Monday, January 28, 2008

Aluk Todolo - Descension

The title of instrumental Occult Rock cabal Aluk Todolo's debut album 'Descension' is the title of John Coltrane's watershed album "Ascension" turned upside down ... like a Satanic cross.

Aluk Todolo hails from France and is comprised of members of two Black Metal bands: Diamatregon (who put out their debut album, "Blasphemy For Satan" on tUMULt) and Vediog Svaor. Said to be recorded in a cave in the Alps, "Descension" was produced by none other than James Plotkin (Old, Phantomsmasher, Khanate, Khlyst).

Most reviewers of 'Descension' focus on that album's Krautrock inspiration, referencing Can, Faust, Harmonia. Other writers point to Post Punk influences: This Heat, even Einstürzende Neubauten - and all these writers are entirely justified in doing so. I need not repeat these readings of 'Descension' here. Certainly, references to these Post Punk and Krautrock band are more appropriate than references to Coltrane's monumental "Ascension", as there is no overt Jazz influence audible in Descension's blackend sound world. And - though Aluk Todolo's album is astonishing - it would be foolish to compare them to Coltrane on a strictly artistic level.

But what about the significance of the album's title - 'Descension'? There are signifyers one cannot use without calling forth ghosts ... like using the word "summer" in an album title risks evoking the restless spirits of the Beach Boys. Referencing "Ascension" in the context of Aluk Todolo's music is a little like a Black Metal band naming it's album "A Hate Supreme". Is the music of Aluk Todolo's debut an inversion of John Coltrane's?

The lettering of the band's name on the album's cover art certainly points towards an inversion: all are upside down. So let us see whether a web of significance can be spun between "Ascension" and "Descension" by analyzing the one as an inversion of the other.

Where Coltrane's "Ascension" was produced by a big band (10 musicians!) and seems to ascribe to a "more is more" aesthetic, "Descension" is the creation of a power trio (bass, drums, guitar) and staunchly minimalist.

Coltrane's "Ascension" is improvised, expansive and free: the saxophonist " and fragmented the orthodox syntactical elements of jazz, viz. tempo, rhythm and pulse, harmonic progressions and set "changes", keys and tonal centres..." (sourced here). Where "Ascension" is improvised, expansive and free, "Descension" is the opposite: it is composed, tight and controlled. The drums rhythms are so simple and lo-fi as to be almost almost skeletal, a far cry from Rashied Ali's multidirectional, near-chaotic drumming; the bass is a monomanically pulsating mantra; and even the guitar noise - though very psychedelic, sometimes rumbling, sometimes roaring, at times grating and abrasive - seems almost to be electronically programmed.

A cross is still a cross, even if it is turned upside down. Both Aluk Todolo and Coltrane's music are oriented towards an ecstatic mysticism.

The band's name points towards the Eastern philosophy John Coltrane was so very much interested in: Aluk Todolo is the name of the religious tradition of the Toraja people, polytheistic animists who live in the mountainous region of South Sulawesi, Indonesia. But where Coltrane was open to all the world's cultures because he was an inclusionary humanist, Aluk Todolo uses the intercultural reference to send an anti-enlightenment message. And where Coltrane, in Freudian terms, was animated by the 'pleasure principle', Aluk Todolo is propelled by a 'death drive': the Toraja people is famous for their elaborate funeral rites and their burial sites carved into rocky cliffs.

Coltrane was very much interested in the Yoruba religion, in which Afro-American divinities enter the body of the priests consecrated to that spiritual being. Furthermore, Ascension's playing style is a sort of glossolalia - speaking in tongues, ecstatically possessed by the Holy Ghost. Likewise, in a Terrorizer interview Aluk Todolo's spokesman said that the album "...was recorded during summer 2006 in the Alps, in a cave. There, what lurks between the folds of the audible can become real. We started recording at dusk, exhausted after several hours of invocation. When we finally disappeared behind the forces we summoned, we reached the conditions to record 'Descension'." Disappearing behind spiritual beings doubtlessly refers to possession. Both Coltrane's band at the time "Ascension" was recorded, and Aluk Todolo can be described as trance possession cults. But where Coltrane strove to incarnate a God who is "A Love Supreme", Aluk Todolo channels malicious, hateful spirits.

Where the spiritual nature of "Ascension" is essentially optimist, presenting an ecstatic yearning for a better world, for the Kingdom Come, "Descension" points downwards, towards an acephalic and ruined society, towards an abyss abandoned by God. Descension's beautiful album cover art is an apt symbol of that: it is a black and white photograph of a headless, broken and weathered statue of the Buddha or an Eastern deity set against an old brick wall.

