In Spring 2012 I conducted an interview with Nicola Masciandaro, the esteemed medievalist academic, author of The Whim and driving researcher in the fields of Black Metal Theory and Cyclonopedia Studies. His areas of expertise are medieval literature and philosophy with an interest in mysticism, labour, individuation, sorrow, commentary, spontaneity, metal and para-academic modes of enquiry.
TVA - Hi Nicola, so tell me a little about Bergmetal
NM - It's less a project than a notebook with potential to turn into something else. I have been teaching my freshman english course on the theme of mountains (via Dionysius, Petrarch, Shelley, Wordsworth, Ruskin, Lovecraft, german bergfilm etc) so the interface with metal acquired gravity for me, plus being a longtime rock climber and its about time the subgenre got a name. At the Melancology symposium Dominik Irtenkauf gave a good paper on mountains in black metal so I have also invited him to contribute to the blog, which he did in the latest post.
TVA - Using blogs as places to just note ideas and connections can be a really productive and creative mode of research. The connections between BM, paganism, the sublime, geophilia, the indifferent cthuhlian other - could you expand a little on your readings of these relations?
NM - I think about bergmetal as a new evolution or synthesis of premodern and modern ideas of the mountain. Where the medieval concept of the mountain combined aesthetic revulsion (horror) with mystical idealization, the modern sublime concept of the mountain combines aesthetic attraction (beauty) with natural wonder—not that one can maintain these distinctions too clearly of course, given that the terms also inhabit each other (terror in the sublime, the natural in the mystical and so on). The genius of Lovecraft in At the Mountains of Madness, what makes that text an especially significant marker of alpine potentiality (more so than the contemporary German bergfilm), is that it plunges the romantic sublime into an abyss of neo-medieval mountain terror and thus charts a new geopathic domain for the mystical. In the narrative, this is the space occupied by the Antarctic hyper-mountains: “this violent line could be nothing else than the terrible mountains of the forbidden land—highest of earth’s peaks and focus of earth’s evil.” Allegorically, I read this as marking a cosmic neo-medieval future or destiny for the alpine sublime, rather than a regressive conceptual acceleration of romantic mountainism. Where the vistas of outer space are normally viewed as rendering the alpine limit obsolete and culturally quaint, I think the reverse is more true: the universe-spectacle as intensification of the alpine, the emergence of an ancient new zone, cosmos as mountain. This resonates with the medieval intuition of cosmic hierarchy and its spiritual correlate, that the mountain is within you. Bergmetal, as a translation of mountain into a negatively exuberant sonic atmosphere, similarly seeks and stands upon the mountain as immanent beyond. “Now I will tell you who it is who is seated on the mountain above the winds and the rain. They are those who, on earth, have neither shame nor honor, nor fear on account of something which might happen” (Marguerite Porete). I see bergmetal as inhabiting this violet line, singing the hyper-mountain, a vision that destroys the more bubbly and flat topological ontologies of the present, one that affirms the reality of hierarchical cosmic order, an order that is, like the geologic mountain, anarchic.
TVA - Awesome (literally), sublime or horrific A-anthroplogical implications seem to be, in many respects, contingent to space and spatial comprehension, or rather the de-spatialized phenomena generally. I know you rock climb, and I have walked hills in the scottish highlands and the Isle of Skye, and whilst the scales of Mount Erabus or Mount Terror are incomparable due to their massive stature, there is a certain paradoxical ontological shift that one can experience in certain circumstances, related to geographical exposure, shifting, seemingly chaotic weather, the stoic indifference of the terrain etc - this, for me on occasion, leads to a sublimely de-subjectivising 'feeling', not dissimilar to certain dionysian epiphanies in the Nietzschean sense (the paradox of being/becoming through a sublime de-subjectivation). I presume the anthropomophic (common) topology is subject to a rupture, the onto-berg-schism?
