Wednesday, May 31, 2006
Flemming Rose, the cultural editor of Jyllands-Posten, the Danish daily which published the Muhammed cartoons last September, defends his decision as a stance against what he calls "the politics of victimology", a rhetoric concocted by the European left which he says has been cleverly exploited by Islamic radicals. "Equal treatment is the democratic way to overcome traditional barriers of blood and soil for newcomers. To me, that means treating immigrants just as I would any other Danes. And that's what I felt I was doing in publishing the 12 cartoons of Muhammad last year. Those images in no way exceeded the bounds of taste, satire, and humour to which I would subject any other Dane, whether the queen, the head of the Church, or the prime minister. By treating a Muslim figure the same way I would a Christian or Jewish icon, I was sending an important message: You are not strangers, you are here to stay, and we accept you as an integrated part of our life. And we will satirize you, too. It was an act of inclusion, not exclusion; an act of respect and recognition."
I realized a few years ago that middle-class liberal guilt has its roots in Christian charity, specifically New Testament virtues. More on that idea in my next post.
Thursday, May 25, 2006
So what would be the source of this, outside of the strictures of the Koran? I think it has to do with secularity, humanism, and skepticism.
Backing up for a bit to pose a question: Did Arab culture go through an Enlightenment?
I've been thinking about this ever since I came across the idea in a Der Spiegel article. An Arab writer (I believe he was Muslim as well) mentioned in a dismissive manner the Western idea that Arab culture had never gone through this movement. I've never read Walter Benjamin's Orientalism, so if it's mentioned in there or other significant cultural works, then mea culpa.
If Arab culture didn't go through an Enlightenment, then how does one characterize the flowering of Arab culture during the 9th-12th centuries? Looking back over what I've read and learned of Arab culture, it seems that it experienced the same initial push toward enlightenment that Western culture did, but for some reason, it didn't continue. Arabs were well known as mathematicians, for instance, and traders, and engineers...at one point. Those skills didn't catch anything else on fire. I'm not sure that it's accurate to attribute the faltering  of this rational, scientific impulse to military conquest by Christians.
It's no secret that Western countries see Arab culture as increasingly violent, but the furor over the cartoons published in Jyllands-Posten (Denmark) caught a lot of us by surprise. What could be more harmless than parody? It seems exceedingly irrational, even for Arab culture, to be so intolerant of a joke.
And there, I think, is the key.
Parody and scientific inquiry stem from the same intellectual roots. A favorite professor of mine once said that in order to be a good skeptic, one has to concede that there might actually be Truth. If one can't consider that possibility, then one has nothing to which one can compare observations. In other words, the chance that there's an answer gives one the power to compare things. And that's what skepticism is all about--what rationality is all about. The potential truth that one uses for comparison thus comes under constant scrutiny. It's always being compared to this or that.
Parody is a similar strategy. It asks us to compare the parody to the icon and to do so with skepticism toward both. Rationality and revisionism are parodic axioms, and it holds the whole of reality as its set of potential objects of inquiry.
The fury of the conservative Arab response was breathtaking, and the capping surprise was the support that came from other Arab strata. Social mobility and Westernization apparently did not make inroads into the belief that some people have the right to not be offended.
Being offended in Western culture is a cherished thing, and I don't mean the garden-variety ire one sees when, for instance, a group of citizens protest a new strip club's opening. Witnessing the offense of others is an opportunity to reexamine one's own values and beliefs. Parody is one of the most important things we can have around us, because in sparking a response, it asks us to be philosophical.
To demand that one not be offended is to demand that the philosophical not be encountered. Now that is breathtaking, indeed.
 I use "Arab" to mean "Muslim" here for the sake of brevity. I am quite aware that the two are not necessarily the same, that one is an ethnicity and one is a religion. This first "Arab/Muslim" citation is to get you to read this footnote.
 I realize that the language I use is that of absence, lack, etc. I am writing this from a Western perspective, after all.
Tuesday, May 23, 2006
Here are my thoughts on "Keine Lust." First, the quote that I have not yet confirmed but of which I am still enamoured:
“I dare not let my devils go, lest my angels go with them.” –William Blake
“Keine Lust” is a highly complex song, the more so the more I look at it. Mere disillusionment is too simple an assessment of the lyrics and the narrator. What makes it complex is the dominant metaphor. Being frozen, especially emotionally and intellectually, is the external sign of the loss of one’s internal dialogue. Consciousness comes from the dialectic between yes and no, between the me and not-me. An awakened consciousness leads to conflict and aggression, and these, if used authentically, can lead to creativity and art. In turn, creativity and art expand the artist’s consciousness and increase his sense of freedom. Yet where is any of this for the narrator of “Keine Lust”?
