Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Black Metal Commentary: Call for Proposals

PDF: Here

Glossator 7: Black Metal Commentary

Volume editors: Nicola Masciandaro and Reza Negarestani

Call for Proposals

And thereafter I saw the darkness changing into a watery substance, which was unspeakably tossed about, and gave forth smoke as from fire; and I heard it making an indescribable sound of lamentation.—Corpus Hermeticum


The burning corpse of god shall keep us warm in the doom of howling winds

For we are a race from beyond the wanderers of night.—Xasthur

The editors of Glossator: Practice and Theory of the Commentary ( seek proposals for a themed issue on Black Metal, to be published in the fall of 2012. In keeping with the journal’s focus and scope, contributions may take the following forms, with strict priority given to the former: 1) original commentaries on music, lyrics, images, or events within the Black Metal genre; 2) articles or essays investigating relationships between Black Metal and commentary. The editors have a special desire for dense, rich, copious commentaries, as the generous publication time frame permits. Collaboration is also encouraged. “Commentary” should be understood in its traditional senses (catena, commentum, gemara, glossa, hypomnema, midrash, peser, pingdian, scholia, tafsir, talkhis, tika, vritti, zend, zhangju, et al.) and in light of the following guidelines:

1. A commentary focuses on a single object (text, image, event, etc.) or portion thereof.

2. A commentary does not displace but rather shapes itself to and preserves the integrity, structure, and presence of its object.

3. The relationship of a commentary to its object may be described as both parallel and perpendicular. Commentary is parallel to its object in that it moves with or runs alongside it, following the flow of reading it. Commentary is perpendicular to its object in that it pauses or breaks from reading it in order to comment on it. The combination of these dimensions gives commentary a structure of continuing discontinuity, which allows it to be consulted or read intermittently rather than start to finish.

4. Commentary tends to maintain a certain quantitative proportion of itself vis-à-vis its object. This tendency corresponds to the practice of "filling up the margins" of a text.

5. Commentary, as a form of discourse, tends to favor and allow for the multiplication of meanings, ideas, and references. Commentary need not, and often does not, have an explicit thesis or argument. This tendency gives commentary a ludic or auto-teleological potential.

At the same time, the editors welcome formal and disciplinary innovation within the commentary genre. Commentaries may be philosophical, poetic, critical, historical, philological, etc. or some combination thereof.

More specifically, we encourage proposals for work that draws inspiration from and explores the spaces of contact between commentary and Black Metal. Such as:

Vacuum/Void/Abyss: Black Metal and commentary share concern with explicitly spatial forms of emptiness and absence, and with the horror/joy/creativity of being before them. Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht finds a relation to emptiness as the context for commentary’s imminent return: “The vision of the empty chip constitutes a threat, a veritable horror vacui not only for the electronic media industry but also, I suppose, for our intellectual and cultural self-appreciation. It might promote, once again, a reappreciation of the principle and substance of copia. And it might bring about a situation in which we will no longer be embarrassed to admit that filling up margins is what commentaries mostly do—and what they do best” (The Powers of Philology). Black Metal similarly fills voids, sounds abysses with its sonic/verbal/visual representations of them. So they share a deeper function beyond explanation/representation, namely, to multiply explanation and representation fractally, to generate more and more perceptual enclosures, spaces within which the unexplainable/unrepresentable is brought into presence.

Liminality/Marginality: Black Metal and commentary situate themselves, and derive power by operating from, margins of genre, history, ideology, knowledge. Both enjoy “unofficial” cultural status. Both destabilize, by holding intimate relation to, categories of the center: truth, onto-theology, “God.” Both enjoy forms of authority that are fundamentally ambivalent, safe from attack in a space of irrelevance, yet therefore capable of perfect incursions, the most dangerous unrecognizable raids.

Avant-Garde: The expansion of the margin and the perforation of the boundary associated with Black Metal and commentary provide both with a vanguard front capable of exposing the established order to the corrosive influence of the outside and affecting any outside-oriented determination with the non-escapist influence of the established. To put it differently, since the zone of operation for both Black Metal and commentary is the margin, by expanding the margin of the established order they increasingly expose it to the influence of the beyond. Yet since they also perforate the boundaries, they establish an affect between the beyond and the center. The vanguard in Black Metal and commentary does not merely set itself against the status quo in order to make difference (the hallmark of modernism) but rather operates as a form of resistance which is bent on conjuring the potentialities of what has already been grounded and bringing about the obstructed possibilities of beyond within the established (primary text, world, idea, etc.). The modernist determination against the status quo presumes an emancipatory sublime which adheres to the modernist temporality of progress and the possibility of unilateral determination against the established. For Black Metal, however, this unilateral determination as the vector of modernism is too reliant on the initial possibility of a unilateral separation from the established gravity and the promise of an escape or access to the outside free from the influence of what is already there. Breaking from such promises, Black Metal resorts to action whose scene is here, within and in relation to what is already there, its initiation is not dependent on a hypothetical opportunity, its resources are limited to what is available and its line of determination deflects inward in the direction of what is already there. Black Metal, in this sense, confounds the distinction between expression and praxis. For Black Metal as well as commentary, the deferral of aesthetic or ideological resolution is not compatible with the concrete and conciliatory model of the sublime developed by despotic, fascist and racist movements. Since a notion of the sublime that belongs to another time and is dependent on a promised opportunity or the fulfillment of an initial possibility is prone to ethico-political manipulations, both genres grasp the avant-garde through reworking of the sublime as “beyond within” (Lyotard, Lessons on the Analytic of the Sublime).