Aluk Todolo's "Descension" is a withering lotus flower, it's leaves falling in mesmerizing stop-motion.

Post scriptum

Aluk Todolo's 'Descension' is not the first album to invert Coltrane's "Ascension": Stefan Jaworzyn's eponymous noise rock band is (more explicit) example. Yet another might be "Descension" by Yellow Swans (an album I haven't heard).

Here is an Italian-language interview with Antoine Hadjioannou, the band's drummer (link).

I can see where the references to This Heat comes from - but, given their band name, I'd like to see them explore ethnopsychedelic montage, to write an 'Urban Gamelan' or a 'The Gospel Comes To New Guinea' (23 Skidoo) for the 21st century.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Mauss / Bataille (part 5)


Both Georges Bataille and Marcel Mauss put the body in the limelight of their oeuvre's theatre.

That for Bataille, the terrors and delights of the body were essential, needs no explanation.

But for Mauss too, the body was an important concern. In his classic 1934 essay "Les techniques du corps" ('techniques of the body'), Mauss analyzed the body as the locus of the social. He defined techniques of the body as 'the ways in which from society to society men know how to use their bodies'. These techniques spring from collective and individual practical reason rather than from mere mechanical repetition. For Mauss, the body was more than a mechanism to be used instrumentally. Provocatively for his age, the essay ends with a statement that there was necessarily a corporeal way of entering into "communication with God". Not only in the case of Chinese Taoism and Indian Yoga, but in general, we come to know the sacred in embodied ways.

So perhaps there is no better way to get to know these two thinkers than through juxtaposing their bodies and their corporeal habits.


Michel Surya's biography of Georges Bataille contains a description of that so-called 'philosopher of evil' by his close friend Michel Leiris:

"'His non-conformist mind [was] marked by what it was not yet customary to call black humor. (...) Somewhat thin, with a style both romantic and of his time, [he] possessed (in a more youthful form of course, and less discreetly) the elegance he would never loose. (...) His close-set, darkened eyes, brimming with all the blue of noon, went with his teeth that oddly suggested a forest animal, often uncovered by a laugh that (perhaps wrongly) I judged to be sarcastic'.

Neither 'flamboyantly attired' nor 'extravagant', elegant but conservatively dressed ('I always knew Bataille dressed in a very Bourgeois way'; 'there was nothing Bohemian about him'). There was nothing Bohemian about him, but, as photographs of the time show, he displayed an elegance that was close to dandyism, a cynical dandyism"


Marcel Fournier describes Marcel Mauss:

"Beginning students were 'dumbstruck when they heard his cavernous voice gushing from a mouth concealed under a thick beard, enumerating unfamiliar writings and authors'. (...) To them Mauss looked like a 'patriarch, a nonconformist, facetious at times, but someone who had never abandoned Messianism and was unquestionably gifted with a sort of second sight'.

At the Collège, and the École, people listened to Mauss as if he were Scheherazade. He loved to astonish and provoke his listeners, even deigning to display a dandyism in his dress that was not widespread among his colleagues. He would wear a lightweight tweed with large black and light-grey checks, a striped pearl-gray shirt with a long pointed collar, a lemon-yellow bow-tie. One day, when he was speaking of the distinctive characteristics of the different races, he lifted his trouser leg without a second thought, showing off his calf and exclaiming: "So you see, I'm one of the hairiest men in the world!"

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Two From The Bug

In a series of post stretching back several weeks (the first one is here), I wrote about Kevin Martin's epochal compilation "Jazz Satellites Vol. 1 - Electrification'. Kevin Martin is now best known for his dubstep and dancehall projects King Midas Sound and The Bug, but he has been involved in a plethora of bands: Techno Animal, God, Ice, The Sidewinder, Curse of the Golden Vampire, Experimental Audio Research and 16/17. Many of these band were collaborations with Justin Broadrick (Napalm Death, Fall of Because, Godflesh, Jesu) - here is an excellent article on the cooperative work of these two great musicians.

Sadly, Jazz has evaporated from Martin's music in recent years - the last Jazz-influenced album being the first The Bug album: 1997's "Tapping The Conversation". Why Martin abandoned Jazz isn't quite clear from the interviews I found on the internet.

An interview with The Bug perhaps provides some clues:

"I guess the first thing that I was really involved in was a band called God, which ended up being maybe twelve people, or maybe more. My idea when I formed the band was to create really physical music that was very loud; volume was very much a part of the equation. But as it went on what I wanted to do was mix free jazz with noise rock so basically I just kept inviting more and more people in to get closer and closer to that idea and the last show we did I had two drummers, a percussionist, two bass players, a double bass player, two guitarists, three saxophone players and a group of African drummers as well. All of it was amplified, and all going through effects so it was really psychedelic, incredibly loud and incredibly physical. (...)

