Saturday, April 25, 2009

Poetry Grade Controversy omgomg

So I've been having a grade dispute with one of my professors, and I thought I would chronicle it here. My efforts awarded me with an additional 2.5 points spread between two assignments, with the class having a total of 100 points. This may or may not make this a significant number, but as I said to my room mates, it isn't necessarily about being right, or even hitting that elusive 4.0 grade - it's about using my institution-taught capacity to think cleverly and argue against the institution. Full details below. Note also that this is mostly for posterity.

First - the assignment description (Light formatting was done inside of the quotes).

"These five exercises are akin to gardening: planting a seed in good
soil, watering it, weeding it, and allowing it to grow naturally. The
process combines summary, analysis and response but I’m not asking for
these pieces to be strictly “academic” – in other words, they can be
“informal” in the sense that I invite you to respond personally to the
ideas of each writer and to connect each essay to your own work and
the work of the class. You may find yourself extrapolating and
traveling outward on a tributary. That’s okay, as long as I can
follow your thinking. Here are some guidelines:

Aim for about 750 words on each one (two or three pages).
Begin with one central idea from the essay that grabs you or relates
to your own process or life as a writer. Resist the urge to summarize
only – any chump can do that. I want you to consider each author’s
ideas and filter it through your own understanding and experience. You
may find some biographical information about the author to be useful
and elucidating – a bit of background research could be pleasurable
and useful.
Nonetheless, include several direct quotes from the author and be sure
to attribute clearly and gracefully. Convince me you’ve actually read
the piece and convince me you understand it or at least wrestled with
its “controlling ideas,” theses or central contentions.
If you’re stumped as to how to develop the annotation, consider the
following questions: How does this essay connect to other things you
know about poetry? What charms you most about this author’s ideas?
What do you agree with? Why? What do you disagree with? Why? How
might you use these ideas in your own work? What confuses you about
this author’s ideas? What feels “new” to you (or for you) in this
essay? How does this essay connect with others we’ve read? How do
the ideas of the essay affect you emotionally? What have other people
said about this author’s ideas?

(See back for initial list of essays for consideration)

Initial list of essays for consideration: I’ll be offering these to
you as we move through the semester. Some are available online; some
in collections in my possession.

“Filthy Lucre” (Wiman)
“The Limit” (Wiman)
“An Idea of Order”(Wiman)
“Can Poetry Matter?” (Gioia)
“Art of Poetry”(Horace)
“On the Sublime” (Longinus) – worth double credit
“One Body: Some Notes on Form” (Hass)
“Writing the Reader’s Life” (Dobyns)
“An Interview with Paris Review” (Larkin)"

The two annotations that would lead to the grade dispute are as follows:

Annotation #3: Obama, Machiavelli, and the Prince

"A bit of forewarning: as I’ve spent the entirety of the last two weeks writing about purely academic, literary concepts, I’d really like to explore something a little bit more political. Due to this, I’ve chosen to write about a chapter found in Howard Zinn’s Passionate Declarations, which is a rather large book, and can really best be summed up as a damnation of U.S. foreign and internal policy, as well as something of an attack against the ideologies that prop it up. That isn’t to say it’s anti-American; rather, it’s pro-humanist, and against the various policies that the U.S. has enacted that has been against the bettering of humanity as a whole. It’s kind of difficult to describe it succinctly, and it also doesn’t help that I haven’t read it in its entirety for well over a year.

That said, I did read the chapter called ‘Machiavellian Realism and U.S. Foreign Policy.’ Early in the chapter, Zinn lays out a variety of theories and political concepts that Machiavelli, the 16th century Italian statesman/political theorist, laid out. Chief among them is the notion that the means justify the ends, provided that the ends are good unto themselves. This concept has been used repeatedly throughout history to justify all manner of atrocities, including but not limited to, the bombing of Cambodia whom, when we were bombing, we were, officially, at peace with, and of pretty much conquering the entirety of Latin America for economic gain.

Arguments are often made that the actions taken south of Mexico were to preserve national security and to fend off the communists, but Zinn argues, persuasively, otherwise; he says that these actions, such as the Bay of Pigs incident and, before the socialist uprising of Fidel Castro, the installment of the despot Batista in Cuba, that we enacted not to stop communism - specifically, Russian communism, which could not have realistically invaded the U.S. from socialist Cuba, or any other part of South America (he cites the inability of the Russians to win a war with Afghanistan - on their own border - as proof of this) - but, as stated, to secure the economic interests of the U.S. He quotes a U.S. senator (unnamed, unfortunately) who, when asked about the U.S. essentially going to war with Panama over access to its canal, said simply, “We stole it fair and square.”

Zinn moves forward to describe another concept critical to Machiavellian politics; that of the Fox and the Lion. The Fox, he says, must deceive both his enemy and his people; lacking the raw power necessary to subdue them by force, he must convince them that his ways are the best ways. The Lion, he says, must alternatively crush his enemies, sometimes because, simply, he can, but most often because they are aware of the deception enacted by enemies.

Zinn extends this concept further, and labels “Advisors” as critical elements of both Lion and Fox methodologies. He uses the example of Henry Kissinger as a primary Fox - he was primarily responsible for the bombings of Cambodia, and has been implicated in a great many atrocities committed in southern Asia. Most importantly, it was, again, Kissinger that was responsible - not the Prince that he played Advisor to. By permitting Advisors to be the great movers of potential evil, it shields the Prince - who must always attend to either the love or the domination of his people - from damages incurred by actions done by the Advisor. This is what gives rise to the term, “plausible deniability,” and has been used throughout American history to commit a great many evils.

At this point, I would like to move away somewhat from the text and delve into current matters of politics. As we are all aware at this point, Barack Obama has become President, ushering in - we hope, and were promised - an era of progressive change. I’m tempted to even capitalize change because it was such a massively Big Idea, but is change what the American people are receiving?

Last week, Obama appointed the fifth RIAA - the Recording Industry Association of America - to the Department of Justice, most notably the guy that took Tanya Anderson to trial for sharing a handful of mp3s online. I cannot find, at the moment, his name, but just the same, the RIAA has been responsible for a series of lawsuits against individuals for sharing a variety of music files online. Most often, these were cases involving college students, single mothers, and other normal people - these are not wealthy people, nor are they people attempting to attain wealth by distributing music online. The RIAA sued them, in some cases - Tanya Anderson’s included - for tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars. Somehow, these corporations felt that this was fair.

By appointing these RIAA lawyers to the DoJ, Obama has not demonstrated the Change that he was elected to produce - rather, it appears that he is pandering instead to the major businesses of our nation. This somewhat digresses from the Machiavellian concepts laid out earlier, and indeed, will be dissimilar for now - but what stance will Obama himself take when these lawyers begin using their cruel and evil tactics on people that deserve nowhere near as harsh of a treatment as they will receive? I imagine, he will say, that he has plausible deniability - that the DoJ lawyers were individually responsible, and not him. I seem to recall DoJ Chief Gonzales using this exact argument when allegations were brought against him. This is not the Change that I voted for.

Further damning, the Obama administration has invoked the ‘State Secret’ privelage multiple times since coming to office, most recently to protect both the federal government and the telecom companies from being sued by the American people for violating their Constitutional rights to privacy. The particularly painful part is that Obama himself, both before and during his Presidential bid, fought against exactly this kind of treatment of the American people. Again, this is not the Change that we voted for - rather, this is a continuation of the Bush/Cheney policies that have all but damned our nation in the eyes of the world. The following quote comes from a article that I found interesting, although possibly uncited, asking exactly the same question I have posited;
“Does it represent a continuation of the Bushies' obsession with putting secrecy and executive power above basic constitutional rights? Is it a sweeping power grab by the executive branch, that sets set a broad and dangerous precedent for future cases by asserting that the government has the right to get lawsuits dismissed merely by claiming that state secrets are at stake, without giving judges any discretion whatsoever?
In a word, yes.”1

So, at the least, it’s not just me that’s upset by this. I remember, before the actual election and during the campaign, speaking with some friends about this; “Man, if he fucks this up, then our entire generation will be as jaded as Kennedy’s after they shot him.” I’m beginning to fear that this is happening, and quite faster than anyone could have anticipated - although Obama has made many conciliatory moves on the international front, he remains positively damned on the home front. My fear in this is that he will continue hiding behind the Bush secrecy doctrine - why is this a fear? Because there can be no great Advisor, in the Machiavellian sense, than a policy that is utterly immune to prosecution."

Professor's response:

Grade: 1/5

Daniel, your writing is smart and lively but it's not about poetry. These annotations are supposed to be about poetry. No matter how well you wrote them, you missed the point of the assignment.

Annotation #5 - On the Obfuscation of Language

"Essay source: Language Myths. Ed. Laurie, Peter Trudgill. Penguin Books, London, 1998.

Depending on the order that you read this and the short essay composed for the final portfolio, you may be aware that one of my underlying goals in all of my education is the an understanding of words; not merely meanings, or how they interrelate with one another, but how they impact and influence people. An important aspect of this is whether or not people view not only words, but also the changing of words, as being particularly valid/correct. This concept is hit upon in a pair of essays found in Language Myths, a book that I forgot that I owned until looking around for something to write on for this annotation. Almost appropriately, the essays I will be focusing on - The Meaning of Words Should not be Allowed to Change, by Peter Trudgill, and America is Ruining the English Language, by John Algeo, are found, respectively, as the first and last essays in the book.

