Sunday, August 26, 2007

Velvet Cacoon - 'Avalon Polo'

Released six days ago, the 'official' video for Velvet Cacoon's 'Avalon Polo' from their 2004 release 'Genevieve'. It seems VC are coming back to unlife...

Friday, August 24, 2007

Miles Davis - Isle of Wight (1970)

After repeatedly watching Miles Davis perform 'Bitches Brew' as presented on this previous post, and egged on by Robert's comments to that posts, I went through a minor Miles Davis obsession, playing electric Miles morning, day and night.

Already owning 'Miles In The Sky', 'Bitches Brew', 'Black Beauty', 'Live-Evil', 'Get Up With It', 'On The Corner' and 'Dark Magus' , I added 'In A Silent Way' and 'Agartha' to my collection, and bought Phil Freeman's 'Running The Voodoo Down. The Electric Music of Miles Davis' to accompany the new acquisitions.

To celebrate, I'm posting Miles Davis's august 29th 1970 concert at the Isle of Wight Festival. Phil Freeman describes the Festival as the definitive death knell for the 1960 counterculture, aggressive hippies gatecrashing the Festival and heckling the performers for not being supportive enough of their violent egoism. Nevertheless, I find Davis's performance, entitled 'Call It Anything' engrossing. The band features Miles Davis, Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea, Jack DeJohnette, Gary Bartz, Dave Holland and Airto Moreira.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

'The Forest People' - Colin Turnbull

There in the tiny clearing, splashed with silver, was the sophisticated Kenge, clad in bark cloth, adorned with leaves, with a flower stuck in his hair. He was all alone, dancing around and singing softly to himself as he gazed up at the treetops. Now Kenge was the biggest flirt for miles, so, after watching a while, I came into the clearing and asked, jokingly, why he was dancing alone. He stopped, turned slowly around and looked at me as though I was the biggest fool he had ever seen; and he was plainly surprised by my stupidity. 'But I'm not dancing alone,' he said. I'm dancing with the forest, dancing with the moon.' Then, with the utmost unconcern, he ignored me and continued his dance of love and life”.

'The Forest People' - Colin Turnbull

I've read three books in a row in which music plays a prominent role.

Moyhihan and Søderlind's 'Lords of Chaos' was the first; after that I read Thomas Mann's 'Doktor Faustus'; and I've just finished Colin Turnbull's 'The Forest People' - an ethnography of the Pygmies of the Ituri forest in Belgian-Congo (now the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo).

The book - which was written for a general audience, and is not a specialist ethnography - admiringly describes the harmonious life of the Pygmies as hunter-gatherers in the African rainforest. The Pygmies - theBaMbuti - live in complete consonance with their habitat: the forest is not only the dwelling place, it is their provider of sustenance and protection, it a benevolent and beautiful deity. Their involvement and understanding of the world of the primordial forest is deeply spiritual, as well as instrumental.

In the book the music of the BaMbuti is the primary symbol of their relationship with the forest. More specifically, that relationship is symbolized by the sacred molimo flute, which the BaMbuti regard as a "thing of the forest".

"Somewhere over there, in the darkness, the molimo now called; it sounded like someone singing but it was not a human voice. It was a deep, gentle, lowing sound, sometimes breaking off into a quiet falsetto, sometimes growling like a leopard. As the men sang their songs of praise to the forest, the molimo answered them, first on this side, than on that side, moving around so swiftly and silently that it seemed to be everywhere at once. Then, still unseen, it was right beside me, not more than two feet away, on the other side of a small but thick wall of leaves. As it replied to the song of the men, who continued to sing as though nothing were happening, the sound was sad and wistful, and immensely beautiful. (...) The molimo gave a great burst of song and with a wild rush swept across the camp, surrounded by a dozen youths packed to tightly that I could see nothing, and disappeared into the forest. Those left in the camp made no comment; they just kept on with their song, and after a while the voice of the molimo, replying to them, became fainter and fainters and was finally lost in the night and in the depths of the forest from where it had come".

Of course, it is all too easy to mutter to oneself "Too many damn idealists!" and make some derogatory remarks about the way Turnbull romanticizes the life of the BaMbuti.

On the other hand, I find passages like the one quoted above wonderful: not only is the text well written and dramatically pleasing, as a consumer of 21st century recorded music I am intrigued by the way in which the BaMbuti use sound space, in a sense anticipating the dramatic possibilities of surround sound which has become so popular in this age of AV amplifiers with 5.1 speaker channels. Also, the molimo can be said to sample the sounds of the forest, playing them back in a musical context (BaMbuti men singing) for dramatic effect. Furthermore, I am fascinated by the paradox of the molimo: a secret which does not hide itself but on the contrary trumpets its existence, highlighting "...nature's mysteries as well as those inherent to social institutions and personal relationships" (Taussig) without actually revealing those mysteries.

In a sense, the music described in couldn't be more different than that described in 'Lords Of Chaos' and 'Doktor Faustus': where the latter two books describe dissonant music emerging from communities torn apart by hatred and madness, the music of 'The Forest People' is harmonious.

Nonetheless, in all three books music is presented as something emerging from a sacred otherworld (Hell; and the African forest, which is sacred to the BaMbuti), and in all three books, the music has a metaphorical relationship to the social circumstances from which it emerges. The music (Black Metal; Schoenbergian Satanic orchestral music; the BaMbuti molimo music) is presented as selecting, emphasizing, suppressing and organizing features of the societies it emerged from. Statements about the music are statements about the author's view of the society the music emerged from.

