Sunday, September 02, 2007

Malefic's Mirrors II


Mirrors play a seminal role in the lyrics to the music of Xasthur, of one the most interesting Black Metal Bands from the United States. Even the grey, decayed, blemished sound of the albums Xasthur has produced has something of the look of an old mirror, stained by oxidation, weathered by the ages.

This is the second in a short series of posts in which I examine some of the lyrics to Malefic's music to find out the significance of the mirror in Xasthur's aesthetic.


"Let's pretend there's a way of getting through into it, somehow, Kitty. Let's pretend the glass has got all soft like gauze, so that we can get through. Why, it's turning into a sort of mist now, I declare! It'll be easy enough to get through--' She was up on the chimney-piece while she said this, though she hardly knew how she had got there. And certainly the glass WAS beginning to melt away, just like a bright silvery mist.
In another moment Alice was through the glass, and had jumped lightly down into the Looking-glass room
" - Lewis Carroll, Through The Looking Glass

"Les miroirs sont les portes par lesquelles la Mort va et vient" - Jean Cocteau, Orphée


"A Gate through Bloodstained Mirrors

Paint in blood / A sigil of death / On fading reflections / Beneath this night / Master of their infernal fears, / I take these burning reign / Pass this torch of evil (so I may become) / Through the candlelit / Bloodstained mirrors... / To succumb to the netherworld of Satan / Stare through the eyes of my mirror master, / And the mirror stares back into me".

Mirrors have been the instrument of shamans and sorcerers since times immemorial.

Why is this?

Mirrors dissolve the distinctive categories of the universe. For philosopher Merleau-Ponty, mirrors "...change things into spectacle and spectacle into things; myself into another and another into myself...". In other words, the boundaries between certain classificatory and existential categories are disordered by the mirror. The mirror functions as the confused line, the liminal threshold between the self and the other, between the thing and the spectacle. As symbolic anthropologist Mary Douglas observed, such thresholds are dangerous as well as powerful, they are fascinating and fearful. Persons and things which defy classificatory systems are regarded as polluting, wicked, taboo, sacred - the domain of ritual specialists. For such specialists, the mirror is an external spiritual power which human action can unleash, an external symbol on which the specialist must consciously work: a mirror is a spell, a blessing, a curse, a charm, a formula, an invocation.

It is exactly this function which the mirror has in "A Gate Through Bloodstained Mirrors". The song is one of the few explicitly Satanic in Xasthur's oeuvre. It presents Malefic as a sorcerer, working a ritual of defilement ("Paint in blood / A sigil of death" - blood being a fluid which has traversed the boundaries of the body) to transform the mirror into a gateway into an infernal netherworld. As a true malefic sorcerer, Malefic highlights his marginal place in the social system - even the community of Black Metal adepts - in interviews; he presents his powers as a danger to society and their use as disapproved.

For Malefic "Les yeux sont le miroir de l'âme"; but also, mirrors are the Devil's eyes, providing a window onto the Devil's soul: Hell.

The final line presents a sonnet-like "turn" or volta, in which the direction of the foregoing lines is reversed. Where all lines but the last lone lead from our world to the world behind the mirror, in the final line "...the mirror stares back into me". The line echoes one of Nietzsche's most famous aphorisms: "When you gaze long into the Abyss, the Abyss also gazes into you".

Xasthur's lyrics give agency to the looking glass, ascribing personal intentionality to an inanimate object, describing it as responsive to his stare. In a sense, the two final lines present a symbolic exchange of gazes, communication through gift-exchange: the Devil reciprocates the gift of Malefic's staring with a gaze that is even more terrible, returns Malefic's gift with an accursed interest.

Gazing back from the other side of the mirror, does the Devil see Malefic's face as a reflection of his own, placing them both into the abyss?

Post scriptum

An interesting essay on Cocteau and the myths of Orpheus and Narcissus, in which the mirror plays a prominent role (link).

Here is a link to the British Museum's web page on Dr. Dee 's scrying mirror.


Dominic said...

I wrote on this earlier:

A world of the dead that despises and rejects that of the living: such is the allegiance of the misanthropist without reserve. Xasthur’s Telepathic with the Deceased engages the same conceit: “Haters of life are telepathic with the deceased. / Fragments of failure, some said it was art, for it only bears a meaning when all life is torn apart”. Tele-antipathy, the “spooky action at a distance” of “the dying and…the dead”: it is unsurprising that a recurring theme in Xasthur’s lyrics and song titles is that of projection. Total misanthropy forces a split in the human self, a self-projection into the realm of the inhuman - or is it a projection from that realm into the human world?

Mirrors for Xasthur have a double significance, both as portals to the land of the dead and as multipliers of appearances holding the living captive: they establish a geometry of reflections which is both the prison of reality and the transcendental “screen” beyond which lies a universe of discord and unthinkable chaos. Is the horror which looks back at you from the mirror a projection from the malevolent beyond, or the simple truth of your all-too-human existence? The answer must be “both”: the image captured by the mirror is both veridical reflection and projection from/into the land of the dead, detached from any possible referent in the world of the living.

Nicola Masciandaro said...

As a medievalist, my take on this moment is automatically refracted through the specular origination of love in the _Roman de la Rose_:

"This is the perilous mirror where proud Narcissus looked at his face and his bright eyes, and afterwards lay stretched out in death. Whoever looks at himself in this mirror can have no help or remedy against seeing something which promptly causes him to fall in love . . . here sense and moderation are of no use, and there is only the total will to love [Ci est d'amer volenté pure]."

Here, falling in love, into another abyss, happens in a moment of simultaneously seeing one's reflection, like Narcissus, as another being, and seeing something else, i.e. the Rose, as later described, reflected in the reflection, in the ambivalent space of one's own/the other's eyes. So that I would say that reflection here serves as a kind of mystical joining of self and world, being and image, the who and the what, in a manner that Agamben makes sense of: "Seeing something simply in its being-thus -- irreparable, but not for that reason necessary; thus, but not for that reason contingent -- is love."

Which makes the absence of a something else all the more significant in Xasthur's mirror. There is nothing to see in the eyes of his "mirror master." Instead he sees through them and in that through-seeing the mirror, at once the inert object and specularity itself, not Satan or some other being, stares back at him. But is this not another kind of falling in love, not the kind of falling in love that also falls in love with love, but a love that falls in love with falling, that is pure falling, love subtracted of all objects of love, a love whose only sign is its transformation, as a mere attendant to it, of a thing (mirror) into a being (something staring back into onself)? Cf. Dominic's "detached from any possible referent in the world of the living."