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Metal as a reaction to The Enlightenment

Metal as a reaction to The Enlightenment
May 19, 2007, 11:44:28 PM
Doing homework for my MA here, found some general resources of interest:

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n discussing the Enlightenment, we stressed that it arose, in large part, as a strong reaction against what had characterized the previous one hundred and fifty yearsa series of inconclusive but extremely destructive religious quarrels and, often under the guise of religious issues, collisions between rival nations growing in power. From this perspective, the Enlightenment we can view as Western civilization's attempt to seek through reason a means of understanding human problems and discussing them without involving conflicting traditions, especially religious traditions, which, given the loss of unity in the Christian Church, provided no longer a continuing way of reaching a consensus.
...
All of our political options, no matter what we call them (Liberal, Progressive Conservative, Christian Democrats, Social Credit, New Democratic Party, Republican, Democrat, or whatever) all adhere to this Enlightenment program. We have no significant electoral options outside of this tradition. The parties may quarrel about the extent of government control, about rates of taxation, about support programs, but underneath the apparent richness of choice there is a massive fundamental agreement about how society ought to be organized, what priorities society ought to pursue. This is particularly true of North America, since both America and Canada were founded as Enlightenment experiments and have no traditions from before this period, other than the Aboriginal cultures, which have been generally marginalized or exterminated in the service of this agenda.
...
There seems to be considerable agreement that what happened in that period we call the Romantic Era (in England from 1798 to about 1840) was of almost unparalleled significance, not simply in the amazing resurgence of quality in English poetry but also in our very understanding of art. Isaiah Berlin, a very well known historian of ideas, called the Romantic Movement the single most important shift in the sensibility of Western thinking since the fifth century BC.
...
In a spirit of boldness I want to offer the following idea as central to what was truly revolutionary about the shift known as the Romantic Movement: it marked for many people (although not for all) the abandonment of the idea that there was a given order in nature; it posited the notion that order was something not discovered in nature but created by the human mind. In words of John Adams: Chaos is the law of nature; order the dream of man.
http://www.mala.bc.ca/~johnstoi/introser/romantic.htm


The Enlightenment was the idea of rationality, and his definition of Romanticism is probably limited, because while it celebrated human choice it based itself on the antiquities and beauty of nature.

I think death metal, more profoundly than black metal, understood that the Enlightenment was a rejection of nature along with the church, and that the best aspects of Romanticism were its praises of nature and the chaotic, bloody, struggle-bound process by which our world came about.

Praising death as having meaning, for example, totally shits all over the idea from this author's "Romanticism" rejects the order of nature. And one more from a Romantic poet.

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The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon,
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.--Great God! I'd rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn; (1)
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea, (2)
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus (3) rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton (4) blow his wreathed horn.
http://www.wsu.edu:8080/~wldciv/world_civ_reader/world_civ_reader_2/wordsworth.html


This reminds me quite a bit of this:

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As a "rational" being, he now places his behavior under the control of abstractions. He will no longer tolerate being carried away by sudden impressions, by intuitions. First he universalizes all these impressions into less colorful, cooler concepts, so that he can entrust the guidance of his life and conduct to them.
...
At other times it endeavors, with gloomy officiousness, to show the way and to demonstrate the tools to a poor individual who covets existence; it is like a servant who goes in search of booty and prey for his master. But now it has become the master and it dares to wipe from its face the expression of indigence. In comparison with its previous conduct, everything that it now does bears the mark of dissimulation, just as that previous conduct did of distortion. The free intellect copies human life, but it considers this life to be something good and seems to be quite satisfied with it.
http://www.anus.com/zine/db/friedrich_nietzsche/friedrich_nietzsche-on_truth_and_lies_in_a_non-moral_sense/


Paradoxically, death metal is in praise of life, not by mourning death but by cheering its order in a time of insane delusion. I found that particularly fascinating.