For me I’m obsessed with sound, my whole life’s been about music basically, my father and grandfather were musicians so for me its in my blood anyway and from that point on it was all about the studio because when you're in a band that size, you have to make compromises, you cant really use the studio, particularly with jazz players, they’re really fussy about how you mix them, they want to be pure and I wasn’t really in to that."

I think it is sad that Jazz is no more in Martin's music. Though the music is too shuddering and juddering to suggest a architectural taste for authority, I miss the Free (as in Free Jazz) in his post-God and post-Ice work a little. Nevertheless, I do really appreciate the sounds he is producing now. Here are two YouTube videos of his recent work.

The Bug feat. Warrior Queen: "Aktion Pak"

The Bug feat. Warrior Queen: "Poison Dart"

Monday, January 21, 2008

The beheading of Louis XVI


The members of Georges Bataille's secret society 'Acéphale' performed one of their yearly rituals on the 21st of January. On that day they commemorated the beheading of Louis XVI on the Place De La Concorde on January 21st 1793.

Can we reconstruct some of the meaning of this obscure ritual?

"The Place De La Concorde is the place were the death of God has to be announced and proclaimed because its obelisk is the calmest negation of it", Bataille pronounced in a 1938 essay in Acéphale's eponymous journal.

This quote leads us to examine both the obelisk and the death of God in relation to the beheading of 'citizen Louis Capet'.


From wikipedia:

"The center of the Place de la Concorde is occupied by a giant Egyptian obelisk decorated with hieroglyphics. It is one of three Cleopatra's Needles, the other two residing in New York and London.

Although the needles are genuine Ancient Egyptian obelisks, they are somewhat misnamed as none has any connection with queen Cleopatra VII of Egypt. They were originally erected in the Egyptian city of Heliopolis on the orders of Thutmose III, around 1450 BC. The material of which they were cut is granite, brought from the quarries of Aswan, near the first cataract of the Nile. The inscriptions were added about 200 years later by Ramesses II to commemorate his military victories.

The obelisks were moved to Alexandria and set up in the Caesarium — a temple built by Cleopatra in honor of Mark Antony — by the Romans in 12 BC, during the reign of Augustus, but were toppled some time later. This had the fortuitous effect of burying their faces and so preserving most of the hieroglyphs from the effects of weathering.

The viceroy of Egypt, Mehemet Ali, offered the 3,300-year-old Luxor Obelisk to France in 1831. The obelisk arrived in Paris on December 21, 1833. Three years later, on October 25, 1836, King Louis-Philippe had it placed in the centre of Place de la Concorde, where a guillotine used to stand during the Revolution

Thus, the obelisk was erected on the spot where Louis XVI was guillotined.

For Bataille, the obelisk was a phallic expression of absolute power. It symbolized the end of time, the denial of chance and change. It occulted regicide under an idealized, authoritarian, pro-monarchical meaning. Bataille's view of the obelisk is connected to his hatred of architecture, as expressed in Documents' critical dictionary:

"Architecture is the expression of the true nature of societies, as physiognomy is the expression of the nature of individuals. However, this comparison is applicable, above all, to the physiognomy of officials (prelates, magistrates, admirals). In fact, only society's ideal nature – that of authoritative command and prohibition – expresses itself in actual architectural constructions. Thus great monuments rise up like dams, opposing a logic of majesty and authority to all unquiet elements; it is in the form of cathedrals and palaces that Church and State speak to and impose silence upon the crowds. Indeed, monuments obviously inspire good social behaviour and often even genuine fear. The fall of the Bastille is symbolic of this state of things. This mass movement is difficult to explain otherwise than by popular hostility towards monuments which are their veritable masters."

The Acéphale ritual thus has both an aesthetic (anti-architectural) and a political (anti-authoritarian) meaning.


The booklet "Sade Mon Prochain" ('Sade My Neighbor') by Pierre Klossowski sheds light on the relation between the death of God and the execution of Louis XVI. Klossowski was a member of Acéphale and painter Balthus's brother.

"When the blade severs the head of Louis XVI, it is in Sade's eyes not the citizen Capet, or even the traitor, who dies. It is, in his eyes as in those of Joseph de Maistre and all of the Ultramontanists, the representative of God who dies. And it is the blood of the temporal representative of God, and in a deeper sense, the blood of God, that falls back upon the heads of the people in insurrection. Catholic counterrevolutionary philosophers such as Joseph de Maistre, Bonald, and Maine de Biran speak of the putting to death of Louis XVI as a redemptive martyrdom: for them Louis expiates the sins of the nation. For Sade, the putting to death of the king plunges the nation into the inexpiable; the regicides are parricides. Sade doubtless saw in the inexpiable a coercive force; he then wished to substitute for the fraternity of the natural man the solidarity of the parricide, the solidarity of a community that could not be fraternal, because it is of Cain."