The song begins with a stanza that rejects all possibilities—relentless, determined, utterly self-absorbed. The first line of the second stanza is a logical loop: The narrator expresses not desire, but avoidance and rejection of *not* doing something. He puts it in terms of a double negative: “Ich hab’ keine lust mich nicht zu hassen.” This is a negation that expresses an absence—a logical conundrum, but not the first time such a thing has occurred in R+’s lyrics (qv. “Amerika” as one example). Because this song is about Gestalt more than anything else, the conundrum makes the song stronger rather than weaker. Too, because the narrator is telling us that he doesn’t feel like not hating himself, his statement clears potential obstacles between himself and his self-loathing. He has a choice that he refuses to take; his internal dialogue remains dormant.
The narrator’s sense of lack and absence is physical as well as spiritual. Most of the rest of “Keine Lust” deals with the sensory: Masturbation, nakedness, bestial impulses, eating, fatness. All these are distractions, though. The point isn’t whether the narrator feels like seeing himself naked; it’s whether he can regain a sense of personal power and authenticity. The narrator returns to the sense of inner emptiness near the end of the song:
Ich bliebe einfach liegen
Und wieder zähle ich die Fliegen
Lust los fasse ich mich an
Und merke bald ich bin schon lange kalt
After running through his mental rolodex of potential stimulants, the narrator attempts to awaken himself sexually by masturbating. Unlike Dionysus’s awakening of Ariadne, however, or any of several famous sexual awakening scenes from myth and history, this narrator can’t manage a semi—not even through self-stimulation, arguably the most direct way to do it. His attempt only affirms (if it can be called that) his disconnection with his own sexual center. No wonder, then, that he seems to see freedom and choice as burdens, and that he closes his sensibilities to experience. He has lost his connection with his sexuality—the one thing that links us to the external world in the most visceral and complex ways. The narrator’s internal dialectic is frozen, as frozen as the metaphorical snow in which he lies. His sensibilities closing to experience, he attempts an inauthentic dissolution of the self through persistent denials. He lacks the courage to create, the will to even express violence and thus achieve a sense of ecstasy, and finally an utter loss of volition. In letting his devils go, his angels have abandoned him.
This post originally had a different ending on the Rammstein fan area forum, but since it's expired, I can't retrieve it. Deathless prose, indeed.
“Los,” “Links 234,” and “Der Meister” can all be placed within a spectrum of demonstrations of authentic innocence. “Los” is a validation of cultural innocence, “Links 234” is a validation of political innocence, and “Der Meister” is a curious thing…a restarting of historical consciousness via the reestablishment of terms of innocence (see caveat below).
These three songs trumpet the inauthenticity of others. One cannot help but think of the infamous treatment of the band after performing “Bück dich” in Massachusetts to see an immediate subtext to “Los”:
Sie waren sprachlos
So sehr schockiert
Und sehr ratlos
Was war passiert
But instead of responding with denials or claims of misinterpretation, which is what the psuedoinnocent would do, the narrator asserts the independence and strength of the group, ironically through the term “los.” This term in some really old dictionaries is defined not merely as lack or absence, but also as freedom, even looseness. Moral outrage such as that expressed by the outsiders stems from an oversized sense of one’s importance. It causes its own rigidity; the inauthentic self is constricted by the mores it seeks to impose on others, and is at the same time both outraged and gratified that its “moral leadership” is being ignored. Because it’s being ignored, the inauthentic self can continue to rage and issue demands. This is self-indulgence, not governance, and the counter to it is detachment:
Wir waren namenlos
Wir haben einen Namen
Die Worte kamen
Sind wir immer noch
Dafür nicht klanglos
Das hört man doch
Wir sind nicht fehlerlos
Nur etwas haltlos
Ihr werdet lautlos
Uns nie los
Wir waren los
This independence and strength as expressed by the narrator stems from self-knowledge. No self-inflation or disguises here; instead, honesty, even bluntness, lets the group leave the shocked community behind, no doubt licking their moral wounds.