Arcana/Enclosure: The nexus of erudition and the esoteric. Commentary and Black Metal collude in perverse attachment to sedimentary, occult lore, to what is buried in books, and more generally in relations to lore as buried, in need of excavation. This shared loric perversity may be understood on the analogy of archaeology, as a discipline which unearths so as to reinter in the tombs and vaults of its own expertise, which understands by entombing itself in a relation to the object as artifact. So, like the alchemical manuscript, itself often the story of another found-and-lost text, commentary makes itself available via indirection, not generally but for those who want to know, who love to follow the multiplying referential labyrinths of knowing. Similarly, Black Metal delves into obscure discourses only to sing them through the dark veils of its own trobar clos, so as to produce and enjoy itself as a hidden relation to the hidden. Hermetic, subterranean, semi-anonymous, Black Metal and commentary pursue parallel adventures in conspiratorial and melancholic epistemic conditions, in erotic relation to their objects as always already lost. At the same time, commentary and black metal, by pro-ducing their arcane or enclosed condition, by bringing it into presence as art, also keep open and play in freedom from it, as modeled in Robert Burton’s melancholic and melancholy-curing commentarial Anatomy—“I write of melancholy, by being busy to avoid melancholy”—and in the black bile-sweetening music—“a certain melancholy disposition . . . made sweet for us by frequent use of the lyre” (Letters)—of the saturnine occultist commentator Marsilio Ficino, who understood “that the melancholy man was uniquely suited to perform the talismanic incantations which he believed were capable of liberating the spirit from the world of appearances” (Robin Headlam Wells, “John Dowland and Elizabethan Melancholy”). Haunted by the principle of ignotum per ignotius as its own logical spectre, the clarifying-by-complicating and explicating-by-obfuscating movement of commentary, which is captured in Montaigne’s complaint that “everything swarms [fourmille] with commentaries,” is analogous to Black Metal as a motion/anti-motion of artistic expression that articulates from and through enclosure, or, as Dante knew, bubbles to the surface from black depths: “Fixed in the slime they say: ‘We were sullen in the sweet air gladdened by the sun, bearing within us the sluggish fumes [accidioso fummo]; now we are sullen in the black mire.’ This hymn they gurgle in their throats [si gorgoglian] ne la strozza, for they cannot speak it in full words” (Inferno 7.121-6).

Necrology: Black Metal is usually characterized among its followers and opponents by its ambivalent relationship with death and decay to such an extent that it is often said that the only protagonists in Black Metal are festering corpses. It is the ambivalent relationship of Black Metal with death that gives rise to the most criticized aspect of Black Metal, namely, necromanticism. As a part of vitalistic investment in death, necromanticism involves a liberalist or hedonistic openness toward death in the form of a simultaneously economical and libidinal synthesis between desire and death. Capable of safe guarding the innermost political, economical and libidinal recesses of vitalism, necromanticism simultaneously enchants the necrotic Other with the charm of animation and romanticizes a vitalistic escape through death. Yet Black Metal can also be approached from a more twisted and colder intimacy with death, an impersonal realm where the already-dead finds its voice in the living. The voice of the living, in this case, bespeaks of dejection from a world for which vitalistic ideas are spurious, yet they cannot be simply disillusioned or disenchanted by recourse to death in the form of utter annihilation or solution as termination. Black Metal, in its lyrics, sounds and performances, simultaneously presents the impossibility of this recourse and vitalism’s precarious position through the concept of blackening or decay. Aside from Black Metal's necromanticism which usually takes on a medieval gloss, Black Metal's ambivalent relationship with death and decay corresponds with medieval necrology which appears in commentaries of scholastic theology and natural philosophy. More than just assuming a successive role for the medieval commentaries on death, decomposition and macabre, Black Metal can also be examined as a unique genre capable of disinterring the necrological dimensions of commentary. It is in commentary that the dead is impersonally animated according to its own laws and not by the laws of the living. Both Black Metal and commentary genre internalize the concept of decomposition and infinite decay by putting to the test the tolerance or the limit of the world, a text or an idea without completely erasing or silencing it. Here, commentary and Black Metal respectively correspond with an interminable—therefore a limit process—explication or disintegration of a primary source. Such a limit process constitutes the basic principle of decay in which the object degenerates to no end without returning to its constitutive elements (a better and older world), or without becoming silent and ceasing to exist.

Problematicity: Rather than seeking resolving solutions, both Black Metal and the commentary genre operate as functions of the problem. Their approach to their objects, themes, ideas and genres is characterized by relentless problematization. They do not resolve the problematic situations but rather contribute to the internal tension of the problem. Quite literally, they situate themselves as problematical entities. The internal duplicities of Black Metal toward death, (anti-)humanism and extremities are the consequence of such problematical nature which requires means of investigation and commentary other than pejorative, purifying and absolving. Where other musical genres are constantly tempted towards justification and purification (musical, philosophical, aesthetical, etc.), Black Metal tends to bask in the speculative glory of the problematic.

