"This desire to possess her is a wound." -- "From Her To Eternity"
If "The Bad Seed" and "Mutiny" EP's are the spiritual eclipse of Cave's Dark Night of the Soul, this does not mean that things lighten up after this. FROM HER TO ETERNITY, Cave's first post-Birthday Party release with his new group, composed mostly of old friends, The Bad Seeds, is a virtual Grand Guingol of tortured love and demented passion.
The title song of the album, "From Her To Eternity", is one of Cave's clearest statements about a central paradox in his work. Over and over, he has imagined himself killing the object of his desire: "Yeah I recognize that girl/ I took her from rags right through to stitches.../ Oh baby, tonight we sleep in separate ditches." ("Deep In The Woods"); "I got good: I STUCK IT. Dead." ("Just You & Me"); "I stuck a six-inch blade in the head of a girl." ("6" Gold Blade"); "My girl turned as blue as an iceberg do." ("Stow-a-way").
It is this way that Cave describes his Primal Scene -- Desire: Possession: Sacrifice. He has stated directly that to possess the object of Desire is to no longer Desire that Object: Desire kills the Object it Desires when it possesses that Object ("The desire to possess her is wound; And it's naggin at me like a shrew/ But ah know that to possess her/ is therefore not to desire her/ O, O O then ya know that lil girl would just have to go!/ Go! Go-o-o!" -- "From Her To Eternity").
Thus it is that Desire begins to construct and enact an open-ended series of ritual Possessions: Sacrifices. The Sacrifice connects us directly with Desire but, most importantly, leaves us Un-Possessed of the Object: only repeating the ritual will bring us into possession once again.
The Sacrifice is not necessarily anti-Social but it is most assuredly anti-Capitalistic. Capitalism demands the accumulation of wealth -- but this is mere economics. Let us take seriously Proudhom's assertion that "Property is theft": for a child to have something is virtually to incorporate it into an ontology. When we watch a child take his own toy from another child it is as though we are witnessing a theft: What is Mine is not merely Mine, it is also Not Yours -- I have taken it into my very being. Propery, in this sense, is a primal theft, a theft felt far below the juridical and social levels of capitalism.
Sacrifice is the denial of Capital, it is the ceremony that dissolves accumulation. It does this by violating the clarity and sanctity of categories.
Georges Bataille, in his book EROTICISM: DEATH AND SENSUALITY, asked "What does physical eroticism signify if not a violation of the very being of its practitioners? -- a violation bordering on death, bordering on murder?" It is this violation, or, better, transgression, that Cave acts out in his performances, outlining a drama of Eternal Recurence in which he is both Excecutioner and Victim -- a grotesquely solipsistic nightmare in which we, privileged outsiders, are witness to the peculiarly modern ritual: The Murder of the Self.
Cave's ambivalence toward the Other, toward the object of his Desire, is an ambivalence matched at every point in his private liturgy of death and renewal. Here the ritual of erotics has confounded love and addiction, Need and Desire, making them over in a desperate and ultimately futile epithalamion for his marriage to Death: Cave, caught in the unwinnable struggle to throw off the straitjacket of his Self, becomes what Julia Kristeva called, in POWERS OF HORROR, "An "I" overcome by the corpse": his Body is at once Trap and Exit; his Self, a private and public construct he can seemingly neve get outside of, at once the Agent of Control -- and his songs, his performances, at once a Murder and a Re-Birth.
We will see at the end of this essay one of the ways by which Cave in his most recent songs and performances has tried to bypass his own ritual execution -- an effort to stay alive and yet still fell alive: something much more difficult than it would appear at first glance.
But first it might be helpful to take a final look at who it is that is speaking in these lyrics.
Nick Cave is, manifestly, a child of the Seventies, a decade in which the dreams, hopes and aspirations of the Sixties ran aground on the shoals of political and ethical opportunism. During the 1960's, the cultural and political convulsions of the young and disaffected merged with the rising momentum of minority struggles to create a broad and infectious critique of what was then called the 'establishment'. What emerged from this critique was a rhetoric of liberation that was, with the terrible irony of entrenched social inertia, virtually Dead On Arrival. No sooner had it been formulated than this rhetoric became co-opted by the Social, Cultural, Political and Economic structures it was directed against. Isolated and enervated as Style, de-politicized and de-natured in the corrosive acids of media and entertainment, the differences between the rhetoric and its praxis led to a bitter disillusionment.
Cave's background is genteel -- middle class and education oriented. He would then be receptive to the rhetoric of liberation and toleration. Seeing the coruption of this rhetoric in the actual practices of society leads to certain extremes of reaction. The Artist can become a 'Liberator,' a messianic figure whose assumption of anarchic values and lifestyle becomes the type of a 'personal' politics -- especially as 'public' politics becomes dirtier and more closed off from reforn than ever.
Typically, the rhetoric of liberation in the Sixties embraced a political and a physical aspect: the physical was Sex, Drugs and Rock n Roll -- the polymorphously perverse as expressed by Norman O. Brown in his revisionist and apocalyptic book, LIFE AGAINST DEATH. Cave began to speak that language -- he did not invent it; and very quickly found that this language, this set of "speech acts," was in some profound ways a false language: False because this language attempted to enforce a Real that did not exist. Part of this stems from the confusion of freedom and license -- the former entailing a necessary structure of responsibility and the latter at best an ignoring and at worst a denial of responsibility.
Cave's lyrics are at the center of this conflict. He both embraces and rejects the rhetoric of liberation: Sex is both Good and Evil; and the same with Rock n Roll and Drugs. The songs place blame on both sides: they are, radically, undecidable: who does this to me? Myself? Or the society I live in? Cave believes it is both at the same time.
This disillusionment is the process of letting go of Utopia -- "If this is heaven I'm bailing out."
Top photo by Bleddyn Butcher.
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