Cascading Adolescence (Part 3): The Delirium of Negation

← Part Two

The unfolding of Dead’s mental illness, in the early days of Mayhem, tragically leading to his eventual suicide, is the central rupture within the film and is echoed throughout, frequently recalled as a moment of trauma that has never been fully dealt with. Although undiagnosed in his lifetime, it is generally believed by many today that Dead suffered from Cotard’s Syndrome, “a rare mental illness in which the affected person holds the delusional belief that they are already dead, do not exist, are putrefying, or have lost their blood or internal organs.”[1]

Named after the neurologist Jules Cotard who first observed this delusion in his patients, Cotard initially described the syndrome as “the delirium of negation” — a seemingly vague umbrella of a diagnosis that also perfectly describes the intoxication of this music scene as a whole. However, despite the Black Metal scene’s performative obsession with death and destruction, Dead’s suicide lingers in in the scene’s history, as it is presented in the Lords of Chaos film, as a most traumatic and all too real example of the extreme behaviours they proclaimed to admire but routinely avoided and glossed over; made light of and ignored by those at its centre.

Early on in the film, for instance, during the early days of Mayhem’s meteoric and near-mythic rise to fame and international notoriety, during an infamous gig the band played in Leipzig, we see Dead (played by Jack Kilmer) mutilate himself on stage. With blood from his arms cascading over the braying front row of the crowd, mouths open to receive his sacrifice, the scene is as sensationalist and cartoonish as you might expect from a music scene high on its own self-image.

However, in a post-gig scene which takes place in a local kebab shop, in which we see Euronymous (played by Rory Culkin) telling all present — with a tragic lack of self-awareness and an overinflated and performative sense of grandeur — that he’s going to take over the world, Dead, in stark contrast, gaffer tape holding together the lacerated skin of his forearms, stares blankly into space, his face stricken with a look of horrified depersonalisation — an look that will no doubt be traumatically familiar to anyone who has struggled with the abject reality of self-harm.

Whilst Euronymous thinks he’s the only person in the room, Dead is instead mentally absent, his seemingly empty shell, already dead, violently perforated. We see his expression for a few fleeting frames but it is a moment that sticks in the mind, right before it is quickly buried underneath the film’s internal psychology of affective repression.

Later, Dead’s incredibly graphic death scene only hammers home the abject disconnection between tall tales and the reality of suicidal mental illness. It is, again, incredibly melodramatic and hyperviolent, whilst at the same time being brutally realistic, even forensic, allowed to play out with a level of detail that suggests whoever wrote this script was drawing inspiration directly from the post-mortem.

Euronymous’ discovery of Dead’s body — which he infamously rearranged in order to stage a photograph which later appeared on the cover of the bootleg live album The Dawn of the Black Hearts (link note: reader discretion advised) — is presented as a central moment where the veil of his cloistered adolescent ego is ripped open.

There is a split second as Euronymous, in an obvious state of shock, descends the stairs to the attic in which Dead has killed himself, where we see the same blank and depersonalised look in his eyes that Dead had demonstrated only a few scenes earlier. There is a glint in his eye that is, throughout the rest of his short life, resolutely repressed, but this moment nonetheless lingers. In exercising a certain poetic license, the film goes on to show Euronymous revisiting this moment again and again in his mind.

There are repeated suggestions that his steely external demeanour is a performance. (And we can only hope that this was true for the real life Euronymous, antithetical as it is to his own cultivated self-image.) In one brief instance, towards the end of the film, recounting the myth of Dead’s death one more time, we are offered an alternative and unspoken version of Euronymous’s discovery of Dead’s body: a scene, a mental image, in which he breaks down in front of Dead’s corpse, panicked and horrified, appearing child-like in his abject horror, terror and grief.

This is the tragic irony that is central to the film, and perhaps to the “real” story as a whole, although it is one that is seldom discussed out in the open. Although these kids were obsessed with death and the evils of this world, they all too often failed to comprehend, process and deal with death and evil when it abjectly reared its head before them. Whilst they performatively open themselves up to such experiences, the reality of life and death is routinely repressed in the music scene’s collective unconscious. At every turn, these young men are presented with moments where they find themselves face to face with that which they have fantasised about and yet they don’t let themselves feel it — or rather, they don’t allow themselves to show that they have felt it; to show its impact on their adolescent humanity.

At no point — outside the film’s poetic license — do they don’t stop and reflect, taking a moment to live in the rupture within which they superficially ground themselves. Instead, they ignore all signs of trouble ahead. Their true “evil-ness”, then, is not performative but negligent and at every turn it is their adolescent egos which get in the way of reaching the abyss they devote themselves to. In deploying evil as a tool to rupture their surroundings, they refuse to let it act upon themselves from within. There is no self-overcoming or libidinal revolution. There is only chaos and, contrary to their own assurances, it is off the leash.

This is not to say that such an egotism is integral to adolescence. It is, rather, a by-product of adolescence’s attempts to arrest itself. In the midst of the process of becoming-adult, the temptation to performatively be-adult is ever-present, tripping up the process of becoming-adult that has begun within them. As such, it is the preemptive closure of their own adolescence which is their downfall.

This is the eternal tragedy of the classic coming-of-age story — and, indeed, there are infinite Hollywood movies which reveal the reality of adulthood to be the successful embodiment of a becoming which does not end when you can legally buy booze. I’m thinking of Stephen King’s IT here, for example, where the traumas of childhood do not simply disappear following the enclosure of adulthood and its responsibilities.

In line with this, as the narrative arch of the film progresses, Euronymous is shown to have second thoughts, haunted by the death of his friend. He comes to settle on a promised rather than an actualised maturity. At one point, in an intensive but fleeting moment of paranoia and remorse, Euronymous’s internal monologue declares: “I wanted out but couldn’t find the door.” Then, in an apparent moment of reprieve, when Euronymous’s self-doubt has reached its narrative peak, we’re presented with a romantic and sexual montage wherein Euronymous and his girlfriend Ann-Marit (played by Sky Ferreira), spent exclusively in each other’s company, as if he finally finds his exit in the form of his love for another, seeing glimpses of a life beyond that which he has so far built up for himself as the leader of Mayhem. In opening himself up to another, as he previously failed to do with Dead or Varg, Euronymous finds the seed of a maturing inner peace.

Previously, we have seen how Euronymous repeatedly denies himself this peace, instead favouring the “bad boy” scaffolding he constructs around his ego which looms large over the Black Metal scene. For instance, when Varg (played by Emory Cohen) becomes the new unofficial leader of the movement as its most transgressive individual, Euronymous responds by declaring himself to be the aged master to Varg the violent young up-start and former apprentice, claiming he gave him the push and inspiration to begin his reign of terror.

However, the reality is that Varg has reached this position within the scene because he has repeatedly demonstrated his willingness to be the first to act, seeing Euronymous’s ego for the hot air that it is and instead taking their collective fight against church and state to terroristic ends as well as musical ones. Euronymous, afraid of being outshone, continues to run his mouth, occasionally taking part in some church-burnings, and spreading a rumour he intends to kill Varg, his unruly Frankenstein’s monster.

Eventually, Varg, likewise suffering from paranoid delusions and sensing his run as Norway’s church-burning infant terrible is about to come to an end at the supposedly murderous hands of Euronymous, opts to strike first, as he always has done, and travels to see Euronymous at his home, stabbing him to death in a stair well.

From here, the film ends with Euronymous as disembodied narrator presenting himself as posthumously wistful but victorious. He always said he’d change the (music) world and, from his newly omniscient narrative pedestal, it is clear to him now that he succeeded. However, things are not quite as they seem. Whilst the film ends on a point of stalled maturation, as if Euronymous found his escape from adolescence in death if not in life, we should note that much of this character arc is invented for the sake of the film’s Hollywood anti-hero ending. In paricular, what is worth noting here is that Ann-Marit, the girlfriend who offers him a symbolic way out, does not actually exist. She is an invention, little more than a plot device, aiding Euronymous’s narrative (if not actual) redemption. In the real-life story of True Norwegian Black Metal, there is no such person as she and no such promise of release and escape. It is an invented glimpse of a post-adolescence that ties an all too predictable knot in the end of a story that has been anything but.

The invention of Ann-Marit becomes an even more interesting addition to the story here. Every retelling of abject reality seems massaged with narrative additions, but such is the Black Metal way. It is a music genre born, in each instance, Norwegian or otherwise, from a reckless myth-making and so, in some ways, it is perversely fitting that the film would extend this approach, even playing with it for the viewer, seeding doubt as to what really happened, knitting together different realities, times and perspectives.

