Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Euronymous as Kafka

In many interviews, Euronymous - the mastermind behind Black Metal band Mayhem - expressed admiration for repressive communist regimes:

"I know you’re interested in communism. Have you been to any communist countries, if yes, what have been your emotions about it?

I’ve been very interested in communism for a while, especially the extreme countries like Albania, Kampuchea, North Korea and so on. I have to say that I have studied so much that I know that real communism would be the best possible system, BUT as I HATE people I don’t want them to have a good time, I’d like to see them rot under communist dictatorship. Ceausescu was great, we need more people like him, Stalin, Pol Pot too. I’ve been to Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia in the (good) old days, and was about to go to Albania, although it didn’t turn out. Poland was quite all right, but it could have been even MORE gray and depressing. I like secret police, cold war and worshiping of dictators. I like bugging and spying on people, torture chambers in police stations and that people suddenly “disappear”."


From another interview:

"Another personal question here: now that a lot of things have changed in this world of ours, have you stuck to your principles, I mean politically? Euronymous: "As Mayhem is NOT a political band, I don't really like to mix topics like this into band interviews, but anyway I'm still keeping the faith. I openly admit that I am a Stalinist and I'm very fascinated by extreme countries like Albania and Romania in the good old days. I have thought about quitting from the Communist Party though, but this is just because they are not brutal enough any more. It was much better in the '70s, when they were very Albania-inspired and the leader even visited Cambodia during the Red Khmer period and had dinner with Pol Pot!! Those were the days!""

And yet another interview:

"WHY THIS EXTREME PULL TO BOTH MUSIC AND POLITICS (STALINISM)?
People know we are sick, and we give a fuck. Thats what we live (die) for... Stalinism. We hate does 'PEACE, LOVE and DEMOCRACY'-ideas. WAR, SODOMY and DICTATION! We support all extreme and oppressed states like the old ALBANIA, IRAN , KAMPUCHEA under the RED KHMERS and so on. People who are dying and suffering!

DO YOU STILL BELIEVE IN COMMUNISM AFTER THE FALL OF IT NEARLY ALL OVER THE WORLD?
We have studied so much politics/theory/economy (Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin , Mao, Hoxha) that we know that the world will sooner or later become communistic. Its the marketing economy and capitalisms ideas that will be forced forward sooner or later. Maybe in 30 years, maybe in 300 years. The problem is that communism is fucking good for the people, it's total freedom. Thats why we never wish that it happens. The world can go to hell. We want back the old Stalinist dictatorship, there its was gray, misery and evil. THE BERLIN WALL SHALL RISE AGAIN!!

ARE YOU YOURSELF POLITICALLY ACTIVE?
We were member of a party who was very extreme, they supported the old Albania and their former leader who even was in Kampuchea under the Red Khmers and ate dinner with Pol Pot! Incredibly good! But the party turned humanitarian, so we shall leave it."


Euronymous' statements, crude and childish as they may be, reminded me strongly of Denis Hollier's 1993 book "Absent Without Leave. French Literature under the Threat of War". In this highly interesting work, Hollier analyzes Georges Bataille's paradoxical political position in the nineteenthirties. Hollier's analysis is based on the contrast between Bataille's position and that of Sartre.

Sartre's 1947 book "Qu'est ce que la littérature" ("What is literature?") centers on the crucial Existentialist idea of commitment. Hollier summarizes Sartre's argument: "To want literature to exist is first of all to want a world in which literature is possible, a world which acknowledges its right to exist. The writer must work towards the existence of a world that can give him the means to write and to be read. Committed literature is thus simply literature taking the responsibility for its own conditions of possibility. But this analysis implies that literature insists on being possible."

Bataille's position couldn't be more different: he insists on literature being impossible. For Bataille, literature could only have meaning if it was transgressive, that is if it crossed moral boundaries while affirming them. Literature would only be meaningful if it were forbidden.

In Communist societies, bourgeois tastes - aesthetic art - would be impossible to defend as long the class struggle is not overcome. For this reason, literature is transgressive in Communist societies, and it has a meaning there it does not have in liberal democracies. In the chapter on Kafka in his 1957 book 'Literature and Evil', Bataille wrote: "If the adult gives a major sense of childishness, if he writes with the feeling that he is touching a sovereign value, he has no place in Communist society." Hollier: "According to Bataille, this exclusion is the perverse and paradoxical reason why Communist society corresponds better than any other to the secret wishes of a writer like Kafka - who always harbored a desire for a society that denied him the right to exist".

