Back on December 15, the New York Times ran a story about an academic symposium held in Brooklyn called “Hideous Gnosis,” which explored intellectual aspects of black metal. We posted some commentary about the event that basically made fun of the whole thing. We threw around words and phrases such as “pointy headed academics,” “fucking pretentious,” and “blather.” I think we also implied that all the participants were douchebags.
Hey, it was easy to do. Sort of like clubbing baby harp seals, except without the back-splatter. And what did you expect? We’re an extreme metal site, which by definition means we pretty much disrespect everyone except the bands who work their asses off making the music we live by, and a few metalhead writers who do what we’re trying to do, except do it a lot better. And we never feel guilty about it.
Well, almost never.
We got a couple of comments on our bushwhackery that have at least given us pause — one from the “Hideous Gnosis” symposium group itself and one from Shinjuku Thief. We’ll talk about the first one today and the second one soon after. And for musical accompaniment, we’ll stream some new black metal that will core out your skull. Read on after the jump.
So, as we said, despite gleefully vomiting all over “Hideous Gnosis,” we received from one of the organizers of the symposium a link to podcasts and texts of the papers presented. (We’re pretty sure the good-natured dude who did that was Nicola Masciandaro, an associate professor of English at Brooklyn College.) Following that link took us to a blog site called Black Metal Theory, which among other things appears to be the home page for the “Hideous Gnosis” symposium. Black Metal Theory describes itself as follows:
“Not black metal. Not theory. Not not black metal. Not not theory. Black metal theory. Theoretical blackening of metal. Metallic blackening of theory. Mutual blackening. Nigredo in the intoxological crucible of symposia.”
That was our first clue that maybe these dudes don’t take themselves quite as seriously as we assumed. The “Hideous Gnosis” organizers even added a link on the Black Metal Theory home page to our disrespectful rant about the symposium.
Now I’m not gonna lie and tell you that I actually read or listened to all the symposium papers. I did try to make my way through a random sample of what I found on the Black Metal Theory site, but I have a small brain and it was tough sledding. (Right now I’m really fighting the impulse to start metaphorically clubbing that harp seal again.) To give you a small taste:
Prof. Masciandaro’s paper (“Anti-Cosmosis: Mahapralaya”) explored the paradoxical idea that because black metal sets itself against the universe as a principle of order, and instead embraces chaos, it can be understood to deny the very possibility of discoursing about black metal. Or, as the professor quotes one black metal geek, “the first rule of black metal is that YOU DO NOT FUCKING TALK ABOUT BLACK METAL.” The prof also calls this the “anti-discourse world of consumerist metal fandom.”
So, after developing the existence of this seeming paradox, if I’m understanding the prof correctly, he suggests an answer to it. Something to do with black metal establishing its own reality in a chaos of nothingness as “an occult experience of the cosmic abyss,” and the idea that one may prove his “knowledge of hidden realities by the joy of speaking about them.” The abyss possesses an “awesome reality,” which, “whether we feel it as God or not, is absolutely divine” and therefore may be loved and discussed.
Or something like that. I’ve probably got it all wrong. I do know all these dudes must have persuaded themselves, with intellectual rigor, that it’s OK to talk analytically about black metal because they clearly talked up a fucking storm.
So, where does this leave us? Well, I suppose it leaves us with a nice segue to our upcoming post about the comments of Shinjuku Thief, who wrote (among other things) about “the contradiction in metal” — that “it claims to be primal, atavistic, earthy, of the body,” when in fact “it’s not spontaneous or relying on our innermost urges, it’s a well honed aesthetic and conscious action that is very much thought about.”
But where else does this leave us? Does all this symposiumating change the way we hear something like the epic cut below from the immortal Immortal off their face-melting new album All Shall Fail? You tell me.
[Editor’s note: this is the second of a 3-part series. For Part 3, go here.]
P.S.: All Shall Fail, which had an October release in the U.S., is the first new album in seven years from those reunited Norwegian black metal gods (anti-gods?) and it debuted at no. 7 on the Heatseekers Album chart (new & developing artists who have never appeared in the Top 100 of the Billboard Top 200 chart) and at no. 162 on the Billboard 200 for selling 3,300 copies since its October 6th release in North America. Not too fucking shabby.