Klossowski's reading of the beheading of Louis XVI points towards Nietzsche's most famous aphorism, "The Madman", the 125th from "The Gay Science":

"'Wither is God?' he cried: 'I will tell you. We murdered him - you and I. All of us are his murderers. (...) How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was the holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to cleanse ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent?'"

To the aesthetic and political meaning of Acéphale's January 21st ritual, is added a historical, criminological, theological, philosophical meaning - and perhaps even an erotic, Sadean one.


In Klossowski's text, and most clearly in the last line of the paragraph quoted above, one can hear echoes of Acéphale's project to establish a community through the murderous sacrifice of one of that society's members. The sacrificial victim is the Divine King.

The Divine King as sacrifical victim points us towards another layer of meaning - mythological in nature - in Acéphale's ritual.

In his classic 1890 book on the history of religions "The Golden Bough", Sir James Frazer examined the ethnological genealogy of an obscure ritual of the Romans of classical antiquity, which took place at the little woodland lake of Nemi. Here, the office of King of the woods was held by an escaped criminal; the King of the woods was at once a priest and a murderer. A candidate for the priesthood could only succeed to office by slaying the current priest, and having slain him, he retained office till he was himself slain by a stronger or a craftier killer.

In explaining this murderous ritual cycle, Sir James Frazer examined myths and rites from around the world, both from classical antiquity and from non-western societies. Especially, he investigated those religious phenomena in which Kings were regarded as incarnations of a divinity and ritually put to death, either when they lost their strength or at the end of a fixed period:

"The mystic kings of Fire and Water in Cambodia are not allowed to die a natural death. Hence when one of them is seriously ill and the elders think that he cannot recover, they stab him to death.

The people of Congo believed, as we have seen, that if their pontiff the Chitomé were to die a natural death, the world would perish, and the earth, which he alone sustained by his power and merit, would immediately be annihilated. Accordingly when he fell ill and seemed likely to die, the man who was destined to be his successor entered the pontiff’s house with a rope or a club and strangled or clubbed him to death.

The Ethiopian kings of Meroë were worshiped as gods; but whenever the priests chose, they sent a messenger to the king, ordering him to die, and alleging an oracle of the gods as their authority for the command. This command the kings always obeyed down to the reign of Ergamenes, a contemporary of Ptolemy II, King of Egypt. Having received a Greek education which emancipated him from the superstitions of his countrymen, Ergamenes ventured to disregard the command of the priests, and, entering the Golden Temple with a body of soldiers, put the priests to the sword.

Sir James Frazer proposed that the periodic sacrifice of a sacred king, who incarnated a solar deity, was central to religions the world over. The periodic sacrifice had an agricultural meaning: the death and resurrection of the sacrificed God was in tune with the seasons.

Mauss, though a close friend of Sir James Frazer, was highly critical of the latter's interpretation of the sacrifice of the Divine King. Mauss proposed that for the god to take on the role of a sacrificial victim, there must be an affinity between his nature and that of the victims. So that he may come to submit himself to sacrifice, the god's own origin must be in the sacrifice itself. The god is a localization, concentration and accumulation of sanctity which is organized in the rite of sacrifice. Thus, it is in the sacrificial murder of the Divine King in which the idea of sacrifice attains it's highest expression.


Acéphale's members had spun a thick web of significance around the beheading of Louis XVI on January 21st 1793. Their ritual commemoration of that blood-spattered episode of French history comprised aesthetic, political, historical, criminological, theological, philosophical, erotic and mythological meanings.

Perhaps the ritual commemoration was Bataille's attempt to invent a Maussian contemporary 'total social fact' (fait social total), a phenomenon in which all kinds of meaning are given expression at one and the same time - religious, juridical and moral, political as well as private, and economical.

If so, the invented tradition of commemorating the beheading of Louis XVI bound together into one ceremonial practice the many motivations and factors which made up his Weltanschauung.

Post scriptum

Here is a link to a French-language essay which among others treats Bataille's essay on the Place de la Concorde obelisk.

Here is a link to a post on the brilliant Ombres Blanches blog about Bataille's cinematic aspirations.