The first essay examines a variety of words that have changed over the last, oh, five hundred years - which, really, includes just about all of them. Trudgill attacks the notion that there is really a wrong way to use a word, and asserts that, so long as meaning and intent are clear, that it doesn’t particularly matter if they’re being used correctly. Indeed, he sums up his thesis towards the latter portion of the essay; “When is misuse not misuse? When everybody does it.” (Trudgill p. 7), and further, he states that “The fact is that none of us can unilaterally decide what a word means.” (Trudgill p. 7)

He uses a variety of words and phrases to demonstrate that, so long as intent and meaning are clear, that misuse isn’t terribly relevant - although he doesn’t state as much, he essentially views this as the further potential evolution of the English language. Among others, he explores usage of the words “uninterested” and “disinterested,” and explains how people use these words often interchangeably even though they have different meanings, and a little bit of how this may have occured; “They have, perhaps, heard the word disinterested and, not being aware of the meaning ‘neutral, unbiased’, they have started using it as the negative form of interested in the more recent sense.” (Trudgill p. 3) I found the essay pretty convincing although, to be fair, I already agreed with his standpoint.

The second essay, America is Ruining the English Language, explores the idea made clear in the title. He says that it isn’t, and his argument stems almost entirely from the following quotation: “Present-day British is no closer to that earlier form than present-day American is.” (Algeo p. 179) Even if it was a bastardized version, it wouldn’t really matter; “It is, in the great Anglo-American tradition, our God-given right to have our own opinions and to take it or leave it when it comes to style in couture, diet, entertainment, religion and language.” (Algro p. 178) What he is basically saying here - and, indeed, alludes to later in agreeance with Trudgill, is that language means whatever we, the users and creators of it, want it to mean and in general agree that it means. To quote again Trudgill; “Words do not mean what we as individuals might wish them to mean, but what speakers of the language in general want them to mean.” (Trudgill p. 8)

I accept both of these arguments as essentially a tacit endorsement of the abuses I so thoroughly enjoy inflicting on the English language. One of the concepts that has arisen from two writers in my Composition Theory class is that of the writer, student or author developing his or her own truth and, so long as the meaning is made clear to the reader, then that truth may stand pretty much as given. Of course, this becomes a little bit more complicated in poetry - one of the struggles that I’ve encountered is that just because I want something to mean something, doesn’t mean that you, or anyone else, will get that meaning from it. It’s something that I’m trying to work with, but my insistence on obfuscating things probably doesn’t help.

So, a set of procedural goals: to develop an archaic, complicated, and vague style that is somewhat-easily understood by my audience, and therefore valid. The trouble: the understood level of intelligence of my readers, and hoping that it’s relatively high so I can be abstract, and hope they’ll be willing to dig the thing apart to extract some sort of hidden meaning. A boy can dream."

Professor's response:

Grade: 2.5/5

"At least here you got around to poetry in the last two paragraphs, but again, this isn't really what I wanted you to do with the annotations. See comments on #3. I wish you'd have checked with me about these alternate articles."

Later that evening, I sent my professor the following request:

"Okay, moving along. I had some concerns with the scores that I received for my annotations - as they were already late, I understand if neither of the following are opportunities for me, but nonetheless I would like them to be considered. Here are what I hope my options are: A) the most straightforward, in which you allow me to rewrite, at least the annotation that was scored at 1/5, for even partial credit, or B) you allow me to present an argument for why both annotations should be scored higher - I have a series in mind that I believe are fairly compelling.

Thanks again,

Daniel A. Russ"

and her response, which came early the next morning:

"Obviously you were closer on the second one, as I indicated on the comments. But I had provided essays I wanted you to consider that touched on issues relevant to our class; if you selected others, you should have consulted with me first. As noted, your comments were smart and literate but not on the topics I wanted you to consider: at the least, you needed to make the links to the themes of the class clearer. This was an advanced poetry writing class -- I wanted you to consider issues of craft and to use poems/poetry as the substance of your discussions. I'm sure if you'd selected essays more pertinent to writing poetry, you'd have been equally articulate and received an appropiately higher score. My decision stands."

I don't really deal well with language like this from a professor of, of all things, English and poetry, so I sent her the following:

"I guess that the primary problem that I have with those grades is that nowhere in the assignment description does it say that I /have/ to use the provided essays - it merely says that the “[following list are an] initial list of essays for your consideration.” Further, one of the annotations that I received a 4.5/5 on - “Wiman on Milton in Guatemala” - wasn’t on the list.
Your second problem with the essays, that each essay was to be about poetry whereas mine were not, is also somewhat troublesome for me - nowhere in the assignment description was the rule, “This must be about poetry” laid out. Following, I’ll lay out what the requirements - quoted from the sheet say:
+“The process combines summary, analysis and response”
+“Aim for about 750 words on each one (two or three pages).”
+“Begin with one central idea from the essay that grabs you or relates to your own process or life as a writer.”
+“I want you to consider each author’s ideas and filter it through your own understanding and experience.”
+“ Convince me you’ve actually read the piece and convince me you understand it or at least wrestled with
its “controlling ideas,” theses or central contentions.”

The only actual mention of “poetry” made for the assignment guidelines are found in the “If you’re stumped, use these for potential thesis’” section - all of the rest, that fall in the ‘required’ section of assignment document, relate to “your process and life as a writer.” To return to my Wiman piece, only brief mention is made of poetry - it was much more about philosophy, theology, and EXPERIENCE than it was about the craft.

Finally - without actually arguing anything about a specific piece of writing - I’ve spent the vast majority of the semester breaking rules. My Lewis Carol Carol is an excellent example of that - I didn’t even read the assignment, but received a nearly perfect score on that unit of poems. You called it, among other things, a fun linguistic exercise - similar to how you called the pieces provided for Annotations 3 and 5 ‘smart and lively’. I really can’t help but feel like I’m being punished for thinking and acting slightly outside of the box, to use the cliche - more things relate to “my process and life as a writer” than just poetry - and although I’ve come to love poetry, I’m more than that, and felt that I should approach my final annotations with ‘getting better at something I don’t have experience doing’ than repeating assignments that I’d already completed and could have written with my hands tied behind my back.

While I can accept that, thematically, each annotation should have been about poetry - even thought it was never clearly stated as such - I have a hard time believing that Annotation 3 is really worth only 1/5. It followed each of the other directions that were laid out in the assignment document, and I .. lack the words to explain how I feel about a single, unstated ‘requirement’ being worth literally 80% of a grade.

Concerning the actual assignment rules, that’s about all I have - as I said, this doesn’t include any arguments specific to the annotations themselves. I have several in mind for each, and why they are both critical, in a sense, to not merely the arts themselves, but specifically to poetry."

A few hours later, I received both a grade adjustment and the following pair of messages, sent within moments of each other with no response from myself in the meantime:

New score for Annotation 3: 2.5/5
New score for Annotation 5: 3.5/5

"Because of your precocious and persistent arguments, I've slightly adjusted your scores. Don't push me further. It was a poetry class; you wrung about as much out of working outside the box as you should reasonably expect. Be grateful.


P.S. Rereading the assignment description myself, I see that I wrote "I invite you to respond personally to the ideas of each writer and to connect each essay to your own work and the work of the class." It's that last phrase that suggests where your last two annotations did not satisfy. Do I really need to hammer this further?"


Which I guess is something of a victory.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Combat of the Essay

Essay I wrote regarding my final thoughts, for the class, on the composition process. It's mostly about dragons.

Last time, I said that the first step in an examination of my writing process was to have a readable copy of
the assignment on-hand.  Although I still think that this is mostly
true and important to have on-hand, it won’t be true for much longer –
someday, I’ll have graduated college, and will have to establish some
sort of writing habits that are independent of assignments from
professors.  This is fine, as I’ve developed a new sort of process
and, to steal the title from a researchable technology in a game I’ve
been enamored with recently (an old PC game called Alpha Centauri that
is really one of the most intelligent games I’ve ever played – and
I’ve played a great many intelligent games), and I’d like to call it the same thing: Doctrine:Flexibility.

In the confines of the game, the technology allows you to begin
developing military units that are based around speed, agility, and
flexibility.  It is required in order to build any sort of naval, air,
or ground unit that is inside of a vehicle.  Although it’s required
for the tank-type platforms too, I believe that this is outside of the
scope of what I’m trying to say and thus will not attend to it.  The
technology, when you discover it, is accompanied by a quote from Sun
Tzu about being able to immediately adapt to any sort of changing
situation.  It’s also about not merely being able to adapt, but
understand exactly what it is your adapting to – and how best to
combat it.

I like to consider writing as a form of combat because I am a gigantic
nerd.  If you would but bear with me, I can explain some of the
similarities, and how they apply to my own process.  The first
component of the writing battle process is two-fold, and can be boiled
down to a single word: preparation.  This is the single most important
aspect of my writing process – before writing, I must have an idea of
what I will be trying to say.  This doesn’t necessarily have to be a
formalized thesis statement, but the concept – and my readings for it
– must have congealed sufficiently so that there is, at the least, an
image of the monster that I have to kill.  If I don’t know what the
monster even looks like – let alone its weakness (almost always the
belly) – then how am I to slay it?  Secondary, if only in concept but
not importance to this, is the proper armament.  I’ve always liked the
adage/cliché of not taking a knife to a gun fight, and this applies
well to this concept – if I’m going to be writing, for example, about
dystopic narratives present in early Norwegian black metal, then
listening to a bunch of rap music and reading about feminist theory in
the confines of Victorian Literature simply isn’t going to do me any
good – this would be the knife.  And really, why even bother with a
knife?  The goal is to win, not match weapons – always take the gun
with you, even if you know it’s a knife fight - perhaps, especially when you know its a knife fight.  Point being, always
have research and information relevant to exactly what you’re trying
to say, as these are the only weapons you get.

This arose for me personally even in the last day.  I decided to try
and make the argument that postcolonial literature is inherently
dystopic in nature, and that the two forms of literature share a great
deal in common.  Dystopic narratives and postcolonial concepts are
both quite nuanced and complex ideas, and more work than merely
reading the novels must be applied (it didn’t help that journal-based
research was required).  Strangely, I found that the best piece of
research for aiding me in defining dystopic narrative wasn’t so much
concerned with literature as it was with music – the piece was
actually about how industrial music and Dadaist art are incredibly
similar, and it merely used dystopic narratives as a bridge between
the two.  This was probably not the sort of research that I’d have
expected to use and lean heavily on in my work, yet it was – it turned
out to be a gigantic gun.  The research that was recommended by the
professor, which focused on Orientalism and then on postcolonial
literature, turned out to be the knives mentioned – although they made
for great supporting arguments, I found that they were almost too
abstract to employ as primary arguments.

