Darkness on the Edge of Ecstacy

This text is something as strange/rare as a theologico-philosophical companion to a rave album.

Imagine how you would experience watching two lovers kissing, accompanied by Abba. Now imagine the same scene but replace Abba with Cannibal Corpse. Music provides a lense through which some aspects of what we experience become focused, whilst others are obscured. Even more powerful is the experience of music, if it doesn’t accompany something other that ’is the message’, but where music acts in its own right, or evokes agency. One such agency is raving, engaging in the practice of dance. In this case, this album is an invocation of raving as not just a material practice, but a practice of mysticism.

Although I am quite the deleuzian, insofar as believing in human beings(/becomings) being deeply immersed in multitudes of connections, more than we can overview, that doesn’t mean that ’nothing is true’. Rather, much is true, but that music in this case helps focus and hone in on certain aspects.

”Darkness On the Edge of Ecstasy” is an album which more than alluding to Bruce Springsteen’s ”Darkness On the Edge of Town”, it alludes to mystical experience. That the mystic’s ecstasy is a balancing act on the edge. Mystic John of the Cross spoke of two different experiences stemming from this type of encounter with the divine. The first type of experience is like a drug, making the experience of ecstasy seem more real than the world, thus leading the mystic to refute the world or at least find it highly hostile to inhabit. This is of course not unlike how drugs function. Louis CK said that ”drugs are not illegal because they are bad — but because they are good, so good that they’ll ruin your life”. Once you’ve had that hit of mystical experience, that first really strong, transformative encounter with the divine, there is no going back; you want more. But the second phase is also not unlike how drugs use. In the end either drug or sober reality provides an elation. All is depressing. John of the Cross talks about the stage in which the mystical experience doesn’t provide this sense of extraordinary anymore. He calls this ”the dark night of the soul”. This is the primary allusion in the album title, that ecstasy is engaged in a balancing act with darkness, where we may find ourselves beyond the tipping point, where the mystical stops having that transformative power over us, regardless of if we’re sufis, christian mystics tucked away in the inner workings of a monastery, or get our kicks Hillsong style.

A central theme to the album is ’the end of language’, or the very least its limits. With the end of language comes the end of dogma. I would venture a guess: Today far more theologies are written than are actually practiced. Far more clever scholarly ideas are put forth about how life could be, painstakingly anchored in the correct biblical texts and/or Aquinas, whilst we fail to break free of our own hyperindividualised capitalist predicament.

I am not trying to put up a dichotomy of theology contra practice. Not really. Nor am I saying that dogmatics are entirely pointless. We can however structure live differently than what is in fact often dichotomous; subscribing to certain (often quite strict) theologies and engage in the suitable (often charismatic) contexts that go along with them. Or people may turn to a hyperindividualised capitalist new-age type of activities, where you pay for a short slice of subjective experience, where you commune (not with a congregation but) with other paying members of that evening’s activity.

I was once told about a jewish scholar who had been asked ’so how come you don’t delve as deeply into other religions?’ and his response was (to me) beautiful: I have spent a lifetime studying the holy books of Judaism and feel like I’ve only just scratched the surface. How on earth could I then also take on other religions? In my mind this simply means that he discovered the richness of (his) tradition. I believe the richness of all traditions have something to add to an age where (studies show that) people prefer to ’like’ articles on Facebook rather than read them.

In my case, I do believe in the merit of traditions, without philosophy and theology I would have never been able to do this album, for instance. But one such tradition is negative theology, delimiting what we can say about the divine. And traditionally, this is coupled with the strategy of approaching god in worship. So, I suppose, this is a traditional album, really.

That said, I’d like to finish off this piece with the lyrics to ”Speech is no more”:

Hold up, I told you, there’s no return

Feel me all over, all old will burn

Steep in the pitch black, walk through the door

Sounds that will guide you, speech is no more

Sounds that will guide you, in further away

I’ll find you, completely transformed

It lifts you higher, to stellar values

Renders new meanings, where speech is no more

Jonatan Bäckelie ”Darkness On the Edge of Ecstasy” is out now on Sonar Kollektiv, available world wide, digitally on iTunes and Spotify, and physically on double vinyl.

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