Though the literary qualities of the three books are vastly different (I find the writing style of 'Lords Of Chaos' quite ugly), all three books successfully connect dramatic music to social drama.

Post scriptum

Colin Turnbull's recordings of BaMbuti music are available from Smithsonian Folkways Recordings. There are a number of samples on their website (here and here and here).

Here is an interesting biographical essay on Turnbull by fellow anthropologist and Turnbull's biographer Roy Richard Grinker (link).

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Observations concerning patient V. - Part V


"220. Sacrifice. - The sacrificial animal does not share the spectators' ideas about sacrifice, but one has never let it have its say".

F. Nietzsche - The Gay Science.


Perhaps a Baudrillard-ian retelling of the murder of Black Metal musician Øystein "Euronymous" Aarseth by his fellow musician Varg Vikernes, as narrated in 'Lords Of Chaos', would look a little like this:

"So many reasons to kill Euronymous!

- Vikernes himself has said he killed Euronymous in self-defense;
- Vikernes is said to have killed Euronymous out of envy with the latter's leading position within the Norwegian Black Metal Scene;
- Many commentators have pointed towards financial troubles between Euronymous and Vikernes as the motive for the murder: because of mismanagement Euronymous didn't pay royalties to Vikernes;
- An accomplice to the murder points towards envy of Bård Eithun as a motive for the murder. Eithun had murdered a man and thereby gained much prestige within the Norwegian Black Metal scene, and Vikernes coveted that prestige;
- Euronymous's communist convictions clashed with Vikernes's fascism;
- the murder was a 'crime passionel', the result of a soured homo-erotic affair between Euronymous and Vikernes;
- Vikernes was acting out a mythological drama.

In fact, so many motives for Vikernes to kill Euronymous have been identified, that the murder feels hyperdetermined, so saturated with origins and causes that the murder itself is un-motivated, emptied of motives. The motivatedness of the crime has been buried under an surfeit of causalities - an metastasis of motives. In the murder of Euronymous by Vikernes, we witness the redundancy of criminal motivation in the void, the cancer of criminology.

And isn't this icy void of motivation answered by the indifferent, callous, cold reactions of members of the Norwegian Black Metal Inner Circle to Euronymous's death?".

Friday, August 17, 2007

Deathspell Omega - "Fas - Ite, maledicti, ite ignem aeternum"

Many Black Metal bands seem to take the most-quoted line of 1994 film Pulp Fiction's Marsellus as their motto: "I'm gonna get medieval on your ass". Their aesthetic reflects the view that the medieval period was a time of drafty castles with dank dungeons, plague, poverty, torture, witch hunts, brutal kings and wall-to-wall ignorance; and true to form, Black Metal inverts the negative value attached to that era's supposed primitiveness and brutality, extolling exactly those qualities.

Black Metal band Deathspell Omega aesthetic is far from medieval - the French band's motto is rather: I'm gonna get Baroque on your derrière"!

Not that Deathspell Omega's music is dominated by the contrapuntal style, as Baroque music was.

Rather, their new album - the extravagantly titled "Fas - Ite, maledicti, ite ignem aeternum" - employs sophisticated musical techniques to create exaggerated motion and clear detail, producing drama, tension, exuberance, and grandeur - exactly like Baroque visual art and sculpture. Deathspell Omega's music is characterized by the juxtaposition of blastbeat fury and chaotic riffing to complex, atypical rhythmic structures, stop/start dynamics and angular, dissonant riffs; by great drama, rich deep color, and intense light and dark shadows. There's something of Caravaggio in the best parts of the album - the painter about whom a contemporary cardinal's secretary wrote: "In (his) painting there are but vulgarity, sacrilege, impiousness and disgust... One would say it is a work made by a painter that can paint well, but of a dark spirit, and who has been for a lot of time far from God, from His adoration, and from any good thought...".

Like Baroque visual and architectural art, Deathspell Omega's music is quite bombastic, sounding like a monument in sound, using it's absolutist authority to impose obeisance and fear. The band transform the racial elitism, which is so prevalent in NSBM, into an intellectual elitism. In fact, if one reads the reviews on sites like Encyclopedia Metallum, Black Metal fandom seems to be a little intimidated by the complexity of the music as well as by the obscure, even hermetic language in which the band cloaks it's Satanic theology - like a Lacan of the occult.

Deathspell Omega is on a 'mission civilatrice'. However savage the riffing may be in places, overall the music is intelligent, sophisticated, intricate; there is a measure of artificiality - in the positive (anti-"authentic") sense of the word; a sense of "good taste"; ecclesiastical decorum, even. Unlike many Burzum-inspired and neo-pagan Occidentalist Black Metal bands, Deathspell Omega do not disavow culture. On the contrary, Deathspell Omega embraces learnedness and the places of learning: the library, academia, the city. Thus, the band seems to share Baudelaire's “ivresse religieuse des grandes villes”.

The afterlife plays a prominent role in Deathspell Omega's aesthetic - first of all, in the title of the cd. Wikipedia states erroneously that the album's title derives from the comical medieval morality play Everyman - a play which is not even in Latin. Rather, the title derives from chapter 25 of the Gospel of Matthew, in which Jesus foretells the Last Judgment. From the King James Bible: "Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels".