Had I approached this assignment without an understanding of what I
wanted to accomplish, then I wouldn’t be writing this now – I’d be a
charred cinder of a man sitting, kind of, in my shabby, typical university-student living room.  My
research would have revolved around postcolonial concepts, and not
dystopian ones – and as said, you should never bring a knife to a gun
fight.  Although this speaks to the weapons that should be brought to
fight writing-dragons, it doesn’t speak to their weak spot.

This spot is different for every dragon and every battle.  This is, of
course, a metaphor for how you go about making your argument, and
requires a heavy volume of pre-writing for me personally, in addition to
free-writing and generalized note-taking.  I look at this as being
sort of like spending hours with dusty tomes about the dragon I’m
planning to fight.  In the context of the paper mentioned above, I
discovered – or, as has to be the case with things I’ve not done
before, decided – that this hinged on how well I defined dystopian
narrative.  I’m not going to write this out here – I’ve done this
twice in two papers in the last week and am really, honestly, hugely
tired of it – but by defining dystopian narrative in the way that I
meant to apply it, it enabled me to take three to five fundamental
concepts of it, and apply those individually to postcolonial and
Orientalist literature.  For those keeping score at home, I was
writing specifically about William Gibson’s Neuromancer, Orhan Pamuk’s
Snow (one of the most profoundly sad books I’ve read in a long time),
and Tariq Ali’s Shadows of the Pomegranate Tree.  By breaking down
dystopian narrative as I did, it enabled me to make arguments about
each of the three novels independent of one another, and, I would argue, more effectively that I could have otherwise.

I pictured this kind of like setting a series of anti-dragon traps;
one made with fire, in case he had frosty skin; one made of ice, in
case he had flaming scales; and one made of lightning, in case he had
watery eyes like a sappy bitch.  I also selected a corresponding
weapon, in case the dragon got caught in any single one of the traps
and could thus be dispatched accordingly, and also a shotgun in case
he didn’t fall into any of them.  Hey, this is my process, and I get
to make the rules: never bring a knife to a gun fight. It’s kind of like what Bruce Campbell said in one of the Evil Dead movies: “Good, bad .. I’m the guy with the gun.”

Of course, sometimes, no matter your level of preparation, you fail to
anticipate some attribute of the dragon: maybe he can burrow
underground.  Maybe he can spit giant spears, or maybe he has enslaved
a village and is holding is hostage – you didn’t even know that he
could do that!  The tomes don’t mention these kinds of things sometimes.  So too is it with
making literary arguments – sometimes, you run into problems that you
couldn’t have anticipated.  Sometimes, no matter how hard one tries,
arguments just can’t quite fit.  This again returns us to Doctrine:

In this situation, the Doctrine requires that definitions and
arguments be made of liquid and not stone – they must not be rigid,
because sometimes, the arguments, as they have been laid out, just
don’t work with what you’re trying to say.  Being persuasive is almost
always more important than being true to the argument, and sometimes,
this means arguing against fundamentally-held conceptions about the
idea you’re trying to manipulate.  For example, when asked about what
dystopian narrative is, or to mention a few dystopian narratives
they’ve encountered, they would say: it’s a story about the future
with a super-shitty fascist or libertarian government, like in 1984 or
Brave New World.  The Tariq Ali novel mentioned – Shadows of the
Pomegranate Tree ¬– takes places in al-Andalus and what is now known
as Granada during the time of Isabella and Ferdinand.  I think this
was sometime in the fifteenth century – just after the Muslim golden
age, and certainly before the European one.  So, how in the world can
a Christian, royal government removed five hundred years be considered
dystopic?  By the rigorous and clever employment of Doctine:

Finally: to get to the theory components of my process.  I’m
reasonably sure I’m exactly the sort of Neil Gaiman is, although I’d
like to think that I have a higher capacity for academic sort-of
stuff, if only because I’m in college, will be in college, and will
probably stay in college for my whole life.  Due to this, I kind of
have to have some capacity for academic writing – although I love
poetry, I love more analyzing the shit out of it and holding it up to
the standards of the modern, academic world than anything else.  Elitism is thy name.
Moving on: I made the argument in class that Neil Gaiman is a process
and New Rhetorician writer, and as I said, I find that I am both of these
things.  The former component should be somewhat clear by what was
stated about dragons, machine guns and speed boats, and also knives.
What I particularly like about the New Rhetorician model is this
capacity of creating truth from language – it acknowledges that truth
is a malleable, subjective thing, and that it is my responsibility –
and right – to create it and employ it where and how I see fit.

What is strange to me is how little any of the above applies to my
poetry.  In the last year, I’ve begun to take the craft more
seriously, and am finding that I only kind-of sort-of have a real
methodology for doing so.  Generally speaking, when I sit down to
write a poem, I have a very specific phrase or idea in mind.  Take,
for example, a poem that I recently had published in Prairie Margins;
it’s called Ataxia and is a pantoum, which is a cyclic sort of poem
that I find both irritating and engrossing – I’m big on formal forms,
for some inexplicable reason.  One evening, while returning home after
drinking with some friends, my car got stuck in my driveway because
apparently East Village has too many poor people in it to actually get
plowed in a reasonable amount of time.  Anyway, in the process of
digging it out and kicking my car, the idea of snow .. “clinging to
life like in a nuclear winter” came to mind.  This phrase swam around
my mind for several weeks, and eventually lead to Ataxia – the poem
itself came out bizarrely different than I’d expected it to, but then,
they all do.  Which is why I don’t really get how it happens.  I’ve
come to find, however, that the real craftsmanship in poetry has
nothing to do with the first draft, but comes rather in the editing
and re-writing of it.  “How can this be more clear or archaic?  How
can I modify this line to fit my syllable count (almost always ten or
fourteen) and to sound, well, awesome?”  In this, my poetry arises
through process writing.

I’m not quite sure that the New Rhetorician model applies to this – my
goal with poetry is never truth; indeed, on the first day of class,
the professor asked us what our goal with the form was.  Several
people alluded to establishing a sort of truth, an accuracy, an
honesty and purity of thought, emotion and form – my response was to
cloud reality and to confuse the hell out of people.  This still holds
true, even after formalizing my process and the craft – I don’t want
people to know my truths.  They can get their own – because, when I
write poetry, I am not the noble knight slaying the dragon, and I’m
not the guy bringing a gun to a knife fight.

I am the dragon, and I’m going to kill you.

Composition Theory Essays + Gendered Books Idea Stuff

Putting these here for posterity - they don't have much context in them regarding source material, so they may not make sense to anybody but me.

Initially, I found myself at odds with Bruffee's essay Collaborative Learning and the “Conversation of Mankind,” but I found myself agreeing with the majority of the content of his essay by it's conclusion.

Inclined to disagree that collaborative writing/learning from the outset, I hadn't considered that writing is essentially the same thing, although it takes place specifically inside of one's mind. My personal experience with collaborative learning has generally been poor, mostly due to the reasons that Bruffee laid out; “ethnocentrism, inexperience, personal anxiety, economic interests, and paradigmatic inflexibility.” I found the final reason to be perhaps the most significant; often, the standards that I set for myself academically are different than those of the people that I've been assigned to work with, and this can often dramatically affect the productivity of the group. If I'm driven to meet all requirements and surpass them while following all of the rules closely, but my partner either doesn't care or would rather skirt the edges of the rules, then the difference in vision can be damaging.

I particularly appreciated his point regarding explanatory or argumentative conversations: they're almost identical to those conversations when they're written. Instead of an active voice disagreeing with your thesis and a variety of points, you instead have an internalized version, capable of dissecting your arguments with a cold and callous effectiveness, and when you're writing to explain something (which, I believe, is a form of argumentation in itself), you're speaking directly to the internal voice that doesn't know the first thing about assembling a Warhammer 40K army (or whatever your topic might be).

I found Bruffee's statement concerning the best methods to learn to think better to be interesting; “the first steps to learning to think better, therefore, are learning to converse better and learning to establish and maintain the sorts of social context, the sorts of community life, that foster the sorts of conversation members of the community value.” It strikes me that he's suggesting that by engaging in peers or superiors in active, intelligent dialogue, then you're creating a more powerful and intelligent internalized voice – which aids directly both in writing and thinking, as with a more effective challenging voice, then you are forced to deliver more effective thought in order to combat it.

That conversations “of value” need to occur is a topic that came up among my room mates last night. One of the two sat with one of the sociology professors for four hours, drinking coffee and talking about local, global, and school issues, and the topics ranged from curriculum discussion to community organization. Among the things that my room mate took from the conversation were that these dialogues need to occur with more regularity, and I entirely agree – my room mate, as a direct result of the conversation, was smarter, more well-informed, and had developed a series of new ideas which he could use in the future for various social and academic pursuits. One of the most rewarding conversations that I've had personally was with a former professor over a series of beers in a local bar. The conversation often drifted into territory covered during the class, but due to the more intimate nature of the setting, far greater levels of depth were achieved – although I learned a great deal from the class itself, I developed a series of entirely new insights concerning the course material that I'm not sure I'd have achieved otherwise. It wasn't exclusively self-beneficial – after asking my opinion on a series of curricular ideas for future classes, I believe my professor came away from the discussion with a somewhat better idea of what worked inside of the classroom, and what did not.

I'd like to think my ideas were worthwhile in curricular terms, anyway.

One of the other aspects that this viewpoint skirts around is that of the voice of the writer, or even the speaker. By imagining and being aware that every written work is a dialogue, the result of an internal conversation, it enables the writer to speak with a much more clear voice of their own. When trying to speak to merely a blank page and a letter grade, prose often is written without character and reflection; however, by actively defending your arguments and acknowledging that there could potentially be some harsh critics – even among your peers! - the voice of the individual is much more likely to come through.


