A follow-up and small extension of my take on black metal as failed dialectic and headless fantasy. This is a subsequent, initial move from the acephale (without head) to the cephalophore (the head bearer), a sort of proposed second step, particularly toward the question of the leaderless collective that escapes blind irrationality or waiting for the messianic potentially fascist unifier of retroactive integrity. (Albeit a move that, as Ben has stressed in response to me, may be necessarily deferred, that pushing in such a way may be to leave its terrain entirely. We will likely forever disagree on this.) Thanks to Nicola, who I finally met in NYC, not only for being one of the severed minds behind the emergent black metal theory crew, symposia, and volumes (thinking that California may need to become the 3rd venue in this circuit: we have enough redwoods here to properly tackle the question of black metal and nature) but also for pointing me toward the figure of the cephalophore and on beheading in general, on which he's written a bunch.
But to speak of beheading, we must ask: what happens to the head? And whose was it to start? For the acephale (the headless) is the ground of black metal, its fundamental and unstable condition, but also what dooms it to both its fascism-in-spite-of-itself and to the lingering sense of the bad faith to not follow through on its convictions. The acephale needs to be taken as a first gesture, not as a permanent condition. Not in order to recuperate or excuse, neither to denigrate nor to valorize, but to see that the act of becoming headless opens the way for the second gesture, that of the cephalophore, the head-bearer, the one defined not by the condition of being without head but by the act of picking the head back up.
“Head” here should be taken in its full range, for the acephalic is a fantasy both of the leaderless (the “body” of the people rules alone, brought about by that revolutionary act of beheading the sovereign, materially or in principle) and of the irrational (headless, the body rules in its singularity and decides on the basis of the affective, and phenomenal, taking on unreason as its shared principle). As such, the acephalic condition of black metal must surpass itself and extend this to a total condition. It isn’t enough to remove the leader and imagine the hard collective – of cold Northern sovereigns to be – merely touched by this act of negation, for the outcome is one of three inevitabilities:
1. Resubmission to the bellicose repetition of the act (which is perhaps fine with black metal, at its most raging-in-place).
2. A slide toward the directionless muddled chaos of a crowd of loners.
3. Most disturbingly and more determinately fascist, the elevation of a new leader capable of both retroactively verifying the absent and deferred integration of the mass, as well as yoking concretely together the necessarily linked and distanced practices of politics and aesthetics.
In other words, the crowd itself must not only sever all. It must also pick up the pieces after. And more than that, to realize that the destructive undercurrent of this is above all an affective stance and an aesthetic tendency. The heads are already severed, reason cast to the ground. Black metal makes appear as decision what is in truth a general state of affairs, not just of its imagined post-apocalypse but of the systemic chaos and non-direction of the contemporary world. Hence the performative theatricality: the head already removed, the axe’s swing is a magician’s trick, tracing the negative space there all along between the body and the head.
For to remain in the acephalic is to rest in one of two unacceptable options, each of which can then go in one of two ways.
There can be an acephalic leader, which means either heterogeneous sovereignty (the elevation of a singular, irrational, decisionist leader to prop up the whole collapsing sphere of homogeneous and ordered life) or that crowd of individuals against rational leadership only because it is the wrong kind of rational leadership (i.e. liberal, plural, “diverse” and contemporary, rather than something more metal, European, singular, and ancient).
And there can be an acephalic crowd, either stuck in waiting for a properly headed leader to emerge and give direction, or caught in riotous, irrational, affective bloodbath, stumbling and flailing around, confusing an attack on totality with an attack on everything and anything within reach, wounding itself as it goes.
But despite its recurrent anti-intellectualism and penchant for uncritical reenactment of stale dark vitalist tropes, black metal is smarter than it thinks. Appropriately for its Satanic grounding, it shares much with the integral atheism of de Sade: to take on abstraction and the generic, you have to do so on its own terms. In other words, you can’t afford to throw away the head. It must be picked up, made open use of. Not to resuture a lost order to the mediated despair of the present, not t0 stitch the head back on. Rather, to make its absence and dislocation visible, to make something better of the inherited atrocity. To be sure, a cephalophoric leader could be no better than the acephalic, now holding up the head as proof of martyrdom (how I’ve suffered for you), reconciliation (I know you were mad when you cut off my head, but I forgive you and come back whole and wholly different, ready for hope and change), or permanence (cut my head off, it won’t do any good, you’re stuck with me, foolish sheep).
And so the requisite fourth here, and the possible way for black metal out of its stalemate of wishing to lose its head even while it won’t let it go, is the cephalophoric group. Headless one and all, they hold heads aloft, not sure to whom each belonged in the first place. Removed, yes, but redistributed: the general intellect and spheres of abstraction are severed decisively from their “natural” connection, and then turned to other ends. Of course, black metal doesn’t reach here. It remains the stumbling din, and the bad faith of a rational proclamation of irrational singularity, of the acephale who knows better. The question held out in front of us, like a disjointed head, is what can be gained and seen otherwise, the sight and praxis to be found in becoming wrong-headed, one and all.