We can consider, for instance, the rumour that Euronymous made necklaces for his bandmates and major acolytes out of the remnants of Dead’s exploded skull, collected from the scene of his death, as another example of this myth-making. This rumour has long persisted somewhere between fact and fiction. In the film, it is suggested that Euronymous lied about this, confessing the lie to Varg in their final encounter, declaring that the necklaces were made from a pig skull — perhaps one of those used by the band as stage dressing during their notorious live performances — but this dialogue is very obviously invented. It is a rumour that, to my knowledge, has not been proven or disproven either way. But what does it matter? The truth becomes irrelevant in the face of the lasting affect of the tall tale itself.

In this way, the mythology of Black Metal is something which — even today — cannot be overstated. It will always remain under contention, such is the very nature of myths and legends. We see this tendency challenged in another scene in the film, in which Euronymous’s worldview is taken to task by Ann-Marit, who declares that the Satanism of Newcastle band Venom — a love of whom first connected the Mayhem boys; whose second album, 1982’s Black Metal, gave the genre its name — is nothing but a performance, a plot device in their own occulted and anti-establishment origin story, even a marketing technique.

Euronymous, at first, does not believe her and yet, in return, she cites an interview in which they confess their lie.[2]

This de-mythologising retcon is uncomfortable, for much the same reason that a retroactive dismissal of adolescence as such demonstrates fans of True Norwegian Black Metal cutting off its nose despite its face. There is no excusing the crimes committed by these young men but we must be wary of tendency to shutdown the inchoate and adolescent under the glare of today’s particular moralism; to neutralise the influences for the sake of what they have, in one corner of the world, produced.

This is to argue for the potential reemergence of such a scene once again, a scene which might learn from the mistakes of its predecessors whilst still holding firmly onto that great adolescent challenge of coming to terms with the insufficiency and fallibility of the human subject in the midst of its own pubescent psychosexual emergence.

So, rather than invent a moral reprieve, is it still possible to take this scene at face value, leaving its mythology and its adolescence in tact, drawing lessons from its aftermath rather than burying them disingenuously in the scene’s inchoate development? To see their becoming, and the scene’s becoming as a whole, as something traumatically arrested from within and to respond to this, sensitively, with a return to an auto-mythologising tendency?

After all, refusing to contend with the truth is precisely how these boys failed each other.

To be continued…

[1] See: “Cotard’s Delusion”, Wikipedia: <>

[2] It is unlikely that such disavowals existed at the time. Venom’s subsequent distancing from their own performative Satanism seems to have come after the founding events of the True Norwegian Black Metal scene. For instance, in an interview with Dayal Patterson which opens his own oral history, Black Metal: Evolution of a Cult (Port Townsend: Feral House, 2013), Venom’s guitarist Conrad “Chronos” Lant explains:

People hear about witchcraft and Satanism and they automatically assume murders and child molesters, and it’s like, wow. It’s incredible, really, since the church has such a black mark against it with priests interfering with children and so on… [W]e were hell-bent on using [people’s own ignorance] against them, to create something that would shock people, the same as punk shocked people or [Black] Sabbath shocked people. What we do lyrically is anti-Christian, what we sing about is the opposite of what the church says. We’re not really preaching Satanism, we’re just writing fantastic rock ‘n’ roll lyrics about anti-Christianism, lyrics that would scare the ignorant deliberately.

Whilst the anti-Christian message obviously resonated with the Norwegian scene, the suggestion seems to be that they were as ignorant as those who Venom were positioning themselves against, taking on the performative Satanism of their musical heroes and embodying everything that the ignorant associated with it rather than seeing the apparent joke.

The Lost City of Dunwich

Last weekend’s unexpected trip to Suffolk ended up being a bit of a wash out. On the first of our two days in the easternmost English county I had a brain-splintering migraine — the first I can remember having in about a decade — and so spent all of Saturday in bed, napping in between shrouded attempts to watch the second season of Netflix’s geophilosophical time war drama Dark, which I’m going to have to write something about soon. (I never fulfilled my last promise to write about season one.)

Thankfully, after a somewhat wasted day hiding behind black-out blinds in a relative stranger’s house, we did manage to go on an adventure the following day to Dunwich — or what’s left of it at least.

I had wanted to see Felixstowe, Lowestoft, Sutton Hoo and go on a full Sebaldian / Fisherian expedition but with Dunwich a convenient 15-minute drive away it was the only place we had time to properly explore.

Dunwich is a famous ancient site on the east coast of England. Founded during the Roman empire’s occupation of Britain and growing ever bigger throughout the so-called Dark Ages, it was one of the largest cities (and ports) in the country for many centuries. Then, following a devastating storm which accelerated an already steady process of coastal erosion, the city was essentially let go. By the end of the 19th century, all that remained was the church of St. James’ and this last bastion of the settlement at Dunwich was itself gone completely by the 1930s — a process that was heavily and eerily documented.

Today, looking out from the top of the cliff, you wouldn’t know anything had ever been there. Misremembering the state of the city today, I expected to see some anonymous structures or even just the odd bit of wall but, looking out on the site from the cliff edge, we saw nothing but an east coast beach like any other.

Last time I mentioned just how laden this landscape was with all that I’ve read about it and, indeed, all that I’ve seen of it.

There is something of a photographer’s curse is going out to locations that are famous to you. Most often this is the likes of Paris or New York — heavily photographed locations that you may dream of photographing for yourself, only to find the photographs of others inescapable in your mind’s eye.

Looking out over this blank expanse where Dunwich had once thrived, the sight of fishermen on the beach only brought to mind the habitual hauntings of W.G. Sebald’s photography and prose. He describes a similar sight, seen a little further down the coast, in The Rings of Saturn — and he even has a picture of this beach tribe to boot.

He writes:

From the footpath that runs along the grassy dunes and low cliffs one can see, at any time of day or night and at any time of year, as I have often found, all manner of tent-like shelters made of poles and cordage, sailcloth and oilskin, along the pebble beach. They are strung out in a long line on the margin of the sea, at regular intervals. It is as if the last stragglers of some nomadic people had settled there, at the outermost limit of the earth, in expectation of the miracle longed for since time immemorial, the miracle which would justify all their erstwhile privations and wanderings. In reality, however, these men camping out under the heavens have not traversed faraway lands and deserts to reach this strand. Rather, they are from the immediate neighbourhood, and have long been in the habit of fishing there and gazing out to the sea as it changes before their eyes.

The irony of this, perhaps, is that at Dunwich it’s not just the sea in front of you that you have to keep an eye on, but everything you know that exists behind you as well. Having turned their back on the cliffs in favour of the sea, what occurred was inevitable.

It is a given that a change in front of you occasions a change behind. The pebbles they camp out on are the detritus from the moments where both sides meet. This is true of any beach, of course, but the memory of Dunwich still lingers down the generations even though its buildings do not.

Today, only one sign of this particular settlement remains. Tucked away under brambles and behind a fence which warns you of how close the cliff edge is, despite being obscured by overgrowth, is “the last grave”. A sign nearby reads:

This is the last surviving gravestone from the churchyard of the medieval church of All Saints, which lay about 40 metres to the east of this spot. Old bones still occasionally weather out of the cliff face. 

The church was disused from 1758 and fell over the eroding cliff between 1904 and 1920. The last tower buttress was dismantled and rebuilt in the present churchyard of St James Church. 

The gravestone reads: “In Memory of JACOB FORSTER who departed this Life March 12th 1796 Aged 38 Years”

These faded letters and the continued eerie presence of this long lost city bring to mind Henry James’ comments on old Dunwich. He once wrote:

Dunwich is not even the ghost of its dead self; almost all you can say is that consists of the mere letters of the old name. The coast, up and down, for miles has been, for more centuries that I presume to count, gnawed away by the sea. All the grossness of its positive life is now at the bottom of the German Ocean, which moves for ever, like a ruminating beast, an insatiable, indefatigable lip. Few things are so melancholy — and so redeemed from mere ugliness by sadness — as this long, artificial straightness that the monster has impartially maintained. If at low tide you walk on the shore, on the cliffs, of the little height, show you a defence picked bare as a bone; and you can say nothing kinder of the general humility and general sweetness of the land that this sawlike action gives it, for the fancy, an interest, a sort of mystery for there is now no more to show than the empty eye-holes of a skull; and half the effect of the whole thing, half the secret of the impression, and what I may really call, I think, the source of the distinction, is the very visibility of the mutilation. Such at any rate is the case for the mind that can properly brood. There is a presence in what is missing…

If this sounds familiar in its evocation of an eerie Suffolk, we might note that James’ comments (and those of another James — M.R. James — who also wrote so much about this coastline’s haunted melancholia) were central to Mark Fisher’s writings and undoubtedly form the backbone of what he would term “the eerie” — that failure of presence and failed of absence.

