Sunday, May 16, 2010

Addicted to disdain

This troubles me, the idea that the metal underground, or even the most mainstream segments of metal culture (too many problems with these terms, one can deal with that later), must always express negative emotions as if futile, adolescent (not dealing specifically with age, but with world outlook, self-knowledge, efficacy, planning) anger, depression, disappointment, scorn, etc. were the only emotional ranges offered to metal musicians. Because metal mainly deals with power - whether it is the gaining of power, losing, spreading, summoning, etc. - one must also always, it seems, include the voices of the powerless or helpless (adolescence again) in order to communicate anything effectively or to demonstrate, symbolically, the leading desires and frustrations of one's peers and audience. Now, as mentioned above, I do not think of emotional "adolescence" as dealing only with the teenage years and early twenties, although of course in the process of normal emotional development the psychological or belief themes metal mainly deals with seem to arise in its audience during these times - one finds these same emotions in any age, any period of development, any sort of maturity. It is the rootless, helpless, powerless emotions, the ideas of loss, fractured identity, motiveless and directionless rebellion, lost causes, eternally-frustrated desire (always on the edge of fulfillment), the inescapable disappointment of reality to meet one's fantasies or hopes, the feelings of abandonment, ostracism, exile, alienation, isolation, that ceaselessly surface in metal, over and over again. It can not be avoided that metal concentrates on these themes almost to the exclusion of all other possible emotions or states of being, and this is as much tradition within the art form as it is a direct link (or calling) between theme and audience, subject matter and form, expressive potential and habitual outlooks, attitudes, or views. I suppose what mainly concerns me is the state of existence where these themes or mental/emotional attitudes become so habitual they can not be escaped, and temporary emotions (or ostensible withdrawal from emotion) become permanent poses, "lifestyles", philosophies, belief systems. Ostracism becomes self-imposed exile, alienation becomes a worldview that doesn't allow reconciliation, frustration becomes world-weariness, anger becomes pathological hatred, powerlessness becomes a self-created, self-fulfilling cycle - "learned helplessness". Because an identity was found, assumed, absorbed, or stolen in adolescence, it is this same adolescent outlook that is always returned to when one's existence (beliefs, immediate worldview, emotions) is threatened, as if the identity and the beliefs or ideas that corresponded with it could be the only source of meaning in one's life. One interprets everything through this shell of an identity, this view of the world and one's self that begs to be cast off as it is confining and utterly wears at the skin, it chafes and forms sores, one can see the frustration it evokes on the faces of its victims. Addicted to disdain, it only exists as a source of constant disappointment - it protects, supposedly, against that which it creates, it's a self-fulfilling pessimistic prophecy (of all possible futures) and philosophy of probability.

Anger is not an adolescent emotion, of course. It is as much an infantile reaction to the world, to frustration and denial, as it is a sign of eternal wisdom and measureless age: God and the gods are always bitterly, decisively, angry (of course they are reflections of humanity, but that is beside the point). Anger is universal, it appears in the cosmos like an element, like the force of gravity among thinking, willing beings. What one mainly sees in metal, however, is hopeless anger, the anger of those who can not see any way out of their position and who can only wait for an oppression (whether it is real or imaginary) to end. This is what I call "adolescent anger", referring not only to its appearance in young adults but its own adolescent qualities: it is an anger that is unfinished, unfocused, helpless, powerless, chaotic, formless - it is an anger between two states, that of creation or origin and fulfillment, which is the same as extinction - it is an anger in the process of becoming, but held there artificially. In metal anger is not directed at real world objects, it is not aimed at social causes, emotional problems, family disturbances, political friction, etc. It may spring from these points but it is not channeled back towards them in a methodology of extinction, a self-fulfillment in completion, in resolution. This is a misdirection of a natural emotion. Where frustration, in reality, is created for a reason, a blocking of one's seeking of pleasure or self-creation, self-empowerment and expansion, experience, etc. and must be extinguished in the fulfillment of its aims (as it carries the will from desire to satisfaction, it motivates as a thorn in the side), misdirected anger or misplaced desire can only lead to creativity and, then, further frustration, further anger. One sees this in metal all the time, how anger and desire are channeled into the imagination in order to form fantasy worlds, fantasy displays of power and fulfillment, and then result only in despair as these fantasies do not lead to actual satisfaction in reality. Of course one could say that the despair of unfulfilled ambitions and anger will always be "better" (or less painful, perhaps?) than the despair that arises in the unavoidable disappointments of life, but that is a personal choice, and one...ultimately not even of ethics, but of aesthetics. What interest me are these calls to catharsis and the abandonment of frustrated desire in creativity and art instead of directing anger towards real world objects. Catharsis is an ethic of absolute despair, it is an unavoidable acknowledgement of uselessness - it extinguishes emotion through self-deception and vicarious experience in order not to suffer the ill (arising from within) effects of defeat. Metal is powerless, it is a fantasy genre, and this is why it is so easy to dismiss and ignore. It does not touch reality except in certain points in its history, it would rather keep its eyes on metaphors, on becoming instead of being. One can of course always say, "It's an art form, it can only be metaphor, display, symbol, exhortation, expression, it can never become action in itself." - but these are well-known clich├ęs and limitations, and when I say "directed" at reality I do not mean that it assumes the form of activism, only that it would motivate towards change in life, and not just personal change through metaphor and psychological self-becoming, self-realization. When metal becomes political, for example, and not just political as a style (another form of powerlessness, withdrawal into useless "art"), but political as a means of effecting change, it often loses the "taste" or "quality" of metal's rigidly-determined aesthetics. This is fascinating, but it ultimately stems, once again, from metal's self-imposed isolation in fantasy and fantasy worlds, which means an aesthetics of over-elaborate "escapist" construction, music for its own sake - not music as a political tool. Metal is one of the most classically self indulgent (and thus creative) forms of rock music, next to space, psychedelic, or "art rock" - which are all, also, apolitical and unfocused, aiming towards musical aesthetics and not direct confrontation with reality or realistic aims.

Disdain, however, is a self-imposed limitation, and as I said above, one can only wonder at it when it appears in those who have no real (from reality, real life, their own lives) reason to feel a frustration of desire outside of the identities they have created for themselves, the upkeep and maintenance of which require a constant source of frustrated will and antagonism, as if anger and conflict were the only valued approaches to existence, as if every other personal approach to one's life (or at least how one appears to others, which can not be factored out) is meaningless or an "escape", when it is in fact quite the opposite: a reconciliation with one's own development, environment, history, and an embracing of the full (or at least a wider) potential of attitudes, perceptions, judgments, and emotion. Disdain, in effect, is a self-imposed cage, a reflection of the world that can only reflect ultimate end, not a beginning, because it holds itself back from its own death by refusing to enter life. Is disdain...cowardice?

U. Amtey
19 December 2004
11:29 CST
NP: Moljebka Pulse - Duhka