This same directness is characteristic of “Links 234” (which, let me state as a research bias, is one of my favorite songs). I’ve mentioned in earlier posts the way that the lyrics rework conventional metaphors for talking about the human heart, so I won’t recapitulate those comments here. This song is clearly a statement of authentic cultural innocence, especially once one takes into account the accusations leveled at the band early on. The key stanza concerning authentic innocence is the final version of the chorus and its added lines:
Sie wollen mein Herz am rechten Fleck
doch seh ich dann nach unten weg
da schlägt es in der linken Brust
der Neider hat es schlecht gewusst
The need to speak in ambiguous terms is characteristic of the pseudoinnocent and his denials of responsibility. He creates a cloud of philosophical ambiguity around himself so that others will not notice that he is as much a part of the “system” as anyone else. Because his vision of the world is clouded by this ambiguity, he cannot correctly perceive the motives of others. He buys his freedom with his own isolation, and indeed, probably cannot distinguish between the two. The narrator of the song, however, can see through the ambiguity and can recognize the distortion in his perceptions.
“Der Meister” is a bit of a risk in this topic, largely because I know little about its background and development. (This is not to say that I know much of anything re: the other songs, either.) However, it does fit in nicely, so here goes.
If “Los” is about cultural innocence and “Links 234” about political innocence, then “Der Meister” conjures images of renewed power borne in the wake of a revised, more authentic historical sense:
Die Wahrheit ist wie ein Gewitter
es kommt zu dir du kannst es hören
es kund zu tun ist ach so bitter
es kommt zu dir um zu zerstören
And who will be destroyed by this? Those who feel malice and envy, prime characteristics of the pseudoinnocent. Violence, warfare, strife are unnecessary. Even though the imagery in the song leans in that direction, it is the truth (die Wahrheit) that cannot be withstood by those who deal in the manipulation of circumstances. The truth forces new beginnings through a sense of dramatic historical change, and the destruction it brings does not permit the pouring of old wine into new bottles. No wonder, then, that the pseudoinnocent experiences the truth as ruin (“Es kommt zu euch als das Verderben”).
Who knew that something as simple as innocence could be so complex?.
“Rosenrot” is fascinating, especially after referencing the texts “Heidenröslein” and “Schneeweißchen und Rosenrot.” The Goethe poem is in some respects a rape fantasy. The boy is ravished by the sight of the rose, and in reaction, he plucks the rose, ignoring the wounds that the rose futilely deals him. The implication is that the rose earns its demise because of its showy display. This parallels to some extent the actions of the boy in the Rammstein song; like The Fool on the Tarot card, the boy is not mindful of his own well being while on the mountain. Similarly, Rose-red in the Brothers Grimm story is the sister who goes out into the meadows and forests, while the more practical Snow-white stays indoors. (Snow-white is the one who uses her scissors to help the dwarves, and who finds a clue about the true identity of the bear, presumably while Rose-red was telling the Big Bad Wolf which way Little Red Riding Hood had gone.) However, the song turns the perspective around from the female to the male. We follow the boy as he climbs the mountain to fetch the rose and please the girl. Unfortunately, his preoccupation is his demise: While reminding himself that this effort will ultimately be worth it (“Tiefe Brunnen muss man graben / wenn man klares Wasser will”), he loses his footing and falls to his death. Here, the innocent is not the girl, but the boy, and his innocence is inauthentic because he blinds himself to reality.
“Spring” addresses the violence that accompanies the death of innocence. In an almost Hitchcockian or Pinteresque scene of sacrifice, a man climbs onto a bridge, claiming he only wanted to see the view, but is murdered by the narrator of the song in order to appease the mob that gathers under the victim. The narrator senses the shame that the man feels at his own cowardice and at his refusal to redeem the mob by fulfilling their expectations of a spectacle. Any innocence claimed by the man is automatically inauthentic by virtue of his cowardice. The chill the man feels is amplified by the ripple effect that this one sacrifice has, i.e., the “thousand suns” that burn for him. The man’s identity, history, and feelings are unimportant; his only value is in his death, and his greatest moment of significance is the moment before he dies. The narrator understands that to fear death at one’s own hands is an irredeemable flaw—a flaw that every member of the mob possesses, since if they possessed that kind of courage, they would not need to call for the man’s sacrifice. And because those thousand suns will continue to burn, more innocence will have to be sacrificed. The death of the man becomes inevitable.
