Thursday 9 August 2012

Black Metal Neuralgia

With the publication of Black Metal: Beyond the Darkness and the new issue of Glossator on Black Metal, both of which I've bought, I wanted to consider Black Metal Theory again. I wrote a piece for the earlier Hideous Gnosis on the politics of BM and was due to write something for Glossator. One of the obvious things that struck me was the hostility BM Theory attracted ('bedwetters' being one of my favourite comments, before I decided to stop reading people slagging me off). Of course, as the Hardcore Continuum 'debate' proves, writing on music theoretically seems to reactivate antitheory positions automatically: the abstract, cold, and intellectual ('theory wank') versus lived experience, truth, authenticity and the fan(atic). The use of masturbatory metaphors to condemn theorists as sterile, self-obsessed and narcissistic, implies the virile, (hetero)sexual coupling associated with the true experience of BM as creative practitioner/fan.
Of course obvious points can be made, not least that BM is often a heavily self-theorised from (this is partly what interested me). While that's true I think that the antagonism is due to the fact that this self-theorisation is explicitly opposed to the usual forms of theory, stressing the authentic, true, grounded, cthonic etc. More than that, BM's own theory (to collapse too much together) has something of the traditional in method: philological, autodidact, deliberately and provocatively amateur, if not gentlemanly. In a sense it is 'pre-theoretical' in quite a true sense, returning to forms of analysis even before modernist 'new critics' and the so-called humanism that theory was supposed to be reacting against (I have respect for these forms, just to be clear).

It was this hostility, in part, that lead me to abandon my piece for Glossator (you can read the abstract in the collection) and to be wary about writing anymore on BM (ironically, I've been listening to it a lot). I was also, however, dissatisfied with my piece for HG. I want to make a brief autocritique, which will be seen as another sign of theory narcissism, of course. The reason for this is that I do think legitimate problems were raised within the 'debate'.
1. I think the tone of my piece was wrong. It was too arch and too 'theoretical' in an overwritten bad sense (some truth to the 'pseudy' accusation). I also think it missed the humour in BM and was too po-faced. It was an inability to find a correct tone that also nixed my trying to write anymore on BM.

2. In terms of the analysis I tried to account for the difficulty of writing about 'BM in general' and its politics, but this could have been noted more. I took Peste Noire as a metonymic case study (and now appear on their wikipedia page, much to their annoyance I'm sure), but the difficulty is that part of the self-theorisation of BM is the resistance to commonality. This is a communal form in which practitioners insist on singularity, hence the proliferation and typologies of forms of BM.

3. In terms of the theoretical analysis of a certain politics of BM I do hold by what I said. I don't think aesthetics and politics can be split, and I do think the 'grounding' of BM in the matrix of the friend/enemy actually also speaks to much of the hostility the debate generated. I want to add a quote from Fredric Jameson's study of Wyndham Lewis Fables of Aggression (a great title for a collection on BM, in fact):

his artistic integrity is to be conceived, not as something distinct from his regrettable ideological lapses (as when we admire his art, in spite of his opinions), but rather in the very intransigence with which he makes himself the impersonal registering apparatus for forces which he means to record, beyond any whitewashing and liberal revisionism, in all their primal ugliness. (21)

I think there is still much to be written or, yes, theorised, about BM as an 'impersonal registering apparatus'.