Mark would open a k-punk post with this very quote. Titled “Suffolk hauntology (some provisional notes)“, his notes on the lost city are not only a beautiful evocation of a Dunwich Gothic but of a more general eerie Britishness, tangled up with the growing pains of modernity and the phantom limb of feudalism. He writes:

The fate of Dunwich fascinated the Victorian mind. The town had come to public notice in the 1830s as one of the ‘rotten boroughs’ eliminated by the Reform Act of 1832 — until the Act was passed, Dunwich, which then had a population of less than forty, still had the right to elect two MPs. Its notoriety led to a reawakening of interest of the ‘visibly mutilated’ town, and poets and painters — most, no doubt, taking advantage of the East Suffolk Railway, opened in 1851, — rushed to Dunwich to indulge in melancholy disquisitions on the vanity of physical existence. After all, the disappeared port was practically a vanitas painting brought to life — or to unlife; for, if as James notes, all the town’s ‘positive life’ had crumbled away, what is left at Dunwich must be either a negative life or a negation of life.

There is rather more in James’ observations than the penny dreadful piety and mawkishness which Dunwich brought out in many of its Victorians observers. James understood that, for the mind capable of brooding — and he insists, later in the essay, ‘that it to the brooding mind only, and from it, that I speak’ — there is a jouissance to be derived from the melancholy contemplation of what has disappeared, and continues to disappear.

There were major landmarks yet to disintegrate when James visited in 1897. He would have still been able to see All Saints Church — shown above in a photograph from 1904 — but by 1920, it, too, would be ‘at the bottom of the German Ocean’. Twenty years ago, ‘the bones of those buried in All Saints’ graveyard protruded gruesomely from the cliff, and a single gravestone, to John Brinkley Easey, stood in an inconceivably bleak loneliness at the cliff top.’ Now even those traces are long gone. Slow change is a constant at Dunwich. When I visited last week it had changed even in the comparatively short time since I was last there. Paths that were once walkable are now fenced off as unsafe.

Walking around the remains of Dunwich — and Dunwich is nothing but remains — is not, then, only to contemplate a past disaster. Even without global warming to accelerate the process, visitors can be certain that the land on which they walk will soon be consumed by the sea. The destruction of the great port ‘with a fleet of its own on the North Sea’ was dramatic and sudden, but if the erosion which still gnaws away at the coast around Dunwich is more gradual, it is also implacable. Global warming means that oceanic catastrophism confronts us now neither as a possibility that can be quarantined off in Science Fiction, nor one that is unthinkably distant. It was fitting that James should have devoted most of his ‘Old Suffolk’ to writing about Dunwich. Disappeared Dunwich, its churches and cathedrals now lying on the ocean floor, anticipates the near future of the whole county.

This description of a kind of Dunwich Gothic is worthy of a bit more emphasis, I think. It is wonderfully xenogothic in its ostentatious non-existence; xenogothic in that Dunwich offers up the opportunity not to explore a graveyard, that stereotypical Gothic environ, but a graveyard that once was — a graveyard folded in on itself and infrequently spat out of the landscape unceremoniously. It is Gothic not for its ostentatious architecture and grotesque ornaments but for its emptiness. It is xenogothic in the way that the Gothic lingers absently.

There is an affinity here in that this point on the coast of East Anglia, that great protrusion, serves as a painful reminder of so much of that coastline. Sebald writes, at the end of his own recounting of Dunwich’s history: “The east stands for lost causes.” I’m unaware of any town on England’s east coast, at least from Felixstowe northwards, that would not feel a pang of painful recognition in reading those words.

Sebald emphasises this point in his own globe-trotting account. He notes how the residents of Dunwich who lost their homes and sought refuge elsewhere would move westwards. West was the direction of new hope. He points out that this is true around the world for so many displaced communities.

In Brazil, to this day, whole provinces die down like fires when the land is exhausted by overcropping and new areas to the west are opened up. In North American, too, countless settlements of various kinds, complete with gas stations, motels and shopping malls, move west along the turnpikes, and along that axis of affluence and squalor are unfailingly polarized. I was put in mind of this phenomenon of flight by Dunwich. After the first serious disaster [the storm of 1285], building began on the westernmost fringe of the town, but even of the Grey Friars monastery that dates from that time only a few fragments now remain. Dunwich, with its towers and many thousand souls, has dissolved into water, sand and thin air.

The monastery that Sebald speaks of feels wholly distinct from the city of Dunwich that is now lost to the sea but it is an intriguingly well-preserved monument, appearing behind the woods that line the cliff edge as a small building — although archeological excavations suggest there were many others — in the middle of an abnormally broad expanse of land.

Our guide — my girlfriend’s godmother — tells us that many of the local retirees who now populate the small village of Dunwich to the west (and very much inland) of its former namesake, have taken up the occupation of “ruin polishers”, making sure that these decrepid old structures last until at least the sea takes them as well.

The Grey Friars monastery is a case in point, reenforced at every opportunity to appear more like Victorian folly than original mediaeval structure.

Dipping into the local museum, it seems as if the village is now torn between god-fearing citizens and part-time archaeologists. Looking over the impressive collection of artefacts and coins from as far back as the Roman times that have been collected from the cliff’s various vomitings, I overhear a woman who tells the man running the museum, with great enthusiasm, about the large attendance at the new church of St. James that Sunday afternoon.

Sebald, again, describes the Christian heritage of this settlement.

There were more than fifty churches, monasteries and convents … The parish churches of St James, St Leonard, St Martin, St Bartholomew, St Michael, St Patrick, St Mary, St John, St Peter, St Nicholas and St Felix, one after the other, toppled down the steadily receding cliff-face and sank in the depths, along with the earth and stone on which the town had been built.

In the museum, there is documentary evidence of various Catholic pilgrimages taking place in the name of St Felix in particular. St Felix was the first bishop of East Anglia, supposedly establishing a church in Dunwich around 633 AD. He lived and died there and his remains no doubt ended up at the bottom of the ocean.

Still, why so many churches? Was it just a sign of the times? Or are the residents of this town who continually face their own doom more god-fearing than most?

I’m reminded of Nick Land’s equivalence between annihilation and religion along the coasts of the world.

Is not transcendental philosophy a fear of the sea? Something like a dike or a sea-wall?

These are places in far more need of theodicy than most, we might argue. Land continues, in what is probably my favourite passage from his Thirst for Annihilation:

A longing for the open ocean gnaws at us, as the land is gnawed by the sea. A dark fluidity at the roots of our nature rebels against the security of terra firma, provoking a wave of anxiety in which we are submerged, until we feel ourselves drowning, with representation draining away. Nihil ulterius.

Incipit Kant:

We are not amphibians, but belong upon solid earth. Let us renounce all strange voyages. The age of desire is past. The new humanity I anticipate has no use for enigmatic horizons; it knows the ocean is madness and disease. Let me still your ancient tremors, and replace them with dreams of an iron shore.

Reason in its legitimate function is a defence against the sea, which is also an inhibition of the terrestrial; retarding our tendency to waste painstakingly accumulated resources in futile expeditions, a ‘barrier opposed to the expenditure of forces’ as Bataille describes it. It is a fortified boundary, sealing out everything uncertain, irresolvable, dissolvant, a sea-wall against the unknown, against death.

Serendipitously, on our way back from Dunwich and London bound, we passed a second-hand bookshop in an old church in the village of Westleton. Heading straight to the philosophy section, I found it lacking but was very much entertained by the “sex + erotica” section on the shelf below. Alongside the usual vintage sex romps was an enormous edition of works by the Marquis de Sade.

In particular, I bought it for an introductory essay by Pierre Klossowski which resonated with these thoughts already had on the beach at Dunwich. Titled “Nature as Destructive Principle”, Klossowski emphasises the Sado-Bataillean-Landian trajectory of an “atheistic and asocial philosophy of Nature and a moral system based on the idea of Nature as perpetual motion.”

Here the excessive religiosity of Dunwich truly does feel like a sea-wall for a conscience ravaged by the sea. Klossowski writes that, for Sade,

the substitution of Nature in a state of perpetual motion for God signifies, not the arrival of a happier era for humanity, but only the beginning of tragedy — the tragedy of man’s open and conscious acceptance of change. Here we can detect the Nietschean theme which opposes to the sufferings of the innocent a consciousness which agrees to endure its guilt because the guilt is the price of feeling alive. This is the hidden sense of the atheism which differentiates Sade so clearly from his contemporaries. To admit matter considered as perpetual motion as the one and only universal agent is equivalent to agreeing to live as an individual in a state of perpetual motion.

