Thursday, March 26, 2009
Severed Thoughts on Severed Ways
Critics generally approach their objects as something to be measured against its (apparent/presumed) intentions and the possibility for those intentions to connect with or mirror those of some community or intended audience, or more crudely, against the critics own hypothetical intentions for it, what they want it to be. This can be called an athletic model of the object, according to which its nature gets articulated as quality, as good or bad performance of its own potentiality. But this also imposes a terribly restricted notion of potentiality on an object, potentiality as only what is visible looking through the backwards telescope of some notion of result. This is lame. We may 'have to live' with results, like everything else, but results do not belong to their supposed agents, nor need we belong to them. Results result only as the acts of other agents. Result fetishism is the twin of capital as dead labor. Cf. Graham Harman on Latour and occasionalism, the lecture I intuitively gravitated to the morning after seeing Severed Ways. And isn't that the ultimate occasionalism, gravity, a rudimentary form of love and impossible mediumless contact between objects? And isn't that why it is called heavy metal?
(Black) Metal says: fuck results, and if you live for results, fuck you (skip to seventh minute). "Black metal," as Scott Wilson decodes it, "is not a form of music nor simply an unholy racket, but an amusic that precipitates a trajectory of joyful, singular dissonance in (non)relation to the conformity of the age." The parenthesis are essential; it is a relational non-relation and non-relating relation. Or as I wrote elsewhere: "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." 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."
In a final gesture that almost recognizes something like this, Manohla Dargis in the times review says, "“It is a delicious thing to write,” Flaubert rejoiced, “no longer to be oneself, but to circulate in the whole creation one speaks of.” If nothing else, Mr. Stone, from his tangled hair to dirty feet, has taken himself and his story into the beyond — way, way beyond [last three words unfortunately doubling as a bourgeois wink, introducing the idea of an ironic success, something to be enjoyed as B-grade, preemptive nostalgia, the 'safe' way of enjoying what you dont know how to]." But much more precise than Flaubert on this being taken away is Madrid's Wormed, whose concept exposes a metal trajectory much truer to this film, where one is no longer and yet still uncannily oneself, precisely not circulating in the whole creation but encased within it as within the digestive system of as an impossibly large body: "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." This of course makes the perfect marginalia for the defecation scene (Wescott's excess realism), a moment which works according to the dissonance between the amount of food the characters were eating and its material evidence for the actors' more generous diets, i.e. the opposite of the actors in Herzog's Rescue Dawn. Which is exactly not excessive but what Scott Wilson calles x-essence (See Great Satan's Rage). In other words, the shitting scene produces the logical essence of the film: the living humans are WORMED within their roles the way the vikings in the story are WORMED within their world. And note the perfect Aesopian back look in this scene: why does a man look at his own poop? . . . stupid questions get stupid answers. What does someone look back to the norse discovery of america as (acoustic) black metal? . . .
Severed Ways is precisely about what does not result, what has no issue, as driven home in the final dying scene, in which the snow-submerged face of the dead norseman becomes the final text: "The Norse Discovery of America." And it is metal because it is not interpretively intelligible as result. The possibility of such ateleology is interestingly communicated in the several reviews I have read which acknowledge a space outside of their critical judgement, for fans, etc (which itself is funny contradiction, the reading/promoting of the film as metal, despite the general lack. This is an object towards which criticism is impotent, with which it has nothing to do, with which it experiences its own 'dissonance in (non)relation . . ." Severed Ways 'succeeds' via obliviousness to 'failure', by belonging to its own impossibility of being a critcal object.
If I knew what I was talking about, I would say that Severed Ways beats Matthew Barney at his own game without playing it.