Praxis: Whatever their utility, commentary and Black Metal intersect in an essential anti-instrumentality. Commentary and Black Metal make useful, enjoyable products, but their production of them is determined by various kinds of counterimpulses that would unmake production as such, that would perform it freely, at once for itself and for nothing. For commentary, anti-instrumentality shows up primarily in the way it is pursued as praxis, as a way of being with a text that only produces the commentary as a record or residue of an essentially relational “extra-textual” experience, like the reader’s marginalia, so often not written to be read. But this negative production, production as residue or waste, is exactly commentary’s fertility. Formed of the accumulated impressions of innumerable actions and reactions to the text, commentary accomplishes nothing and so becomes capable of everything. As waves are to the stones that caused them, the gloss is to what it glosses, spreading out in unending uniqueness from the page’s unmarkable center, giving witness to depths the undisturbed, undefaced surface cannot. Commentary thus materializes a form of consciousness that may be understood as phenomenological, following Gaston Bachelard’s understanding of the reverberation of the poetic image as an experience whereby being realizes itself in a movement of reading becoming writing: “Through this reverberation, by going immediately beyond all psychology or psychoanalysis, we feel a poetic power rising naïvely within us. After the original reverberation, we are able to experience resonances, sentimental repercussions, reminders of our past. But the image has touched the depths before it stirs the surface. And this is also true of a simple experience of reading. The image offered us by reading the poem now becomes really our own. It takes root in us. It has been given us by another, but we begin to have the impression that we could have created it, that we should have created it. It becomes a new being in our language, expressing us by making us what it expresses; in other words, it is at once a becoming of expression, and a becoming of our being. Here expression creates being” (Poetics of Space). For Black Metal, anti-instrumentality shows up above all in its paradoxical nihilistic visions of itself, in the identity of being a useless and alienated activity (given the futility of all things and in particular pathetic humanity’s imminent demise) that is yet ordered as agency towards the apocalypse and/or universal transformation which renders its own production futile. Whence, for instance, Mortifer’s account of Abonus Noctis’s latest release as producing in the listener the event it narrates: “Penumbral Inorgantia is a chronicling of a man's journey to ancient underground kingdoms haunted by the inhuman entities that once dwelt therein. He must seek their arcane instruments to rid earth of all organic life after sinking into the abysmal pools of their souls to shed his human frame and assume an elevated, blackened, and immortal state of being, enabling him to eternally reign over the desolation he has created. Each song represents a specific stage in his journey and shall consequently engulf the listener in an experience of metamorphosis into inhumanity”(

Possession: In Black Metal, all elements from musical to vocal and visual must reflect the voice of the outsider, the indifferent or even the hostile and the incompatible. The explicit distortions and to some extent theatrical discordance of Black Metal are the outcome of the genre's embracing of possession as a conceptual and structural determinant. Referred to by Oesterreich as the “terrible spectacle” (Possession: Demoniacal and Other), possession not only suggests the usurpation of one's voice qua possession but also draws a vector of determination that moves from outside to the inside in order to dismantle the self or turn its zone of activity inside-out. It has been objected that since commentary does not necessarily ground a thesis of its own and is basically determined by an external thetic framework (someone else's possession), it is inherently deficient for hosting radical thinking. Yet this is exactly what makes commentary genre a playground for ascesis of thought, for it determines thinking in relation to that which does not belong to the thinker and is indeed exterior to it. In doing so, commentary simultaneously disturbs the hegemonic harmony between reflection and thinking-for-and-by-oneself, and aligns itself with the true contingency of thinking for which the necessity of the thinker does not have an anterior position or a privileged locus. It is in commentary genre that thinking transmits both voices and contents which are exterior to the thinker yet they do not enjoy a pre-established status either, because commentary entails the concomitant possession of the primary source by an outsider's voice and thereby, creates a speculative opportunity for thinking and writing on behalf of no one. What is usurped in possession is belonging per se—as an appurtenant bond between parties—rather than the possession of someone else on behalf of another. Both Black Metal and commentary regard possession as the true vocation of art and thinking.

Nota Bene: 400-500-word proposals should be sent via email to Proposals should indicate the scope, form, and length of the intended work. Deadline: March 1, 2009.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Negate panpsychism's impossibility

Negate panpsychism’s impossibility,
Live the death of your mind/matter duality.

Becoming dust is way beyond imagining,
The essence of friendship, pure actuality.

Help me fail to forget we live on planet wine,
Enrich impoverished notions of reality.

The pestilence of human labor is a spring
From fertile infernal dimensionality.

Procure me verse to envenom the universe,
Deep inseminating form, not formality.

Around the abyss of your radical event
Angels sing hymns in bliss to abnormality.

Down to his fingers, down to his toes, Nicola
Feels the non-existence of triviality.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Good, Evil, Deconstruction, Perception, Dust

"It has been seen that good sanskaras [impressions] can be the medium for the lingering life of the limited self. When a person looks upon himself as being good and not bad, he is engaged in self-affirmation through identification with this conviction, which is a continuation of separative existence in a new form. In some cases this new house which the ego constructs for itself is more difficult to dismantle, because self-identification with the good is often more complete than self-identification with the bad. Identification with the bad is easier to deal with because, as soon as the bad is perceived as being bad, its grip on consciousness becomes less firm. The loosening of the grip of the good presents a more difficult problem, since the good carries a semblance of self-justification through favourable contrast with the bad. However, in course of time the aspirant gets tired of his new prison-house, and after this perception he surrenders his separative existence by transcending the duality of good and bad.