The absence of God leads to a becoming-sea of consciousness and undoubtedly the religiosity of Dunwich represents an over-compensation for this tempting lack, or for their own guilt at having turned their back on a Christian city of blessed land, polishing ruins to placate themselves.

Further down the coast, in Felixstowe, this relationship to the sea seems wholly different. Our navigational skills being severely lacking, I didn’t get much chance to look around the city Mark Fisher once called home. I wanted to see the shipping container port, which Mark describes in The Weird and the Eerie as “loom[ing] over the declining sea town, the port’s cranes towering above the Victorian resort like H.G. Wells’ Martian Tripods.”

Watching the container lorries and the ships do their work, or surveying the containers themselves, the metal boxes racked up like a materialised version of the bar charts in Gibson’s cyberspace, their names ringing with a certain transnational, blank, Ballardian poetry — Maersk Sealand, Hanjin, K-line — one seldom has any sense of human presence. The humans remain out of sight, in cabs, in cranes, in offices. I’m reminded instead of the mute alien efficiency of the pod distribution sight in Philip Kaufman’s 1978 version of Invasion of the Bodysnatchers.

We were unable to find a good vantage point at which to stop and get out of the car, instead driving around the bare roads of industrial dockland and the grid-like Victorian lanes by the seafront. Tired, we elect to try again another time, but my impression from the car is enough to satisfy a curiosity.

Mark is right, of course — the container port is a striking addition to what is otherwise your bog-standard east coast seaside town. I’m reminded of my own home town in Hull, where the old docks haunt a city who sees nothing but dead industry, whilst the oil refinery outside of town glistens at night like the mirage of a cyberpunk city — Saltends Chemical Park is its official name, a site run by British Petroleum; “BP City” is how it is best known locally.

The strange spectre of eerie depopulated industries at the edges of these otherwise “post-industrial” cities emphasises “the triumph of finance capital” that Mark describes but we might also say it signals an embraced relationship with the sea. Driving along the seafront we see that familiar sight of penny arcades, casinos, pubs and amusements. In Felixstowe, there seems to be a much more conscious emphasis on gambling rather than just weekend entertainment for all the family.

The ebb and flow of penny slots share only a weak affinity with the sea, being so motorised and always feeling rigged. The casinos and their hidden depths of chance feel far more fitting as a sort of Sadean coastal debauchery.

“The Sadean man”, Klossowsky writes, “will arrive at a point where he considers himself a microcosm of Nature, suffering, like Nature, from his own activity.”

Back in Dunwich, there are signs — some endearingly home-made — that, despite their futile situation, the residents still retain a reactionary sense of being holier-than-thou; resistant to the change that has for centuries defined them. An unending hubris.

Cascading Adolescence (Part 2): Apprentices of Chaos

← Part One

Recently, after watching Lords of Chaos (dir. Jonas Åkerlund, 2018), the recent pseudo-biographical film about the adolescent rise and murderous “fall” of the True Norwegian Black Metal scene of the 1980s and ’90s, I began to think about how black metal, in particular, as a musical genre, fits into Keenan’s reappraisal of adolescence. On the surface, it appears to be a music scene that falls somewhere between the parameters that Keenan lays out in the introduction to his book — between aesthetic glorification and formless destruction, arising from the ground of a virulent adolescence.

The film, based on Michael Moynihan and Didrik Søderlind’s book of the same name, tells the story of seminal black metal band Mayhem and the music scene that formed around them in Norway in the mid- to late 1980s, as well as the controversies which both “killed” and immortalised the scene in the 1990s.

Formed in Oslo in 1984, Mayhem were the self-described pillar of Black Metal’s so-called “second wave”. Led by Øystein “Euronymous” Aarseth on guitar, with Jan Axel “Hellhammer” Blomberg on drums and Jørn “Necrobutcher” Stubberud on bass, the band would establish a local music scene seemingly single-handedly, and largely on hype alone. Although not without their predecessors, Euronymous was prone to voicing loud-mouthed assurances that his innovations in the genre and his radical attitude towards the creative process would change the world, long before he’d officially released a single shredded note.

Despite this lack of recorded material, many believed him, and even once their early seminal records were released it was the scene’s various non-musical activities that would spread their notoriety around the world. Chief amongst these notorious moments were the suicide of Mayhem’s one-time lead singer Per Yngve Ohlin, better known as “Dead”; the church burnings carried out by Kristian “Varg” Vikernes, Mayhem’s one-time bassist and the sole member of another seminal black metal band, Burzum; the scene’s flirting with a smorgasbord of seemingly paradoxical ideological affiliations, including Communism, Satanism, Nazism and paganism; and Varg’s eventual murder of Euronymous, along with a number of other serious crimes that occurred in orbit of the group and its dedicated following.

In providing the reader with a detailed chronological account of True Norwegian Black Metal’s creative and criminal development, Lords of Chaos is considered by many to be the guide to the birth of the music scene, but it is also a book that is quite obviously flawed.

The book — more so than the film — is a strange mixture of writing styles. It is, on the one hand, an oral history written by two fans and, on the other, a sensationalist and mythologising tell-all written by two journalists. It charts the hysteria of an intensive moment in great detail but the book only occasionally gives this moment the appropriate sociocultural context it deserves, explaining only in passing how Norway was, at that time, a very Christian and conservative country.

A repeated pull back from this point means that the book fails to dig much deeper than the headlines and tall tales. It stops itself from making too profound a social commentary, as if the authors don’t want to appear too journalistic or too fanatical, fuelling the notoriety of the crimes committed or downplaying their impact in favour of a decontextualised music. As such, the prose often appears anxious about overstepping the lines they have drawn around themselves, instead meandering somewhere in the middle. All gossip, no depth.[1]

In this sense, Lords of Chaos reads like a middle-of-the-road True Crime novel (which is also how it was initially marketed by its publisher). Whilst their intentions are good, hoping to contend with, solidify and account for this scene’s auto-mythologising tendencies, the book — perhaps inevitably — succeeds only in removing the mystery and the productive vector from its subject matter.

The Lords of Chaos movie, to its credit, retains this mythological quality and improves upon the book in a number of other ways, doing well to dramatise its subject matter and bring to life a story that is so often buried, paradoxially, under the weight of its own narrative.

It succeeds, for instance, in establishing the time and place in which its story is set and the overbearing atmosphere of moralism in 1980s Norway that weighed so heavily on the central character’s late adolescence. As such, so many key moments within the mythology of True Norwegian Black Metal — like the Mayhem boys hearing Dead’s voice for the first time in their car, on a demo tape received in the mail — take place against a backdrop of tourist-brochure family-friendly scenery and imagery, with nuclear families frequently repelled by their chaos, spurned by the wake of the boys’ incessantly antagonistic outbursts.

It’s a clumsy contrast at times but its persistence begins to solidify their actions into a very familiar shape that is internal to, but nonetheless views itself outside of, the blanket moralism of Norwegian culture at that time. In this way, much like punk before it — and UK punk, in particular, was a major influence on those Norwegian teens — the True Norwegian Black Metal scene’s cartoonish behaviour and hyper-adolescence were direct protests against the time in which they lived. However, whereas punk remains inseparable from its sociopolitical context, True Norwegian Black Metal seems to exist in a vacuum of manic adolescent hysteria within the popular imagination. In fact, just like the noise and industrial genres that preceded it, described by Keenan, True Norwegian Black Metal plumbed similar depths of a very real darkness and attempted to present itself accordingly, with a tandem sonic and visual aesthetic that hoped to look and sound more evil than anything that came before it. Whilst this aesthetic often flirted with the cosmic nihilism of Bataillean formlessness, we must acknowledge its beginnings as an attempt to produce an inverted image of the Christian moralism that otherwise defined the young men’s lives.

Here we see two distinct interests, so often conflated, pulling in two different directions — between a desire to experiment and a desire to establish new traditions. The initial ambition of those Norwegian teenagers, who sought to test the limits of their cloistered world in a truly adolescent fashion, by defining themselves by all that was supposedly antithetical to the status quo, followed a communal desire for the outside of present sociopolitical hegemonies and the all too real consequences of heading for such an exit. As such, the musical genres that preceded them became an anchor amongst the turmoil of their own desires. The overbearing moral conservatism of Norway at that time was understandably something to be rebelled against in their eyes but they also retained a deep respect for their musical predecessors, presenting themselves as not so much lords of chaos — although that is undoubtedly how they would have liked to be perceived — but rather as apprentices of chaos.

