Thursday, May 21, 2009

Euronymous's Epistles (pt 5)

I am the knife and the wound it deals,
I am the slap and the cheek,
I am the wheel and the broken limbs,
hangman and victim both!

I am the vampire at my own veins,
one of the great lost horde
doomed for the rest of my time, and beyond,
'to laugh - and smile no more'.


From "Self-tormentor" by Charles Baudelaire


I

The letters which Chagrynn sent me, mention several times 'Dead' Per Yngve Ohlin's acts of auto-mutilation. Read in chronological order, the letters tell a story of an escalating infliction of harm to the body.

From the first letter: "And if the gig is very good, Dead will cut himself up and bleed on the audience."

From the second letter: "About Dead, he IS insane. I think those rumours you heard are a bit untrue, he doesn't day ha's [sic] been dead 3 times, but he believes that he's the incarnation of Vlad (Dracula). He cut himself up pretty extreme at a gig we did, and if he gets too drunk he also cuts, but not only himself, unfortunately. At new years eve he almost cut up his artery, but he don't remember anything himself. I do. We had to put handcuffs on him."

The third letter contains a handwritten postscriptum which reads: "P.S. Very important: Dead is probably going to cut himself totally to pieces at one of the gigs (at least), so it's great if you found out where the nearest hospitals are, in case he's dying. Thanks!"

Surprisingly, the final letter, which recounts how Øystein "Euronymous" Aarseth found Ohlin's body after his suicide on April 8th 1991, makes no mention of automutilation.


II

The wikipedia entry on self-injury states: "Self-harm is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR) as a symptom of borderline personality disorder and depressive disorders. It is sometimes associated with mental illness, a history of trauma and abuse including emotional abuse, sexual abuse, eating disorders, or mental traits such as low self-esteem or perfectionism, but a statistical analysis is difficult, as many self-injurers conceal their injuries. (...) A common belief regarding self-injury is that it is an attention-seeking behaviour; however, in most cases, this is inaccurate. Many self-injurers are very self-conscious of their wounds and scars and feel guilty about their behavior leading them to go to great lengths to conceal their behavior from others. They may offer alternative explanations for their injuries, or conceal their scars with clothing. Self-injury in such individuals is not associated with suicidal or para-suicidal behavior. The person who self-injures is not usually seeking to end his or her own life; it has been suggested instead that he or she is using self-injury as a coping mechanism to relieve emotional pain or discomfort."

The wikipedia entry shows that Ohlin was an atypical self-injurer in two respects. First, rather than hiding his wounds, Ohlin flaunted his self-injury, cutting himself in front of audiences during Black Metal concerts. Second, Ohlin's self-injury cannot be disassociated from his suicide.


III

While it seems obvious that there must have been a link between Ohlin's psychological problems and his practice of self-injury, the fact that Ohlin cut himself ostentatiously as part of a Black Metal concert points to the fact that his auto-mutilation was enmeshed with Black Metal culture. Thus, Ohlin's self-injury was not a private practice, but one that was eminently social.

Ohlin cut himself to bleed on his audience. Lacerating the surface of his body, Ohlin opened a channel of communication between himself and the assembled crowd. To paraphrase The Three Degrees: "Blood is the Message". If, in religious ritual, one sacrifices in order to communicate with the gods, Ohlin made libations of his blood to communicate with those who attended the concerts.

The relationship between the quality of the Black Metal concert and Ohlin's public acts of self-injury is particularly interesting: "And if the gig is very good, Dead will cut himself up and bleed on the audience." Evidently, the communal enthusiasm of a succesful Black Metal concert engendered in Ohlin this frightful desire to spill his own blood. This allows me to interpret Ohlin's bloodspilling as part of a cycle of gift exchange between the musician and his audience. When Mayhem's musicians gave themselves over to their Black Metal, the audience reciprocated with a frenzied movement, shaking their heads until their minds were a blur; and when Ohlin, in his turn, accepted the audience's gift of enthusiasm, he gave back his own blood. Blood, a heterogeneous and revolting fluid, charged by Black Metal with hatred and disgust, signalled that the world of self-interest and self-preservation had been abandoned by the artist and challenged the audience to do likewise.