Sunday, January 20, 2008


Here is the trailer for the very nice Dronevolk documentary, about the Belgian Drone and Free Folk scene. Amongst others, it features artists such as Silvester Anfang, Kiss The Anus Of A Black Cat, and Ignatz. The film, by photographer Jef Mertens, contains live footage, exclusive recording sessions and interviews.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Various Artists - "Jazz Satellites Vol. 1 - Electrification" (pt. 6)

The fifth and final posting of YouTube videos by some of the artists featured on Kevin Martin's excellent compilation album "Jazz Satellites Vol. 1 - Electrification".

Don Cherry -'Incontro com Don Cherry', Italian TV, 1976

Ornette Coleman

Herbie Hancock on Sesame Street

Monday, January 14, 2008

Mauss / Bataille (part 4)

There is a strong thematic unity between the teachings of the great French ethnologist Marcel Mauss and the work of the so-called 'philosopher of evil', Georges Bataille. This is the fourth in a short series of posts in which I take up the relations between the writings of the two men.

Bataille abandoned the attempt to found a religion based on Maussian theory when the war broke out. Probably, several different reasons caused him to change course.

First, his closest friends and collaborators - Michel Leiris and Roger Caillois - became increasingly critical of Bataille's endeavors and in the end quit Acéphale. Bataille felt abandoned by his friends.

Second, some aspects of Durkheim's sociology became increasingly problematical as the confrontation with fascist ideology became more intense. Durkheim's maxim "Society is to it's members what a god is to the faithful" assumes a completely different aspect when seen under the light of totalitarianism.

Finally, a more rigorous analysis of the meaning of the meaning of sacrifice in a world whose God is dead drove him in a direction that was not new, but more awe-inspiring.

If God in Durkheimian thought is coeval with the social, the death of God equals the death of the social. If there was no hope of resurrecting God, there was no hope of revitalizing society through sacrifice - human or otherwise. Communication through sacrifice with either an elective community or with society as a whole, had become impossible. God himself had been sacrificed - not with an eye to periodic renewal, as with the agricultural deities analysed by Mauss - but irreversibly.

But this did not mean Bataille abandoned Maussian sacrifice. Rather, he reinterpreted sacrifice as a procedure which consists in establishing (through the mediation of a victim) a means of communication between the profane world and an absence - the absence of God and the social. Communication is sought with the unchained, the disorienting, the vertiginous, an infinite nothing, an empty space, something colder, night.

In this un-social (the Durkheimian undead) sacrifice, the sacrifier and the victim are one and the same person: "Je suis la plaie et le couteau!" (Baudelaire).

And rather than the abandonment by his closest friends and collaborators and the restrictions war put on social life, I feel this profound absence of the social is the true cause of Bataille's inward turn during the war.

Post scriptum

Ceci alerted me to a book by Michèle Richman: "Sacred Revolutions: Durkheim and the Collège De Sociologie", which I wasn't aware of and ordered straight away (here). Thanks Ceci!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Various Artists - "Jazz Satellites Vol. 1 - Electrification" (pt. 5)

The fourth posting of YouTube videos by some of the artists featured on Kevin Martin's excellent compilation album "Jazz Satellites Vol. 1 - Electrification".

Rahsaan Roland Kirk - "I Say A Little Prayer" (Live 1969)

Tony Williams Lifetime - "The urchins of Shermêse" Montreux 1972

Headhunters - "Chameleon" (1974)

Friday, January 11, 2008

Mauss / Bataille (part 3)

There is a strong thematic unity between the teachings of the great French ethnologist Marcel Mauss and the work of the so-called 'philosopher of evil', Georges Bataille. This is the third in a short series of posts in which I take up the relations between the writings of the two men.

In 1936 Georges Bataille created a secret society called "Acéphale" - Headless. Members were Georges Ambrosino, Pierre Klossowski, Patrick Waldberg. Probable members were Michel Leiris, Jacques Chavy (a sociologist, translator of Max Weber), René Chenon, Henri Dubief (a historian), Pierre Dugan, Dussat, Jean Dautry and Colette Peignot. Whether Roger Caillois was a member is disputed. Jacques Lacan was aware of Acéphale's existence and purposes, but in all probability not a member.

It was a hierarchical society, into which one one was ritually initiated and which knew ranks or grades. All members were sworn to secrecy.

The interbellum, and specifically Weimar Germany, was rife with 'secret societies of political assassins' (Caillois). Nonetheless, Acéphale was probably not intended to mimic the terrorist associations of 'Secret Germany'. The idea of forming a secret society for sociological action seems to have been inspired largely by Marcel Mauss's work on conspiracies. Mauss had been lecturing on that theme for some time and in 1936 had wanted to compose a text about it for the journal "Cahiers du Socialiste". "The ethnologist was well aware of the 'significant role' of 'men's organizations' in societies of the archaic type: 'secret brotherhoods very effectively ensure social stability,' he wrote. He was preoccupied at the time with the idea of 'secrecy and plotting' in politics. Following a paper delivered by Élie Halévy on 'the age of tyrannies' before members of the Société Française de Philosophie, he returned to it: 'I stress the fundamental fact of secrecy and plotting more than you do. ... Even sociologically, it may be a necessary form of action, but it is a backward form. That is no reason for it not to be fashionable. It satisfies the need for secrecy, influence, action, youth, and often tradition" (Fournier).