Deathspell Omega's conception of the infernal afterlife is also post-medieval. Hell is not portrayed as a place of torture: no branding irons, cooking pots full of boiling oil, tongs, pliers and blacksmith's tools for these Frenchmen. In Deathspell Omega's hell, it is the soul rather than the flesh which suffers torments or experiences ecstasies. The void of Nirvana is about as far off as Satan's medieval torture chamber. As Roger Caillois points out in his essay 'Métamorphoses de l'enfer', such a conception of Hell arose after the Middle Ages.

And let us not forget that the Baroque was also the period in which Milton published his magnum opus "Paradise Lost", which presents Satan sympathetically: as a rebel both tormented by and proud about his isolation from a tyrannical God. In "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell", the poet William Blake wrote: "The reason Milton wrote in fetters when he wrote of Angels & God, and at liberty when of Devils & Hell, is because he was a true Poet, and of the Devil's party without knowing it". In secularized modern France, Deathspell Omega can flaunt that they are of the Devil's party; still, their Satanism is a Miltonian challenge by Satan of the Omnipotent.

Theatrical, daring, enigmatic and fascinating, I can recommend any music aficionado to throw himself body and soul into Deathspell Omega's "everlasting fire".

Post scriptum

See the comments for a remark regarding my unfair dismissal of Wikipedia.

Robert J. Flaherty - Nanook Of The North (1922)

The first commercially successful documentary was a 1922 visual ethnography of Inuit life: 'Nanook Of The North'. It was filmed by Robert Flaherty, who was a prospector turned filmmaker and by no means an academic ethnographer. In the film, elements of 1922 Inuit life that were westernized (such as the use of firearms for hunting) were repressed, and replaced by elements which the filmmaker deemed more truly part of Inuit culture.

Such an ethnological approach was quite common in the early days of ethnography: it is usually referred to as 'salvage anthropology'. The purpose of the approach was "to salvage a record of what was left of a culture before it disappeared".

The approach was bound up with a functionalist view of society, which sees all elements which comprise a given culture as acting towards maintaining that society's structure. Not only the disjointed nature of cultures, their fissures of meaning and their incongruities, interruptions, and breaks were either carefully kept out of the picture or given a purely negative meaning. More importantly, the entire dimension of Time was often ignored or even repressed in documenting these societies, presenting them as static and unchanging. Changes in a non-western society as an effect of contact with western cultures was seen as threatening to the social and cultural life of those societies.

That societies in which elements of western and other cultures intermingled might be relevant to study ethnographically, was an insight which became prevalent only after the breakdown of colonialism. Nevertheless, the first interest in 'creole cultures' already arose during the interbellum. French ethnographer's Marcel Griaule's entry "Gunshot" in the surrealist review 'Documents' is a scathing analysis of "salvage anthropology":

"The height of absurdity is reached when the other party refuses the African the right to “make art” with a European motif, claiming first that is European —a somewhat amusingly self-castrating remark— and, secondly, that it looks “modern.” One could say that a gun is not a decorative motif. Fine, but such is not the view of the servicemen who outfit trophy rooms (...) And if it took a mere rifle to spoil a work of art, how many paintings and sculptures would one have to destroy? This would not, of course, be tragic, but what an effort!
Furthermore, if a black cannot without debasing himself use an exotic element, namely a European one familiar to him, what is one to make of our blind borrowings, from an exotic world one of colour about which we must in self-defense declare we know nothing. (...) Boring though it may be to repeat it, ethnography is interested in both beauty and ugliness, in the European sense of these absurd words. It is, however, inclined to be suspicious of the beautiful —a rare, and, consequently, a freakish event within a civilization. It is also self-doubting (because it is a white science, and therefore tainted with prejudice) and will not deny an object aesthetic value because it is either ordinary or mass-produced. (...) An informed contradictor might say that I am confusing ethnography with folklore. What of it! I call folklore the ethnography of pretentious peoples, of those colourless peoples whose habitat lies north of a sea of low tides and weak storms, the Mediterranean, the ethnography of those who fear both words and things, and who refuse to be called natives".

Nonetheless, I highly recommend 'Nanook Of The North'! The film itself becomes so much more interesting if one realizes it itself is a creole product - and a very melancholic one at that.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Edgard Varèse - Poème Électronique (1958)

Here is a Dutch short documentary about Edgard Varèse's electronic music piece 'Poème Électronique'. The Dutch-language titles, translated into English, read:

"The Electronic Poem

Philips has developed automated equipment, which heralds a new art with unlimited possibilities, which is the electronic interplay of light, color, image, word and music in space.

The 'electronic poem', put together by the architect Le Corbusier, his co-worker Yean Xenakis and the musician Edgard Varèse, shows how our increasingly mechanized society strives for a future new harmony.

The show consists of the following parts:
mind and matter
from darkness to dawn
gods created by human hands
how time forges civilization
to all mankind".

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Observations concerning patient V. - Part IV


"On the northern shore of the lake, right under the precipitous cliffs on which the modern village of Nemi is perched, stood the sacred grove and sanctuary of Diana Nemorensis, or Diana of the Wood. The lake and the grove were sometimes known as the lake and grove of Aricia. But the town of Aricia (the modern La Riccia) was situated about three miles off, at the foot of the Alban Mount, and separated by a steep descent from the lake, which lies in a small crater-like hollow on the mountain side. In this sacred grove there grew a certain tree round which at any time of the day, and probably far into the night, a grim figure might be seen to prowl. In his hand he carried a drawn sword, and he kept peering warily about him as if at every instant he expected to be set upon by an enemy. He was a priest and a murderer; and the man for whom he looked was sooner or later to murder him and hold the priesthood in his stead. Such was the rule of the sanctuary. A candidate for the priesthood could only succeed to office by slaying the priest, and having slain him, he retained office till he was himself slain by a stronger or a craftier.