The Lords of Chaos film is useful for us in this regard, as its dramatisation highlights these tensions better than the more journalistic form of its source material. The film exacerbates and even extends the flaws of the book on which it is based, making them far easier to contend with. Because what instead becomes the focus of this story, in being shifted to another form of (explicitly non-journalistic) narrative expression, is an emphasis on the fact that these infamous musicians were just kids — and kids who were increasingly out of their depth.

To be continued…

[1] For what it’s worth, it’s the opinion of this blogger that Dayal Patterson’s book Black Metal: Evolution of a Cult is a infinitely more interesting and comprehensive book, which starts in Newcastle, England, with Venom and ends up in Olympia, USA, with Wolves in the Throne Room — all the Norwegian activity getting a look-in in the middle, telling all the usual stories but within their appropriate local and global contexts. There is also an argument to be made that these activities are inherently resistant to any sort of considered analysis, which explains the novel approach of “black metal theory”, a para-academic approach to the music genre which both considers and deploys its aesthetic, philosophical and political undercurrents in written form.

An Unexpected Trip to Suffolk

These past few weeks have been so busy that when my girlfriend told me we were going to go and stay with her godmother one weekend in June I didn’t even bother to ask where she lived.

As it turns out, she lives in Suffolk and writing this post from her spare bedroom (although still very much hungover from last night) I’m feeling really excited to be here.

It’s a county that has always eluded me. Living on the Humber estuary on the north-east coast, everywhere south of us was like another dimension. Only ever seen from the north of the river, I remember having a sense, when I was a child, that everything “over there” was just a painted backdrop.

Infrequent trips over the Humber Bridge were filled with wonder and later accompanied by a complete amnesia of what was over the other side. When we did need to go south, we’d go around the end of the Humber estuary rather than over it. I’d never even been to Grimsby before I was 25.

Suffice it to say, if Lincolnshire is still another planet to me, Suffolk is another galaxy, but I’ve always wanted to come here.

W.G. Sebald’s Rings of Saturn, which describes a physical and mental journey along its coastline, is probably the book I’ve read more than any other, giving it a very particular atmosphere in my mind.

Mark Fisher’s various projects exploring his surroundings as a resident of Felixstowe have had a similar effect in more recent years, with the Suffolk coastline also being a central location in the soon-to-be-released On Vanishing Land. Its influence can also be felt throughout his last book The Weird and the Eerie, with M.R. James’ ghost story “Oh Whistle and I’ll Come to You, My Lad” being central to book and audio-essay.

I also particularly remember Mark’s voice in OVL describing the sight of the shipping container port in Felixstowe as being like an encounter with the strange tripods from H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds. (Doesn’t Tom Cruise work in a shipping container port in the Steven Spielberg adaptation? Hadn’t thought about that before…)

All this and more is running around my head here today as I inadvertently recall all the memories of reading about the landscape I’m walking over and trying to think about where I should try to get to over the next two days in order to make the most of this unexpected visit.

So far all we’ve done is take a dusk walk around the local neighbourhood but this was already quite fruitful. There were plenty of eerie lamp posts illuminating very little…

Mark Fisher & Justin Barton, “On Vanishing Land”

There have been murmurings about this for a while now and it’s finally here: Mark Fisher and Justin Barton’s On Vanishing Land is getting an official release next month on the new Hyberdub sub-label, Flatlines.

It’s really great that this is finally coming out. Previously, much like londonunderlondon, the audio-essay has only been played infrequently in public in order to encourage the practice of collective listening. In that context, I think I’ve heard it half a dozen times since Mark’s death in January 2017 — Corsica Studios and the one we organised for The Fisher-Function being particularly memorable — and I’ve played a clip of Mark reading out a passage from J.G. Ballard’s The Drowned World at two of the For K-Punk nights since then. All this is to say that I’ve come to associate it more with Mark’s legacy than anything else.

Hearing his voice is always a strange experience these days but for some reason that’s especially true in a club…

This is worth mentioning because I think On Vanishing Land performs the psychedelic collectivity Mark wanted to encourage with his work far more than any other posthumous document of his activities and, in being a sort of collaborative audio-collage, it retains so many of the important links to Mark’s communal thinking that the post-humous lionisation of his work has inevitably diminished. (Both in terms of its content and, now, in being put out by Steve Goodman.)

Justin has spoken about this forthcoming release on a couple of occasions, in private and in public, and each time he has noted just how fitting this release is. Unlike it’s counterpart, londonunderlondon, originally made for radio, OVL was constructed in two distinct parts and so the vinyl treatment actually makes sense. We might even say this was how it was always intended to be experienced… So long as each spin occasions a drowned world listening party.

This is not to be missed.

You can preorder the record, out July 26th, on vinyl and digitally from Bandcamp and the Hyperdub website. Read the press release below:

Hyperdub launch new sub-label, Flatlines, for the vinyl and digital release of On Vanishing Land, an audio-essay by Justin Barton and the late Mark Fisher. OVL evokes a walk along the Suffolk coastline in 2006, from Felixstowe container port (“a nerve ganglion of capitalism”) to the Anglo-Saxon burial ground at Sutton Hoo. A walk under immense skies, through zones of deep time and within sunlit, liminal terrains, into the eerie. 

Everywhere there are charged atmospheres, shadowy incursions, enigmatic departures. A derelict radar base, coastal heathland, drifting thistledown, towers of overgrown shipping containers – music haunted by wider levels of reality, narrations about rarely visited zones and potentials, voices of dreams and stories. Newly composed tracks by John Foxx, Gazelle Twin, Baron Mordant, Raime, Pete Wiseman, Farmers of Vega, Skjolbrot, Eerie Anglia, Ekoplekz and Dolly Dolly; and, alongside these, views toward M.R. James’s Oh Whistle and I’ll Come to You My Lad (1904), Joan Lindsay’s Picnic at Hanging Rock (1967), and Brian Eno’s On Land (1982). Beyond the surface of the day something becomes visible, a way forward, an escape-path from capitalist reality. On Vanishing Land is about following the lines of terrains and dreams. It is about a micropolitics of escape, of disappearance. A micropolitics of waking the faculties. 

“It is April, but it feels like summer. They turn left onto the seafront […]” 

On Vanishing Land was initially part of an exhibition commissioned by The Otolith Collective and The Showroom in London, and after londonunderlondon (2005) it was the second audio-work collaboration by Justin Barton and Mark Fisher. The LP cover features photos taken by Mark Fisher and a short essay by Justin Barton. 

Cascading Adolescence (Part 1): Adolescent Outsideness

In the introduction to his book England’s Hidden Reverse, David Keenan considers the sense in which England’s “esoteric underground” — of which “the formation of Throbbing Gristle in 1975 [was] year zero”[1],[2] and which was exemplified by the bands Coil[3], Current 93[4] and Nurse with Wound[5] — by predating punk — was the first genre to take up the inherently adolescent energy of “classic” rock ‘n’ roll, following its 1960s “Golden Age”.

Keenan’s sense of adolescence is broad. For him, it is a word that should not refer solely to a disparaged naivety or immaturity. Instead, it should be seen as an integral part of human cultural experience — and an experience which does not simply “end” with an escape into your 20s and the settling of unruly pubescent hormones.

Perhaps surprisingly, Keenan’s conception of adolescence stretches as far back as 40,000 years ago. He cites R. Dale Guthrie’s 2005 book The Nature of Palaeolithic Art to describe an adolescent cultural production that transcends not just our modern sense of the “teenager” — which arguably refers to little more than a socioeconomic demographic[6] — but even beyond our historic sense of civilisational belonging.

In his book, Guthrie, an anthropologist, puts forward the thesis that Palaeolithic adolescents were as obsessed with sex and violence as our modern-day teenage tearaways. He argues that the cave art from this era that survives around the world — depicting hunts and battles as well as the occasional disproportionate phallus — was most likely drawn by adolescent males; pubescent teens passing through the very same evolutionary hormone-fuelled phase-shift defined by a reckless exploration of the world and a preoccupation with its darker corners that we are all already familiar with.[7] For Guthrie and Keenan, then, the suggestion seems to be that these caves served the same function as the graffitied bus shelters, underpasses and bathrooms of our contemporaneous shadow-lurking youth.

Having exploded this sense of adolescence, Keenan — taking a view that is less explicitly masculine and anthropological — goes on to compare prehistoric art to the burgeoning noise and industrial music genres of the 1970s and ‘80s, specifically the music of Whitehouse — that notorious project captained by musician William Bennett — which he describes as a xenorock that rolls beyond the limits of the genre’s eventual social acceptance following the various social panics it originally provoked in the public imagination from the 1950s onwards.