Acéphale's members observed particular customs and rituals. "The most important and best-known (...) remains the one by which members traveled separately by train from Saint-Lazare station to the tiny station of Saint-Nom-La-Bretèche, strangely lost in the midst of a forest, and from there, at night, alone and in silence, proceeded to the foot of a tree struck by lightning (...). There they burnt sulphur, and that is about all we know". On the 21st of January they commemorated the beheading of Louis XVI on the Place De La Concorde. "The Place De La Concorde is the place were the death of God has to be announced and proclaimed because its obelisk is the calmest negation of it". There were culinary rituals: the daily lunch was to be composed of horsemeat washed down with water (wine was tabooed during the day). Furthermore, Acéphale established moral rules: it was forbidden to shake hands with anti-Semites. No doubt these 'invented traditions' were inspired by Bataille's ethnographic reading.

Acéphale however is most notorious for a ritual that was never performed (appropriate perhaps for a headless society not to perform it's main rite). Acéphale's ultimate goal was to enact a sacrifice of one of it's members. "There was another idea, hatched by Bataille, that the action of a group could be fully efficacious only if the initial pact of alliance among it's members was truly irremediable. And he was convinced that to bind their energies together, it was necessary to perform a human sacrifice. (...) I am not at all sure what transpired with regard to this projected human sacrifice. What is clear, though, is that it was easier to find a volunteer victim than a sacrificer, and so things went no further" (Caillois). But Acéphale's ambitions went further than a mere Dostoevsky-inspired scheme to solidify the loyalty to each other by murdering one of their fellow conspirators. The activities of Acéphale were directed towards society as a whole. Through the mediation of the sacrificial victim a means of communication would be established through not only between the members of the secret society, but also with society. Social life would be stimulated and society reinvigorated and thereby saved from fascism. Thus, Acéphale was acting upon Mauss's work on sacrifice; Acéphale was applied ethnology.

Bataille: "I had spent the preceding years with an unsupportable preoccupation: I was resolved, if not to found a religion, at least to direct myself towards this meaning. What the history of religions had revealed to me had gradually exalted me". And who was France's preeminent historian of religions, the president of the Section of Religious Science at the École pratique des hautes études, with whose work Bataille was intimately familiar? Mauss!

Mauss, through himself probably unaware of Acéphale, was highly critical of the anti-rational tendencies of Bataille's coterie. In a 1938 letter to Roger Caillois on the latter's essay "Paris, mythe moderne" in "Le mythe et l'homme" he wrote :

"What I believe is a general derailment - of which you are a victim - is the sort of absolute irrationalism with which you conclude in the name of a modern myth (...). But I believe that, right now, all of you are probably under the influence of Heidegger, a Bergsonian held back by Hitlerism, legitimating a Hitlerism infatuated with irrationalism. And above all, it's the political philosophy of sorts you try to draw from it, in the name of poetry and vague sentimentality. As persuaded as I am that poets and men of great eloquence can sometimes establish the rhythms of social life, so too am I skeptical of the capacities of the philosophy of any kind (...) to establish the rhythm of anything at all." (quoted in Fournier's book).

Bataille, for a variety of reasons, would come to abandon the attempt to found a religion based on Maussian theory when the war broke out. That did not end his fascination for Mauss's analysis of sacrifice, however. In the war, he would examine the meaning of sacrifice in a world whose God is dead more rigorously than in the Acéphale period. I'll examine this development in Bataille's thinking in an upcoming post.

Post scriptum

Here is a link to an issue of the journal Acéphale.

This French-language pdf contains a biograhical essay on Patrick Waldberg.

Is Acéphale's René Chenon the same man as this mathematics professor (link)?

Was Georges Ambrosino the author of this 1960 book on nuclear physics?

Information on Acéphale's Henri Dubief: "Henri Dubief (1910-1995), agrégé d'histoire, fut inspecteur général de l'Instruction publique, vice-président de la Société d'histoire du protestantisme français, auteur de La Réforme (Rencontre, 1965), La Réforme et la littérature française (La Cause, 1972), de divers ouvrages historiques et de collaborations à des revues scientifiques". Amazing that someone involved in a conspiracy directed towards human sacrifice could become inspector-general for public education!