And even more paradoxically, what do we see in the significance of the ostensible rejection of so-called religion (really modern degenerations here) in death metal, but an embrace of religion in its purest form--for what but life itself is our ritual, religion its sruggles expressed in our art! Truly, in our deepest intuitions, for the few that may be able to experience such, free of the ego created by the rational mind, we awaken to  what we are: unhindered Existence.

Even with its so-called rejection of religion, codified, metaphysically significant worldviews are often celebrated in its place in addition to the pure celebration of life -- another attempt to remystify the world in the Romantic mould.

I think black and death metal can easily be seen as a two-pronged Romantic approach; whereas black metal ended up being more explicit in its Romantic leanings, death metal managed to be just as significant by harkening to its essences almost directly.

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Even with its so-called rejection of religion, codified, metaphysically significant worldviews are often celebrated in its place in addition to the pure celebration of life -- another attempt to remystify the world in the Romantic mould.

I think black and death metal can easily be seen as a two-pronged Romantic approach; whereas black metal ended up being more explicit in its Romantic leanings, death metal managed to be just as significant by harkening to its essences almost directly.


Right, and most significantly, where Romanticism ultimately failed--insofar as it approached and mimiced the same metaphysical view of the world which was predominant in primordial antiquity, but could not embrace it fully, as it seemingly stopped at accepting its outward forms, as if suddenly becoming self-conscious--there still lies much hope for metal, the concrete manifestations of which we have yet to see, but are on its very cusp, and may one day be realized.

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for what but life itself is our ritual, religion its sruggles expressed in our art!


This seems somewhat appropriate: :)

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Remembering promises,
Once made but now unspoken,
Born of child like minds,
These shadows of the past are now
forsaken.
From the dawn of your first day,
To this death bed on which you lay,
To survive we must comply,
With the ritual of your life.
Can you remember things we said,
The dreams our expectations,
Like ashes scattered in the wind,
There is no recollection.
Throughout the passing years,
Faith will allay your years,
Follow the holy rites,
In the ritual of your life.
Life an endless ritual
Continuation perpetual
Throughout the passing years,
Faith will allay your years,
Follow the holy rites,
In the ritual of you life.
Try to remember if you can,
The pacts we made most solemn,
Hands of time have brought decay,
Those memories are forgotten.
Now as you reach the end,
All pain you must transcend,
When you die you can't deny,
The ritual of your life.


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And even more paradoxically, what do we see in the significance of the ostensible rejection of so-called religion (really modern degenerations here) in death metal, but an embrace of religion in its purest form--for what but life itself is our ritual, religion its sruggles expressed in our art!  


If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would
appear to man as it is, infinite.             -- William Blake*

I think death metal is highly religious music. All heavy metal to me sounds like church organ music, very fugal, composed of a few notes put together into riffs and then inverted and played off each other. It's modal in its treatment of key, unlike crock music. But death metal takes this religiosity further to this state of pure intensity, where there's a religious drive to make sense of the whole according to a higher organizing principle (higher power, mathematically?).

This is probably the most religious song in heavy metal or crock music:

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An unforeseen future nestled somewhere in time.
Unsuspecting victims no warnings, no signs.
Judgment day the second coming arrives.
Before you see the light you must die.

Forgotten children, conform a new faith,
Avidity and lust controlled by hate.
[the] never ending search for your shattered sanity,
Souls of damnation in their own reality.

Chaos rampant,
An age of distrust.
Confrontations.
Impulsive habitat.

Bastard sons beget your cunting daughters,
Promiscuous mothers with your incestuous fathers.
Engreat souls condemned for [all] eternity,
Sustained by immoral observance a domineering deity.

Chaos rampant,
An age of distrust.
Confrontations.
Impulsive sabbath.

On and on, south of heaven [x 4]

Lead: king

The root of all evil is the heart of a black soul.
A force that has lived all eternity.
A never ending search for a truth never told.
The loss of all hope and your dignity.

Chaos rampant,
An age of distrust.
Confrontations.
Impulsive habitat.