The post which he held by this precarious tenure carried with it the title of king; but surely no crowned head ever lay uneasier, or was visited by more evil dreams, than his. For year in, year out, in summer and winter, in fair weather and in foul, he had to keep his lonely watch, and whenever he snatched a troubled slumber it was at the peril of his life. The least relaxation of his vigilance, the smallest abatement of his strength of limb or skill of fence, put him in jeopardy; grey hairs might seal his death-warrant. To gentle and pious pilgrims at the shrine the sight of him might well seem to darken the fair landscape, as when a cloud suddenly blots the sun on a bright day. The dreamy blue of Italian skies, the dappled shade of summer woods, and the sparkle of waves in the sun, can have accorded but ill with that stern and sinister figure. Rather we picture to ourselves the scene as it may have been witnessed by a belated wayfarer on one of those wild autumn nights when the dead leaves are falling thick, and the winds seem to sing the dirge of the dying year. It is a sombre picture, set to melancholy music--the background of forest showing black and jagged against a lowering and stormy sky, the sighing of the wind in the branches, the rustle of the withered leaves under foot, the lapping of the cold water on the shore, and in the foreground, pacing to and fro, now in twilight and now in gloom, a dark figure with a glitter of steel at the shoulder whenever the pale moon, riding clear of the cloud-rack, peers down at him through the matted boughs".

Sir James George Frazer - The Golden Bough


Of course, the fiery sacrifice of Fantoft Stavkirke - an 800-year old wooden church, one of the national treasures of Norway - conferred cold and glittering prestige in the Norwegian Black Metal scene of the early nineties on Kristian 'Varg' Vikernes, the man behind one-man Black Metal band Burzum.

But another sacrificial crime, another act of destruction, brought him supreme glory (in the dual forms of adoration and hatred) in the world of Black Metal fandom: his murder of Øystein Aarseth on August 10th, 1993.

Aarseth functioned as the priestly king of the Norwegian Black Metal scene.

Like an infernal pope taking on a regnal and religious name at his inauguration, Aarseth had taken on the name of Euronymous - in all probability the first to take on such a sacronym in the scene.

Aarseth behaved with all the pomp and circumstance of a hierophant. "When talking, he seemed stern and serious, sometimes with a pomposity verging on the theatrical".

The record store Aarseth opened - 'Helvete', which means 'Hell' in Norwegian - functioned as scene's Holy of Holies, as it's Tabernacle. It's function was not economical in nature: on the contrary, Helvete only lost money. The shop was in fact far too large for it to function successfully as a specialist record store. Because of the size of the shop, Euronymous had to expend much more on the rent than he could ever hope to recoup through record sales. Rather than functioning as an economical enterprise, Helvete was Black Metal's temenos.

The position of Euronymous within the scene can be likened to that of an anthropological 'culture hero' . From an interview with a contemporary of Aarseth in 'Lords Of Chaos':

"The opening of the record store Helvete happened a few months after [Dead's suicide]. That's the creation of the whole Norwegian Black Metal scene - it's connected with that shop, the influence Euronymous had on the young customers in the shop, and how he convinced them what was real and not real in this world. A lot of the guys in Immortal and Dark Throne were all into normal Death Metal and Euronymous showed them what Black Metal was really like, how things should be, and they followed him. (...) The whole Norwegian scene is based on Euronymous and his testimony from this shop. He convinced them what was right and what was wrong. He was always telling what he thought, following his own instincts to the true Black Metal stuff like corpsepaint and spikes, worshiping death, and being extreme".

Euronymous - though not a murderer - was involved in a killing himself: the suicide of his friend Per Yngve Ohlin, who had taken on the fitting name of 'Dead'. Not content with taking photographs of Ohlin's remains, Euronymous took more trophies, appropriating pieces of the suicide's skull to make them into talismanic necklaces which were distributed amongst the initiated. From Wikipedia: "It is also rumored that pieces of his skull were mailed out to bands that Aarseth saw as "worthy", such as the Swiss band Samael. According to Mayhem drummer Hellhammer, Morgan S. Håkansson of Marduk still has some pieces of Dead's skull. Tony Särkkä of Abruptum also claims to have small pieces". What's more, Euronymous is said to have eaten some of Ohlin's brain. Of course, eating his fellow creature was not a gastronomical pursuit: like making the talismanic necklaces, this 'consumation charnelle' was an act of a ritual nature. The transgression of the taboo of cannibalism gained Euronymous prestige as a Priest-Cannibal-King.


In 'Lords Of Chaos' various witnesses stress how much of an impression Euronymous made on Kristian 'Varg' Vikernes. Vikernes's mother on her son's relationship to Aarseth:

"I met him a couple of times and felt that Varg initially looked up to him a lot. He was very proud that he was the one who had gotten the record contract and not the others. That Øystein, who was five years older, achieved such an enormously strong grip on Varg, made me a little wary".

But young Vikernes's fascination with Euronymous slowly transformed into envy, that strange brew of attraction and repulsion. Bård Eithun in 'Lords of Chaos':

"Vikernes was very much into making war with Øystein. He didn't like him anymore, because obviously Øystein got more attention in the underground scene than Vikernes, and he couldn't handle it".