Unlike the victims in “Rosenrot” and “Spring,” the little girl in “Hilf mir” knows on some level that she is complicit with her own death:
Immer wenn ich einsam bin
Zieht es mich zum Feuer hin
Warum ist die Sonne rund
Warum werd ich nicht gesund
At first, it seems she is too young a figure to be held fully accountable. However, she speaks of the fire as a lover (“Das Feuer liebt mich”) and she does not resist it when it reaches for her. In fact, once she is dead, she even reaches toward the sun as the ultimate source of fire. This is not pure, childlike innocence at all, yet neither is it utterly prurient. It is an innocence that leads to self-destruction, a death without a sense of sacrifice to ennoble it.
I am inordinately proud of myself for not adding more songs to the list.
These posts will cover some of the material on Rosenrot, which my previous posts did not. In order to talk about this topic, I will need to address a few points here so that some common ground and definitions get established*.
Power, evil, responsibility, and innocence are difficult terms to address, especially that of evil. Instead of trying to define evil, I will discuss specifically the idea of complicity with evil and not attempt to define the nature of evil itself. Better people than I have been working on it for millennia, and they haven’t come up with a definition we all can accept.
Having offered those caveats, here are my definitions.
Power is the ability to cause or prevent change. Note that power is not a dirty word, at least not for the purposes of this series of essays.
Complicity with evil is simply the realism, or the accuracy, of your perception of evil. In other words, you understand and accept your own potential for committing acts of evil. If you have a sense of your own complicity with evil, then you accept your participation in larger social and cultural processes, many of which are beyond your direct control yet which are a part of you in some way. This acceptance helps you to feel empathy with your enemies and to gain a sense of mercy toward all.
Responsibility comes from complicity with evil, i.e., it is the sense of yourself as being complicit with evil and a participant in modes of power. It means not blaming culture or circumstance for the totality of what you are.
Innocence comes in two flavors. When it’s authentic, innocence is the sense of awe and wonder that accompanies childlike perceptions (think of artists who see the world anew). When it is inauthentic, however, it becomes a deliberate blinding of oneself to one’s complicity with evil. Inauthentic innocence is an innocence that can’t come to terms with the destructiveness in itself or in others—an innocence that cannot accept violence and its purifying effects.
So, does innocence invite its own murder? I think there are some interesting variations on this idea to be found in Rammstein’s music. As before, I am concentrating solely on the lyrics.
Finally, a favorite quote... “I dare not let my devils go, lest my angels go with them.” –William Blake**
*If you’re interested in these ideas, I recommend Power and Innocence: A Search for the Sources of Violence, written by Rollo May. Post a comment for more information, or check Amazon in its various national permutations.
**A trusted college professor said this was a Blake quote, but damned if either Google or I can find it. If someone knows the proper attribution, please leave a comment.
The western cultural mythos tells us that the ultimate place for people to connect is during a sexual encounter. Stale sex is nothing new to human experience, and while I personally am not familiar with the full musical canon on BDSM, I think that some of the emotional struggles involved of that kind of sexuality can be found in “Bestrafe mich,” “Bück dich,” and “Feuerrader.”
Putting these three songs on a continuum means putting “Bestrafe mich” first, because it’s about the agreement between master and submissive; “Feuerrader” second, because it is the submissive requesting discipline; and “Bück dich” third because the sexual act is viewed from the master’s perspective. (I promised no more songs and that’s my story, but if one wanted, one could put “Keine Lust” and “Rein raus” on the list. But I’m not.) BDSM is a perpetual mindset, so no ending song, so to speak, is necessarily required because the mindset doesn’t leave the participants.
“Bestrafe mich” begins with the submissive granting service to the master, which, in BDSM relationships, is the highest gift a submissive can give. The lyrics “deine Größe macht mich klein / du darfst mein Bestrafer sein” are not about physical size, but psychological size. I’ve thought a lot about the lines “Stroh wird Gold / und Gold wird Stein,” and without external consultation, the best I can come up with is the way that submission and discipline make a submissive stronger, i.e., through emotional and psychological self-discipline. (If you’re hearing parallels to Christianity, congratulations—you get your choice of stuffed animals from the top shelf.) All choice is taken away from the submissive until the submissive chooses to leave the master’s service. This self-discipline is difficult, though, and it’s brilliantly illustrated in the simple lines “du meinst ja / und ich denk nein.” The ambiguity of the submissive’s relationship to himself comes through in the way the song is sung. The lyrics read that the submissive keeps his thoughts to himself, yet the performance carries a force behind the phrase “ich denk nein” that is usually reserved for a spoken phrase. This emphasizes the submissive’s engagement in yet another battle of will and discipline. Finally, the submissive’s uncertainty about the master’s devotion to him is illustrated in the final lines: “doch gibt er nur dem / den er auch liebt.” The best connection the submissive can manage to gain is no better than he began with.