The two reading selections for today elaborate on themes that have occurred repeatedly throughout the month’s-worth of readings; that there is a sizeable population of students at the college level that seem to be, for whatever reason, incapable of writing. The majority of these seem to focus on the mechanics of the language, and whether or not the direct instruction of these will better the writing quality of students. I find myself in league with the anti-grammarians, although I think the issue is almost an aside; the essays tend to focus on the craft of writing instead of the purpose, and I find this to be one of the greater failings of the system.
Many students struggle with mathematics due to its high level of abstraction; that is to say, they are taught a series of mechanical methods of evaluating sets of problems to achieve, what often seems to be, an arbitrary goal. 1 + x = 5. Anyone that has taken rudimentary algebra would immediately recognize X as being 4; but what does 4 mean? For that matter, what does X mean? Without a tangible understanding of the purpose of solving the problem (beyond avoiding a check mark), it remains so abstract that to focus on the resolution of the problem and its implications becomes pointless.
By teaching an understanding of the purpose of the problem – such as determining the depth of an angle using trigonometry that will be used to build a fin on a rocket ship – it becomes more clear to students why accuracy is important. It also demonstrates that there is a real purpose beyond a letter grade to the problem.
So too is it with writing; by instructing the core fundamentals of the language and composition, they develop in students a mechanical set of methods by which to deal with problems - introductory paragraph, thesis sentence or phrase, three supporting paragraphs and a conclusion – but fail to elaborate on the function of this form. Most reasonably accomplished or educated writers would argue that the purpose of forms such as the above are to allow for clarity and ease of understanding for the reader, as well as a simplified model of organization for the composer. But would what Rose calls remedial writers be able to explain this? State the function of effective communication via the written word?
“[Freshman composition] became and remained the most consistently required course in the American curriculum.” Why is this? Even though the readings have almost all hinted that the quality of the American student’s writing has dropped in recent decades, we continue to follow the same course. Although my experience, being anecdotal, isn’t worth terribly much, I know that it worked for me – and many of my peers.
Until my junior year of college, I was incapable of identifying a verb, or a noun, or any number of other specific functions of the language. I struggled in an introductory linguistics class to be able to identify a subject, pronoun, and so on – even though I’ve been fully capable of writing a reasonably well-written essay throughout much of my academic life. I believe the cause of this is due to an immense exposure to written works, whether in the form of literature, essay, poetry, or online prose. Through a drive to want to be able to communicate ideas as effectively as some of my favorite authors, I paid close attention to their stylistic choices – specifically issues of phrasing, pacing, and tone – and came to emulate many of what I considered the more effective practices. Further reading further developed the internalized craft.
It strikes me then that an effective method of instructing effective composition rests on providing students with effective examples of composition. Although literature classes often force students to read a great deal of text, they are often chosen for a series of reasons that will not contribute directly to the learning of a student. Themes, antiquated morality, excellent character development – these are the sorts of things that are focused on in a literature course. Often, these works are classical in nature - that is, their writing style is from an era preceding our own in a significant fashion – would seem to be more detrimental to the development of composition than anything else. Although they may develop skills that enable them to analyze characters and plot elements – important in their own right – they display to the student a style which is no longer desireable. Unfortunately, these would often seem to be the only concrete examples of composition received by students (at least before entering University).
Teaching instead works that are renowned for their style, clarity, and high-level of communication of critical ideas might be a better choice. This would enable students to see what the powers of effective writing can be. A lesson plan could proceed similar to the following; 1. An essay is presented, and the instructor asks the students to discuss the major ideas, and whether or not they work, in class and around their peers. 2. After establishing a relative uniformity of interpretation, the instructor could ask /why/ the students received the messages that they did – and finally, 3., the instructor could explain what about the essay – stylistically and mechanically – allowed the class to understand the ideas presented therein as accurately as they did. These broad ideas could then be used in further assignments for the classroom, with an emphasis on clarity of deployment of ideas.


I found that I reacted more strongly to today’s first reading – “Diversity, Ideology, and Teaching Writing” – than I have to any of the other assigned readings, and it’s little wonder. As a piece focusing on essentially politicizing the classroom and the politics themselves, it’s difficult not to have an immediate knee-jerk reaction regardless of political orientation. My reaction, specifically, was a tacit agreement with the author – that the political ideologies of the instructor should have little to do with the curriculum and discussion in the classroom.

My issue with using freshman composition as a political platform lies in similar language to the second piece as well, “Professing Multiculturalism: The Politics of Style in the Contact Zone,” in that students at that level typically lack both the political knowledge and rhetorical skills to compete with an instructor that they may disagree with. Although this may provide an opportunity for an instructor to indoctrinate students into what they perceive to be the correct political worldview, they are abusing what is already an inherently unfair situation. Students pay thousands of dollars to learn the skills and abilities necessary to compete in the outside workforce, not to become pawns in a leftist agenda.

That said, I find myself somewhat at odds with this interpretation as well; my view on the relative sanctity of education contrasts with my own political agenda. I believe that I would support, ideologically, the majority of instructors pushing a leftist agenda, and a very real part of me wants professionals at this level to use the opportunity to convert more people to this view – thus increasing votes, population, and ideas present to the left of the spectrum. But again, the classroom – especially the freshman composition classroom – is not the place for this sort of indoctrination. Nowhere on a college campus should students be indoctrinated into a particular mode of thought, regardless of the well-meaning of their preachers. Arguments for the purity of education aside, allowing this sort of behavior will potentially allow for more right-wing and views contradictory to my own to proliferate in schools where alternate ideas are held.

That is not to say that the freshman composition class shouldn’t be a forum for ideological disagreements. Each student will have a different background, and many will likely hold contradictory views. Rather than focus on badgering right-wing students into submission with vastly-advanced skills and understanding of the issues, instructors should rather provide for a forum in which these ideas can be discussed – but in writing. The traditional model of composition at this level, which generally includes at least one argumentative essay, is the perfect place for this sort of rhetoric.

Something that I have never seen done but might provide for an interesting and beneficial assignment would be to allow for two (or potentially more) students with differing political ideologies to write argumentative essays in direct opposition with one another. The students, before the formalized, five-paragraph-essay is written would need to agree on a series of generalized points to cover in the course of their respective essays. The topic, chosen preferably by the students themselves, would then be broken down into a series of points of contention – three or more of these could be chosen, and would become the individual topics for body paragraphs.
For example, were the students to choose abortion as a generalized topic, then the points of contention could read something like; “The point at which life begins (and therefore the point in which abortion is acceptable to all parties(unless of course they’re a genuine fundamentalist and believe that no child should be aborted, even in cases of the death of the mother or rape, in which case they should probably be taken out back and shot)),” “the social and economic ramifications of fully-legalized abortion,” and “alternatives to abortion.” These topics are of course entirely flexible and would change from student to student, but I believe they illustrate my point.

Trouble may arise if the majority of a classroom subscribe to the same general ideology, but this will provide an opportunity to further develop the rhetorical skills of the student – specifically, in how to, with words, bitch-slap the hell out of someone you agree with for making poor arguments.

What I’ve found to be one of the best opportunities for growth in this field, personally, are taking a stand contradictory to my personal beliefs in a topic. I recently completed an Argumentation and Debate course, and very early in the semester the instructor split the classroom into a series of groups. Each of these groups then decided on a specific topic, and then the groups were divided in half again so that there would be clearly-defined teams on each side of the debate. The topic of my group was international electronic piracy (which tended to gravitate most often towards the most popular form of this, music piracy), and even though I am a self-avowed copy-fighter and believe in few causes more passionately than Creative Commons Licensing, I chose to argue on behalf of the developers of intellectual property. Although I was in opposition to the majority of the words I wrote for the debate, I learned more about structuring an argument and about the field than I believe that I would have done had I chosen to support my own beliefs. I believe also that encouraging students to argue for things that they do not agree with will provide an excellent opportunity to hone those skills – for it’s far easier to see the holes in your argument if you already have an established opinion contrary to what you’re saying, as you personally will be your most staunch enemy.

WoW Response:

Alright. I’m actually more interested in exploring, in a slightly more formal fashion, one of the concepts that has arisen as a result of the mini-seminar that was presented by Jonathan and I; specifically, I am referring to the concept of books having a gender.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot over the last week, indeed, almost every moment that I’ve been free from the tyranny of term papers. Alright, not every moment - I completed my last major term paper last evening (17 pages!), and bought myself two bottles of expensive beer as a reward and spent the remainder of the evening watching anime on Adult Swim. Just the same though, I’ve been thinking about it a lot.

Specifically, and perhaps most critically if I am to proceed with this as an independent research endeavor, about how, exactly, one would define a book as masculine or feminine, or if, as I asked my girlfriend the other night, if this wasn’t a potentially dangerous avenue to even explore. My room mate, whom I respect immensely, is a sociologist-in-training. He’s a pretty clever guy, and has been studying gender/feminism a great deal in the last few months, so, as usual, he’s a pretty good resource to try and tap.

His initial reaction was that all books (I’m speaking specifically of novels in this context) have a gender, which can be relatively easily determined. He had a few ideas, but first, an examination of how he would define a book as masculine or feminine. His first criteria is the characters - are they predominantly, according to the BEM Sex Role Inventory, or some other metric, feminine or masculine? Their actual sex may or may not be important. Are their actions identifiably, in the Western context, feminine or masculine? And so on - but I, as I told him, find this viewpoint troublesome. It completely ignores two critical components of any novel; the plot, and the theme that arises as a result of both the characters and the plot, and how they intertwine. He argued that these can both be readily defined as masculine or feminine, which I disagree with - but this will be addressed later.