NM - I would like to name a route ‘Onto-berg-schism’. Topology is certainly everywhere open to rupture. Being on a mountain or cliff exacerbates this potential by placing you near the intersection of contrary ideas of where one is. On the one hand you are superiorly where you want to be, on the mountain, in the heights, practicing a love of ascent that is always in orbit, explicitly or implicitly, around the principle of summit or apex, the touchable finite top of infinity. On the other hand you are in exile, not where you want to be, stuck on the mountain so that the end of the climb signifies only an escape hatch to the descent home. I think the tensional conjunction of these contrary movements contributes to perceiving the deeper fact that you are really nowhere and everywhere at the same time. This nowhere-everywhere is logically event with regard to the relation of place and body. Body is always in place, but the place itself that body is is no-place. The insight can be filled out by understanding the reality or more than conceptual substance of the metaphor between mysticism and mountaineering, how the dynamics of ascent, the inner-outer vectors of climbing, structurally correspond to the topology of contemplation as a metaphysical burrowing through the world, as expressed, for example, in the Cloud of Unknowing’s apophatic utopianism: “Truly I would rather be nowhere bodily, wrestling with that blind nothingness, than be like some great lord who would be everywhere, merrily playing all this something as if it were his own” (chapter 68). Hard, satisfying climbing is a similar kind of wrestling, as exemplified in bouldering, which by reducing the principle of ascent to a concentrated minimum, moves climbing toward a pure wrestling in place. The ideal boulder problem in this sense would be one move—the hardest move in the world (V∞)—that consists of nothing but holding on to the starting holds. This carries the idea of a supreme trans-lation of movement, which is precisely the correlate of place as what is from and towards it, a movement of movement itself into the single immanent intensity of ‘the move’. Alpinism and climbing synthesize this principle of the intense moment of ascent (iconized in the climbing photograph, a moment that the climber himself is always moving into and missing), with the inversely exploded principle of objective limitlessness, which can again be traced in the mountains of mystical vision: “I saw a mountain— / That took place very quickly, / For the body cannot endure / The soul’s being there for an hour. / At its base the mountain was white, like clouds, / And high up at the summit, fiery bright as the sun. / Its end and its beginning / I could not find at all” (Mechthild of Magdeburg, The Flowing Light of the Godhead). I had a dream once about going climbing and coming to the base of a similar epic monolith. Seeing the scale of it physically took my breath away and I woke up. Bergmetal, which far more than being metal ‘about’ mountains is rather the alpine dimension of metal itself, is the negative living sonic dream of the mountain, the musical denial of all that cannot withstand it.
TVA - You should post a google earth link to The Onto-berg-schism route once you have named one! Or will it be so obscure and hideously desolate a location not even google will be aware of it's evil presence....
I would like to expand, or rather delve deeper into the paradox or intersection (or even the topo-ontological hymen) of ascent, and not merely in physical or territorial terms but also in metaphysical terms - but most importantly in the cthulhian tradition of bringing the utterly horrific a-anthropological, a-anthropocentric decentralising experience to the fore: the a-anthropocentric trauma in the anagogic. When one ascends, physically, through mystical revelation or even (arguably) rather dionysian modes of ascent there is a de-corporealization, a heightened focus upon the summit (attainable, physical, metaphysical or unattainable) that warps previously established ontological bases. Without intending to introduce too clumsy a metaphor, i'd describe the latter sentiment as almost heralding infinity as prosthesis - prosthesis(∞). In my experience (as a hiker) most summits are (ironically given the etymology) anticlimatic, a sense of void, a sense of L∅SS, there is no longer any possible beyond the brow, the prosthesis(∞) is severed and a retreat, a race back down, back to who you are is the sustained thrill with the real (but mundanely anthropic) goal.
I ought to add that this is precisely concerning peaks that are as yet unscaled, one may experience 1 prosthesis(∞) per peak, the mystical, sublime and enlightening limb will not return upon re-ascent of the same territory.
Could you expand upon this thought, especially the turn of disillusionment? Have you experienced this and how does this theoretical structure of thinking ascent/summit/descent relate to your readings on mysticism?