Exceeding the expression of an individual mental disorder, Ohlin's public acts of self-injury can be designated as acts of sacrifice.

IV

Prima facie, Ohlin's self-injury cannot be disassociated from his suicide.

However, Ohlin's suicide note read "Excuse all the blood". This apology implies that it would have been preferable if the blood had been absent. Thus, the suicide note stands in striking contrast to Ohlin's ostentatious spilling of blood. A further contrast between Ohlin's acts of self-injury and his suicide is that while the acts of self-injury were public performances, his suicide was a private act, which took place in a situation of complete social isolation.

From an interview with Jan Axel "Hellhammer" von Blomberg, Mayhem's drummer:

In the beginning of the ’90s we rented an old deserted house in the forest. We needed a place for rehearsals, so we ended up in that house. It would take twenty minutes to get to the nearest shop, and we had to go by train to the nearest town. People who walked by our house, fastened their steps. They were afraid of us. And teachers from the nearby schools told children: “Do not come up to this house. The house is haunted!” Everybody hated us, but we enjoyed it. Euronymous was busy with his label and spent all the days typing something. I played drums and Dead would lock in his room being permanently depressed. So that was the way we lived: each of us was in his own world. Euronymous and Dead didn’t get along well. Dead didn’t trust Euronymous. The verbal fights turned to real bloody beatings. I got tired of their quarrels and moved to my grandmother’s, coming back merely to rehears. One day I decided to go to Oslo with my friends. Before the departure I met Dead. He was grim and depressed: “Look, I bought a big knife. It’s very sharp.” Those were the last words I heard from him.

Euronymous was leaving with me that day. He went to town on his label’s business. Some days later, when Euronymous came back, the house looked deserted. The front door was locked and there was no key in our secret place. Euronymous went round the house and noticed that the window to Dead’s room was opened. He got to the house and saw Dead lying on the floor: a part of his head was blown away by the gun’s shot. Euronymous hitchhiked a car to the nearest town to buy a film for camera. Then he returned and made a shot of Dead’s corpse. I was surprised at having noticed that the knife laid on the gun. It should lay under it... May be Euronymous never went to town that day... When Euronymous called me, he was not talkative. “Dead went back home,” he said. “Back to Sweden?” I wondered. “No, he’s blown his head.

4 comments:

Darcy Logan said...

Perhaps the self-mutilation in Black Metal isn't indicative of a contempt for the self, but rather a contempt for the body. The cutting is a ritualized abnegation of the flesh as a means to transcend the world. A contempt for what is merely meat...or something similarily gnostic. I dunno.

I think of Antaeus: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=udjk0AjS47o

Zach Z said...

@D. Logan:

Antaeus is brilliant, at least, "CYFAWS" is, and quite possibly "De Principii..." as well, but I haven't heard all of it.

I don't agree with your assessment though. I think we (including members of bands such as Antaeus) are rationalizing it too much. I think it's more about death-obsession, taking things to extremes, seeing what the body *as well as the mind* is capable of, and just pure morbidity than anything else. Like metal-head teenagers daring each other to walk into the haunted house, seeing who can stay the longest, who is the bravest and also who is the most evil for wanting to be there. Or like the lone wolf black metal musician who carries animal bones in his pocket and collects dead things in his room. Morbidity.

Sanna said...

Zach, I have to disagree. I think then it is YOU rationalizing it, because you may not truly understand yourself WHY you are actually doing it. We do a lot of irrational things without really understanding or knowing why, and I would definitely put Dead's self mutilation and his suicide in here. Being able to for example know our physical limitations means that we know how much we can manage before we die, and this means we also know how much violence we have to use to die. A lot of black metal actually revolves around finding some kind of spirituality which somehow is believed to not be there, so I would certainly go with Darcy on this one.

Anonymous said...

Dead can have had many reasons for mutilating himself, but if anyone had thought it was a bad thing, they'd have told him to stop or quit the band. Black metal was about being an extreme person, not a poser. Dead is cutting himself and bleeding, he is real, he is extreme!