First, though, the difficulty of labeling specific novels. I’d like to star with Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. Note here that I haven’t read any of the novel in years, and my experience with it is mostly through feminist interpretations. From what I understand, it’s a novel about a woman making great strides in a masculine world, and not only succeeding, but dominating. So: superficially, a celebration of femininity, and the heights of power that it can achieve. In order to accomplish these things, however, the main character had to embrace attributes that are decidedly viewed, at least with the BEM Sex Role Inventory, as masculine - like aggressiveness, domineering, and assuredness. So - just because the main character is a female, does that make it feminine? How does her use of predominantly masculine attributes sway this? It almost makes it a celebration of manliness (lol) in the form of a female. Because of situations like this and others, I’m not quite sure how to proceed.

He also suggested surveying something like 1,000 authors randomly, and asking them how they identified their work. But this, too, is troublesome; how relevant is authorial intent? That’s a difficult one to determine, particularly if this research is to focus on “classic” or works of literature that are widely-regarded as being “good” - a lot of these works will be from dead authors, so surveying them becomes impossible. “But surely a consensus can be reached among readers about this?,” he asked - but hardly. The way that literature is interpreted is entirely subjective, although when it reaches the higher levels of criticism it becomes .. well, still subjective. Everything it still viewed through the lens of the reader - if they identify with and agree with Marxist ideals, then they’re going to want to make cases for or against why a novel is Marxist. So too with the gender of a novel - I personally might identify Atlas Shrugged as masculine, but another reader would not. The trouble, of course, with literary analysis, is that there is room to make both arguments - not merely to make them, but to make them effective. Why I chose to be an English major I will never quite understand.

Just the same, my initial thoughts on how to conduct this are as follows; first, some sort of what my room mate called “commonality of argument” must be established. That is to say, if my conception of books having a gender one way or another isn’t shared by at least some peers, then it’s mostly worthless, I think. So: a survey of possibly fellow students as a starting point. It would contain a couple of things, like asking them to take the BEM Sex Role Inventory - this may or may not end up being relevant, but I’d still like to see if, say, a higher rate of masculinity doesn’t correspond to rating novels as being masculine, and vice versa. I suspect that it will influence it, but I’m not quite sure how - maybe reversed. I personally rank somewhat highly on the feminine measure, and find that I would call more novels masculine than feminine. After that, a series of novels, and maybe asking for a brief, paragraph-long examination. I’d like to inject novels intentionally that are possibly clearly masculine, like, say, Dune or pretty much any Philip K. Dick novel, and some that are clearly feminine like, say, uh .. I’m not sure on this one. Maybe Mary Barton. I’d also like some more troublesome books, like American Psycho and Atlas Shrugged - the former I believe I talked about in class - it’s a celebration, initially, of masculine attributes - and then a damnation of them. I’m curious how people respond to this.

After getting the results from a collection of students, I’d like to apply this to a variety of maybe faculty; the literature professors would probably be the most in-depth, but I think feminist theory and political science professors would also provide interesting responses as well.

My friend Marcus had the following to contribute: Romance Languages are inherently gendered, and therefore almost anything that is discussed through them will have a gender. I’m inclined to agree, but not having any knowledge of non-Romance Languages makes this difficult for me.

Riding the Black Wave: Black Metal as Dystopia

Okay, so this thing is huge. I explored the links between dystopic narrative and black metal, and in the process examine cyberpunk literature, Dadaist art, and the history/origins of black metal. Again: its fucking huge, so be warned. It got an A. Also - forgive the formatting. Blogger sucks at doing tabs.

During the early 1990’s, a series of musicians would emerge from Norway bearing a new breed of heavy metal that represented a direct antithesis to Christian morality, and would create a thematic rhetoric that would simultaneously isolate them from and unite them with other underground, music-based social spheres that were attempting to fight against the various social power structures that they found themselves in. Although they were musically, thematically, and presentationally substantially different from other underground, music-based movements, early Norwegian black metal nonetheless shared a series of important connections to the early punk-rock, industrial and literary movements in America during the 20th century - specifically, that they were all forms of extra-literal dystopic narrative.

Although dystopic narrative is generally reserved to the world of literature, this form of narrative is not necessarily the exclusive domain of literature. In order to establish black metal as a form of dystopic narrative, a series of definitions and examples must first be examined, as the connection between dystopic narrative and black metal is anything but readily apparent. First, dystopic narrative must be defined; as this is a more complicated concept than a paragraph, or indeed several pages could encapsulate, several pieces of literature will be examined so that specific attributes of dystopic narratives can be culled for application outside of the literary world. Second, it must be established that dystopic narrative is not exclusive to film or literature; this will be done, chiefly, by examining the work of Karen Collins in Dead Channel Surfing, who draws a series of connections from dystopic literature to the Dada art movement, and then to early, and even modern, industrial music as being a form of extra-literal dystopic narrative.

Towards a Definition of Dystopic Narrative

One of the key components in dystopic narrative is the othering of either the individual, either through the rejection of an individual by society, or the rejection of a community of people by society at large. Generally, this rejection is rooted in lifestyle choice and personal preference and not the result of forces outside of control of the individual; that is to say, in dystopic narrative, mode of dress and philosophy are more likely to be an ostracizing element than genetic predispositions such as ethnicity. In William Gibson’s Neuromancer, for example, the protagonist becomes involved with a group of Zionist rastafarians inhabiting a derelict space station, built and maintained by the group alone, and exists, for the most part, outside of society. Although they are a racial minority - Africans - in the future world of Neuromancer, they have not been rejected specifically as such - rather, they have chosen to live outside of the confines of normal society where they may practice their chosen lifestyle without interference from the world at large.

The Zionist Rastafarians of Neuromancer also speak to a secondary, but still important, aspect of dystopic narrative. As a collective group, the Rastafarians either eschew or are barred from (financially or politically) the highest levels of modern technology, instead using equipment that is at least a generation older than what is considered to be modern. Their only experience with cutting-edge technology takes place as Case, the protagonist of Neuromancer, becomes involved with them in his attempts to free the AI-construct Wintermute - which requires of them a relative integration with a high level of technology. A meeting of the two levels of technology occur when Case and a Rastafarian, Malcolm, enter the location of the novel’s final confrontation; a gigantic, corporate complex situated at the pinnacle of a massive, orbital space station. Case, a hacker, comes armed with his well-trained mind and his deck - his portable computer console/hacking device - and Malcolm, true to Rastafarian form, comes armed with a sawn-off shotgun. This meeting of wildly differing levels of technology is common in dystopic narrative, particularly in that of the cyberpunk sub-genre.

Although their actual reasons for remaining low-tech are unstated in the novel, it runs an interesting parallel to another work of fiction inspired by William Gibson. In the film Johnny Mnemonic, the protagonist, Johnny, finds himself in league with a group of social and political outcasts called the Lo-teks, whom share with the Rastafarians a rejection of modern technology, although for what are clearly-stated political reasons. They adamantly refuse to embrace modern technology, and use it only when it can be employed to attack the dominant power structure. For example, the group, instead of using the wide selection of firearms that were presumably available, has chosen instead to arm themselves with crossbows and the remixing of media; in describing their method of militant action, J-Bone, leader of the Lo-teks, says “This is where we fight back. We strip the little pretty pictures from their five-hundred channel universe, recontextualise it, then we spit that shit back out.”(Johnny Mnemonic) This came in the form of making political messages via a mass-broadcast anti-power structure messages, created from a hodge-podge of media that has been fed to the citizens, and serves the film and short story’s version of a theme found in much dystopic literature, as defined by Collins in Dead Channel Surfing; that there often is a resistance.
“...the socio-economic system of the West will lead to an apocalypse. The apocalypse will lead to, or be caused by, a tolatarian elite controlling the masses through technology, which brings about the need for resistance, usually led by an ousider-hero.” (Collins p. 171)
These themes, including the rejection of modern technology/the embracing of cast-off technology and the alienation/othering of groups and individuals - are, according to Collins, “inherent in nearly all dystopias.” (Collins p.171) There is yet another theme that another writer suggests is critical in dystopic narrative; that in order for a dystopic narrative to be plausible, it must take place outside, either physically or temporally, from the location of the author (Phillips p.190). This aspect, although not picked up by Collins, is present in most, if not all, dystopic narrative; those that do not take place in the future take place in a location outside of the here and now. Further, that these settings are, if possible, to fled from; “Dystopias are negative utopias, images of a future so terribly imperfect that, given a chance, people would prefer to flee as far as their wherewithal can possibly take them.” (Williams p.384)

While dystopic narratives often carry the above collection of themes, they are not necessarily always present, or can be present instead in metaphoric terms, and often the level of emphasis given to each theme varies from work to work. In order to examine how each of these themes functions outside of the confines of the literary world, the remainder of them - the outsider hero/anti-hero, the totalitarian social/political control group, and the ‘extraordinary journey’ required to enter into a dystopic setting - must be examined in further detail.

The anti-hero has become all-but tradition in dystopic narrative. Instead of the gun-toting, self-righteous hero found often in storytelling, the anti-hero is rather a protagonist because he has to be, not because he wants to be. To return to Neuromancer, the protagonist, Case, is working for Armitage - and through Armitage, the artificial intelligence construct Wintermute - not because he wants to, but because he has to. Due to a botched thieving operation several years before the novel begins, Case was surgically barred from being able to access cyberspace (a term coined in Neuromancer that means more or less the Internet) - no small punishment for a hacker that relied on cyberspace access to earn his way. For payment for a hacking operation that was financed and run by Armitage - the novel’s sort-of antagonist - has Case’s hacking capacity surgically restored, which establishes a debt to Armitage and, through Armitage, Wintermute. He also has a series of toxin sacs sewn into Case’s body, and warns the hacker that if he fails in the operation, or evades the completion of it, then the toxin sacs will dissolve and kill Case. Armitage, having the chemical compound that will safely break down the toxin sacs and dissolve them harmlessly, has sufficient leverage over Case to compel him to complete the mission.