The ego changes the house of identification with evil for the house of identification with good because the latter gives him a greater sense of expansion. Sooner or later the aspirant perceives the new abode to be no less of a limitation. Then he finds that the process of breaking through it is less difficult than the process of breaking through the former abode of identification with the evil. The difficulty concerning the abode of evil is is not so much of perceiving that it is a limitation but in actually dismantling it after arriving at such perception. The difficulty concerning the abode of the good is not so much in dismantling it as of perceiving that it is, in fact, a limitation. This difference arises because the animal sanskaras are more firmly rooted owing to their ancient origin and long term of accumulation. It is important to note that the good binds as much as the evil, though the binding of the good can be more easily undone after it is perceived as being a limitation.

The ego lives either through bad sanskaras or through good sanskaras, or through a mixture of good and bad sanskaras. Therefore the emancipation of consciousness from all sanskaras can come either through the good sanskaras balancing and overlapping bad sanskaras; or, through some good sanskaras balancing and overlapping bad sanskaras, and some bad sanskaras balancing and overlapping good sanskaras. If a dish is filthy you may cleanse it by covering it with soap and washing it with water. This is like good sanskaras overlapping bad sanskaras. Now if the dish is full of grease, one way of getting rid of the grease is to cover it with dust and then wash it with water. Dust is the most greaseless thing in the world and, in a sense, the opposite of grease, so that when dust is applied to the dish tainted with grease it is easy to cleanse it. This is like bad sanskaras overlapping good sanskaras.

When there is exact balancing and overlapping of good and bad sanskaras, they both disappear, with the result that what remains is a clean slate of mind on which nothing is written and which therefore reflects the Truth as it is without perversion. Nothing is ever written on the soul. The sanskaras are deposited on the mind and not on the soul. The soul always remains untarnished, but it is only when the mind is a clean mirror that it can reflect the Truth. When the impressions of good and bad both disappear the mind sees the soul. This is Illumination." (Discourses, I.97-8)

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Metal as Deixis

To be delivered here.

PDF: "What is This that Stands before Me?: Metal as Deixis."

Suppose someone hears an unknown sign, like the sound of some word which he does not know the meaning of; he wants to know what it is . . . [this] is not love for the thing he does not know but for something he knows, on account of which he wants to know what he does not know.[1]

[T]he significance of the This is, in reality, a Not-this that it contains; that is, an essential negativity. . . . The problem of being—the supreme metaphysical problem—emerges from the very beginning as inseparable from the problem of the significance of the demonstrative pronoun, and for this reason it is always already connected with the field of indication . . . Deixis, or indication . . . is the category within which language refers to its own taking place.[2]

[T]he work of art does not simply refer to something, because what it refers to is actually there. We could say that the work of art signifies an increase in being.[3]

Were I medieval rather than medievalist, my paper would perform a heretical allegorical exegesis of the opening of Black Sabbath’s “Black Sabbath” as the appearance of Heavy Metal itself, personified by the mysterious figure who, escaping identification, points to the one who sees it, to me: “What is this that stands before me? / Figure in black which points at me.”[4] Here metal, its authenticity or self-authorization emblematized by the tautological terms of artist, song, and album, would signify an event unveiling the negativity of the mystery of oneself, the unbelievable brutality of the fact that one is, as the original evil of the world. So metal’s very advent, an unpredictable/anticipated revelation of a more profound origin, would constitute a messianic opening—think Sabbath’s mystical fifth member—toward a world beyond this negativity, the experiential space for its seizure and sublimation. The lovely heresy of this reading is its flirting with refusal of the divine “gift” of individuated being and its undermining of the impotent Judeo-Christian explanation for what is wrong with everything in terms of a collision between demonic and human agency, in short, Eve. This move, moreover, my medieval alter-ego would discover, is proportionally traced in the fate of Black Sabbath’s “Evil Woman,” a too-pop cover-song reluctantly recorded and released as their debut single with Sabbath’s own “Wicked World” on side B, included in the UK release of the first album, replaced with “Wicked World” in the US release by Warner Bros., and since forgotten by a metal tradition which generally understands that the problem is not something in particular but world itself, the whole ungraspable fact of our being in what stands before us.[5] Or, as expressed in the following catena (a medieval exegetical device) from Bolt Thrower’s The IVth Crusade: “Insignificance is our existence . . . No escape, there is no way out . . . Existing in the present which surely cannot last . . . Lost on a voyage with no destiny . . . Our futile lives shall be no more . . . Just isn't how you planned . . . To survive we must comply . . . Faced by this total stranger . . . Take me far away—deep within the dream . . . Open our mind before it’s too late.”[6]

