Wednesday, 25 November 2009

BPM 2: Basileus

‘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.