In the repressive Stalinist and Maoist societies that Euronymous lauded in the above interviews, not only were there prescriptions for artistic work; the regime also attempted to regulate the lifestyle of artists. "Socialist realism" was the only acceptable aesthetic, an aesthetic which was characterized by a militant communist partisanship, an idealistic world view, and optimism. Art was denied the right to exist, supplanted by party propaganda. Writers, artists and performers who did not conform to the prescriptions of party propaganda, suffered censorship, prosecution and - certainly in Cambodia - death.

The very societies Euronymous said to admire, would have denied Black Metal and Black Metal musicians the right to exist. In two earlier posts (here and here), I've written that Black Metal may well be the most playful genre of Metal, and that its playfulness attests to its childlike vitality. Realism, idealism and optimism are as far removed from the Black Metal aesthetic as can be. There is little doubt that if Euronymous had made in a Communist society the music he made with Mayhem, he would have ended his life in a psychiatric ward, prison, Gulag, torture center, death camp.

One might counter that Euronymous' wish for a repressive Communist society was purely based on a straightforward sadist impulse, or on a power-mad desire to become a totalitarian ruler. However, an interview with Euronymous on Swedish radio, probably from February or March 1993, provides further documentation of his position. In the interview, of which you can find the YouTube videos in the 'post scriptum', Euronymous states:

"From what we have heard there are extreme, fundamentalist Christians planning actions against us, which we think is great. We want to see Christians become militant. We hate to see the born again Christians going around being nice to the whole world. That's extremely annoying. We want so see Christians with weapons coming here to kill us. That's what we want."

Like Kafka, Euronymous had a perverse and paradoxical desire for a society (Christian or Stalinist) that denied him the right to exist.

However, Euronymous had a practical problem: he lived in a European social democracy, a society which was very unlikely to deny him the right to exist. Much of Euronymous' extremism can be understood as an impossible rebellion against a social democrat utopia, as the result of a desire to provoke this utopia into denying him the right to exist. Isn't expressing admiration for brutally repressive totalitarian regimes a transgression of the values of social democracy? In fact, the crudeness with which Euronymous expresses his ideas may in itself be a form of rebellion.

Ironically, Euronymous met his end at the hands not of the social democrat society he provoked but at the hands of one of his erstwhile companions in evil: Kristian 'Varg' Vikernes, the man behind one-man Black Metal band Burzum. Ironically? In fact, Vikernes had started to subscribe to a totalitarian (Fascist, not Communist) ideology, the ideology which would stamp out Black Metal if it came to power. Vikernes subscribed (and still subscribes) to Fascism in a straightforward manner, having ironed out all the ambiguities, perversities and paradoxes that characterized Euronymous' position with regards to totalitarianism. Because of this straightforwardness, Vikernes' ideological writings do no evoke exuberance; on the contrary, the life it evokes is unremittingly dreary.

Nevertheless, there is an important difference between the totalitarianism evoked by Euronymous and that evoked by Vikernes. Where Vikernes' vjsual aesthetic recalls the gaudy and nostalgic pseudo-folklore kitsch of National-Socialism, the anti-aesthetic of Euronymous revels in the gray and the miserable. It is in fact the gray of the colorless and arid world of the bureaucracies of the pseudo-justice of Kafka's The Castle and The Trial. Furthermore, where Vikernes' aesthetic evokes a triumphant totalitarianism, the totalitarianism Euronymous evokes is in a sense a failed totalitarianism, a totalitarianism which is provoked into brutal repression because it encounters something irreducible to its ideology. And what is it, that is irreducible? It is childishness, the perfect puerility of Kafka and Euronymous.

"It is by childishness that humanity, in its nascent state, shows its essential nature."



Post scriptum

The interview with Euronymous from Mayhem on Swedish radio, probably from February or March 1993:

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Here is a link to an interesting review of Hollier's book.

My post on Dead Raven Choir's album 'My Firstborn Will Surely Be Blind" also explores Euronymous' fascination for Eastern Bloc dictatorships.

Euronymous as Kafka, Hitler as Kalki.

9 comments:

Invisible Oranges said...

Interesting post! I don't necessarily agree that fascism would stamp out black metal. In WWII, it would have. But in recent years, white supremacists have recognized the value of NSBM as a propaganda tool. White supremacy and fascism aren't necessarily equal, but they and the black metal scene all involve - necessarily - some groupthink that I don't think is incompatible.

Fascism didn't mean the absence of art (e.g., Riefenstahl, etc.). It meant the absence of free expression - which would negate your conception of black metal as the most free of metal genres. I agree that black metal has that possibility. In practice, though, it generally suffers from a conformity that would would make fascists proud.

valter said...

Perhaps it is exactly because there is some uncertainty that fascist regimes would destroy BM, that Euronymous became a devotee of communist states like Cambodia, Albania,Romania etc: those are states that undoubtedly would have denied BM the right to exist.

BTW: I read your blog on an almost daily basis and also really like your Pitchfork reviews.