“Feurrader” moves us into a more intense part of the BDSM relationship. The submissive asks for physical restraint, i.e., to be tied, collared and leashed. The submissive encourages it because through restraint comes release—but not freedom, since freedom would signify the end of the relationship. The grooves of this encounter are familiar to the submissive, who has a plan in mind for the session and expects it to bring him emotionally closer to the master: “wir feiern eine Leidenschaft / der Schmerz ist schön wie du.” The ambiguity here is reduced, and oddly, the circumstances create a scene that’s about as intimate as two people can get in Rammstein’s songs. What little ambiguity is present comes from the near-complete absence of the master’s presence in the lyrics.
Finally, “Bück dich” is a portrait of a master who cracks during a session. The actions of the submissive, who is totally compliant, only make the master’s hollowness more pronounced. In a classic BDSM maneuver, the master refers to the submissive as a “biped” and “two-foot” rather than by anything more distinctive. He repeats acts of domination—forcing the submissive to kneel down, further denying his identity by refusing to look at his face—yet the master cries during penetration. The intimacy that we search for in sexual encounters, even casual ones to some extent, is blocked here. The dominance and submission game, instead of bringing the sexual partners closer together as its proponents insists it does, has only made this master aware of his emotional emptiness. But with whom can he connect? Certainly not his submissive, because that would violate the code by which masters conduct themselves. He has the freedom to leave, but for now, he chooses to remain in the position of the master. So long as he does that, he will not be able to achieve fulfilling intimacy with anyone.
Okay, that’s enough on this theme for now. There’s an entire book here, waiting to be written.
As is the case in other songs, “Spieluhr” works with inversions, beginning with the first line, where the child only pretends to die and fools those around him, through the return to life at the end—a return that is not a resurrection. To me, the really interesting aspects of “Spieluhr”are the nuances that point to the myth of Orpheus, a figure who went into Hades to bring forth his beloved with the power of his music. Orpheus’s journey was for naught because he turned to see Eurydice before she came fully into the sunlight. Similarly, one could argue that the child in “Spieluhr” is not permitted to exist authentically and play his music box, but instead is forced back into a world not of his making. If to play music is to create a world, then the child is denied the power of creation, which is the ultimate act of power that we the living have. Life for the child becomes death. The rescuers—we may assume that it’s the child’s family, but there is no evidence in the song that points to it—have brought the child from the life it preferred into the death it was trying to escape.
"Engel" also plays with inversions. The angelic figures in this song are nothing like the saccharine caricatures commonly found in American culture, nor are they like the more delicately nuanced representations seen in some European art. They are a far cry from Paradise Lost as well, where angels are immensely powerful, made from matter that is neither human nor properly divine but yet is overwhelmingly and innately good. The angels in “Engel” exist without a god; the voice of the angel says, “wir haben Angst und sind allein.” Of what use is an angel without a divine force to guide it? Being an angel would bring one into direct apprehension not of the divine, but of the ultimate meaninglessness of existence. No wonder the narrator of the song insists, “Gott weiß ich will kein Engel sein.”
I am going to save the last three songs in this topic for a separate post. See, not everything I write is as long as the average 19th-century Russian novel. Some of it's longer.
I hadn’t worked this hard on something literary since I was hammering away at my doctorate…I hope you guys find it interesting, and I look forward to reading your comments. Not that I have any illusions that my groupies will find this page.
Let’s see, what’s left from my brief list…the impossibility of authentic connection between artist/audience in “Links 234” (I am omitting “Ich will” because I know I’m overly influenced by the video), self/self in “Zwitter.” self/other in “Eifersucht,” dead/living and human/divine in “Engel” and “Heirate mich,” and self/family in “Spieluhr.” (I had previously listed “Tier” and “Spiel mit mir,” but I don’t think I have much that’s new to contribute. I wrote a lot about them, then cut it.) I will add to this list the perpetual disconnect between sexual partners, specifically the imposed disconnection as seen in “Bestrafe mich,” “Bück Dich,” and “Feuerrader,” and how these relationships attempt to affirm themselves.