Insahn in the same book:

"To some degree I think it was a fight for leadership. In some way they both wanted power, and to be the leading man. They had both done a lot; Grishnackh started the church burning, but Euronymous had the shop and kind of started the scene up. They were both important people for the progression of the scene. Maybe I'm speculating too much".

Like in the sacred grove and sanctuary of Diana Nemorensis, Vikernes, who saw himself as a candidate for the Black Metal's hierophancy, could only succeed to office by slaying the high priest, by sacrificing Euronymous.


When interpreted as an attempt to ascend to the throne of Euronymous as a symbolical figurehead of the Black Metal scene, the murder of Euronymous was a sucesss.

Vikernes demanded and got huge attention in the media, as the documentary 'Satan Rir Media' shows; young girls clad in black blushed and giggled when Vikernes was in the stocks. As is documented extensively in 'Lords of Chaos' and on Vikernes's website, Vikernes thinks of himself as both a spiritual leader and a king, sermonizing like a priest about fascist beliefs and his theophany concerning nazi viking robots from outer space.

Imprisoned for a 21-year sentence, Vikernes is as disturbed as the Priest-Murderer-King of Francis Ford Coppola's 'Apocalypse Now' - and any careful viewer of that film will have seen Frazer's "The Golden Bough" lying on Kurtz's bedside table.


A number of prominent Black Metal adepts have sworn to avenge Aarseth's death on the day Vikernes is released from prison - supposedly in april 2008. Like the Priest-Murderer of
the sacred grove at Nemi, Vikernes will have to be watchful day and night. "The least relaxation of his vigilance, the smallest abatement of his strength of limb or skill of fence, [will] put him in jeopardy".

If Vikernes is indeed killed, it can be presumed that the killer - if he becomes publicly known as such - will gain prestige in at least a sizable part of the Black Metal Inner Circle. Will he also succeed Vikernes as the current Priest-Murderer-King of Black Metal? Only time will tell.

Miles Davis - Bitches Brew (1969)

Miles Davis couldn't have sold his soul to the Devil ... He was the Devil himself!

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Dr. Faustus


I'm currently reading Thomas Mann's novel "Dr. Faustus". Such a strange novel to read in juxtaposition to Moynihan and Søderlind's "Lords Of Chaos"!

Where do these books on the Devil's musical works intersect? At crossroads where musicians sell their soul to the Devil - in a hell painted by music on a canvas of fire and ice - in an inferno of the intellect where the lies of the Great Deceiver and the lies of national socialism embrace intimately - in madness.


The book's narrative starts at the tail end of the 19th century and ends in 1940. It tells the story of Adrian Leverkühn, a young German composer who sells his soul to the Devil in exchange for musical genius - a Robert Johnson of late-romantic / early-modern (Schoenberg!) classical music, so to say. Slowly, the composer loses his mind as anomie spreads through the Weimar republic and humanism loses it's foothold on the German mind. In a sense, the book is an inverted 'Bildungsroman' - a "novel of deformation", not a "novel of formation".

The book was written during the second world war, and parallels are drawn between the corruption of Leverkühn's spirit by the devil and the corruption of German culture by nazism - for Mann, both the Devil and nazism present an atavism, a throwback to medieval times.

The book takes up some of the themes already explored in "Der Zauberberg". Once again, the democratic-humanist world of Ludovico Settembrini is pitted against the totalitarian-romantic world of Leo Naphta - only Naphta has taken on vast, cosmic, metaphysical proportions, and has become a diabolical, impersonal yet vital force. The democratic-humanist world on the other hand appears unsure of itself, anemic, lifeless or even afraid of life, hypocritical, impotent.

As an inquiry into the spirit of nazism, the book did not entirely satisfy me. Certainly, fascism employed elements of a heterogeneous sacrality for the purposes of homogenizing the masses and gaining prestige. Fascist ideologues can for that reason be likened to "sorcerer's apprentices". However, the idea that the ideology is the Devil's work - an impersonal force, a contagious madness, taking possession of the minds of the German middle class - I find a little too unconvincing.

Also, fascism was not merely atavistic: fascism had a more complex relationship to modernity than a purely negative one.

Thus, as an analysis of the complex, contradictory forces at work in Western civilization, the book does not reach the hights of "Der Zauberberg".

Nonetheless, I highly recommend this book: it's expressionist style of writing is magnificent. The book appears to have been written in chiaroscuro; the dramatis personae are as caricatural as Nosferatu, as dr. Caligari and his somnambulist; and the more apocalyptic and fantastic passages certainly have a whiff of Häxan about them. The book's expressionism perfectly fits the subject, and a long conversation between the composer and the devil on the nature of beauty, truth and morality sent shivers down my spine. The book is brilliantly successful as an intellectual Grüselroman.


Some posts ago, I already wrote that one could imagine the history of the Norwegian Black Metal Inner Circle as a novel written by Dostoevski - the murder of Euronymous reminds me strongly of his novel 'Demons'; and one can also see Kristian 'Varg' Vikernes as a Raskolnikov without regrets.

Now, it has become possible for me to imagine the history of the Norwegian Black Metal Inner Circle as a variation on Thomas Mann's novel 'Dr. Faustus': Kristian 'Varg' Vikernes as the offspring of a well-educated and wealthy, but spiritually impoverished middle class, who sells his soul to the Devil for a few years of musical genius (certainly not the 25 years Leverkühn bargained for!) and who thereafter slowly descends into madness - hallucinating viking fascist robots from outer space! Vikernes's descent into insanity is paralleled by the rise of deranged neo-fascist ideologies within the Black Metal scene.