On and on, south of heaven [x 4]


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But death metal takes this religiosity further to this state of pure intensity, where there's a religious drive to make sense of the whole according to a higher organizing principle (higher power, mathematically?).

This is probably the most religious song in heavy metal or crock music:



I agree with much of what you are saying, but I wonder if it is a religous or spiritual drive behind the music. Death metal from a philosophical standpoint was more of a discarding of various widely-held delusions about death than a philosophy in itself, a return to a more healthy outlook on death which accepts it for what is in its enevitable finality instead of failing to confront it ad hiding from it. Within metal, also a shift towards a more objective outlook, a redefining of death in very blunt, basic terms.

As far as that sort of philisophical spark you speak of, I think there is a great deal curiosity and imagination involved but more importantly a need to integrate an understanding of death and its function into an understanding of a greater order. Kind of a, "okay, where do we go from here?"

The answer to that varies much from band to band; some look at it from a scientific prospective while others through a more religous/mythological or philosophical one, or sometimes just the prospective of youthful hessians.  


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From this perspective, the Enlightenment we can view as Western civilization's attempt to seek through reason a means of understanding human problems and discussing them without involving conflicting traditions, especially religious traditions, which, given the loss of unity in the Christian Church, provided no longer a continuing way of reaching a consensus.


So consensus was lost prior to the Enlightenment. Enlightenment's unfinished product was an attempt to find human answers for human problems, thereby building a new consensus. By seeking human answers to all problems, we have humanism. The present system operates on the following logic: all problems that affect us involve anthropocentric solutions.

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This reminds me quite a bit of this:


Paradoxically, death metal is in praise of life, not by mourning death but by cheering its order in a time of insane delusion. I found that particularly fascinating.


Death provides a logical exit routine for each of what would otherwise be, as reproduction takes place, unsustainably more numerous endless cycles.

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I agree with much of what you are saying, but I wonder if it is a religous or spiritual drive behind the music. Death metal from a philosophical standpoint was more of a discarding of various widely-held delusions about death than a philosophy in itself, a return to a more healthy outlook on death which accepts it for what is in its enevitable finality instead of failing to confront it ad hiding from it.


It reminds me of William Blake, whose poems praise death and terror as part of an eternal cycle that brought meaning. It's a lot like the laws of thermodynamics. Nothing is created or destroyed, as far as matter goes, but from the interaction of matter, information is formed... design, logic, feelings, perceptions. In this way the cycle of nature is self-sustaining but also creates a dimension outside of matter, that of experience or organization. I find it beautiful, and see these perceptions in much of Romantic literature.

It is important to remember that the enlightenment didn't necessarily start out as a "bad" movement, but was transformed from an elitist movement to a popular one. Before the French Revolution, the Enlightenment was mainly a few groups of disparate aristocrats and intellectuals who were immersed in some of the philosophical movements of the time and began to communicate through letters and such to question the functioning of the society around them in Europe (kind of like what internet outlets like this one now do on a global scale). Historians generally distinguish between this earlier phase and a "popular" enlightenment after the revolution, where the printing press had made mass amounts of brief pamphlets and even pornographic materials available which mocked the church and social institutions through a satyrical medium (political cartoons of the time). Clearly, a brief pamphlet or comedic text with pictures is much more accessible than the full works of earlier authors which were only available in limited quantities due to a limited base of individuals who could actually read through them and understand. The original premise of having small groups of individuals with intelligence and leadership qualities trying to point out that the church and other institutions had become decadent and were in need of reform is much different from the later bandwagon mentality which came as soon as there was a market for small publishers to "cash in" on Enlightenment ideals.

So maybe within this context metal can simply be seen as a reaction to the downward momentum of modernity in general. The Enlightenment, like metal, only started to decay as it gained more populist tendencies even though both started out as fairly esoteric movements (funny how this seems to be a recurrent theme over the past couple hundred years in various forms).