Instead, I will pursue a similar argument in a different idiom, namely, that metal holds an essential relation to the phenomenology of deixis, a relation modeled in the opening scene of metal’s originary song wherein indication is dramatized as pointing back on itself towards the one who indicates in such a way that the negativity of the question is restored to the negativity of the subject—the mystery, finitude, and acontextuality of their being—as its first and final ground.[7] As an expression of the experiential structure of metal, of what metal first feels like, this scene shows metal as founded on an ecstatic experience of deixis’s essential negativity and so suggests that metal finds itself, becomes and stays metal, as an insistent performance of the fact that we encounter things, the real presence of the this, only through negation. At the level of language, the negativity of deixis, following Hegel and his commentators, is structured by the unutterability of the singular, by the fact that when we say this, a sign whose significance is wholly constituted by the contextual instance of its own event, what is said is in fact a not-this, a universal which annuls the singularity of what is meant.[8] What makes deixis work, then, what enables its function in discourse, is that it says by not saying, and more precisely, that it negates its own inability to signify by speaking language, that is, by referring to the actual event of our being in language, in the same manner that “I” means “the one who is saying ‘I’.”[9] The negativity of deixis thus resolves to a deeper auto-deixis, its pointing to itself. And it is on this principle that the aesthetic empire of metal is built. This means that metal, being like all music something between language and art, discourse and making, is located at the intersection between the phenomena described in my last two epigraphs, that it takes place at the point where language’s referring to its own taking place joins with art’s presencing of what it refers to. Neither a refusal of signification nor an attempt to signify, metal is a deictic art or indication production that points to the presence of its own pointing. The ecstatic potential of such deictic self-presencing, literalized in the metalhead’s tensionally vibrating devil horns, is explicable via George Bataille’s definition of ecstasy as “the opposite of a response of a desire to know”, which traces a dialectical movement parallel to the opening of Black Sabbath’s “Black Sabbath”:


In tune with this pattern, the exuberance of metallic deixis is a bearing forth of the abundance of its own presence, via qualitative and quantitative sonic plenitudes, into the absence of what it would indicate, an aesthetic production or actual making of precisely what can never be pointed to but which deixis, prior to and as the basis of all signification, always does: its own facticity, the fact that it is.[11]

What makes metal deictic in this deeper way? How does it produce the presence of its own that? The simple and essential answer is noise, which metal fashions, not as such, but in and out of the significative structures of instrumental and vocal forms. So metal traces its circle of aural experience with a compass constructed from the two points of the unknown or unintelligible sonic sign: sound as the sign of an unknown event (something happening, capable of being shown and witnessed—what was that?) and sound as the sign of an unknown meaning (something being said, capable of being understood and interpreted—what did he say?), with the fluid boundary between them being marked by the scream. These two forms of significative noise are the magnetic poles of a being-with-music that, in keeping with Augustine’s analysis of our experience of unknown signs cited above, instantaneously and continuously draws forth the will to know, our what is this?, while feeding the will solely and purely with its own inexorable dense presence, where it now means the phenomenon or event happening in the “third area” of reality between subject and object, here nameable as the metalhead’s willing of metal, the becoming-metal of his own head. [12] Wrestling with and against its own indication, in love with the sign as its fiercest enemy, metallic deixis is a noisy semiotic struggle to make itself what it points to. Before all signification or making of points, before all themes and purposes, metal indicates via the negativity of the unknown sign that it is indicating, that it is happening as indication. Indeed, metal utilizes significative forms (music, words) and digests whole discourses expressly for this purpose, neither to express nor not to express things with them, but to make and indicate the making of the sonic fact of their expression into a significance preceding and exceeding all they could express. From this perspective, metal’s conceptual commitment to negative themes (death, apocalypse, void, etc.) is an absolute aesthetic necessity, ensuring that insofar as metal does signify beyond itself, that this beyond only expose metal’s own inexplicability as significative event. Facticity emerges, is made present through metallic deixis the way it usually does, through suspension of the what, a suspension which belongs more generally to the experience of wonder, where not knowing what a thing is leaves us caught, fixed before the fact that it is. In this, metal bears an important relation to the avant-garde sublime, as explicated by Lyotard in relation to painting: “The paint, the picture as occurrence or event, is not expressible, and it is to this that it has to witness. . . . The avant-gardist attempt inscribes the occurrence of a sensory now as what cannot be presented and which remains to be presented in the decline of ‘great’ representational painting.”[13] But what distinguishes metal within this relation is that metal achieves its sensory self-inscription not by standing apart from representational tradition (a move more proper to the avant-garde as such) but by wholly investing in it, by locating itself as a beyond within representation, within musical and linguistic form. Metal achieves itself as such a beyond not simply by simultaneously signifying and not signifying (a domain more proper to conceptual and ironic art), but more “naïvely” and desperately by signifying through the very refusal to signify. Noisiness constitutes this refusal as sound’s return from significance back towards itself.

For instrumental sound, the noisiness of metallic deixis means sound’s becoming substantial, dense, elemental, a thing and hence “no longer” possibly the sound of something happening, nor the sound of music, but a happening in and of itself. As captured in its own weighty generic term, heavy metal takes sonic substantiality to its aesthetic limit: the reality of sound so loud it can hurt, the fantasy of sound so solid it can kill. Whence Doom, or, drowning under quaking mountains of sound: “Shockwaves rattle the Earth below with hymn of doom” (Sleep, “From Beyond,” Sleep’s Holy Mountain [Earache Records, 1993]). Thrash, or, hacking and being hacked to bits with finely ground axes of sound: “The only way to exit / Is going piece by piece” (Slayer, “Piece by Piece,” Reign in Blood [Def Jam, 1986]). Death, or, being disembowled from within by chthonic rumblings of sound: “We’re turned inside out / Beyond the piercing cries” (Obituary, “Turned Inside Out,” Cause of Death [Roadrunner Records, 1990]). Black, or, freezing to death in infernal ice wastes of sound: “We are fucking ice” (Imperial Crystalline Entombment, “Astral Frost Invocation,” Apocalyptic End in White [Crash Music, 2004]).