Here is a clip from the 1982 film adaptation of Mann's novel, "Doktor Faustus".


Reading Mann's book, I regularly wondered whether Bataille and Mann were familiar with each others work. Michel Surya's biography of Bataille offers no indication that Bataille was familiar with Mann's work.

Nonetheless, "Dr. Faustus" explores some of the same areas Bataille investigated in his work, amongst others in "La Structure Psychologique Du Fascisme". Some tentative observations:

In a sense, Bataille's work, Bataille's evil, is truth-loving - to the point of self-torture... However much Bataille wrote about evil, the Devil as Great Deceiver, as well as the lie, does not feature prominently in his work.

Bataille's virulent anti-humanism would certainly have clashed with Mann's staunch defense of humanist ideals. Bataille is likely to have been influenced by Georges Sorel, who figures as an intellectual bogeyman in "Dr. Faustus".

- There is an interesting stylistic parallel between Mann's book and Bataille's "L'Expérience Interieure". Both books show narrative/discourse coming apart at the seams, destructuring and breaking open at the intensity of the emotions experienced by the narrator (Bataille himself and Serenus Zeitblum, the narrator of Mann's book, respectively). Of course, the value attached by Bataille and the narrator of Mann's book to this destructuration is completely different. For Serenus Zeitblom, the destructuration is purely a negative phenomenon, an inadvertent transgression of the aesthetic norms of the Bildungsroman, an echo of the chaos in German interbellum society and of the madness in Leverkühn's mind. For Bataille, the destructuration runs parallel to the positive breaking-open of the rational confines of the ego.


Thomas Leverkühn sets three poems to music. I've reproduced them below.

Silent, Silent Night - William Blake

Silent, silent night,
Quench the holy light
Of thy torches bright;

For possessed of Day
Thousand spirits stray
That sweet joys betray.

Why should joys be sweet
Used with deceit,
Nor with sorrows meet?

But an honest joy
Does itself destroy
For a harlot coy.

Ode to a Nightingale - John Keats


My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,
Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains
One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk:
’Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,
But being too happy in thine happiness,—
That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees,
In some melodious plot
Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,
Singest of summer in full-throated ease.


O, for a draught of vintage! that hath been
Cool’d a long age in the deep-delved earth,
Tasting of Flora and the country green,
Dance, and Provencal song, and sunburnt mirth!
O for a beaker full of the warm South,
Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,
With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,
And purple-stained mouth;
That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,
And with thee fade away into the forest dim:


Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget
What thou among the leaves hast never known,
The weariness, the fever, and the fret
Here, where men sit and hear each other groan;
Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last gray hairs,
Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies;
Where but to think is to be full of sorrow
And leaden-eyed despairs,
Where Beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes,
Or new Love pine at them beyond to-morrow.


Away! away! for I will fly to thee,
Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards,
But on the viewless wings of Poesy,
Though the dull brain perplexes and retards:
Already with thee! tender is the night,
And haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne,
Cluster’d around by all her starry Fays;
But here there is no light,
Save what from heaven is with the breezes blown
Through verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways.


I cannot see what flowers are at my feet,
Nor what soft incense hangs upon the boughs,
But, in embalmed darkness, guess each sweet
Wherewith the seasonable month endows
The grass, the thicket, and the fruit-tree wild;
White hawthorn, and the pastoral eglantine;
Fast fading violets cover’d up in leaves;
And mid-May’s eldest child,
The coming musk-rose, full of dewy wine,
The murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves.


Darkling I listen; and, for many a time
I have been half in love with easeful Death,
Call’d him soft names in many a mused rhyme,
To take into the air my quiet breath;
Now more than ever seems it rich to die,
To cease upon the midnight with no pain,
While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad
In such an ecstasy!
Still wouldst thou sing, and I have ears in vain—
To thy high requiem become a sod.


Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!
No hungry generations tread thee down;
The voice I hear this passing night was heard
In ancient days by emperor and clown:
Perhaps the self-same song that found a path
Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home,
She stood in tears amid the alien corn;
The same that oft-times hath
Charm’d magic casements, opening on the foam
Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.


Forlorn! the very word is like a bell
To toil me back from thee to my sole self!
Adieu! the fancy cannot cheat so well
As she is fam’d to do, deceiving elf.
Adieu! adieu! thy plaintive anthem fades
Past the near meadows, over the still stream,
Up the hill-side; and now ’tis buried deep
In the next valley-glades:
Was it a vision, or a waking dream?
Fled is that music:—Do I wake or sleep?

