Music Review: Jenny Hval – Blood Bitch
Posted on 13 October 2016
[Sacred Bones; 2016]
The thing about a vampire is that she must be invited inside. A witch, for example, is powerful, but works in absence, using obscure, oblique languages. But a vampire moves in ways we all understand: puncturing, creating space and a hollow where none existed before, redefining solidity as something contingent, not necessary. And at the moment she bites, she creates flow, change, transformation: she writes a new need in you, one that resembles hers. In short, a vampire compels you to speak her language of desire.
Now women return from afar, from always; from “without,” from the heath where witches are kept alive; from below, from beyond “culture” […] The little girls and their “ill-mannered” bodies immured, well-reserved, intact unto themselves, in the mirror. Frigidified. But are they ever seething underneath! What an effort it takes — there’s no end to it — for the sex cops to bar their threatening return. Such a display of forces on both sides that the struggle has for centuries been immobilized in the trembling equilibrium of a deadlock. (Cixous, 1976, p. 877)
When an Italian journal recently published an investigate report that purported to expose the identity of Elena Ferrante, an author whose determination to evoke and explore the internal lives and relationships of women living in patriarchal Italy was matched by her desire to do so anonymously, the rancor and frustration was rightfully infinite. While the blah-blah defenses of journalistic integrity were trotted out by supporters of the invasion of privacy, the blatancy of the trespass remains clear.
Writing is a manifestation of a desire to write, to produce a world on your terms. Claudio Gatti’s great crime was not just unmasking: he wrought not only the denial of Ferrante’s desires, but the denial that desire can occur on anyone’s terms but one’s own — specifically, his.
There are so many ways into Blood Bitch that it’s dizzying: Chris Kraus, Nino Nardini, the synths, the immensely pillowy hooks, black metal, menstrala. The themes run from menstruation to vampires to capitalism to loneliness to pap smears, and any thread you pick can take you to the core. You have been invited in. If the siren song was a temptation, the invitation of the void, this presents the obverse: a song as heuristic as it is commanding, total, thick with meaning. It offers to bite you, and the biting is an apple. We are asked instead to enter the vampire’s house, and we have a standing invitation. But it is equally enchanting and compelling as hearing sound from the rocks — Hval erases distance, without ever shedding or diminishing complexity. From many languages, a completely new one, one recognized but not owned. There is only one native speaker of Blood Bitch.
Helene Cixous wrote about the “big dick” — in last year’s Apocalypse, girl, Hval wrote of “soft dick” rock: of reclaiming the contingent, the reflective, that which is not the Phallus of Freud, but a body that holds much more than that. What is hard dick rock? In Art Power, Boris Groys writes about the aesthetics of fascism: for Hitler, Groys imputes, the solid body, one that was impenetrable and dominant, was the only one worth considering. A civilization is judged by its ruins, what defeats time: therefore, the body had to be rigorous, solid, beyond question. The phallogocentrism of rock music needs no introduction. If it’s not Eric Clapton, it’s a Rolling Stone list. Abjection, in the Midwest emo sense, still means calling the shots. But here there is a fire, there is a witch burning, there is Carpenterian synthwork, there is a pregnancy test, blood and urine leaking into a pool of water, Hval saying, on her own album — first quietly, and then panicked — “I don’t know who I am.” There is radical uncertainty, or, there is a language that refuses to be certain.
But most importantly, there is the person that desires. The homophony of “right/rite/write,” which Blood Bitch meditates on, offers up a polyphony. The band chuckles about vampires, and in the next three lines, Hval mentions capitalism, unrequited love, and the problem of successfully identifying shared experiences in a world of six billion people, before tying off the verse with “us, love.”
There is wanting, infatuation, “everything that gets torn up in your life.” But these things are not simply so, never solely felt, but also texts, abstract romanticisms. As Deleuze and Guattari suggest, there is no outside of capitalism, and nor is there of gender. Romance is conceptual, because the gaze is everywhere, constant, overlapping, eyes like wallpaper. “Keep a steady gaze” —> “do I lose my gaze to keep you?”
“I’m so tired of subjectivity,” Hval sings. It is no longer the specificity of her desiring that is at play, but the gendered unity of the absence of a means of expressing subjectivity. The language is still out of reach. So “I have to keep writing, because everything else is death.”
Because it is not simply felt, it is not simply pleasure or pain. When Hval sings of having a pap smear: “My aperture/ My jouissance.” If I’m listening properly, it’s the only time she is touched by someone on the record. It is this that trickles literally and figuratively through the album: the complexity of feeling, of there being no victory. To wander into the vampire’s house is to accept that nothing will be simple again, nor that it ever was. That you were never off desire’s hook. Don’t be afraid. It’s only blood.
Up the top of the screen there, you’ll see red dots, splashes of blood, a trickle of approval, a language of confirmation that can only be adjacent to this writing, a language that tries to explicate the immanence of an album that renders subjectivity as a song of world-making, where making plain desire is a life’s work, for we are possessed by it but destroyed by it if we are not permitted its expression. This is a tool for knowing knowing, an epistemological rhizome, a rainbow in curved air. At the end, Hval asks us, “Does anyone have any language for it? Can we find it?” Having found finding, she puts her finger on it. Where she points next, all our eyes should follow.