force of a word, but of music (amusic) that can be felt only in warrior-like play. The warrior is a conceptual character that figures, fictionally, that ‘aspect that is opposed to the servile and the subordinate’, an aspect to which a beggar might be as close as any nobleman’ (Bataille, ASII).
‘When you play black metal you don’t play it like you were a human ... you play it like you’re a warrior’. The warrior is a metaphor, a character, you can’t BE a warrior, the warrior is not a figure of being any more than it is human. Nor is it in-human either, but completely other to the slavish being that takes itself for a form and a universal form at that. The warrior is a figure for the sovereign force of black metal, the closest related idea to which is clearly Bataille’s concept of sovereignty which designates exactly that which is heterogeneous to the sovereign function denoted by the sacralization of power (and of mastery), whether in the symbol or the body of the legislator-king. As Denis Hollier states,
Bataille’s concept of sovereignty corresponds to something that is much nearer … to the noncontractual liberty which is congenital with the warrior function. For the warrior has nothing to do with what one understands as a soldier or that Roman invention, ‘the military man’. Even when he is not the only one to be fighting, a warrior always fights alone: the solitary hero of single combats. And he fights for fighting’s sake, carried away by heroic fury. For the prestige of risk. Fundamentally undisciplined, he is the inspired warrior of the joust, the vates of the field of battle who, like Plato’s poet, can fight only as one possessed, transported.
And it is precisely in that poetic or musical movement of transportation that the sovereign aspect emerges as ‘the object dissolves into NOTHING’ (Bataille). Neither symbol nor living law but in the evanescent movement between sound and silence in the space-time between life and death, music is sovereign. As Derrida, following Bataille, affirms, ‘simultaneously more and less a lordship than lordship, sovereignty is totally other’. Hence, Darkthrone, Beherit, Gorgoroth, and all the other names for Lucifer and Satan that star the black metal firmament. And hence, perhaps above all, Mayhem. All are fictional names for the sovereign aspect that will serve no master and that refuses all forms of subordination. Neither force of law nor originary violence, the sovereign impulse is essential to any mode of rebellion, any breaching of closed systems, any process of transformation political or personal.
It is moreover only through actualizing this sovereign aspect that one might bring to bear the forces of black metal to the realization of one’s own powers. And this has absolutely nothing to do with individualism, mastery, subordination and so on. ‘Although I scorn the completely modern idea of “a self-made man”, as a Luciferist I solemnly hold up the view that man must reach as far as one can with his own powers’ (IC Rex). To where does one reach, what use are these powers? Such questions simply return us back to the ground on which we grovel ‘in the concatenation of useful activity’ (Bataille). Answers cannot be anticipated, future effects cannot be known since, as we do know very well, knowledge is always the result of work; ‘it is always a servile operation, indefinitely resumed, indefinitely repeated ... It is impossible for knowledge to be sovereign; it would have to occur in a moment. But the moment remains outside, short of or beyond, all knowledge’ (Bataille).
And yet, it is just such knowledge of the moment that is impossibly both inside and outside itself that is promised, paradoxically, in the black metal philosoPHOrum of hideous gnosis.
Notes towards a paper to be given at The Black Metal Theory Symposium, Public Assembly Rooms, Brooklyn, 12 December 2009.