Die Frühlingsfeyer - Friedrich Gottlob Klopstock (1. Fassung, 1759)

Nicht in den Ocean
Der Welten alle
Will ich mich stürzen!
Nicht schweben, wo die ersten Erschafnen,
Wo die Jubelchöre der Söhne des Lichts
Anbeten, tief anbeten,
Und in Entzückung vergehn!
Nur um den Tropfen am Eimer,
Um die Erde nur, will ich schweben,
Und anbeten!
Halleluja! Halleluja!
Auch der Tropfen am Eimer
Rann aus der Hand des Allmächtigen!
Da aus der Hand des Allmächtigen
Die grössern Erden quollen,
Da die Ströme des Lichts
Rauschten, und Orionen wurden;
Da rann der Tropfen
Aus der Hand des Allmächtigen!
Wer sind die tausendmal tausend,
Die myriadenmal hundert tausend,
Die den Tropfen bewohnen?
Und bewohnten?
Wer bin ich?
Halleluja dem Schaffenden!
Mehr, als die Erden, die quollen!
Mehr, als die Orionen,
Die aus Strahlen zusammenströmten!
Aber, du Frühlingswürmchen,
Das grünlichgolden
Neben mir spielt,
Du lebst;
Und bist, vielleicht - -
Ach, nicht unsterblich!
Ich bin herausgegangen,
Und ich weine?
Vergieb, vergieb dem Endlichen
Auch diese Thränen,
O du, der seyn wird!
Du wirst sie alle mir enthüllen
Die Zweifel alle
O du, der mich durchs dunkle Thal
Des Todes führen wird!
Dann werd ich es wissen:
Ob das goldne Würmchen
Eine Seele hatte?
Warest du nur gebildeter Staub,
Würmchen, so werde denn
Wieder verfliegender Staub,
Oder was sonst der Ewige will!
Ergeuß von neuem, du mein Auge,
Du, meine Harfe,
Preise den Herrn!
Umwunden, wieder von Palmen umwunden
Ist meine Harfe!
Ich singe dem Herrn!
Hier steh ich.
Rund um mich ist Alles Allmacht!
Ist Alles Wunder!
Mit tiefer Ehrfurcht,
Schau ich die Schöpfung an!
Denn Du,
Namenlosester, Du!
Erschufst sie!
Lüfte, die um mich wehn,
Und süsse Kühlung
Auf mein glühendes Angesicht giessen,
Euch, wunderbare Lüfte,
Sendet der Herr? Der Unendliche?
Aber itzt werden sie still; kaum athmen sie!
Die Morgensonne wird schwül!
Wolken strömen herauf!
Das ist sichtbar der Ewige,
Der kömmt!
Nun fliegen, und wirbeln, und rauschen die Winde!
Wie beugt sich der bebende Wald!
Wie hebt sich der Strom!
Sichtbar, wie du es Sterblichen seyn kannst,
Ja, das bist du sichtbar, Unendlicher!
Der Wald neigt sich!
Der Strom flieht!
Und ich falle nicht auf mein Angesicht?
Herr! Herr! Gott! barmherzig! und gnädig!
Du Naher!
Erbarme dich meiner!
Zürnest du, Herr, weil Nacht dein Gewand ist?
Diese Nacht ist Seegen der Erde!
Du zürnest nicht, Vater!
Sie kömmt, Erfrischung auszuschütten
Ueber den stärkenden Halm!
Ueber die herzerfreuende Traube!
Vater! Du zürnest nicht!
Alles ist stille vor dir, du Naher!
Ringsum ist Alles stille!
Auch das goldne Würmchen merkt auf!
Ist es vielleicht nicht seelenlos?
Ist es unsterblich?
Ach vermöcht ich dich, Herr, wie ich dürste, zu
Immer herrlicher offenbarst du dich!
Immer dunkler wird, Herr, die Nacht um dich!
Und voller von Seegen!
Seht ihr den Zeugen des Nahen, den zückenden
Hört ihr den Donner Jehovah?
Hört ihr ihn?
Hört ihr ihn?
Den erschütternden Donner des Herrn?
Herr! Herr! Gott! barmherzig und gnädig!
Angebetet, gepriesen
Sey dein herrlicher Name!
Und die Gewitterwinde? Sie tragen den Donner!
Wie sie rauschen! Wie sie die Wälder
Und nun schweigen sie! Majestätischer
Wandeln die Wolken herauf!
Seht ihr den neuen Zeugen des Nahen,
Seht ihr den fliegenden Blitz?
Hört ihr, hoch in den Wolken, den Donner des
Er ruft Jehovah!
Und der gesplitterte Wald dampft!
Aber nicht unsre Hütte!
Unser Vater gebot
Seinem Verderber
Vor unsrer Hütte vorüberzugehn!
Ach schon rauschet, schon rauschet
Himmel und Erde vom gnädigen Regen!
Nun ist, wie dürstete sie! Die Erd erquickt,
Und der Himmel der Fülle des Seegens entladen!
Siehe, nun kömmt Jehovah nicht mehr im Wetter!
Im stillen, sanften Säuseln
Kömmt Jehovah!
Und unter ihm neigt sich der Bogen des Friedens.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Three From Guy Maddin

Today I bought Guy Maddin's film "The Saddest Music In The World" on dvd. To celebrate, I post these three short films from this extra-ordinary filmmaker. Enjoy!

The Heart of the World (2000)

Sissy Boy Slap Party (1995)

Zookeeper Workbook

Friday, August 03, 2007

Observations concerning patient V. - Part III

In their book on Norwegian Black Metal "Lords Of Chaos", authors Michael Moynihan and Didrik Søderlind discuss the name Kristian Vikernes took when he had come to resent the Christian connotation of his given name: "Varg". "Varg" means "wolf" in Norwegian.

In Norse mythology the name is associated with werewolves, a superstition based upon"...the existence of a species of madness, during the accesses of which the person afflicted believes himself to be a wild beast, and acts like a wild beast. In some cases this madness amounts apparently to positive possession, and the diabolical acts into which the possessed is impelled are so horrible, that the blood curdles in reading them, and it is impossible to recall them without a shudder".