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Various Artists - "Jazz Satellites Vol. 1 - Electrification" (pt. 4)

The third posting of YouTube videos by some of the artists featured on Kevin Martin's excellent compilation album "Jazz Satellites Vol. 1 - Electrification".

The Pop Group - "She's beyond Good and Evil"

The Organization - "Ruckzuck"

Miles Davis - Live in Vienna, Austria, november 3rd 1973

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Mauss / Bataille (part 2)

There is a strong thematic unity between the teachings of the great French ethnologist Marcel Mauss and the work of the so-called 'philosopher of evil', Georges Bataille. This is the second in a short series of posts in which I take up the relations between the writings of the two men. In this post I examine one of Mauss's most famous works: "Essai sur la nature et la fonction du sacrifice" ("Sacrifice. It's Nature and Functions", written with Henri Hubert in 1899), so that I may show in an upcoming post how Bataille built his mystical-philophical technique on the foundations laid by Mauss.

In Mauss's and Huberts stunningly erudite work on sacrifice (500 footnotes for 100 pages of text!), they defined sacrifice as a procedure which consists in establishing a means of communication between the sacred and profane worlds through the mediation of a victim, that is a thing or a person that in the course of the ceremony is destroyed. The consecrated victim serves as a intermediary between the person who accomplishes the sacrifice (the sacrifier) and divinity to which the sacrificed is adressed. The sacrifier enters into communication with the divinity to whom the sacrifice is offered up.

Schematically, rites of sacrifice take place in three stages. The first stage is the entry, in which the sacrifier and victim, as well as the place and instruments, are introduced into the world of the sacred. The second stage is that of the consecration, in which the sacrifice and communication with the sacred actually takes place. The third and final stage is the exit, which marks the re-entry of the sacrifier into the profane world. The actual scheme varies according to the specific function of the sacrificial ritual. In a ritual which serves to exorcise some demon from a possessed person - in effect a rite of desacralization - the second and third stages will be accentuated. In a rite which functions to give sorcerous power to a weapon the first two stages will be stressed.

The book also deals with the sacrificial rites in which a god is the victim: the sacrifice of the god. For Mauss, it is in the sacrifice of a divine personage in which the idea of sacrifice attains it's highest expression. Mauss's theory proposes that for the god to take on the role of a sacrificial victim, there must be an affinity between his nature and that of the victims. So that he may come to submit himself to sacrifice, the god's own origin must be in the sacrifice itself. The god is a localization, concentration and accumulation of sanctity which is organized in the rite of sacrifice.

The sacred world with which communication is established in sacrifice, is in fact the world of the social. Society does not only - like a divinity - establish moral rules, it has the power to call forth or inhibit conduct, irrespective of any utilitarian calculation of beneficial or harmful results. Furthermore, society has a stimulating and invigorating effect on it's members: in a crowd one becomes capable of exalted emotions and conduct of which one is incapable when left to one's individual resources. Society is to it's members what a god is to the faithful.

Thus, sacrifice may be said to establish communication between the profane, utilitarian world of the individual on the one hand and the sacred, destructive world of the social on the other hand.

To be continued...

Post scriptum

Of course, in the penultimate paragraph I also use some material from Durkheim's 'The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life'.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Mauss / Bataille (part 1)

There is a strong thematic unity between the teachings of the great French ethnologist Marcel Mauss and the work of the so-called 'philosopher of evil', Georges Bataille: sacrifice, the sacred, power, shamanism, secret societies are themes that were taken up by Mauss and figured largely in Bataille's oeuvre. This is the first in a short series of posts in which I take up the relations between the writings of the two men. The posts are based upon Fournier's biography of Marcel Mauss, Surya's biography of Bataille and 'The Edge of Surrealism', a Roger Caillois reader. This being a blog and not an academic publication, I have omitted footnotes and references.

Marcel Mauss (1872-1950) was the nephew of the founder of French sociology Émile Durkheim, and in many ways he was the heir to his uncle's intellectual legacy. Mauss's most famous works are "Essai sur la nature et la fonction du sacrifice" (written with Henri Hubert in 1899) and "L'Essai sur le don. Forme et raison de l'échange dans les sociétés archaïques" (1923). Mauss was not only active in academic circles, but was also a leading figure in the left-wing political scene of his era.