For vocal sound, the noisiness of metallic deixis means sound’s becoming self, the embodied being of the one to whom voice belongs and hence “no longer” the sound of being, nor the sound of language, but a being in and of itself. This may be understood as an inversion of the usual experiential relation between voice and language, whereby voice disappears via articulation into language and thus stands behind the word, informing it. In the metal lyric, voice appears via disarticulation from language and thus stands between us and the word, interfering with it.[14] Accordingly, metal vocals, especially of the black and death variety, are capable of producing the experience of hearing the word detached from vocal intentionality, the word as unsaid by the one who speaks, as exemplified by the self-indicating word of the demonically possessed: “Jesus then asked him, ‘What is your name?’ And he said, ‘Legion’; for many demons had entered him”(Luke 8:30).[15] Opening a space between sound and meaning where voice teems (cf. legion [legio, λεγιών] as simultaneously noun and name, both and neither), metal vocals similarly produce voice as a singular multiplicity, so that rather than hearing words spoken by voice (the one in the many), we hear voice spoken by words (the many in the one).[16] Vocal metallic deixis is the inside-out voice of a linguistic self-possession indicating the presence of what it says in the being who speaks. Thinking the metal vocal auto-deictically in these terms, as intensifying the presence of its producer such that (following Gadamer) the vocal does not merely speak something because what it speaks is actually there, in other words, as voice as possessed by what it says, coordinates with Agamben’s ontological understanding of the negativity of deixis as grounded in the removal or dispossession of the voice: “that which is removed each time in speaking, this, is the voice. . . . ‘Taking-the-This’ and ‘Being-the-there’ are possible only through the experience of the Voice, that is, the experience of the taking place of language in the removal of the voice.”[17] What the metal vocal enacts, then, is something like the return of the voice in vengeance against the event of language as what negates it and thus a repossession of the voice as ontic exponent, a pure will to signify.[18]

This reading of metal as deixis indicates, moreover, an important relation between metal and apophatic mysticism as a discourse-praxis radically invested in the experiential possibilities of actuality or the that. As captured by the Vedantic formula neti neti (not this, not this), the apophatic mystic deictically negates all presences in affirmation and realization of a divine Beyond. In the fourteenth-century Cloud of Unknowing, for instance, the contemplative “treads all things down full far under the cloud of forgetting” and through a most intense psychic suffering of sorrow “that he is” arrives at a divine ravishment defined as “that joy which robs one of all knowing and feeling of one’s being.”[19] Metal practices a different but symmetrical and thus potentially complementary craft with the same tool, held by the other end, as it were: metal deictically negates all absences in affirmation and realization of itself as a Beyond.[20] This does not mean affirming the presence of what is absent or denying the absence of what is present. It means, quite simply, denying the absent, negating what is not present. But how does one deictically negate an absence, something that is not there to be indicated in the first place? How can deixis instrumentalize denial of what is not evident? Metallic deixis accomplishes this the only way it can be accomplished, by pointing to something absent in a manner that denies that there is anything to be pointed to, that is, by simultaneously pointing and denying that one is pointing, by pointing in denial of pointing’s significance. In these terms, deixis is the essential mechanism of metal’s frequently appreciated Nietzschean spirit, as a self-liberating movement away from all possibility of an outside towards which the world is ordered yet therefore also a movement which both remains in contact with the outside as impossible—“God is dead”—and loves to forget that contact in the midst of its own presence. Metal’s universal symbol, the sign of the horns, perfectly embodies this movement, pointing to what it negates and refuses, devilishly asserting itself as the divinity it denies, all the while signifying little more than metal per se. Or as Behemoth sing it: “Rise thy horns / For I'm at one with the dark / Divine presence ascends / Touching the forehead ov god” (Behemoth, “Horns Ov Baphomet,” Zos Kia Cultus (Here and Beyond) [Avantgarde Music, 2002]). Metal-as-deixis is this touch, the rebellious appropriation of all significance for the irreducible event of its indication, as if the sign, forced to point back upon its own primal presence, would disclose a transcendent anti-ontotheological tautology, a heretically divine human tetragrammaton (I am who I am). So Nietzsche’s Zarathustra says: “For me—how could there be something outside me? There is no outside! But we forget this with all sounds; how lovely it is that we forget!” And the animals reply: “In every Instant being begins; round every Here rolls the ball. There. The middle is everywhere. Crooked is the path of eternity.”[21] Forgetting that there is no outside, a special virtue of sonic experience, is not an enchanting illusion that there is an outside, but more simply and purely a suspension of the burden of consciousness that there is no outside, a putting down of the labor of negation, and hence an opening towards real experience of the principle, understood by Agamben, that “the root of all pure joy and sadness is that the world is as it is.”[22]

[1] Augustine, The Trinity, trans. John E. Rotelle (New York: New City Press), X.1.2.