Keenan writes:

Whitehouse, formed by William Bennet in 1980, … effectively birth[ed] noise music—or ‘power electronics’ as Bennett dubbed it—as a genre while making consistent and inexplicable use of extreme imagery, naming albums after concentration camps, like 1981’s Buchenwald, dedicating albums to notorious serial killers, as on 1983’s Dedicated To Peter Kürten Sadist And Mass Slayer, and using self-consciously atrocious track titles like ‘Tit Pulp’, ‘Shitfun’ and ‘I’m Comin’ Up Your Ass.’

So far, so very adolescent, right? But we need to be very careful when we use a term like ‘adolescent’ in a disparaging way. What do we mean?

Rock ‘n’ roll is an adolescent art form. It derives most of its energy from adolescence. If we’re going to damn music for being adolescent we’re going to have to write off all of the best rock ‘n’ roll, all of the music that we love. But as an adolescent art form the kind of grotesque, violent, hyper-sexualised imagery that Whitehouse dealt in can never be far from the surface.[8]

From here, Keenan contrasts Whitehouse to the way in which, for example, Elvis first shocked the world, infamously filmed only from the waist up on the Ed Sullivan Show so as not to offend or over-excite those tuning in; later, he notes how the Sex Pistols caused great offence with their caricatured Nazism and cartoonish hyperviolence on puerile songs like “Belsen Was A Gas”, but Keenan also notes that both these artists are now widely accepted cultural institutions and so “rock ‘n’ roll can also be seen as a safety valve, in a sense, a way of containing these inchoate powers, which is how Throbbing Gristle saw it, as a system of control.”[9]

Positioning themselves in opposition to this kind of cultural production and assimilation, noise and industrial musics don’t romanticise or aestheticise their subject matter but try to traumatically reflect the darkest corners of reality as they actually exist. They don’t want to function as an affective dam for libidinal desires but as a virulent amplifier. Keenan writes:

Noise and Industrial music function as the night time to pop music’s day. Where pop music exists as a soundtrack to nine-to-five work and consumption, noise provides the cover of night that facilitates transgressive activities, liberating suppressed personas and jamming the wavelengths that consensual reality broadcasts on. Crime calls for night; noise is no longer music as entertainment.[10]

Today, this disconnection between noise and pop — both broadly defined — persists. Noise musics, however, are still routinely derided and attacked for their aesthetic promiscuity. Pop is today broadly progressive if nonetheless somewhat innocuous. Black music’s continued dominance of the pop charts, increasingly comfortable with its own politicisation, has brought the politics of a minoritarian existence and experience into everyday life. Beyoncé’s tribute to black politics past and present at Superbowl 50 in 2016, for instance, ungrounds the suggestion that pop cannot facilitate transgression for some. However, whilst it might rupture everyday political discussion, it remains the soundtrack to work and consumption. Noise, in occupying the night, finds itself more readily associated with another kind of transgression, one which does not occur in plain sight, and which, perhaps due to pop’s own grasp of progressivism, is easily associated with a darker side of politics also.

Contrary to this, Keenan argues that the music of Whitehouse is far less (politically if not aesthetically) offensive — or should be — than the likes of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, for instance, whose song “Mladić”, from their 2012 album, ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!, he highlights as a cinematic and even romantic track, supposedly about (or—as Whitehouse might describe it—“dedicated to”) the Bosnian Serb war criminal Ratko Mladić.[11]

Keenan claims that the sublimity of their neoclassical, post-rock sound can be far more easily interpreted as a romanticisation of the man in question, in being somewhat neo-Wagnerian perhaps. The track throws together an often atonal mix of folkloric melodies, raucous guitars and walls of feedback — it is certainly “noisy” if not quite “noise” — but in doing so it seems to capture the spirit and energy of a war-mongering nationalism in its melodic delirium. For Keenan, this is far more problematic than the slabs of noise that constitute Whitehouse’s stylistically provocative discography. However, Keenan notes that the intention of Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s aesthetic onslaught is never questioned due to their extramusical clarifications in interviews and elsewhere as being self-described “left-liberals”.

The unrelenting noise of Whitehouse stands in firm opposition to such a response. There is no attempt at aestheticising the chosen subject matter. If anything, for a project like Whitehouse, talk is cheap. Instead, Bennett’s project attempts to hold a mirror up to the worst of human society and re-present it as it actually appears to us — that is, abhorrently. We can consider the project, in stark contrast to the likes of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, as an attempt to grapple with that which is beyond words, beyond classical understandings of form and expression.

Whitehouse, in being named after the infamous moral campaigner Mary Whitehouse[12], can be seen as an inversion of Mary’s own raison d’etre, attacking the news cycles and mundane ideologies that do far more to normalise the worst acts we humans are capable of by confronting the listener with that which is so hard to comprehend about the human condition rather than censoring it. To transduce this into the normality of “classical” music — in the broadest sense of the term; “music” that is easily appreciable as such — is, then, for noise musicians, a dangerous game.

In this sense, the music of Whitehouse can be aligned with Georges Bataille’s concept of l’informe, or formlessness. In contrast Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s neo-Wagnerian overcoming of the folkloric, Whitehouse demonstrates an approach “that serves to bring things down in the world.”[13] As Bataille would write, at his most cosmically pessimistic:

What [formlessness] designates has no rights in any sense and gets itself squashed everywhere, like a spider or an earthworm. In fact, for academic men to be happy, the universe would have to take shape. All of philosophy has no other goal: it is a matter of giving a frock coat to what is, a mathematical frock coat. On the other hand, affirming that the universe resembles nothing and is only formless amounts to saying that the universe is something like a spider or spit.[14]

Despite framing the reality of human depravity and its abject meaninglessness in these non-terms, it is bizarre to Keenan that it is instead the likes of Whitehouse and not Godspeed You! Black Emperor who must emphatically defend their artistic practice against accusations of fascistic sympathies.[15] Because, ultimately, as Keenan writes, “there is no poetry here.”[16] And that’s the point. There is no poetry in genocide or serial murder and so this music is offered up as a way to begin to process the darkest crevices of the human condition through a consciously paradoxical process. How to create a sound in the world’s image? It’s “true” image? How to attend to these travesties in a way that does not hide from the reproductive reality of their implications? It asks the question: to what extent are we willing—or even able—to withstand that which mirrors the worst side of ourselves in all of its abject difficulty?

The elephant in the room here, of course, is that much of the anxiety surrounding these movements in the present emerges from the fact that there are various creators of extreme musics who do attempt to glorify and embolden an “extreme” — in the sense of a violent, aggressive and propulsively right-wing — politics.

Death In June are the most notorious group of this kind, perhaps. Beginning in similar post-punk and industrial territory when they formed in the 1980s, and once self-described far-leftists, members of the group later found themselves influenced by the ideologies of National Bolshevism and Strasserism, both ideologies which implicitly inject far-left structuralist critiques with far-right sentiments. Strasserism, in particular, is best known as a call for a brand of Nazism which is birthed from proletarian revolution; a sort of faux-Marxism which conflates critiques of capitalism with the economic conspiracies of antisemitism.

These ideological turns are regularly denounced, and rightly so, but far too often the argument is to denounce the very grounds from which they emerge. As Keenan suggests, to denounce adolescence absolutely is surely misguided. What is necessary, instead, is that we critique our inevitably conditioned approaches to such topics. For instance, are we to treat adolescence as the demonstrative ground for all creative activity and existence? Of course not. Adolescence is a process, a becoming; a period of development, of chance. It is, biologically and creatively speaking, a generative vector for the production of the new. (And it is not the only one either.) To denounce it outright is as impossible as an apparent commitment to — which is to say, an ideological packaging of — its processes.

This series will consider a confluence of such generative but likewise controversial vectors, with adolescence chief among them — but also “death”, “nature” and “mythology” — which emerge as integral gears of the adolescent process. These topics, like adolescence, can appear dangerous when isolated, but they are not antithetical to positive and generative processes in and of themselves. To demonstrate this we will consider a particularly “bad” example of an “adolescent” music scene, which — whilst initially intensely generative — collapsed in on itself, caught in a spiral of murderous intent all of its own making: True Norwegian Black Metal.

To be continued…

[1] David Keenan, England’s Hidden Reverse (London: Strange Attractor Press, 2016), viii

[2] Formed by Genesis P-Orridge, Cosey Fanni Tutti, Chris Carter and Peter Christopherson in 1975, Throbbing Gristle were known for their prolific and subversive activities, straddling a fine line between rock band and performance art, the main impetus of which was to always confound their audience’s expectations, no matter what. They are best known for their albums The Second Annual Report (1977) and 20 Jazz Funk Greats (1979), and are widely recognised as the progenitors of so-called “Industrial music”, named after their independent record label Industrial Records.

