God's Enemies, Heretic Narratives and Image Excess; or Why Should a Christian ‘Read’ Black Metal?
28.11. 2018, 6pm – 8pm,
in MayDay Rooms,
88 Fleet Street, London EC4Y 1DH
In this workshop Vlad Morariu (PhD) will present a reading of Black Metal through two cases, a documentary and a vlog post, where this cultural form is confronted from adversarial positions. He will interpret the first one as a depoliticising displacement of the opposition. In the second case, Vlad will show the emergence of a particular kind of politics, which constitutes itself by blurring or destabilising fixed positions between friends and enemies. Respondent: Peter Ely.
One question has troubled me since I received the invitation to contribute to this workshop series: why would one even bother to read the enemy? Why would one even attempt an adversarial reading, which rather resembles an expedition into unchartered territories stalked by betrayal and surrender? I would like to give this question a concrete form by looking at Black Metal as matter of hermeneutic practice. I’m interested in the adversity between Christianity and Black Metal, which I want to approach deconstructively rather than dialectically.
I have two reasons for doing this. First, a personal sense of injustice in relation to the fact that cultural studies have never considered Black Metal as a serious topic of investigation. I still recall the distinctive kick that I got from listening on repeat Mayhem’s De Misteriis Dom Sathanas (1994), or Cradle of Filth’s Cruelty and the Beast (1998). Media theory may offer an explanation of the twisted ecstasy with which the media of the 1990s embraced the images of blazing churches, graveyard desecrations, ritualistic suicides and murders, which gave Black Metal a cult status. But it does not really explain why it was precisely this distinctive sound and these unholy invocations that appealed to a teenager living in one of Europe’s post-socialist peripheries with the acute sense that everything around was rapidly falling apart. Second, I want to tackle the claim – reinforced by many bands themselves – that being merely anti-Christian, the Black Metal universe has nothing to do with politics. I want to claim that precisely engaging with Black Metal, from adversarial positions, sets the stage for a particular kind of politics.
In my intervention I want to look at two concrete cases. The first is BBC 2’s fourth episode of Living with the Enemy (1998), a reality show that depicts the journey of a single mother’s acceptance of her son’s obsession with Cradle of Filth. The second example is very recent: two Christian vloggers – Vin and Sori – whose You Tube channel is currently followed by tens of thousands of fans. Vin and Sori publish videos where they react to Black Metal pieces, and I will focus specifically on their reading and interpretation of Polish band Behemoth’s God=Dog, the first single from their latest album I Loved You at Your Darkest (2018). In my reading, BBC 2’s Living with the Enemy can be interpreted as a farcical dramatization of Dick Hebdige’s Subculture. The meaning of style (1979): an intergenerational conflict between mother and son finds a superficial resolution in the mother’s reading of Black Metal as simply theatrical performance. In contrast, Vin and Sori appear to me to articulate a sharp vernacular deconstruction of Behemoth’s music, lyrics and visuals and I want to claim that their reading is essentially ‘political’. The particular sense in which I use the term ‘political’ here is derived from Jacques Derrida’s Politics of Friendship and its deconstruction of Carl Schmitt’s concept of politics as founded on the dichotomy friendship/enmity. If Derrida showed that friendship and enmity are necessarily impure and unstable concepts, Vin and Sori discover a friend in Behemoth’s frontman Nergal, just as much as they discover enemies within Christendom.
Why bother to read the enemy? I want to argue that one should read the enemy not for an ultimately uncertain ‘understanding’ of the enemy, but for the sake of understanding oneself. Vin and Sori’s reading of Behemoth tells us something about Christianity, the reasons why something like Black Metal exists, as well as about the world in which these adversarial positions coexist.
Vlad Morariu is a Romanian-born researcher, curator and Visual Cultures Lecturer at Middlesex University London, where he co-leads the Visual and Material Culture Research Cluster. Vlad’s work sits across various disciplines – from 20th philosophy to sociology, anthropology, fashion theory and visual and material cultures. His PhD thesis (2014, Loughborough University) explored philosophical frameworks informing the art practices of institutional critique. In 2016 he was AHRC Cultural Engagement Fellow, with a project that revisited Scottish psychiatrist R.D. Laing’s reading of phenomenology, and its importance within the practices of the therapeutic communities that Laing co-established in London in the 1960s. Together with Raluca Voinea and Judit Angel, Vlad Morariu curated Collection Collective – Template for a Future Model of Representation (tranzit.sk, Bratislava, 2017), a project that lead to the creation of Collection Collective. His recent publications include: ‘Project sigma: the Temporality of Activism’ (with Jaakko Karhunen), in Ruth Kinna, and Gill Whiteley (eds.), Cultures of Violence, Routledge, 2019 (forthcoming); and ‘Transitory Erasures: Subjects of Institutional Critique’, in Andreas Oberprantacher, and Andrei Siclodi (eds.) Subjectivation in Political Theory and Contemporary Practices, Palgrave Macmillan, 2016.