In various Northern European languages, the word is also used to refer to evil-doers and outlaws, and especially to malefactors guilty of the specific crimes of grave robbery, arson, theft, treason and manslaughter. A ' brennuvargr' (literally 'fire wolf') was the legal term for an arsonist in ancient Norse law.

"The Anglo-Saxons regarded him as an evil man: wearg, a scoundrel; Gothic vargs, a fiend. But very often the word meant no more than an outlaw. Pluquet in his Contes Populaires tells us that the ancient Norman laws said of the criminals condemned to outlawry for certain offences, 'Wargus esto': 'Be an outlaw!'. In like manner the Lex Ripuaria 'Wargus sit, hoe est expulsus'. In the laws of Canute, he is called verevulf. (Leges Canuti, Schmid, i. 148.) And the Salic Law (tit. 57) orders: 'Si quis corpus jam sepultum effoderit, aut expoliaverit, wargus sit'. 'If any one shall have dug up or despoiled an already buried corpse, let him be a varg'."

Moynihan and Søderlind point out that Vikernes is a grave robber, an arsonist a thief, a traitor and a murderer; and that he lives as an outlaw, ostracized from civilized Norwegian society. The authors find it eerie and uncanny that Vikernes would live up to his name so well, "... even down to the subtleties of its earliest etymological essence".

Moynihan and Søderlind do not offer any anthropological or other explanation as to why the most obscure and archaic meanings of the word "Varg" itself would manifest themselves through Vikernes. For such an explanation, I would turn to the work of the anthropologist Victor Turner, and more specifically to his book "Dramas, Fields And Metaphors. Symbolic Action In Human Society".

In an analysis of the Mexican Revolution of Independence of 1810, Turner shows how history repeats the deep myths of a given culture in the form of a social drama. "Myths constitute dramatic or narrative process models which so influence social behaviour that it acquires a strange processual inevitability overriding questions of interest, expediency, or even morality. (...) What seems to happen is that when a major public dramatic process gets under way, people, whether consciously, preconsciously, or unconsciously, take on roles which carry with them, if not precisely recorded scripts, deeply engraved tendencies to act and speak in suprapersonal or 'representative' ways appropriate to the role taken, and to prepare the way for a certain climax that approximates to the nature of the climax given in a central myth of the death or victory of a hero or heroes (...). The (...) myth is here the model, not in a cognitive and bloodless way, but in an existential and bloody way".

It is to be regretted that the sources which are available to me at present do not enable me to ascertain which central myth the climax of the drama of the Black Metal Inner Circle approximates.

Nonetheless, it can be hypothesized that Kristian Vikernes in taking the name "Varg" upon himself, he also took upon himself the role which is associated with that name. Burning churches, desecrating graves, stealing weapons, murdering Øystein "Euronymous" Aarseth and betraying the Norwegian Black Metal community: all these are acts that are appropriate to the name taken and as such are "suprapersonal". 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": the drama played out as if it was guided by destiny.

Post scriptum

Here is a link to "The Book Of The Were-Wolves" by Sabine Baring-Gould, published in 1865. The book is quoted in "Lords Of Chaos".

Georges Franju - Le Sang Des Bêtes

"The slaughterhouse is linked to religion in so far as the temples of bygone eras (not to mention those of the Hindus in our own day) served two purposes: they were used both for prayer and for killing. The result (and this judgement is confirmed by the chaotic aspect of present-day slaughterhouses) was certainly a disturbing convergence of the mysteries of myth and the ominous grandeur typical of those places in which blood flows. In America, curiously enough, W. B. Seabrook has expressed an intense regret; observing that the orgiastic life has survived, but that the sacrificial blood is not part of the cocktail mix, he finds present custom insipid. In our time, nevertheless, the slaughterhouse is cursed and quarantined like a plague-ridden ship. Now, the victims of this curse are neither butchers nor beasts, but those same good folk who countenance, by now, only their own unseemliness, an unseemliness commensurate with an unhealthy need of cleanliness, with irascible meanness, and boredom. The curse (terrifying only to those who utter it) leads them to vegetate as far as possible from the slaughterhouse, to exile themselves, out of propriety, to a flabby world in which nothing fearful remains and in which, subject to the ineradicable obsession of shame, they are reduced to eating cheese". Georges Bataille - "Abbatoir", Documents 6, 1929.

Below you will find Georges Franju's short documentary "Le Sang Des Bêtes" ("The Blood Of Animals"). The documentary presents the gory, bloodstained reality of the slaughter of animals at the Abattoirs de La Villette in Paris. Stylistically, the film seems inspired bij Eli Lotard's photographs of that very same slaughterhouse, which were published in 'Documents'.

I first saw the documentary on the Criterion DVD of Franju's best known film, "Les Yeux Sans Visage" ("Eyes without a Face"), which includes this documentary as an extra.

A word of warning: the documentary has very graphical images of slaughter. If the IMDB user comments are to be believed, many a viewer became a vegetarian after seeing this film.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Mad Masters

Below you'll find a YouTube video of "Les Maîtres Fous" ("The Mad Masters"), a 1955 ethnographic film by Jean Rouch (1917-2004).

I cannot recommend this fascinating documentary highly enough. The film depicts a violent ceremony of a Ghanaian possession cult "Hauka" - the images are of a beauty that is truly convulsive.

At the time, reactions to the film were as strong as the images the film contains: it was banned in Britain and the Gold Coast, but received the Grand Prix at the Venice Biennale. Today, it is regarded as a classic of ethnographic filmmaking and considered to be one of Rouche's best works.