In a way, this also touches on another element of dystopic narrative; that there isn’t necessarily a protagonist or a hero, despite what Collins may suggest. Although Neuromancer follows Case in exclusivity, one only begins to sympathize with him due to time spent with his thoughts and actions - not necessarily because one agrees with them. His motives are never defined or driven by or through altruism, and indeed the most elated the reader ever sees Case is when he manages to find a particularly intense form of narcotic stimulant and is high for the first time in many weeks. One cannot sympathize with Wintermute, whom is orchestrating the vast majority of the novel - although his motives never seem to quite be hostile towards anyone in particular, they are never defined as being benign, or even as anything at all - they simply are, and tend to exist outside of sympathy. This will later be mirrored by black metal artists; although it is easy to understand the plight of their situation, being at the whim of a society that does not and cannot accept them, it is difficult, at least for most people, to sympathize with their goals.
Case finds himself compelled to achieve the goals of those with power over him, further alienating and othering what is seen as the protagonist due to the inherent imbalance of power. This is meant, often, as an indictment of the power structure at large; the methods used to compel characters in dystopic novels range from the relatively benign, like removing one’s capacity to profit in a capitalistic system, to cruel and barbaric, like the Big Brother-branded fascism that forces the hand of 1984’s Winston Smith - but they are never desirable, especially from characters that want merely to be left alone.

Were these characters let alone, however, then the conflict of a dystopic narrative - and thereby the actual story of the narrative - would not be present. These conflicts most often arise as a result of actions by some fashion of large, omnipresent, and often fascist state or corporate entity that has a great deal of control over the people and characters of a dystopic narrative. In Neuromancer, this occurs in layers; firstly, with Armitage, whom has a direct mechanism for controlling Case - his life. Secondly, with Wintermute, whom controls Case both indirectly, through Armitage, whom Wintermute has been manipulating for years preceding the novel, and directly, by speaking to Case and appearing to him in cyberspace. Thirdly, through the Tessier-Ashpool Coroporation, the massive corporate entity that initially engineered Wintermute and whom the plot ultimately revolves around, and to a lesser extent, the various governmental entities that work against Case as he attempts to free Wintermute.

Although dystopian narratives are often extrapolated nightmares of various technological and social aspects of the present day in the real world, they are, as Williams said, never a place one would choose to visit willingly. Thankfully, aside from extra-literal representations of dystopic narratives like Dadaist art and industrial/black metal music, these dystopias cannot be accessed by we people of the real world. Or can they?

A dystopic world, almost by definition, cannot be found in reality (although this will be explored further later), and indeed is only accessible through something of an extraordinary journey. Often, these take place in the realm of science fiction, requiring a mental journey through time to a relatively technologically advanced age, or to an extra-terrestrial location not readily, or easily, accessible by the people of the real world. Although the government behind 1984’s Big Brother would be seen as somewhat dated by the standards of modern technology, it nonetheless exists in a world much further entrenched with telescreens and mass-communication methods - and therefore control methods - than our own. The technological hellscape of Neuromancer can only be accessed through similar means. Sometimes, however, reality serves as an ideal setting for a dystopic nightmare.

In Richard Phillips’ Dystopian Space in Colonial Representations and Interventions: Sierra Leone as ‘The White Man’s Grave,’ he lays the groundwork for the west African nation as being a real-world dystopia. Initially regarded in the colonialized world as an utopic vision of the future of inter-racial communities, Sierra Leone was among the primary locations of English colonials and freed slaves after 1808. However, the true nature of the colony-cum-nation soon emerged: the bi-racial and black community was almost immediately shunned to the back sections of local culture and barred from any sort of public office, the fragile state of Anglo-Saxon health was ravaged by malaria and poor sanitary conditions, and the colony was reachable only via a long and difficult sea voyage. (Phillips 190-191)

“Like other dystopias, Sierra Leone was constructed as a fallen, failed or inverted utopia. Early writers, in particular, recalled the colony’s utopian ideals (as a home for poor blacks and emancipated slaves, and a place for the advancement of black and mixed-race peoples), and explicitly or implicitly claimed that these ideals failed to deliver. ... [Equiano ((how do I cite this?))] concluded that the utopian project, ‘humane and politic in its design,’ had proved ‘unfortunate in the event’ “ (Phillips p. 193)

Although eventually receiving independence, Sierra Leone initially received it’s directives from England - removing power from the local community, both white and black, and enforcing a sense of alienation from the homeland. That it was so far away almost ensured that it would be quite late in receiving technological advances found throughout much of the “civilized” world, speaking to the technocolonialisation of the region. Finally, the absolute alienation of ethnic minorities in the region ensured that at least one group - the ethnic minority of the ‘civilized’ world, typically - would forever be outside of the prevailing power structure, othering and alienating them permanently.

Mention of this real-world dystopia - the Sierra Leone of the 19th century - is important because it establishes that fiction is not required for dystopia. It asserts that not only do real-world events and situations generate ideas and concepts concerning dystopian narratives, but they themselves can be dystopian narratives. With this in mind, the establishment of other forms of dystopian narratives - chiefly, those of music and art - can be examined.
Extra-Fictional Dystopias: Music and Art as Dystopic Narratives
Can a theme be conveyed in a piece of art without a narrator, or even without characters? Is the intentional hand of an author critical to the establishment of dystopic narratives? Similar to how a fictional element, like dystopia, can be found in the real world, it can also be found outside of the printed, screened, and acted media. Certain elements of dystopian themes have arisen in a variety of mediums over the last century, like the rabidly anti-consumerist artform of dada, or the techno-futurist form of music known as industrial.

According to Collins, “The dadas were keen to expose the dangers of the growing technologisation of society. ... [They] sought to confound the Futurists’ metronomical sense of rational order with chance, ‘unreason,’ illogical nonsense, and a mimicry of automatism which allowed the subconscious (the irrational) to take over.” (Collins p.167) Dadaism, and indeed much of the art of the 20th century, was fixated on broken and distorted imagery, using collages and blatantly anti-consumerist imagery to relay their message. In a study for the New York Graphic Society, Katherine Kuh observed that much of the art over the last century “has been characterized by shattered surfaces, broken color, segmented compositions, dissolving forms, and shredded images.” (Kuh p.11))

These descriptions of the art of the 20th century, that they are fragmented and distorted visions of reality, are dystopic even in their capacity to alienate themselves and their benefactors, share much in common with the relatively new form of electronic music called industrial. Industrial music is typically accredited with originating as a form of dadaist performance art, in which the droning of machines and the use of other industrial objects were used as set pieces;
“Industrial artists such as Einsturzende Neubauten have used instruments that include air ducts, glass, passing trains, ventilation shafts, a shopping cart, jet turbines, pneumatic pistons and various mechanical tools, among many other unconventional sound-making devices. Similarly, other industrial artists create music by using instruments that were recycled, stolen or discarded. At the time of the birth of the industrial genre in the late 1970s, these instruments were sometimes held by artists and fans to represent anti-consumerist technology ... These artists used whatever material was available to them in order to create the music, using found sound and were therefore maintaining what was widely perceived by fans as a highly experimental and anti-consumerist style.” (Collins p.172)
By establishing themselves as anti-consumerist and therefore anti-mainstream culture, through both lyrical themes and by what Collins’ refers to as ‘found sound,’ the industrial and Dadaist artists have willingly ostracized themselves, pushing their message, music and even selves to the fringes of modern culture. This, combined with an obsession with both high-tech and low-tech sounds and a heavy use of the “robotic” voice, and lyrical themes that will be examined briefly, pushed industrial music well into dystopic narrative territory.

Industrial music often uses heavily-distorted vocal tracks to deliver lyrics, preferring a mechanized, “robotic” voice, which helps to further symbolize the artists’ alienation from society. They also speak to the homogenization of man and machine, something widely feared and spoken of in both dystopic literature and artwork. Skinny Puppy, an early industrial band from Canada, has become widely known for their heavy use of the Vocoder (a voice synthesization device) in attempt to sound less human. The robot voice was chosen, according to Brian Aldiss, because:
“The robot is (generally) to be pitied. The robot is in many ways a shadow of ourselves ... Robots are generally solitary since they represent outsiders or antiheroes in human society ... Robots are lonely people because they exemplify current isolations from our industrial society. (Aldiss, p. 3ff)
Lyrically, industrial music often involves themes of empiricism, capitalism, and technocolonialization. The relatively modern industrial band VNV Nation, for example, utilizes synthesized versions of industrial machines, slightly distorted vocal tracks, and a strongly anti-empirical/anti-war message. With their album Praise the Fallen, the band establishes a discourse that revolves around betrayed honor, abused loyalty, a hopeless military conflict, and a celebration of those that came before. It also often carries a rebellious and almost revolutionary tone;
“Stand your ground this is what we are fighting for,
For our spirit and laws and ways.
Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war,
for heaven or Hell, we shall not wait.
Shall I think of honor as lies,
or lament it’s slow demise? (VNV Nation)
Clearly, something is occurring in this song that requires the narrator to, at the least, prepare himself for war. This does not appear to be a war instigated by the people of the narrator, but rather by a foreign force, thus not only establishing the narrator as an “other,” but forcing him to take up arms to defend his nation - establishing him as something of an anti-hero. The line concerning “honor as lies” is particularly interesting, and works with the dystopic discourse on multiple levels. It can be read as a nod to Orwellian Newspeak (how can honor be a lie when it’s the pinnacle of social service?), or of the disillusionment of the narrator from the prevailing political and social hierarchy (if honor is a lie, then why bother with anything else?).

This sense of alienation that arises, through the “robot voice,” lyrical thematics, found sounds and entirely unreal, synthesized sounds, further place industrial music firmly in the camp of dystopic narrative and can be overwhelming. That so many of the sounds are almost futuristic, and at the least, unreal and impossible in the natural world, are suggestive of the extraordinary journey required in order to engage in industrial music. Finally, the broken planes, sounds, images and rejection of consumerist culture - both literal and figurative - that bind the Dadaist movement, 20th century art in general and the industrial music scene together are entirely dystopic elements on their own. These elements, however, like not being constrained merely to literature or film, are also not constrained by the grasp of the continental United States, and would manifest themselves on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean in Norway.