[2] Giorgio Agamben, Language and Death: The Place of Negativity, trans. Karen E. Pinkhaus and Michael Hardt (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1991), 14-25.

[3] Hans-Georg Gadamer, The Relevance of the Beautiful and Other Essays, ed. Robert Bernasconi, trans. Nicholas Walker (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), 35.

[4] Black Sabbath, “Black Sabbath,” Black Sabbath (Warner Bros., 1970).

[5] On “Evil Woman,” see Paul Wilkinson, Rat Salad: Black Sabbath, The Classic Years, 1969-1975 (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2006), 37, 48-9, 52.

[6] Bolt Thrower, The IVth Crusdae (Earache Records, 1992).

[7] Cf. “From a logical point of view, the openness essential to experience is precisely the openness of being either this or that. It has the structure of a question. And just as the dialectical negativity of experience culminates in the idea of being perfectly experienced—i.e., being aware of our finitude and limitedness—so also the logical form of the question and the negativity that is part of it culminate in a radical negativity: the knowledge of not knowing” (Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method, trans. Joel Weinsheimer and Donald G. Marshall, 2nd ed. [New York: Continuum, 1994], 362).

[8] As Hegel explains, “the sensuous This that is meant cannot be reached by language, which belongs to consciousness, i.e. to that which is inherently universal. In the actual attempt to say it, it would therefore crumble away; those who started to describe it would not be able to complete the description, but would be compelled to leave it to others, who would themselves finally have to admit to speaking about something which is not” (Phenomenology of Spirit, ¶110, cited from The Hegel Reader, ed. Stephen Houlgate [Oxford: Blackwell, 1998], 85). Ferrarin comments: “By saying ‘this,’ ‘now,’ consciousness experiences the universality of language. The singular is only opined or meant [gemeint] because all singulars can be indicated as a ‘this’ or a ‘now.’ The ‘this’ is ‘neither this nor that, a not-this.’ In other words, the ‘this’ cannot be identified positively with a singular spatiotemporal given; it abides as a constant in the vanishing of its being referred to. In sum, it is not an immediacy but a negation; the this is the negative proxy (demonstrative pronoun) for each singular given (Alfredo Ferrarin, Hegel and Aristotle [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001], 182-3). Cf. “The force and truth of language negate and pass beyond the singularity of the meant, a sheer sensuous Being, and thus raise it to the conceptual universality of the uttered or expressed. Language will thus annul the singularity that meaning intends to express with it” (Thomas A. Carlson, Indiscretion: Finitude and the Naming of God [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999, 108).

[9]As Daniel Heller-Roazen, commenting on Agamben, explains: “Agamben argues that an analysis of the potentiality of language . . . leads to a solution, or more precisely, dissolution of the aporia of self-reference. ‘The name can be named and language can be brought to speech,’ we read in ‘Pardes,’ Agamben’s essay on Derrida . . . ‘because self-reference is displaced onto the level of potentiality; what is intended is neither word as object nor the word insofar as it actually denotes a thing but, rather, a pure potential to signify (and not to signify) . . . But this is not longer meaning’s self-reference, a sign’s signification of itself; instead it is the materialization of a potentiality, the materialization of its own possibility.’ Hence the significance, for Agamben, of those parts of language whose connotative value can be determined only on the basis of their relation to an event of language . . . At issue in each case are parts of speech that, in themselves, bear no meaning; they are capable of functioning in discourse only because they suspend their own incapacity to signify and, in this way, refer to an actual event of language. . . . We have seen that Agamben’s analysis of potentiality leads to the recognition that actuality is nothing other than the self-suspension of potentiality, the mode in which Being can not not be. The same suspension must be said of the potentiality constitutive of language: like all potentiality, it is not effaced but rather fulfilled and completed in the passage to actuality” (Giorgio Agamben, Potentialities: Collected Essays in Philosophy, ed. and trans. Daniel Heller-Roazen [Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999], 20).

[10] George Bataille, The Bataille Reader, ed. Fred Botting and Scott Wilson (Oxford: Blackwell, 1997), 45. Cf. “Being is dying by loving” (Meher Baba, Discourses, 6th ed., 3 vols, [San Francisco: Sufism Reoriented, 1973], I.29).

[11] Amy Hollywood explains the relationship between facticity, its specific form in the arbitrariness of identity, and Bataille’s understanding of ecstasy: “Bataille not only questions the meaning of his own existence and that of human existence (why live in the face of death?) but also continually brings himself face to face with the sheer contingency of his own existence as the individual he himself is. Chance is the hook on which existence falls. It is without meaning and offers no answer other than its own sheer facticity. The abruptness and impudence of this facticity, the absence of response in the response, is/engenders ecstasy” (“Bataille and Mysticism: A ‘Dazzling Dissolution’,” Diacritics 26 (1996): 74-85).

[12] [This] topology . . . has always been known to children, fetishists, “savages,” and poets. It is in this “third area” that a science of man truly freed of every eighteenth-century prejudice should focus its study. Things are not outside us, in measurable external space, like neutral objects (ob-jecta) of use and exchange; rather, they open to us the original place solely from which the experience of measurable external space becomes possible. They are therefore held and comprehended from the outset in the topos outopos (placeless place, no-place place) in which our experience of being-in-the-world is situated. The question “where is the thing?” is inseparable from the question “where is the human?” Giorgio Agamben, Stanzas: Word and Phantasm in Western Culture, trans. Ronald L. Martinez (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993), 59.

