Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Georges Sorel - Reflections On Violence (pt. 2)

Reading Sorel's 'Reflections On Violence' I found myself wondering whether Mayhem's Øystein "Euronymous" Aarseth was aware of Sorel's thought. After all, Aarseth was a member of Rød Ungdom, a Marxist-Leninist youth movement. It is not impossible that Aarseth made acqaintance with Sorel's work, which was a formative influence on Lenin's doctrines.

Did Aarseth envisage the Black Metal Inner Circle as a revolutionary vanguard? Did he see the Inner Circle as a restricted, delimited group bound together in fervent solidarity? As an elite locked in a Manichaean struggle with modern Norwegian society? Wasn't his Satanism a violent, mythology which extolled fire-raising as adventurous, glorious, superior?

Perhaps a closer examination of Rød Ungdom is in order.

Rød Ungdom had its origins in the protest movements of the 1960s. Rød Ungdom was intended be a recruitment source for the radical Arbeidarklassen Party (Working Class Party). In the 1960s, Rød Ungdom organized student strikes, squats and study circles. They produced a daily newspaper, and ran a publishing house and a record company. Furthermore, the youth movement organized solidarity work for Vietnam, Palestine and Afghanistan. In the 1970s, Rød Ungdom radicalized ideologically, coming under the influence of Maoism as practiced in tyrannies such as China, Albania and Cambodia. Under this influence, the youth movement came to resemble a political sect in which assent to the party line was enforced with an iron fist. The party line decreed that homosexuality would disappear under Socialism. Rød Ungdom was suspected of being involved in terrorist attacks. Certainly, Rød Ungdom was a restricted, delimited group bound together in fervent solidarity and locked in a violent, Manichaean struggle with contemporary Norwegian society.

However, when Aarseth joined Rød Ungdom in the 1980s, the organization had begun to lose its ideological faith. China, Albania and Cambodia were not anymore inspiring examples, but were gradually coming to be seen as the depressing bureaucratic, tyrannies that they were; and masculine domination in the party was coming under feminist critique. What's more the party organization itself had become sclerotic, and the cadre demoralized and out of touch with the Zeitgeist. When the youth movement celebrated its 20th anniversary in 1983, the leader of Rød Ungdom declared: "A correct line for a development of Red Youth in 1980s has to take into account that the situation around Marxist-Leninist movement has changed. The youth revolts of the 1970s are a matter of the past past. The optimistic view of the future that characterized the 1970s has evaporated. The new situation forms the basis for pessimism and individualization among teenagers. To recruit young people to a revolutionary movement is far more difficult than before. To win support for socialism is the way much more difficult than in the early 1970s. "

Interestingly, the demoralization of Rød Ungdom was inspiring for Aarseth. He seized on the bleak, repressive nature of the Chinese, Albanian and Cambodian regimes and transvaluated them in a perverse manner. From an interview with Aarseth:

"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”."

Here, Aarseth seems to exalt the absence of those Socialist myths which present life in Leninist tyrannies as adventurous, glorious and superior; and for Aarseth this decisive absence of myth is more perversely joyful than the Socialist myth itself. The absence of Socialist myth is presented as a superior coldness, an adventurous grayness, a glorious depression. Aarseth's transvaluation of the withered Leninist ideology echoes Bataille, who wrote in 1947: "... the absence of myth is also a myth: the coldest, the purest, the only true myth."

Notwithstanding Aarseth's perverse transvaluation of bleakness and repression, it seems likely that the withered husk of Socialist myth did not have a lasting allure for him. With his Black Metal band Mayhem, he replaced that husk by another myth, a violent, joyful mythology which extolled fire-raising, cannibalism and sodomy as adventurous, glorious, superior: Satanism.

What the general strike was to Sorel's vicious Socialism, images of burning churches were for Black Metal. Specifically, the photographic images on Fantoft stave church in ashes were, to paraphrase Sorel "... a body of images which, by intuition alone, and before any considered analyses are made, is capable of evoking as an undivided whole the mass of sentiments which corresponds to the different manifestations of war undertaken by [Black Metal] against modern society." Wikipedia mentions that members and fans of the Norwegian black metal scene claimed responsibility for inspiring (and perpetrating) over 50 arsons directed at Christian churches between 1992–1996.