The Black Wave: Norwegian Black Metal as a Dystopic Narrative

Today, black metal is fairly well known and fairly widely despised. This is for a variety of reasons, although primarily because it is an intentionally difficult form of music to listen to. Although industrial music, as a result of the mimicry of machines, had a tendency to have a steady, danceable beat, and later even developed into music that was quite easy to pick up and enjoy, black metal - at least, in it’s pure form - never quite managed to find a universal element that most sorts of people enjoy. It combines elements of thrash metal, death metal, grindcore, heavy metal and even some thematic components of folk music to create a sound that is genuinely alien - and dystopic.

In order to examine the dystopic themes of black metal - specifically, Norwegian black metal - the influences that went into developing those dystopic aspects of the form must be examined.

First, there was Black Sabbath. With their album Paranoid, the English band developed an entirely new, and substantially more aggressive sound than had been heard before. Although by many standards today the band isn’t as “extreme” or “hard” as other forms of music, it nonetheless laid the groundwork for several major music movements to come, both musically and thematically. Even their name, Black Sabbath, helped to pave the way for what was to come - being one of the first groups to ever use such blatantly anti-Christian name and themes, they developed a form of almost playfully rebellious rhetoric that would be both embraced and taken further by the bands that would follow them.

Around the same time, another English band, Black Widow, was experimenting with Satanic and anti-Christian themes, both on stage and in the recording studio. Although not a metal band by any measure - their sound approaches much closer to that of traditional folk music - they also helped to pioneer themes that would become dominant during the closing of the 20th century in Norwegian black metal. Their live shows were something akin to that of Throbbing Gristle1 in that they were more about spectacle, social statements and entertainment than raw musical aptitude. Although the band never approached the quantity of records sold that Black Sabbath did, it wasn’t about sales or fame for Kay Garrett, the vocalist and leader of Black Widow; he was simply content that “we were the black magic band.” (Murder Music)

The next major progression in the development of black metal came with yet another English band, Venom. Their debut album, Welcome to Hell, was performed in the same vein as that of the American thrash bands Slayer and Metallica, but thematically they were darker than the violence-based themes of the American bands. Instead of using their real names, or even real-sounding pseudonyms like the American bands, Venom instead opted for names based in fantasy and mythology. Where the thrash bands were singing, primarily, about violence, aggression, and occasionally social justice issues, Venom chose initially to follow suit, adding Satanism and anti-Christian messages to their music in addition to the sex, drugs, and rock and roll that were dominant in the genre. This was further emphasized with the recording of their second album, however - Black Metal, the album that would come to further seed the birth of genre, capitalized on the bands folklorish and Satanic themes and was primarily concerned with the “darker elements of life.”(Murder Music)

Defining their brand of music as black metal, as opposed to other, more popular forms of the day, like thrash metal, heavy metal and death metal, was primarily due to the press. In an interview for the documentary Murder Music, Conrad “Cronos” Lant, Venom’s vocalist, said that
“...if this is what people are calling heavy metal today, Journey and Foreigner and people like that, all lumped into this category: ‘long hair, guitar: heavy metal band.’ We turn around and say, ‘If that’s the case, we’ve got absolutely nothin’ to do with that. So, media being media and press being press, turned around and asked: ‘So what are you? ... Bang! There it is. Black metal, hat’s what we are.” (Murder Music)
Venom quickly became more than just another metal band, both for its fans and for the band itself. Their brand of hate-filled, angry, anti-Christian vocals, and their loud, disharmonic and often chaotic music alienated them even from other metal bands. This wasn’t quite the intentionally-offensive rhetoric of modern groups like Marilyn Manson, but rather that “I think it was more about alienation and individuality than anything else. [There were a lot of good bands], but we were the outcasts. Everybody fuckin’ hated Venom, because we made this unholy fuckin’ racket. ... The black metal thing just alienated us from the mainstream.” (Murder Music)

It is at this point that the connection between black metal and dystopic narrative begins to become apparent, as if dystopic narrative is the story of anything, it is that of the alienation of the individual, and their devaluing in the world at large by the powers that control the media. Venom’s outright rejection of the social and moral standards of the time are a direct testament to this, and their ejection from popular culture only emphasizes this. Just the same, Venom wasn’t quite yet a black metal band - but they paved the way for the coming wave. The final details that would solidify black metal as a genre and a statement would come from Norway, and were centered around the record store Helvete - Norwegian for hell - in Oslo, Norway.

Helvete was owned by the frontman and vocalist of the black metal band Mayhem, Oysten “Euronymous” Aarseth. Note that this is a pseudonym, one of the many concepts that later black metal bands would adopt from this proto-black metal and is derived from the name of the demon Eurynomos (Wikipedia). Here, the various black metal bands that had arisen in Norway would receive their earliest of exposure, and it was also centered around Hell that the myths surrounding black metal would arise - Satanism, misanthropy, and the church burnings. Three of the largest black metal bands - all whom would initially publish works under Deathlike Silence Productions, the label Euronymous created - were Mayhem, Enslaved and Burzum.

They, and other bands from Deathlike Silence Productions, took the groundwork laid by bands like Black Sabbath and Venom and brought them to an entirely new level, using themes and theatrical concepts developed over decades. On the genre, Asbjorn Slettenmark, a music journalist, would say that “Black metal is all about creating the most hateful, gruesome, and almost cheap sound there is, and it’s very much meant to be cult music.”(Murder Music) Not only cult music, but almost exclusive music - similar to the late 1970’s American punk bands, black metal musicians weren’t writing and performing music to attract new fans, or even to ‘make it big.’ Rather, they developed a sound that was intentionally grating, alienating, and difficult to listen to, ensuring that they would have a form of art entirely their own.

This ‘difficulty of listenability’ was intentional - the more distorted, garbled and disharmonic sounds that characterize black metal are intended to alienate the non-fan, and force him into an outsider mentality. This changed the typical hierarchy of the black metal social outcast and the ‘normal’ Christian - instead of the black metal fan being outcast from society, it was the normal person being rejected from the black metal community. Embracing this “unholy fuckin’ racket” as a form of art symbolized the alienation of the fan from normal culture, allowed him to find inclusion in a group of peers, and empowered him in a culture where he previously had none.

However, inclusion in the black metal community was, or was at least perceived as, more difficult than simply listening to and appreciating the form. It was often seen by fans that actual direct and physical action was required for acceptance and inclusion, and this manifested itself, at least originally, in the form of a string of more than fifty church burnings between 1992 and 1996.(Wikipedia) This was done to demonstrate to the church, and indeed the world at large the anger and frustration that was felt by Christianity’s social death-grip on the world they found themselves in. It is difficult to determine whether or not the burnings were meant to achieve any greater purpose than the initial arson, or if they were merely statements of dedication and devotion to the ideology of black metal, and even the community remains split regarding the efficacy and purpose of these burnings. Some black metal artists, like Infernus and Graahl of the band Gorgoroth, praised the burnings in an interview, stating that “there should have been more of them, there will be more of them.”(Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey) Necrobutcher and Kjetil Manheim of Mayhem, however, disagreed; "It was just people trying to gain acceptance within a strict group ... they wanted some sort of approval and status."(Once Upon a Time in Norway)

That even fans of black metal struggled for acceptance in the community is interesting - simply being a fan of the form of music wasn’t enough for social acceptance and approval in the community, and it was perceived by some members of that community that the only way to gain acceptance was to lash out against both other members of the community, and against the Christian church. In most social spheres that center around a form of music, simply enjoying that form of music may not be enough for acceptance - this is a common enough theme. For example, it would have been tremendously difficult to find friends in the American punk-rock community during the late 1970’s had one been an active supporter of Ronald Reagan, but actually taking direct, physical action against the politician was not required, or even perceived as being required, to be a member of the community. The quantity layers of isolation, alienation and struggle for community that run throughout the art form are striking.

Dystopic narrative, however, concerns more than alienation and individuality. Typically, works of dystopia are set in a time and place somehow removed from the present. They also tend to involve higher levels of technology than the present world can produce, and indeed are often based on extrapolations of modern-day technology and social trends. Although black metal rarely concerns things like future technology, social trends and the future, they are still elements of a dystopic narrative, although extra-literal approaches must be taken to further link the two art forms.

Norwegian black metal’s use of Satanic, anti-Christian imagery and themes has a purpose deeper than the mere shock value and symbols of alienation conveyed by these messages; rather, it is a reaction against the prevailing norms of Norwegian and Christian values. In the Scandinavian world, the Christian church - at least, as perceived by black metal artists - reigns supreme as governmental entity, arbiter of social values and norms, and purveyor of acceptable and popular culture. To these artists, the church represents the fascist, capitalist-corporate nightmare that is often the antagonist of dystopic narratives, and the church burnings have literary parallels - like Case’s resistance against the Tessier-Ashpool Corporation found in Neuromancer, and Winston Smith’s resistance against Big Brother and Oceania in 1984, and to this end it is important to, at least in some capacity, lash out against the church.

Characters found in dystopic narratives are generally able to achieve some sort of action against the capitalist-corporate nightmares, and through this achieve, theoretically, freedom, equality and respect. In the black metal world, this can be achieved too, although it isn’t through the channels of resistance typically associated with these sorts of narratives. Rather, this resistance comes about most often through channels of self-expression, like with their fiery anti-Christian rhetoric and stage performances, and the attempted conversion of Christians to their cause.

Even the stage of black metal concerts is dominated by these same modes of self-expression and rejection of Christian values. Black metal bands, at least originally, almost always presented themselves decorated with corpsepaint, which is intended to make the wearer appear dead (Murder Music). Corpsepaint is a cosmetic worn covering the entire face, and consists mostly of a bright-white base with black details, such as circles around the eyes and lines around the mouth, although red - to represent blood - has also been used.

