Monday, March 09, 2009

Black Metal Getting Medieval (pt. 2)

Carolyn Dinshaw's 1999 book 'Getting Medieval. Sexualities and Communities, Pre- and Postmodern' is of interest for commentators on Black Metal in yet another manner than that discussed in the previous post on that book.

In her book, Dinshaw examines relations between contemporary individuals and social groups (queers and republican politicians, amongst others) to the Middle Ages. I did not think these examinations were the most convincing parts of Dinshaw's otherwise fascinating book, as these relationships are described in a rather one-dimensional way. Dinshaw's analysis of Quentin Tarantino's 1994 film Pulp Fiction, for example, misses out on the fact that viewers can use the film's narrative in many (perverse, inconsistent) ways. Her theory of media reception of that film is still too close to the hypodermic needle theory. Nevertheless, examing relationships between contemporary individuals and social groups and historical periods is a very interesting project.

Researching Dinshaw's book on the internet, and specifically the excellent Medieval Studies blog In The Middle shows that this project has indeed proven to be immensely fertile. The research (and specifically this excellent post) brought up a fascinating article by Elizabeth Freeman (an Americanist, cultural critic, and queer theorist at UC-Davis), “Turn the Beat Around: Sadomasochism, Temporality, History".

In this article, Freeman theorizes that sadomasochism sexually allegorizes a lost form of imperial power, for example medieval feudal power. For example, in sadomasochism, the medieval period is portrayed as a time of drafty castles with dank dungeons, torture, witch hunts, brutal kings and robber knights. Thus, in sadomasochism "...a potential for sex itself to become a kind of historiography, perhaps even an “ahistoriography” (Rohy). [Sadomasochism] in its very insistence upon reanimating historically specific social roles, in the historical elements of its theatrical language, and in using the body as an instrument to rearrange time, Sadean sex becomes a kind of écriture historique. It becomes a form of writing history with the body in which the linearity of history may be called into question, but the past does not thereby cease to exist." Hereby, sadomasochism achieves a historical asynchrony between the quick pace of modern times on the one hand and a slow pace on the other hand, a slow pace imagined to be the pace of the past, a slowness felt as a lack in the present. For Freeman, sadomasochism is a corporeal analysis that redeems the wrongs of the imperial order which it allegorizes: "As a critical technique or mode of analysis enacted with the body erotic, then, sadomasochism offers up temporal means for reconfiguring the possible: the 'slow time' that is at once modernity’s double and its undoing, the sensation that discombobulates normative temporal conditionings, the deviant pause that adds a codicil of pleasure to a legacy of suffering."

Black Metal aficionados are another social group who relate to lost form of imperial power: the power of Viking jarldoms, medieval feudalism, National Socialism, the Priest-Kings of occult brotherhoods. Like sadomasochism, Black Metal employs a theatrical language of historical elements (just think of Kristian 'Varg' Vikernes wearing chain mail armour). In using music to rearrange time, Black Metal becomes a kind of écriture historique.

To an extent, Black Metal can be said to be structured similarly to (Freeman's conception of) sadomasochism.

However, the redemptive nature of Black Metal is another matter entirely. Burzum and other forms of NSBM exalt the past forms of imperial power not to redeem their wrongs but to nostalgically celebrate them. Atheistic Satanist (LaVeyan) Black Metal bands aim to reconfigure the present social order in order to form another, one that is egotistic and amoral; but this other social order is so deeply informed by the values of Hollywood's entertainment complex it is light years removed from Freeman's vision of queerly redemptive sadomasochism. Theistic Satanist (Mayhem, the Norma Evangelium Diaboli scene), Depressive and Nihilistic Black Metal bands do not make their transgressions subservient to any future redemption at all. These strains of Black Metal relate to lost form of imperial power not so much as a critical technique or a mode of analysis, nor a means to reconfigure the possible, but as a mode of disconfiguring, as a technique of the impossible.


Nicola Masciandaro said...

. . . technique of the impossible.

I like this especially because I think you are articulating how nostalgia, normally construed as a *condition*, is in black metal seized as a practice or art or production. So where nostalgia 'normally' operates as a translation of the lacking into the lost (and hence a negative possession of the object), black metal translates the lost into the lacking (and hence a possession of the negative itself and thus a self-possession in both demonic and non-demonic sense).

Your thoughts here via Freeman very close to Scott Wilson's ideas about black metal and the death of Satan, which he has posted (in the form of commentary proposal) on his new blog.

On the impossible, I just finished the beheading paper.



valter said...

Thanks! I'll be sure to read the paper.

Scott Wilson's post was one of the most interesting posts on BM I've read for a long time - the kind that make you jealous you haven't written it yourself.

You are correct that I see nostalgia as a method, not as a state.

"Technique of the impossible" is also a riff on the subtitle of Mircea Eliade's classic "Shamanism. Archaic techniques of ecstasy" (BM as a culture of atheological shamanism; the oneiric landscape of past forms of imperial power as a quicksand Otherworld)

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