[3] Formed by John Balance in 1982 and later joined by Throbbing Gristle’s Peter Christopherson, Coil would push against the edges of post-punk and post-industrial music, dragging an already esoteric sound further into its outer limits. They are best known for their albums Horse Rotorvator (1986) and Love’s Secret Domain (1991), with the latter incorporating the contemporaneous sounds of Acid House with the industrial music on which they cut their teeth.

[4] Formed by David Tibet in 1982, Current 93 likewise took Industrial music in new directions, exacerbating the occultism that was of interest to late Throbbing Gristle and incorporating folk influences into their sound.

[5] Nurse With Wound is a project heralded by Stephen Stapleton and formed in 1978. They are arguably the most disturbing of the three groups that Keenan considers in England’s Hidden Reverse, having subsequently had a major influence on noise, drone and demonstrating a mastery of the aural uncanny.

[6] It is worth noting, in light of Keenan’s references, that the “teenager” is a very modern concept. Indeed, there is an argument to be made that the teenager was a concept “invented” by marketing companies in the 1940s, when young people in the throws of adolescence were identified to be an lucrative economic demographic. See, for example, Dwight MacDonald, “Inventing the American Teen-Ager”, The New Yorker, 29 November 1958: <;

[7] See: R. Dale Guthrie, The Nature of Paleolithic Art (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005)

[8] David Keenan, England’s Hidden Reverse, viii

[9] Ibid., ix

[10] Ibid., vii

[11] Sentenced to life in prison in 2017, Mladić (also known as the “Butcher of Bosnia”) was convicted of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity at an international criminal tribunal which investigated atrocities committed during the Yugoslav Wars, largely ethnic wars of independence held throughout the 1990s which led to the breaking up of the state of Yugoslavia into six separate nations: Slovenia, Croatia, North Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, and Montenegro.

[12] Mary Whitehouse a social conservative and reactionary who was famous throughout the UK over a number of decades for her “moral campaigns” waged against the mainstream media and popular culture due to what she saw as the endemic promotion of bad language, sex and violence during the 1960s to the 1980s. She was known as an opponent of progressive politics in all its forms during her life time, particularly regarding issues of sexual liberation and gay rights. Although widely mocked in the media, she is said to have greatly influenced the premiereship of Margaret Thatcher and a number of censory laws introduced during her tenure, perhaps most notoriously the Video Recordings Act of 1984, legislation brought in to tackle a moral panic orchestrated by Whitehouse regarding so-called ‘video nasties’—a phrase it is said that she coined herself. Many famous and critically acclaimed films were cut or outright banned in the UK in cinemas or on home video due to this legislation, including The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Rosemary’s Baby, Dawn of the Dead, Friday the 13th and Suspiria. Many of these films did not see an “uncut” video or DVD release until the late 1990s or early 2000s.

[13] Georges Bataille, “Formless” in Visions of Excess: Selected Writings, 1927-1939, ed. Allan Stoekl (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1985), 31

[14] Ibid.

[15] See: William Bennett, “Personal Statement”, William Bennet (blog), 19 March 2013:

[16] David Keenan, England’s Hidden Reverse, xiii


James Joyce has been in the news over here in the UK a surprising amount over the last few days. Today — 16 June 2019 — is, of course, Bloomsday, and whilst it’s not uncommon for there to be some press coverage talking about the festivities that take place in Dublin this time every year, the main reason was that Jeremy Corbyn came out and said it was his favourite book.

This isn’t all that surprising — I remember Stephen Fry making a fuss about it a few years back and that surely renders its critical acclaim mainstream amongst the British public — but it was Corbyn’s somewhat endearing acknowledgement of its difficulty that had most people talking.

In an interview with Corbyn for The Guardian, Peter Carty writes:

He says, like many people, at first he found the book “incomprehensible”. But then “you stop trying to focus on the narrative and start just enjoying the vignettes”. Back then he didn’t tackle it from start to finish, and that is not the way he has read it since, instead regularly just dipping into passages. It is an approach he recommends to first time readers today: “Read a little bit at a time and think about it and then move on, but don’t beat yourself up if you don’t understand it.”

A lot of people think Corbyn should be cancelled for this shameful toe-dipping approach but, as someone pointed out earlier, this is also the oft-recommended approach for first-time readers of A Thousand Plateaus, which perhaps isn’t a total coincidence…

Carty continues:

[A]s Bloomsday approaches [Corbyn] urges more people to read the novel that, among many other things, captures a society going about its business in uneasy times.

“Joyce references and richly describes what’s happening in the street,” he says. “So somebody is holding forth about a big political issue and then the refuse cart goes by. Whenever there is a big political issue on, I walk around the streets in my area. We might be totally obsessed with Brexit or some other issue but many people are not. Their daily lives are more important. Politicians should never forget that people have lives to lead and they often have dreams they don’t talk about.”

I’m not writing this post just to highlight that Corbyn likes a particular book, however. In fact, today being Bloomsday ended up being quite serendipitous for a completely different reason in the XG Discord.

We held the first session of our Difference & Repetition reading group earlier this afternoon — it was this afternoon for me, anyway; coordinating timezones ain’t easy — and at one point we spent a short time talking about Joyce’s works in the context of Deleuze’s doctoral thesis.

I’m not just going to parrot everything we talked about — if you’d like access to that discussion or if you’d like to join in with future ones, sign up to the Patreon! — but what struck me and others was how Corbyn’s comments resonated with Deleuze’s own.

In the first chapter of Difference & Repetition, Deleuze describes one of his most central concepts: “transcendental empiricism”. In a lengthy passage I’ll quote a considerable chunk of, he writes:

Empiricism truly becomes transcendental, and aesthetics an apodictic discipline, only when we apprehend directly in the sensible that which can only be sensed, the very being of the sensible: difference, potential difference and difference in intensity as the reason behind qualitative diversity. It is in difference that movement is produced as an “effect”, that phenomena flash their meaning like signs. The intense world of differences, in which we find the reason behind qualities and the being of the sensible, is precisely the object of a superior empiricism. This empiricism teaches us a strange “reason”, that of the multiple, chaos and difference (nomadic distributions, crowned anarchies). It is always differences which resemble one another, which are analogous, opposed or identical: difference is behind everything, but behind difference there is nothing. Each difference passes through all the others; it must “will” itself or find itself through all the others. That is why eternal return does not appear second or come after, but is already present in every metamorphosis, contemporaneous with that which it causes to return. Eternal return relates to a world of differences implicated one in the other, to a complicated, properly chaotic world without identity. Joyce presented the vicus of recirculation as causing a chaosmos to turn; and Nietzsche had already said that chaos and eternal return were not two distinct things but a single and same affirmation. The world is neither finite or infinite as representation would have it: it is completed and unlimited. Eternal return is the unlimited of the finished itself, the univocal being which is said of difference.

Whilst Deleuze’s prose might be most Joycean in its difficulty — and here he is referencing Finnegan’s Wake rather than Ulysses — we might also argue that the lesson contained within — distilled by Corbyn — is nonetheless the same.

A politician out for a walk … A breath of fresh air, a relationship with the outside world.

The Endurance of Bergsonism and the Missteps of Deleuzian Buggery

Expanding on a Twitter thread from the other day, I wanted make a few further notes on my current readings around Henri Bergson and his philosophy.

I’m currently hard at work on an essay about temporal (or rather durational) ethics in 20th century philosophy and its unacknowledged relevance to (and perhaps indirect influence on) accelerationism, so often said to be devoid of any ethics whatsoever.

I’ve been primarily looking at Blanchot for this — of course; I can’t leave him alone at the minute — because I’ve kept finding references to “duration” as a somewhat underdefined philosophical concept in his body of work, likewise containing shades of Levinas’ concept of “infinity”.

In trying to better account for what he might mean by this term, the obvious place to turn has been to Bergson who was so undoubtedly popular at the time through which Blanchot was writing.

Emily Herring has written a really fun essay on this recently for Aeon, all about Bergson’s pretty incredible popularity in early 20th century France, and how his popularity amongst women in particular probably fuelled the subsequent backlash against him in later decades — undoubtedly giving birth to the contemporary “theorybro”. She writes:

Why, when Bergson was popular, was he so popular, and especially with women? A combination of factors, including the public nature of his lectures and the clarity of his lecturing style no doubt contributed to his fame. Women in particular would have benefitted from the fact that Bergson’s lectures, which were held outside the stuffy confines of the exclusive Sorbonne, presented complex and subtle ideas in a way that was digestible to those who had perhaps not benefitted from a formal philosophical education. More importantly, Bergson’s philosophy was a philosophy of change, creativity and freedom that many, in the years leading up to the First World War, used as a way of channelling their own political hopes.