By appearing dead on stage, black metal artists manage to encapsulate several elements of dystopic narratives simultaneously. The easiest of these to see returns again to alienation and othering - by appearing to be dead, and occasionally acting as if dead, they place themselves outside of not merely the culture and community of the living world, but outside of the living world itself. They also approach the concept of a great journey through this, although this is also due to lyrical themes that appear in their work. By appearing, performing, and speaking as if they were dead, they force the listener into an ancient and mythological world in which the dead could rise and the old gods reigned over the land. Although dystopic narratives generally develop this journey as being over great tracts of land, space, or a forwarding through time, conceptually - at least, as far as the general concept of locational shifting and a ‘great journey’ is concerned - they are the same.
Speaking on lyrical themes and stage presence perhaps skirts around the final, and perhaps most symbolically significant, aspect of a black metal performance: the shrieked vocals. In the thrash metal of the 80’s, vocals were sometimes growled, but more often than not shouted and/or sung, albeit loudly (see: Slayer, early Metallica). When death metal and grindcore emerged, vocal stylings shifted into deep, guttural growls that were bestial in nature (see: Cannibal Corpse, Amon Amarth). Almost bizarrely, black metal shifted to a higher vocal range - the only way to effectively describe this sound is the howl and wail of a banshee - which is interesting particularly because the banshee is, as far as modern science is concerned, not a real creature. This further emphasizes the otherness and alienation of the black metal band - aspects of it cannot even be described using conventional, reality-based concepts. Further, the sound produced was almost demonic; twisted and tortured, it was a further statement against the church, and an admission of misery and torment on behalf of the vocalist. The correlation here between the “robotic,” alienated voice of industrial music should be apparent.
This lyrical and theatrical reversal through time, and even reality, performs well in tandem with another aspect of black metal - the typically DIY and low-fidelity sound that, at least initially, always accompanied black metal performances and recording. The use of this low-quality production accomplishes several things: it further emphasizes the ‘difficulty of listenability’ aesthetic so embraced by black metal; it rejects modern and popular conceptions that recorded music ought to be as high-quality and enjoyable as possible - a concept similar to that of Johnny Mnemonic’s Lo-tek’s; it forces the listener into an earlier era of recording and even art, pointing again to the time-shifting properties of black metal; it allows for genuinely amateur and grass-roots artists to emerge as important, regardless of their capacity to record in high-quality; and, finally, it allows for the emergence of the despondent theme and atmosphere that is prevalent in black metal to become even more pronounced. It’s almost like listening to what the vikings would have played if they had electric guitars.2

The rejection of high-quality recording speaks again to dystopic narratives; about technology found in these narratives, Collins says that “it is representative of power [and] used as a symbol of alienation. ... technology becomes a symbol for the loss of individual sovereignty. Typically, a kind of ‘friendly fascism’ is maintained through media manipulation.” (Collins p. 172) By using somewhat dated technology for both recording and performing, artists are enabled to make a brand of sound that is entirely alien to that which is proliferated by what is seen as the Christian world and media, and also entirely their own. As in dystopic narratives, “the technology used by the resistance is often cast-off older technology rather than the latest high-tech products,” (Collins p.172) Although difficult to determine whether this use of low-technology was based on a conscious decision to differentiate themselves from the ‘friendly fascism’ of the Christian-controlled media of that region of the world or because they have no choice, due either to economic or social reasons, it again runs in tandem with Collins’ view of dystopic narrative; “it is significant that the resistance does not choose (or cannot choose) the latest technology.” (Collins p.172) It is significant, in the case of black metal, because it’s practitioners and support base wish, again, to make it clear that they are entirely alien to the power/media base in a strikingly similar fashion to Johnny Mnemonic’s Lo-tek organization, at least in their application of technology.

The atmosphere of despondence found in black metal is, at least initially, surprising. It would be easy to assume that black metal was more easily characterized as being angry and in a constant state of rage, particularly considering the shriek of the typical black metal vocalist and the aggressive, rapid pace of the guitar work and percussion. However, when taken as a whole - particularly with synthesizer elements that arose early after the establishment of black metal as a legitimate genre - most black metal comes off as disturbing, disorienting, and depressing, enraged not to the state of exploding in violence but rather with the knowledge that despite all efforts, everything is futile. That said, this is a view that is held by the author and may not be readily apparent to the casual listener.

An example of all of these elements can be found in Emperor’s Towards the Pantheon. The song exemplifies the dark, deep, and depressing mood found in much of black metal, and the shriek and wail of Isahn is soul-destroying in the most profound of ways. Lyrically, Towards the Pantheon revolves around concepts typical to black metal, as can be seen here:
May the wolves start to howl again
May the age of darkness arise
We will travel for eternities
into the unknown reaches what we seek.
Fight the ways through the barriers of light, through the wastelands
where nothing but grief have become the eternal memory.
We will grant him their pain.
He will grant us his flame.
In flesh and blood, he will arise
to deliver the key.
As the armour’s black robe slides across the landscape
we see the land of wisdom, strength, and pure evil ...
Darkness, frost, hate ...
The throne will be ours.(Emperor)
This celebration of almost pagan imagery, such as this god of blood, fire, and the wolves, is fairly representative of black metal lyrical styles. Although not directly antagonistic to Christianity, these lines little room for interpretation that the speaker is actually celebrating Christianity in any way - indeed, his hope for the land of “wisdom, strength, and pure evil” are a tacit reaching for concepts expressly forbidden in Christianity. Even “Darkness, frost, hate” is metaphorically anti-Christian, and represent an antithesis of Christian hopes and values.

All which speaks yet further to the alienation and othering nature of black metal; it isn’t a form of music that can either be played or appreciated by the casual listener. It requires a genuine desire to want to do either to be able to approach any sort of level of appreciation of the form, and initially it’s more likely to induce headaches and irritation in people than enjoyment and rapture. Indeed, black metal wasn’t originally centered around particular musical conventions; bands like Venom, considered to be one of the founding groups of the black metal genre, had a radically different sound than other founding groups like Mayhem and Burzum. It revolved, rather, on thematic concepts like the rejection of Christianity and old-world mythology, and as such initial approaches to the form were wildly differentiated from one another. It wasn’t until Emperor’s In the Nightside Eclipse - form which the above song, Towards the Pantheon, was taken - that these elements became fused together in a coherent sound that would be repeated for decades.

As the genre has become more and more well-defined, the dystopic elements found within it have slowly left the form. Although the Satanic/anti-Christian conventions are still maintained by most of the artists, it no longer seems to be about directly speaking out against the dominant power structure - rather, it has become about conforming to an internationally-known and, in a sense, accepted art form. By placing the anti-Christian spin as a sales mechanism instead of a statement, the art form almost tacitly acknowledges that it’s no longer about rebellion - rather, it’s about making money and attaining recognition. Each aspect that made black metal what it was - the shrieked vocals, the corpse paint, the anti-Christian themes - has become more of a method of developing a public persona than necessarily as a method to rebel against conformity. Much like the American punk-rock movement of the late 1970’s, the form eventually became too large to retain it’s dystopic roots, which is particularly depressing as the actual music made by the artists has grown in quality since the 1990’s.

For a brief period of time in the history of Europe, the terrible, disturbing, and almost-necessary face of extra-literal dystopia was alive and well, and could be referred to only as black metal. With ghost-white faces, massively-spiked gauntlets, and armed with electronic axes and banshee wails, the black metal artists spoke out with a fervor and fury that is only rarely matched in the extra-literal world. They pioneered a form of music that would endure for, at the time of writing, nearly three decades, and would allow both it’s fans and others aware of it’s message to embrace a side of life that was darker than what they had ever seen before - and, perhaps, anything they would see again.

Journal and Literary Sources:
1.Aldiss, B.W. “Robots: low-voltage ontological currents.” The Mechanical God: Machines in Science Fiction. ed. T.P. Dunn and R.D. Elrich. Greenwood Press, 1982: 3-9.
2.Collins, Karen. “Dead Channel Surfing: the commonalities between cyberpunk literature and industrial music.” Popular Music Volume 24/2 (2005): 165-178.
3.Kuh, Catherine. “Break-Up.” Greenwich: New York Graphic Society, 1965.
4.Gibson, William. “Neuromancer.” New York: Ace Books, 1984.
5.Phillips, Richard. “Dystopian Space in Colonial Representations and Interventions: Sierra Leone as ‘The White Man’s Grave’.” Geografiska Annaler Series B: Human Geography Volume 84 Number 3/4, Special Issue: The Dialects of Utopia and Dystopia (2002): 189-200.
6.Williams, Douglas E. “Ideology as Dystopia: An Interpretation of “Blade Runner.” International Political Science Review. Volume 9 Number 4 (1988): 381-394

Music, Film, and Web Sources:
1.Emperor. “Towards the Pantheon.” In the Nightside Eclipse. Candlelight Records, 1994.
2.“Johnny Mnemonic”. Dir. Robert Longo. Perfs. Keanu Reeves, Ice-T. DVD. Tristar Pictures, 1995.
3.“Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey. Dir. Sam Dunn, Scot McFadyen, Jessica Joy Wise. Writers: Sam Dunn, Scot McFadyen, Jessica Joy Wise. DVD. Banger Productions, 2006.
4.“Murder Music: A History of Black Metal.” Dir. David Kenny. Perfs. Abbath, Dani Filth, Asbjorn Slettenmark. Accessed online at . Rockworld TV, 2007.
5.“Once Upon a Time in Norway.” Dir. Pal Aasdal, Martin Ledang. Perfs. Necrobutcher, Billy Nordheim, Kjetil Manheim. Accessed via Youtube. Grenzelos Productions, 2008.
6.VNV Nation. “Honour.” Praise the Fallen. Off Beat, 1998.

Other Sources Referenced:
1. Entries for: black metal, Helvete, Emperor.
2. Entries for: Murder Music, Once Upon a Time in Norway, Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey, Johnny Mnemonic.