The so-called Black Metal Inner Circle functioned as a revolutionary vanguard for Aarseth Satanist myth, as an organization of the most vigorous elements of the nascent Black Metal scene bound together in fervent solidarity. Like a Sorelian, Leninist elite, the Black Metal Inner Circle hoped to provoke the staid Norwegian society to engage in a brutal Manichaean struggle.

And like Sorel, Aarseth wanted his enemies to be self-confident, unashamed, brutal:

"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."

However, where Sorel was passionately confident in Socialism's ultimate triumph in the cataclysmic war on the bourgeoisie, Aarseth was under no such illusions. On the contrary, Aarseth appears to have been passionately confident that his Black Metal insurrection would meet a tragic end. As I have written before (here, here and here), much of Aarseth's extremism can be understood as a desire to provoke the Norwegian social-democrat utopia into denying him the right to exist.

In this tragic desire, Aarseth's Satanism reveals itself as a myth which points towards death, which is the absence - the deathlike silence - of all myths.


Darcy Logan said...

I love your writings on Norwegian Black Metal, especially its 'dream-time' as you so adroitly and succintly stated it.

It is a pleasure to see intelligent people interested in it, and to travel with them as they navigate the landscape of cultural signifiers that shape the myths of Black Metal so deeply but are rarely articulated by the artists that produce it (and as a black metal artist why would you want to intellectualize something so atavistic, something so tragically romantic and filled with pathos). But as a consumer rather than producer of Black Metal, what a refreshing analysis.

Anyway, thanks. Love the blog, been reading it for months, and decided to respond. I think your essays should be collected in hardcopy.


sexy said...
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Anonymous said...

although i'm a huge early norwegian black metal fan; all this scrutinizing of there 'ideology' is bullshit. they where just a couple of lonely bored teenagers nerds with probably not many friends sitting in there moms basement trying to be 'cool' by pretending to be so evil. they just copied the attitude of early south american hordes and took it to extremes. i bet Øystein never heard of 99% percent of most people mentioned on this blog. plus 99% percent of this blog is such pretentious and pseudo intellectual crap. i read this stuff here because i'm fascinated how this guy comes up with these links between different stuff all the time. i'm guessing he has way to much spare time on his hand. mate..get out of the cellar and enjoy some sunlight, maybe a chat with a girl (although you'll probably scare them off with your intelligent 'gaze' and extremely non interesting talk. well whatever..

Darcy Logan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Darcy Logan said...

Hey Anonymous,

Pretension is what knowledge often sounds like to the uneducated or uninformed.

The fact that a black metaller has never heard of some of the references here means nothing. Think about it in terms of an anthropological ethnography. You could spend time amongst an indigenous tribe in the rainforest with little exposure to the outside world. You could write about your experiences and reference their kinship structures based on the writings of Claude Levi-Strauss, analyze their economic exchanges while quoting Malinowski or Sahlins, and talk about the percussive rhythms of their rituals along-side conversations about electronic music and globalization. Have these xenophobic indigenous individuals heard of the people, theories and references made? Hell no. Can these references broaden our understanding on how to situate and contextualize their experience? Hell yeah.

I would never think of the content in this blog as being as rigorous as ethnography, it’s closer to its softer cousin 'cultural studies'. But it is intelligent and engaging, which is what is important, and opens other means of ingress into an interesting subject allowing us to explore it in different ways.

mateo said...

holy shit man, your blog rules. connecting sorel to aarseth is insane, the way you peer into black metal through the framework set up by various philosophical trends and ideas is brilliant. keep it up!

* said...

Fact: Rød Ungdom was until recently the youth organization of Arbeidernes Kommunistparti (The Workers' Communist Party), more widely known in Norway as AKP.

Aimo said...

These writings are interesting but hard to read. Reading order is normally from top to bottom.