The following was something I wrote for a course in literary interpretation in 2011. Obviously, this little text and the focus on bodies in it was a part of an introduction to (and application of) postmodern theory. As always during this period and after, my english isn’t very neat and academic. The text and what it deals with… Well, I think the points made are pretty valid, but they are (of course) my points and how I view RB from the standpoint of a certain task. One must also remember that I wrote this for someone I assumed was totally unaware of the band and all that is related to it in terms of genre, aesthetics and so forth. Also, I cannot for the life of me remember what specific theoretical texts I make reference to. I might have to update that at some point.
What are the possibilities of rebellion? Are there possibilities of meaningful rebellion at all? Are there at least possibilities of insight? Focault would say that there is no possibility to really rebel since there is no alternative to what we have. Then what is there to do? Focault himself realizes that there is something wrong with the “system”. Bordo and others would say that in the cases of female anorexia, agoraphobia and (historically) hysteria can be seen as ways to unconsciously try to rebel, but more than anything Bordo would say that we see something of what society we live in by looking at bodies in it. How they are portrayed in culture but also how they actually look.
How are we then supposed to see the works of Raspberry Bulbs (henceforth RB)? RB is an American band (up until recently a one man band) that is involved in and originated from the black metal scene, a genre of music where the things that “normal” society abhor are generally glorified. Satanism, misanthropy, elitism, individualism bordering on the antisocial are ideological and lyrical themes. The art is supposed to give the listener a sense of true evil. It is supposed to portrait true evil, something that is unsettling even for the fans. But Raspberry Bulbs is not really black metal but rather some sort of noise-rock. The only overt element that connects RB to black metal are the extremely lo-fi recordings (what some might even call no-fi). Still, RB is an offshoot of Bone Awl (that calls themselves black metal and are generally defined as black metal, but strange) and in some ways an aesthetic continuation of what Bone Awl did – the releases are only released on cassette and vinyl, the artwork tends to be of the cut-and-paste sort and it is usually xeroxed instead of professionally printed, giving the artwork a handmade and also ugly quality. Also, the man behind RB is also the person behind the black metal record label Seed Stock. RB’s connection to black metal is therefore something that need to be taken into account.
The visual artwork that will be focused on here are the covers for the …Finally Burst…With Fluid-, Lone Gunman– and RB Tries Again-cassettes:
The common element here are the lack of conventional quality and the images of the bodies. The first one is of a quite badly drawn person with strange proportions carrying things. The second is of someone who either wears a strange helmet or suffers from a very extreme case of hydrocephalus. The third one is the most normal; a naked man but with his genitals obscured. The title RB Tries Again is a pun on the release previous to it; Nature Tries Again. The cover itself might also be a bit of a pun since RB Tries Again has the most “normal” sound. Still, the proportions, the quality of the print and some of the lyrical/textual themes (see for example the title Nature Tries Again and Appendix I) suggest that on an artistic level the band has something in common with Focault, but in their case it is nature that is the panopticon and not society. Nature can not be escaped. Mind comes from the body and the body is a part of nature and the band is not at all comfortable with this notion but still knows it to be true. The result is not one of Haraway’s cyborgs that is able to take advantage of the confusion and the contradictions of its existence, that is able to take the different parts and aspects of existence and recreate (or maybe rather, be able to see) a new I, to revel in its non-unity. It is rather something that could be compared to a mutant, a sterile hybrid, a freak of nature. Something that has gone wrong in a wasteland of a society that can be escaped and nature that cannot be escaped. What we see, in this case, is much more something like Bordo’s anorexics. These are figures that can be viewed as trapped in their physical form and exposed for their faults. Like a woman with an unfeminine body, with a fat body, with an unattractive body. But they can also be what happens if that woman fails: if she looses so much weight that she has become anorexic. She is still a freak, still someone that is wrong (one could possibly also involve Aristotle in all this). The body is not right whatever it does – there is always something wrong with it. The difference here is that Raspberry Bulbs are conscious of their anorexia. Their fight with the lack of dichotomy between mind and body, man and nature is a fight they know is unproductive and in a way perhaps sickly. The cannot possibly win and they know it. They fail to simply deal with it and make the best out of the situation they are in, something that a cyborg would not fail at. “Reality” hinders them.
Then again, RB or the figures are not the only hybrids or mutants or freaks. For them/him, every aspect of nature is perverse all the time (once again I refer to Appendix I) and nature permeates everything. Everything is natural, as natural as cancer. For RB cyborgs does not exist. Cyborgs are mutants that refuse to recognize the fact that they at best are monsters created by nature’s Frankenstein. In this way one could certainly see RB’s attitude as more rebellious than that of a cyborg, although less constructive.
Considering RB’s black metal background this attitude towards nature is quite surprising. Black metal generally tends to prefer nature to society. Nature is viewed as cruel and violent but it is also viewed as true and strong (and remember, in the context cruelty and violence is a “good” thing), contrasted to the decadence of contemporary society. RB’s disgust with nature is therefore odd.
The odd card out is the RB Tries Again cover. As stated before it is RB’s perhaps most “normal” release1, and the cover is probably their most “normal” cover. What is also interesting with it is that most of the songs on the cassette are rerecorded old songs, but this time with a full band (on previous releases one person played all instruments) in a professional studio. This adds an extra dimension of normality: now they are a real band. The picture of a seemingly normal man on the cover of a release with a “normal” rock band might signify something new. RB has possibly come together as a functioning unit now, no longer a creation of nature with an abnormal head, pieced together from various other and mismatched sources into a new abomination of wrong proportions. RB might have been reborn as a cyborg, reclaiming its own history and taking advantage of the situation instead of fighting something that cannot possibly be beaten. Raspberry Bulbs are, at least for the purposes of this release, whole. And mismatched. Nothing much else has changed with the art, but this new focus.
Still, the man in the picture has no genitals. This might just be because of a shadow and it might also be RB’s way of denouncing nature once again, refusing procreation, sex and natural drives. RB might here once again, in contradiction to what is written earlier, be fighting with mind over body and might in this way think they have won. In this way RB might have made themselves into a sterile hybrid/mutant instead of a cyborg full of life and vitality. 2There is simply no way to rebel. And what does this art say of the society it is created in? To my mind it says that we live in a society that has a very complex and at times silly view of bodies and nature. RB points out the fact that there is no such thing as a perfect or even beautiful body. Every body is ugly and deformed, every mole is a cancer. There is no escape from this. One escape from this has been to blame society or the ideals of Western civilization, but RB points out the futility in this too when they point out (Appendix I) that nature is not beautiful either and we and society are parts of nature, just as we are stuck in the way our society thinks of how beauty and nature works (would episteme be a correct term to use here?). Why would you see a tree as something beautiful and not something that is raping the earth and sucking out its energy? What is wrong with seeing a mountain as a cancer? It is not necessarily right, but there is something unsettling to us in presenting such a view. Now, when RB tries again they seem to simply say “deal with it” and move on. The question is if they have castrated or at least sterilized themselves by doing that? Or can they now move beyond nature?