NM - A-anthropocentric trauma in the anagogic: This immediately reminds me of Dante’s reference to Marsyas in the first canto of Paradiso, a zone which represents the very summit of the mountain summit, the event of the summit itself as opposed to the mere arriving there, the space of passing beyond the human. Dante perfectly names this crossing with a neologism, trasumanar (1.70)—a verbal birth silently allegorizing passing beyond one’s human nature as the birth of a word. Marsyas, the satyr flayed alive for musically challenging Apollo, is referenced in invocation of Apollo: “Entra nel petto mio, e spira tue / sì come quando Marsïa traesti / de la vagina de le membra sue” (1.19-21) [Enter into my breast and breathe there as when you drew Marsyas from the sheath of his limbs]. The prime meaning is that the poet is asking to be inspired with meta-human song, poetry on the order of Apollo’s divine song. But here the image of Marsyas’s flaying is itself infused, impregnated with the operation of inspiration, so that the poet is figurally projected into Marsyas via an identity of flaying and inspiration that is represented as a kind of phallo-logic birth, the emergence of divine word from the whole human skin as genital sheath (vagina). Apollo as midwife of the meta-human in terms of a drawing out of the interior form of an animal/human hybrid, half goat, half man. Note that the double movement of entering and drawing fits at once with sexuo-partuitive prepositionality and the idea of anagogy as a pulling down that is really a being lifted upward, as Dionysius explains: “Imagine a great shining chain hanging downward from the heights of heaven to the world below. We grab hold of it with one hand and then another, and we seem to be pulling it down toward us. Actually it is already there on the heights and down below and instead of pulling it to us we are being lifted upward to the brilliance above, to the dazzling light of those beams” (Divine Names, 3.1). Meister Eckhart describes the mystical birth of the Word in the soul in correlative terms, a withdrawing and being drawn away from external things in a movement of unknowing wherein being entered by God and being born into God are inseparable: “Though it may be called a nescience, an unknowing, yet there is in it more than in all knowing and understanding without it, for this unknowing lures and attracts you from all understood things, and from yourself as well . . . he who does not abandon creaturely externals can be neither conceived nor born in this divine birth. But divesting yourself of yourself and of everything external does truly give it to you” (Sermon 1, Complete Mystical Works). Let us synthesize this constellation of citations with regard to the question of bergmetallic ascent. Now we see more clearly how climbing (pulling down being drawn up) is corporeal anagogy and that anagogy is the extroverted form of transhuman spiritual birth or mystical flaying. This formal circuit is proved upon the climber’s skin, which is the precise tool of ascent, the truest physical interface or membrane between self and mountain, that which climbing removes. A climber is one whose whole body becomes a fusion of hand, foot, and tool in a movement that draws him through skin to the summit. And the flayed body of the satyr who musically challenges the gods, a Dionysian-Satanic figure, is the perfect analogue of the caprine mountaineer who musically blasphemes the heights with his own exploit, realizing his lustful animal form as the very means of transgressive deification. As Eliphas Lévi comments on the pentagram: “It is the sign of antagonism and fatality. It is the goat of lust attacking the Heavens with its horns” (Key of the Mysteries). The conjunction of animal-human flaying and verbal spiritual birth also evokes the figure of the heavens as parchment: “Extendens caelum sicut pellem” (Psalms 103.2) [stretching out the sky like a skin]; “All the host of heaven shall rot away, and the skies roll up like a scroll” (Isaiah 34:4); “the sky vanished like a scroll that is rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place” (Revelation 6:14). For Augustine, this sky-parchment figures divine Scripture as the temporal writing of the eternal Word, the inscription of the immortal upon the mortal: “He employed a mortal tongue and uttered mortal sounds, he employed the ministry of mortal men and made us of mortal instruments, and by this means a sky was made for you, so that in this mortal artifact you might come to know the immortal Word, and by participating in this Word you too might become immortal” (Expositions of the Psalms, 103.2 ). As the mystical poet must spiritually exit the mortal parchment of his exterior flesh in order to give birth to himself as a divine Word writing itself across the heavens, so the climber ascends by leaving the ground to script his body across vertiginous earth, seeing and taking a line that literally and figuratively becomes writing for further ascent. The comparison can used to reflect on your questions about summit-void and prosthesis-infinity in that writing is the infinite prosthetic par-excellence, an endless extension of the logical hand or haptic spirit that is ultimately ordered toward the production of the pure total tactility of blank parchment, as figured, for example, in Agamben’s account of Damascius: “The uttermost limit thought can reach is not a being, not a place or thing, no matter how free of any quality, but rather, its own absolute potentiality, the pure potentiality of representation itself: the writing tablet!” (Idea of Prose). This relates to how Thoreau experiences the top of Mt. Katahdin: “ . . . being shown some star’s surface, some hard matter in its home! I stand in awe of my body, this matter to which I am bound has become so strange to me. I fear not spirits, ghosts, of which I am one,—that my body might,—but I fear bodies, I tremble to meet them. What is this Titan that has possession of me? Talk of mysteries!—Think of our life in nature—daily to be shown matter, to come into contact with it,—rocks, trees, wind on our cheeks! the solid earth! the actual world! the common sense! Contact! Contact! Who are we? where are we? (The Maine Woods). Summit is the apotheosis of touch.