Herring goes on to argue that “the women of the late Belle Époque were so drawn to Bergson because his philosophy was then a rallying point for those who believed radical change was possible — much as their descendants would be drawn to the philosophy of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir in the late 1940s.” Sartre and de Beauvoir are not the only ones, of course — Blanchot and Levinas have emerged as two philosophers who have piqued my own interest recently who seem quite obviously influenced by Bergson, even just by osmosis, and whose radicality would increase as a result of that same interwar feeling and its later squandering in the post-war era — but Herring makes a good point with de Beauvoir, in particular. She writes:

Little more than a decade later, the young de Beauvoir, who would herself become one of the 20th-century’s most famous and influential thinkers, became an avid reader of Bergson. While she disavowed Bergson in her memoirs, her diaries tell another story. Born in 1908, de Beauvoir was still a young child when Bergson was at the height of his fame. At the age of 18, in 1926, she wrote of a ‘great intellectual intoxication’ after reading his works. [Her] reading of Bergson did not hinge upon essentialist notions of femininity (that would have been incompatible with her existentialism). Instead, she appears to have been inspired in her views on fiction by Bergson’s methodical use of metaphors, and she was moved by Bergson’s idea that true freedom was to be found within the immediate data of lived experience.

She ends on the point that “the important role played by women in the history of philosophy no longer needs to be demonstrated, but philosophy books, articles and curricula remain chronically dominated by (mostly European) men.” And yet, the strange entanglement that seems to conjoin Bergson to the women he supposedly inspired is that both have been (or once were) ejected from the philosophical canon. Such was Deleuze’s interest in Bergson (and Hume, Nietzsche, Spinoza, et al.)

Yes, Deleuze could have written a book about a woman to actually help this argument… But what I’m trying to say is that he was at least interested in those philosophers whose work contained a certain something that could not be assimilated into the canon that, in some circles, he himself now represents, and this is something which persists in the work of many philosophers from maligned demographics but is nonetheless the first thing to be removed when those thinkers end up being brought into the academy. (And this is even a centrally important aspect of some explicitly feminist philosophies — I’m thinking of Helene Cixous.) [1]

This is how the translator’s introduction to the English edition of Deleuze’s 1966 book Bergsonism sets the scene, as a seminal entry in his books on others which, together, form a philosophical “counter history” of philosophers “who seemed to be part of the history of philosophy, but who escaped from it in one respect or another.” Furthermore, the translator’s invoke that most famous of quotations wherein Deleuze describes his approach to the history of philosophy as

a kind of buggery, or, what comes to the same thing, immaculate conception. I imagined myself getting onto the back of an author, and giving him a child, which would be his and which would at the same time be a monster. It is very important that it should be his child, because the author actually had to say everything that I made him say. But it also had to be a monster because it was necessary to go through all kinds of decenterings, slips, break ins, secret emissions, which I really enjoyed.

They notes that Deleuze’s book on Bergson is “a classic case of this”, but the issue seems to be for many, especially in the English-speaking world, that Deleuze’s bastardised books become the foundation on which these under-appreciated philosophies are discussed.

Interestingly, Deleuze does address this in the afterword written specifically for the English edition which begins, surprisingly, with a very explicit doubling-down on Bergson’s own project, somewhat in contrast to his own monstrous version of it.

Whereas Deleuze begins, originally, in 1966, by hammering out the distinct stages of Bergson’s philosophy, in this afterword he writes that “a ‘return to Bergson’ does not only mean a renewed admiration for a great philosopher but a renewal or an extension of his project today, in relation to the transformation of life and society, in parallel with the transformations of science.”

To my mind, this reads like a kind of softening of his initial style — perhaps to be expected: this afterword was written 20+ years later, for a new edition of a book that is still a relatively early entry in Deleuze’s oeuvre — but it also speaks to the other book on Bergson which I’ve been reading these past few weeks: Vladimir Jankélévitch’s Henri Bergson.

I’m still getting to grips with this book and its particularly challenging to a lot of the English-speaking literature on him which is still so heavily influenced by Deleuze.

I shared sections from this on Twitter already but I want to reiterate them here because I think this somewhat un-Deleuzified approach to Bergson is in fact very insightful for how the English-speaking world might better approach Deleuze himself.

The translator’s introduction to Jankélévitch’s book spends a considerable amount of time on this issue and necessarily so. They write that it is “not at all controversial to claim that Deleuze effectively revived interest in Bergson for English speakers.” They likewise go on to note a number of well-known texts from the English-language secondary literature that “are guided by Deleuze’s interpretation”.

However, the translators are quite pointed in their evaluation of Deleuze’s book. They write that for “all its strengths … balance is not one of them.” They continue:

Deleuze interprets Bergson’s philosophy in terms of a progression, wherein the insights of his early writings are fully realized only in his later work. And it’s not as if Deleuze is coy about this feature of his interpretation. To the contrary, he couldn’t be more up front about it! Just look at the famous first lines of Bergsonism: “Duration, Memory, Élan Vital mark the major stages of Bergson’s philosophy. This book sets out to determine, first, the relationship between these three notions and, second, the progress they involve.” With his talk of stages and progress, this is a bold opening move. Indeed, it is a highly — an incredibly! — anti-Bergsonian gambit. No doubt, it buys Deleuze a sharp and systematic presentation; but it comes at the price of faithfulness to precisely what Jankélévitch labored hard to capture: the real duration and lived development of Bergson’s philosophy. Or, to put the point in more technical terms, at the outset of his interpretation of Bergson, Deleuze avowedly (I am tempted to say, brazenly) occupies the very standpoint that Bergson had spent a lifetime problematizing: a retrospective vision that sees movement only in terms of the destination it reaches.

This Bergsonian perspective that problematises “a retrospective vision that sees movement only in terms of the destination it reaches” is interesting in that it is the sort of position that, even if Deleuze does not problematise it himself in this instance, seems to be central to his later thought and, indeed, whenever Blanchot appears in Deleuze’s work, it seems to be this point that he is emphasising.

This is precisely what Blanchot means when he speaks of duration and, as I’ve spoken about very recently in my essay on friendship, this is the basis of a mid-20th century durational ethics for a whole host of writers which becomes quite explicitly associated with communism, perhaps in being thought as a temporality and subjectivity that is beyond the capitalist capture of time and labour power.

This is not to suggest that this is wholly absent from Deleuze’s thought at this point, however. As Jankélévitch’s translators write: “At every point in his interpretation Deleuze is keen to push past Bergson’s analysis of subjective experience toward an ontological — or, as he puts it, an “inhuman” or “superhuman” — register of duration.” The writer’s critique is that this selective reading, whilst perhaps more relevant to us today, is unfaithful to Bergson’s own persistently vitalist humanism.

They do go on to note, however, that these perspectives — Jankélévitch’s and Deleuze’s — whilst being “divergent”, are not “incompatible” with one another. I’ll have to finish digesting the rest of the actual book before I can comment on that…

What I find most interesting about this critical reevaluation of Deleuze’s impact on Anglo-Bergsonism, though, is that it seems to frame Bergsonism the book as something of a joke on Deleuze’s part, if only one that backfired when the work was translated into English. This seems to be so apparent that he has to return to his own book in 1988 and write an afterword reemphasising the true Bergsonism at the heart of his new Bergsonism — to emphasise its multiplicity and its “pathology of duration”; the splits that nevertheless entangled the two — the discrete and the continuous, connecting it somewhat to his thought-to-come, his difference and repetition. But, notably, Deleuze does not reevaluate his own book by making reference to his own later destinations.

He resituates Bergson’s work — and, by association, his own — as an attempt at a living project, and it is here that the importance of a true Bergsonism to schizoanalysis can be seen, so often trodden on by the same sort of theorybro-dom that makes Deleuze such an insufferable figure to talk about in many a context today.

Whilst a younger Deleuze may have approached Bergson “brazenly”, speaking to the violence of his previous “buggery” with its rape-like connotations, it seems that, later, he attempts to fix this, reestablishing himself not as a theoretical Frankenstein, producing monsters, but rather as a friend.

[1] Sidenote: This was a conversation had in the pub the other day, actually. I was chatting to some MA students who’d just had a symposium to present their dissertation ideas and someone was talking about a psychoanalyst and philosopher who had paved the way for a lot of later feminist work. I wasn’t sure who they were talking about and asked, out of curiosity. It was Lacan. I was quite surprised by this but took their word for it. I’m not so well versed in Lacanian theory at all but I offered the suggestion that, if you’re going to give that trophy to any French dude, I’d imagine Deleuze (and probably Guattari even more so?) had a better claim to that title — especially considering they were talking about Lacan as a direct influence on Irigaray. But anyway, that’s not my area of expertise.