Thursday, May 01, 2008

Euronymous as Kafka (pt. 2)

An aphorism, found in Emil Cioran's 1973 book "The Trouble With Being Born", touches on the subject of the previous post:

"One cannot do a writer a greater service than to forbid him to work for some time. One should establish short-lived tyrannies, during which all intellectual work should be halted. Freedom of expression without any limit exposes talented people to a deadly danger, forces them to go beyond their means and stops them from accumulating sensations and experiences. Unlimited freedom is an attack on the spirit".

The aphorism proposes, like Bataille, that literature thrives on (socio-political) circumstances that deny it the right to exist. Like Bataille, Cioran proposes that literature feeds on impossibility. But where Bataille accents the left-handed side of this paradox (revolt, childishness, transgression), Cioran stresses its right-handed side (authority, safety, teleology, limits).

This characterization of these two perspectives on literature, is derived from the work of Robert M. Hertz. Hertz (1881-1915), a French ethnologist, pupil and close friend to Marcel Mauss, wrote a systematic study of the symbolic meaning of the left hand and the right hand: 'La Prominence de la Main Droite' (published in 1928). The symbolic meaning of the two hands is dichotomous. The right hand was associated with authority, adulthood, virtue, faith, limits, truthfulness; the left hand with revolt, defilement, childishness, transgression, crime, fraud and treachery. This dichotomy is applied to the least detail in ritual, in the practice of divination, in customs and beliefs. Hertz' study was a major influence on the thought of Roger Caillois, a French thinker who co-founded the Collège de Sociologie with Georges Bataille.

I must underline that more is at stake here than mere static, cognitive signification: this 'language-game' is as serious as Russian roulette! The symbols of the left and right hand are - as all symbols - metaphoric expressions and dramatizations of (contradictory, paradoxical, tense) social forces in a given society. Furthermore, symbols such as these are dynamic and actively shape events and passions in friendship, sexuality, art and politics.

I interpret the symbol of the artist as a creator who desires a society that denies his right to exist, as a dynamic symbol. I see it as an expression of social and symbolic tensions in the early-nineties Norwegian Black Metal community (and wider Norwegian society), which gave shape to the dramatic relation between Mayhem's Øystein 'Euronymous' Aarseth and Burzum's Kristian 'Varg' Vikernes.

The artist as a creator who desires a society that denies his right to exist, is a paradoxical symbol. An artist embodying the left-handed side of this paradox was murdered by a fellow artist who embodies the right-handed side of the paradox: the drama which unfolded in the Dream Time of Norwegian Black Metal certainly had a "...strange processual inevitability overriding questions of interest, expediency, or even morality" (Turner). The murder of Mayhem's Aarseth by Burzum's Vikernes was not only a tragedy in the Classical sense of the word. It was and is more than that: it is the frozen image of a configuration pregnant with tensions between opposing but interdependent socio-cultural forces, a configuration that was shocked into crystallization into a monad, not by the thought of the dialectical critic (Benjamin), but by the violence of the act.


Nicola Masciandaro said...

Thanks for the hand reference.

When I was little I used to lay in bed at night and 'let' my hands wrestle one against the other.

Cf. Augustine: "Did not Abraham’s house abound with gold, silver, children, servants, cattle? What say we? is not this happiness? Be it so, still it is on the left hand. What is, on the left hand? Temporal, mortal, bodily. I desire not that thou shun it, but that thou think it not to be on the right hand.…For what ought they to have set on the right hand? God, eternity, the years of God which fail not, whereof is said, 'and Thy years shall not fail.' There should be the right hand, there should be our longing. Let us use the left for the time, let us long for the fight for eternity."

I think Bernard of Clairvaux also uses the left hand as an emblem of despair.

BTW do you know about this conference?

valter said...

Thanks Nicola! The conference certainly looks interesting, but you should know that I've been out of academia for more than 10 years now and my work is a little like Cioran's tyrannies... Anyway, the persona Valter speaks only through his blog.

BTW, the glossator looks pretty interesting also!

Dominic said...

I've recently been reading the British author Alan Garner, whose work has repeatedly engaged with myth as a kind of template of emotionally intense intersubjectivity. In "The Owl Service", for example, a story from the Mabinogion is represented as a kind of possessive energy driving the interactions between three adolescents. In the light of your (always) very interesting discussion of Euronymous and Varg, I wonder whether you've come across Alan Garner or read any of his work?

valter said...

Thanks Dominic! Though I've been following your blog and thus your writings on 'The Owl Service'and 'Red Shift', I've never read any of Garner's books. I'll be sure to be on the lookout for his work when I'm scouring second-hand bookshops.

With regard to the theme of 'myths as a model for intersubjective action', anthropologist Victor Turner's "Dramas, Fields and Metaphors. Symbolic Action in Human Society' is highly recommended.

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