Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Dead as Michelet

In which France's most revered historian and Black Metal's best known suicide find inspiration in a surprisingly similar, revolting way...

In 1957 Georges Bataille published a book called "La Litterature Et Le Mal" ("Literature And Evil"). It consists of eight essays on writers who dealt with the theme of Evil in their literary work: Emily Brontë, Baudelaire, Michelet, William Blake, Sade, Proust, Kafka and Genet. In a series of posts, I have compared two Black Metal musicians to two of these writers: I've likened Mayhem's Euronymous to Kafka (1, 2, 3) and Ofermod's Michayah to Jean Genet (1). Now it is time for one of Black Metal's most enigmatic figures: Per Yngve Ohlin, better known as 'Dead'.

Ohlin was for some time the introverted, eccentric and depressed vocalist for Norwegian Black Metal band Mayhem. His musical career was cut short when he killed himself with a shotgun at the age of 22, on April 8th 1991.

At concerts, Ohlin hoped to enhance his performance by stimulating his senses in unusual, morbid ways. He performed acts of automutilation on stage: slicing himself open with a broken bottle, he invented a Black Metal tradition that continues to this very day (think of the French Antaeus, who released an album called 'Cut Your Flesh and Worship Satan'). Pig heads were impaled on wooden spikes, and pieces of pig meat were thrown into the audience. During one tour with Mayhem Ohlin had found a dead raven, which he put in a plastic bag and took with him to concerts. He would often smell the bird before performing, saying he needed to "smell death".

And here - the odd practice of raven sniffing - we find a point from where we can spin a "web of significance" (or a spider's thread of significance at least) from Dead to Michelet.

One of the essays in "Literature And Evil" is dedicated to French historian Jules Michelet's 1862 book 'La Sorcière' (literally 'The Sorceress'). It is a history of witchcraft, published in 1862. Bataille posits that, in writing the book, Michelet was "...guided by the ecstasy of Evil" - and certainly, his florid style gives the impression that witches made him lose his head. The final paragraph of the essay is relevant for the connection with Dead.

"[Michelet] was obviously dominated, and even bewildered, by anxiety as he wrote this impassioned book. In a passage from his diary (I have been unable to read it since it is still inaccessible, but a third party has provided me with adequate information), said that as he worked he would suddenly find that he lacked inspiration. He then would leave his house and would go to a public convenience where the stink was stultifying. He would breathe in deeply, and, having 'got as close as possible to the object of his disgust', return to work. I cannot but recall his face - noble, emanciated, with quivering nostrils."

I can imagine Dead this way too. Can you?

Post scriptum

I could also have written a post with Dead as the Jacques Vaché of Black Metal: a cryptic figure, a hidden source of inspiration for the high priest, a suicide.

Do you know any other artist using unusual olfactory experiences for inspiration? Please use the comment box!

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