Bataille was introduced to the work of Mauss through his friend Alfred Métraux (1902-1963), who entered the École des Chartes just as Bataille was leaving it in 1922. Métraux had soon left the École des Chartes to study anthropology with Mauss, who was to call Métraux "one of his most brilliant students". Bataille and Métraux physically resembled each other, so much so that they were frequently mistaken for brothers. The two shared everything, "...including women in black silk pyjamas, with long gold cigarette-holders and boyish haircuts, moving around in poorly defined and rather ambiguous surroundings" (via this book). During three to four hour long morning walks along Paris's rue de Rennes or the Champs-Élysés, Métraux spoke to Bataille of Mauss and his studies of the potlach. The friendship of Bataille and Métraux would "... remain strong even after one became a great scholar and the other a great writer" (via this book). Métraux most famous work is a study on Haïtian voodoo; photos made by Métraux of a voodoo sacrificial ritual would grace Bataille's art book "Les larmes d'Eros". Métraux died by his own hand in 1963.

But Métraux was not the only friend and collaborator of Bataille that had received ethnological schooling from Marcel Mauss: Michel Leiris and Roger Caillois too were Mauss's students.

Bataille met Michel Leiris (1901-1990) at the end of 1924, shortly before Leiris was to join the Surrealists.

Six years later, Leiris was selected by Africanist and Dogon specialist Marcel Griaule to take part in the Dakar-Djibouti mission, which was organized by the Institut D'Ethnologie and financed by the French government and the Rockefeller Foundation. The mission, which took from 1931 to 1933 would "... criss-cross French West Africa, Nigeria, Cameroon, French Equatorial Africa, the Belgian Congo, Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, Abyssinia, Eritrea, and French Somaliland".

Leiris functioned as the archivist for the mission and as a researcher in charge of religious sociology - a theme that is at the heart of both Mauss's and Bataille's thought. "Parallel to his ongoing work (putting together the collection of objects), Leiris conducted two surveys; one on sigi so, the initiatory language of the Dogon society of Sanga (French Sudan, now Mali); the other on the zâr genie cult among the Christians of Gondar (Ethiopia)". Leiris was highly critical of the mission. "The expedition, he said, at times resembled tourism (in search of the picturesque or the exotic), at other times a circus (always on the move with the same show on every stop), at still others colonial plunder".

In 1933, the second issue of Bataille's Minotaure magazine was dedicated to the Dakar-Djibouti mission. In 1934, Leiris published "L'Afrique Fantôme" in which 'objective' ethnological data were juxtaposed with Leiris's personal experiences, dreams and self-doubts. At the time, this was a unique textual strategy, highly controversial in academia. Griaule, the mission leader, was furious and feared a back-lash from the colonial authorities; Mauss gave Leiris a talking-to, but "in a paternalistic, easy-going way". Nonetheless, Leiris became a student of Mauss's after returning from the mission. At the École pratique des hautes études, where Mauss taught ethnology, Leiris's 1938 thesis "La langue secrète des Dogons de Sanga (Soudan français)" dealt with the secret language of the Dogons of Sanga.

Roger Caillois (1913-1978) was another close associate of Bataille who was taught by Mauss, in his case sociology of religion at the École pratique between 1933 and 1935. There, he also studied comparative religion with Georges Dumézil and heard Marcel Granet apply Maussian ethnology to Chinese culture. His 1937 thesis for the École pratique, written under the informal supervision of Dumézil, was titled "Les démons de midi" (Noontime demons). Much of Caillois' work from the mid-nineteenthirties was serious ethnography, work which earned him praise from both Mauss and Dumézil. Mauss was especially enthousiastic about Caillois' 1934 article "La Mante religieuse" (The praying mantis), in which the author analyses the webs of mythological and erotic significance spun around that insect. Bataille, Caillois and yet another pupil of Mauss (Anatole Lewitzky, who had written a thesis on Siberian shamanism under the direction of Mauss) would create the (in-)famous College of Sociology, which attempted to find a in Maussian thought a weapon to at once combat the rise of fascism and revitalize society. Nonetheless, differing views with regards to the role of ethnological thought in society would cause a rift between Caillois and Bataille as the war drew nearer and nearer.

So there can be only one conclusion: Bataille's closest friends and collaborators were all schooled by Marcel Mauss. Even Bataille states in "L'Erotisme" that he did not take courses given by Mauss, it is certain that he was very familiar with Mauss's work. Furthermore, the density of the network between himself and the great ethnologist ensured that the latter's teachings could not fail to have an impact on Bataille's thinking. This impact will be explored more closely in a later post.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Striborg - Journey Of A Misanthrope

Here is a Youtube video with outtakes from the Striborg DVD "Journey Of A Misanthrope", released on Displeased Records: "STRIBORG has just finished the making of the one and only REAL BLACK METAL DVD. No flashy stage shows, no funny behind the scenes, no interviews. Only what Black Metal is all about; harsh raw music, eerie atmosphere and dark moody images. Sin Nanna made this video in the dark desolate forests of Tasmania".