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Black Metal vs. Academics: Round 2

Helvete, sort of

. . .

Melancology, the second Black Metal Theory Symposium, will take place at The Fighting Cocks, a bar/club in Kingston, UK, on January 13, 2011.

Details are here. Registration info is here. Ticket prices start at a steep £20, in contrast to the $10 fee for the first symposium last year in Brooklyn. The night will conclude with a performance by Abgott.

Here are titles of papers to be presented at the symposium:

Introduction to Melancology
Metal’s Formless Presence in Contemporary Art
Beyond Melancology: Hüzüncology and the Thymotic
Towards the Re-Occultation of Black Blood
Suddenly, life lost new meaning: Melancology as another new age metaphor for transcendental encounters
To the mountains or rocking against melancholy: The implications of black metal’s geophilosophy
A Machine for Breaking Gods: Unity, Nature and Ritual in US Black Metal
Wormsign
Black Sun-Blank Metal Perversion
Irreversible Sludge: Troubled Energetics, Eco-purification and Self-Inhumanization
Going to Hell in Northern Deserts
The hot wet breath of extinction
Visions of Kali: Attack Sustain Release (Video installation)
Blackening the Green

“Melancology” is a word invented for this occasion, meant to cross “black” with “ecology”. Judging from the paper titles, the environment is indeed a salient concern. To this, I might add a hypothetical title: “Killing trees about killing trees: The commodification of paper and petroleum products in support of anti-commodification”. I jest, slightly.

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Click to enlarge

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When I wrote about the first symposium, I was both curious (as to why it even existed) and skeptical (as to why it should even exist). I wasn’t alone in these sentiments. Aquarius Records, in reviewing Hideous Gnosis, the printed collection of talks from the symposium (you can hear recordings of them here), said:

The real question regarding Hideous Gnosis is whether black metal does indeed have some sort of lofty academic underpinnings, or is this academic study of the genre simply another example of hipsters trying to legitimize something that appears to be, at its core, raw and underground and visceral and personal and pretty much diametrically opposed to any idea of scholarly study or academic examination?

New York Times writer Ben Ratliff, in an even-handed and astute article, quoted a Decibel forum member as saying that black metal “has nothing to do with being intellectual and everything to do with not wanting to try and break every little thing apart”.

Symposium presenter Scott Wilson pushed back hard against anti-intellectualism:

This fear of the academic is completely imaginary and simply (re)produced in order to bolster the journalist’s authority and passion for ignorance: passion for the ignorance of the artist, for the incomprehensibility of the work, and the ineffable authenticity of his experience about which she wishes to know nothing except that she experiences it. But that’s cool, it’s important to be passionate about stuff.

It’s understandable to feel angst when people who don’t talk like you do start talking about your passion.

But there are many ways to skin a cat. Who’s to say which is most valid? If you consider yourself in black metal’s “in group”, there are ample blogspots and forums for you. If you’re ambivalent but inquisitive, make yourself at home here. If you’re deaf, you can experience black metal’s visual aesthetic through the brilliant The Palpable Obscure. If you’re blind, just turn it up. And if you’re an academic with an over-large vocabulary, get thee to The Fighting Cocks. You will meet like minds and hopefully hear some good music. Isn’t that the whole point?

— Cosmo Lee

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