TVA - I would like to take things further and explore notions from continental philosophy and deconstruction in regard to this; firstly as a tool of comprehension for myself and secondly with hopes of fleshing out the concepts surrounding bergmetallic anagogy in relation to the forthcoming thinkers (if this is possible/rewarding). With particular regard to the fascinating sexual and/or torturous analogies of corporeal and metaphysical unsheathing– that of dermis, flaying, scraping on ascent, an intimate uncovering etc I would like to pose the following notions in regard to questions of immanence, becoming and the Derridean paradox of boundaries and osmosis. The latter is succinctly commented on by Marcel Cobussen:
“The opposition of inside vs. outside is a frequent returning point of Derrida's interest. An example is found in his writing about the hymen. Hymen, the virginal membrane, but also the consummation of a marriage. (In Greek and Latin mythology, 'hymen' refers to the God of matrimony and to a hymeneal song.) As a protective screen, as an invisible veil, it stands between the inside and the outside of a woman, and consequently between (male?) desire and fulfillment. As a (con)fusion between two people (marriage), however, there is no longer any difference between desire and satisfaction. So, hymen both implies communion and hinders this communion; it is both barrier and interaction. Hymen is a fusion that abolishes contraries, for example, the difference between desire and its accomplishment. But hymen is also the fold of a mucous membrane that keeps them separate (cf. Dissemination, 209-18). It is not a matter of choice here. If we would choose between the two, there would be no hymen. Hymen is neither fusion nor separation, but stands between the two. Neither inside nor outside, but between the two. 'It is an operation that both sows confusion between opposites and stands between the opposites at once' (Dissemination, p.212). And it is the 'between' that counts. It outwits, as Derrida says, all manner of dialectics”
The dermis on ascent is that which yields ascent, and a be(rg)coming, an osmosis; but it also separates, it is the means of corporeal anagogy, of mystical flaying and paradoxically that which will always never consummate berg and body: one is on the mountain, one holds the mountain as one senses a becoming mountain – but does not for the paradoxical, hymenic (in the Derridean sense) dermisian divide.
I would also like to think nature in Deleuze and Guattari’s work in regard to bergmetallic ascension. The purity of a sublime becoming, a sacred connection. In an almost OOO-esque sense to give soul to the pebbles and trees, to be one:
"While taking a stroll outdoors, on the other hand, he is in the mountains, amid falling snowflakes, with other gods or without any gods at all, without a family, without a father or a mother, with nature. "What does my father want? Can he offer me more than that? Impossible, leave me in peace." Everything is a machine. Celestial machines, the stars or rainbows in the sky, alpine machines - all of them connected to those of his body. The continual whirr of machines. "He thought that it must be a feeling of endless bliss to be in contact with the profound life of every form, to have a soul for rocks, metals, water, and plants, to take into himself, as in a dream, every element of nature, like flowers that breath with the waxing and waning of the moon"." - FELIX GUATTARI GILLES DELEUZE, 1984. ANTI-OEDIPUS: CAPITALISM AND SCHIZOPHRENIA. Edition. CONTINUUM INTERNATIONAL PUBLISHING GROUP - ATHLONE. (Chapter - Desiring Machines , Page 2)
Are these productive contemporary theoretical connections and have they been considered with regards to bergmetallic metaphysics? Could you comment on the possible confluences or junctions between these concepts and bergmetal?
NM - Hymenal (con)fusion and lunar breathing-belonging (having a soul for rocks . . .) significantly intersect in Leni Reifenstahl’s Das Blaue Licht (1932), a bergfilm that resists the masculinist heroism of the genre by giving an outcast mystical woman (Junta, played by Riefenshtahl herself) the privileged relation to the alpine peak—a peak that, importantly, is not summited in/by the film. The story climaxes in a geological rape perpetrated by earth-bound Italian peasants who, guided by a German romantic tourist, harvest for profit the quartz crystal from a magical grotto high on the mountain. Here is a sequence of images showing Junta’s lunar communing, the romantic’s discovery of the cave, and Junta’s desolation after the mining:
Nina Power, in her critique of German bergfilm, accuses the genre of violating a Kantian warning: “do not conflate the power of nature with the power of your own mind. An encounter with the mountain, the raging sea, the arctic wastes, might make you feel like a hero, but what it should really point to is respect for our fragile and profoundly human moral vocation” (“Mountain and Fog”). The problem with this critique in relation to Das Blaue Licht is that the film has already performed it on a higher level, not in the interest of the political human mirage of precarious moral vocation (the nauseating search for/celebration of what ‘makes us human’), but in the interest of a mode of being that can never conflate the power of nature with its own mind because it never owns a separate mind in the first place, a being that can never fail to distinguish individual from universal, self from nature, because it sees through, with all the solidity of crystal clarity, the lie that it ever was only itself . Indeed we can effectively imagine the German romantic telling Junta something proximate to Power’s Kantian warning, drunk on the rhetoric of his own putative goodness: ‘Don’t you see, Junta, you sweet [i.e. stupid] little girl who think you are joined to the cosmos, that thinking this way is not only silly but morally irresponsible, and that these crystals whose spell you are under [the spell of an absolutely (con)fusing hymenal interface between spirit and matter, light and earth] are dangerous when experienced this way? The crystals must be brought down, separated from their source, their light put to responsible human use.’ So is it the romantic-led peasants and not Junta, who properly conflate natural power and human agency, blindly seizing the crystals as nothing other than a medium of their own social, self-repetitious perpetuation.