Dark Prime said...

I think it's highly likely that Black Metal would be prohibited under a national socialist regime since the music itself derives from music with black roots (Jazz was viewed as a Jewish conspiracy by the Nazis, little doubt rock would be viewed similarly). Then again, as invisible oranges said, people like William Pierce (National Alliance founder) endorsed NSBM, but then again others like John Tyndall (British National Party founder) despised pop music and would highly likely see black metal in a similar light for its fanbase etc.

As for a fascist regime - I guess it depends on the dictators. Mussolini kicked Aleister Crowley out of Sicily after all so that suggests some hostility towards the occult. Fascism is also extremely collectivist, whereas many black metal musicians often seek to uphold individualism (though not Euronymous).

Anonymous said...

This is probably the smartest article ever written on black metal, and metal in general. And it is not just pseudo-intellectual, but authentically intellectual and insightful. Good job!!!

FUDkill said...

While this is an interesting and well-written article, I think that the connection to Franz Kafka could be more strongly exemplified.

Luke Norman said...

By far, this is the best article I've ever read on Black Metal. Like other said, "it is not pseudo-intellectual, but authentically intellectual and insightful". I congratulate you.

george said...

The point you have is interesting (and your blog is interesting as well). Let me add an other euronymous's interview, to clear things up a little bit!

It's an interview from a greek fanzine, taken shortly after Dead entered Mayhem. By that time, Euronymous used to give more spontaneous answers, as he seemed not to care to look extreme, radical and evil. So here it comes (translated from greek, sorry for any mistakes):

" - Are you interested in politics?

Well, I'm personally a member of the Norwegian Communist Party, although i'm not so active as i would like to be, cause i'm afraid of loosing my USA VISA. Norwegian Communist Party is a great party that has nothing to do with fascist politians as Romania's Ceauşescu Communism is a great system that cares for good quality of life (well, not so good in the cases of Albania and North Korea). Well, I know for sure that i would not be able to run my label in these countries, but that's not the point. I fully believe in the suppresion of religion and in having a goverment that gives you everything, so you are able to live well. Communism's great problems are insufficieny in dealing with corruption and in having a stable currancy. Before we start complaining for the waiting lines for bread in the COMECON system, we should remember that Karl Marx never talked about waiting in a line for bread. This answer could be endless, so i have to put and end here."

So, as you can see, in 1988-89 Euro WAS a communist (as one can see by his epistles that you brought to light), and actually seemed to hate totalitarian regimes like Romania's. So, with the entire underground scene knowing his beliefs, what could he do when he decided to appear radical and evil?? Simply support cummonist totalitarianism, in an attempt to show that communism CAN be evil as well. I bet that his communist past must have been a pain in the ass for Euro, when he wanted to show himself as misanthropic and evil.

On the other hand, he seems pretty fascinated by Albania in this inteview, as he states that a tour in Albania (and Greenland) is "his greatest dream" and he closes the interview as follows:

"If ANYONE knows ANYTHING about the Death/Black metal scene of Albania, or can get us in contact with Albanian Death metallers, please write to me! I will give you a free record as a gift!"

Keep up the good work! :)

george said...

The point you have is interesting (and your blog is interesting as well). Let me add an other euronymous's interview, to clear things up a little bit!

It's an interview from a greek fanzine, taken shortly after Dead entered Mayhem. By that time, Euronymous used to give more spontaneous answers, as he seemed not to care to look extreme, radical and evil. So here it comes (translated from greek, sorry for any mistakes):

" - Are you interested in politics?

Well, I'm personally a member of the Norwegian Communist Party, although i'm not so active as i would like to be, cause i'm afraid of loosing my USA VISA. Norwegian Communist Party is a great party that has nothing to do with fascist politians as Romania's Ceauşescu Communism is a great system that cares for good quality of life (well, not so good in the cases of Albania and North Korea). Well, I know for sure that i would not be able to run my label in these countries, but that's not the point. I fully believe in the suppresion of religion and in having a goverment that gives you everything, so you are able to live well. Communism's great problems are insufficieny in dealing with corruption and in having a stable currancy. Before we start complaining for the waiting lines for bread in the COMECON system, we should remember that Karl Marx never talked about waiting in a line for bread. This answer could be endless, so i have to put and end here."

So, as you can see, in 1988-89 Euro WAS a communist (as one can see by his epistles that you brought to light), and actually seemed to hate totalitarian regimes like Romania's. So, with the entire underground scene knowing his beliefs, what could he do when he decided to appear radical and evil?? Simply support cummonist totalitarianism, in an attempt to show that communism CAN be evil as well. I bet that his communist past must have been a pain in the ass for Euro, when he wanted to show himself as misanthropic and evil.

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