[13] Jean-François Lyotard, “The Sublime and the Avant Garde,” trans. Lisa Liebmann, in The Inhuman: Reflections on Time, ed. Andrew Benjamin (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1991), 93, 103.

[14] Cf. “what is common to most death, doom, and black metal is the anti-melodic, non-natural treatment of the voice . . . . If, as Deleuze and Guattari assert, ‘the first musical operation’ is ‘to machine the voice’ [Thousand Plateaus, trans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987), 303], that is, to deterritorialize the voice from its ordinary, ‘natural’ speaking function, then death, doom, and black vocalists are fundamentally—indeed, primarily—musical in their anti-lyrical non-singing, in that their growls, screams and grunts simply push music’s de-naturalization of the speaking voice to extremes” (Ronald Bogue, “Violence in Three Shades of Metal: Death, Doom, and Black,” chapter 3 of Deleuze’s Way: Essays in Transverse Ethics and Aesthetics [Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2007], 45-6).

[15] Eugene Thacker has explored the shared phenomenology of the Gerasene demoniac’s plural name and black metal vocals in his analysis of sonic swarms: “Pusle Demons,” Culture Machine 9 (2007),

[16] Cf. “the demons blaspheme the theological relation between the One and the Many. What is noteworthy here is that the demons first announce their presence through voice. We are not told whether the infamous answer ‘Legion’ (more commonly translated as ‘I am legion’) is uttered in chorus or as a single voice. The word ‘legion’ itself denotes some sort of an organized quasi-military unit, and thus a more rigid, disciplined mode of organization. But it is spoken – or rather, ‘resounded.’ We might even imagine that Jesus hears this demonic swarm before it is seen. But in fact, it is never seen as such. For, during the exorcism, the demonic swarm is immediately and invisibly transferred to a herd of swine. The iconography of the passage is striking – the true nature of the demons, we presume, is revealed by the choice of their receptacle in a herd of ‘dumb,’ lowly animals. But, throughout the parable, the only real indication we have of a swarm of demons is this enigmatic resounding of the word ‘Legion’.” (Eugene Thacker, “Pulse Demons). So metal is symbolically invested/infested with swarmic self-images, e.g. “Howling our metal we light up the world, / And the banner of Ungol is proudly unfurled. / Raising our legion, and now you belong, / And the point of the blade will be screaming our song” (Cirith Ungol, “Join the Legion,” Paradise Lost [Restless Records, 1991]). On the horde-concept in Black Metal, via Darwin, Freud, and Deleuze, see Valter, “Horde,” Documents <>.

[17] Giorgio Agamben, Language and Death, 32-3.

[18] Cf. Agamben reading of Augustine’s analysis of the experience of the dead and/or unknown word: “[Augustine] isolates an experience of the word in which it is no longer mere sound (istas tres syllabus) and it is not yet meaning, but the pure intention to signfty. This experience of an unknown word (verbum incognitum) in the no-man’s-land between sound and signification, is, for Augustine, the amorous experience as a will to knowledge: the intention to signify without a signified corresponds, in fact, not to logical understanding, but to the desire for knowledge” (Language and Death. 33-4, my emphasis). Agamben’s “intention to signify without a signified” intersects with the structure of metallic deixis.

[19] The Cloud of Unknowing, ed. Patrick J. Gallacher (Kalamazoo, MI: Western Michigan University, 1997), 43.1520, 44.1557, 44.1560-1, my translation.

[20] Wormed’s explanation of the their first album literalizes this movement vis-à-vis space: “WORMED is a mental state in which the human being dwells inside this immense universe, like a small ‘worm’ inside an ‘intestine,’ (the Universe). And how he feels when realizes that he cannot get outside of it. The necessity of crossing to beyond, something as being caught in a pre-dimension. It isn’t anything material, it is simply a way of naming a deep human emotion, we call this feeling WORMED. All lyrics concept in ‘Floating Cadaver in the Monochrome’ explain the ‘chapters’ of this confused space and what this space can compress all dimensions in one to create a hole in the universe. The Geodesic Dome is the ‘ne plus ultra’ point in space that is able to make that dimension portal. . . . This is only the concept of the MCD ‘Floating Cadaver in the Monochrome.’ WORMED´s brand new full-length will be the threshold to this dimension” (, unedited).

[21] Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, trans. Adrian Del Caro (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), “The Convalescent,” 173. Nietzsche’s characterization of Zarathustra in Ecce Homo is most relevant with regard to apophasis: “The psychological problem in the type of Zarathustra is how he that says No and does No to an unheard-of degree, to everything to which one has so far said Yes, can nevertheless be the opposite of No-saying spirit” (Ecce Homo, “Thus Spake Zarathustra,” ch.6, cited from On the Genealogy of Morals and Ecce Homo, trans. Walter Kaufman, ed. Walter Kaufman [New York: Vintage, 1967], 306).

[22] Giorgio Agamben, The Coming Community, trans. Michael Hardt (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993), 90, my emphasis.