Aside from being a response to critics, “Links 234” asks some interesting questions about metaphors concerning hearts. It’s as if the narrator is pointing out that these metaphors, as listed in the lyrics, are poor substitutes for direct description, yet at the same time the narrator employs a metaphor to describe his own political position:
Sie wollen mein Herz am rechten Fleck
doch seh ich dann nach unten weg
da schlägt es links
To question an artist’s position based on inferences drawn from the cover of a CD is, of course, ridiculous (and this song came out well before the Linkspartei was created earlier this year). Metaphors are matters of convenience, yet the narrator uses a metaphor to reject metaphors. This ambiguity creates a fascinating intersection between the poet and the political activist. If we can use metaphors to describe states of being, then the poet is the ultimate political activist, because poetry, at least what one might think of as conventional poetry (not considering avant-garde poetry here), excels at metaphor. If political skill means choosing the right metaphor at the right time, then poets are political savants.
“Zwitter” is interesting because in its description of the utterly self-absorbed person, it describes the figure that is increasingly becoming Everyman, at least in America. (Reading the second stanza is like reading a chapter from a self-help book.) The problem with self-absorption is the lack of reference and the tightening spiral of consciousness, a lesson probably presented best in Milton’s Paradise Lost. Without external reference, just as with the characters in “Tier” who have little externality, the narrator of “Zwitter” will never be able to experience any of the real depth of character that comes from connecting with others. He will be all surface, no depth—and that includes his understanding of himself. Thus, self-alienation is his only reward for his self-love.
Sometimes self-love begets jealousy of others, and sometimes jealousy is a reaction to other circumstances. “Eifersucht,” as a portrait of the jealousy of others, relies on an interesting poetic convention, that of the blazon. The blazon was a cataloguing of a woman’s body in order to fully explicate her beauty. In “Eifersucht,” however, the fine qualities of the narrator are catalogued, and in the process, so is the mixed jealousy and envy of the onlooker:
Bin ich schöner
zerschneid mir das Gesicht
bin ich stärker
brich feige mein Genick
bin ich klüger
töte mich und iss mein Hirn
Hab ich dein Weib
töte mich und iss mich ganz auf
dann iss mich ganz auf
“Eifersucht” could be applied far beyond simple love relationships, of course; rival bands, other performers, critics, the boyfriends of female fans, all such persons and others could feel passionate and violent desires. One could also argue that because this is a message from one man to another, the violence is expected and perhaps even unremarkable. The key phrase occurs in the second stanza—“doch leck den Teller ab,” i.e., do the job completely, because otherwise, you’re still a dumb, ugly coward. The narrator is better in every way than the onlooker, both of them know it, and worse, the woman in question knows it. The narrator taunts the onlooker not with his own superiority, but with the onlooker’s poor showing. To destroy the narrator, even down to his soul, will not make the onlooker superior. The narrator is a work of art, and compared to him, the onlooker is miserable, incapable of taking Rilke’s advice in “Archaic Bust of Apollo”: Du mußt dein Leben ändern, “You must change your life.” The threat of violence is the onlooker’s only response to art, a threat that makes him nothing more than a beast.
This was the first theme I dealt with. For me, it is the übertheme (would Germans permit that linguistic crossfertilization?). I’m relying on the lyrics rather than the videos, interviews, etc.
The impossibility of authentic connection with another appears with regard to just about every relationship: creator/creature in “Mutter,” country/country in “Amerika,” lover/beloved in “Heirate mich” and “Stein um Stein,” artist/audience in “Links 234,” self/self in “Zwitter,” self/other in “Eifersucht,” among family members in “Tier” and “Spiel mit mir,” dead/living (and perhaps even human/divine) in “Engel” and “Heirate mich”…I am stopping at this point because there’s plenty to talk about with these few songs.
The balancing act that’s required to convey these ideas is tricky. The narrator of a given song generally has a fair level of self-knowledge, yet at the same time possess a certain blindness about his condition. Sometimes that blindness is self-imposed, sometimes it comes from without. For instance, the creature in “Mutter” has no way of finding authentic connections with relatives because he has none, yet he is nevertheless a human being. (NB: By “creature” I mean “one who is created,” not “a horror to be avoided.”) He lacks the most fundamental assumption of existence. How, then, does one in such a position define oneself? Does this represent the ultimate state of freedom? If so, how do we respond to the creature’s reaction to that freedom?
As with most Rammstein songs, “Mutter” is internalized, i.e., it comes from the center (but perhaps not the core) of the narrator’s consciousness. However, “Amerika” is on the macroconscious scale. (I’m not sure that’s a word, but I like it and it’s coming with me.) The stanza that switches to first person is telling:
This is not a love song
This is not a love song
I don't sing my mother tongue
No, this is not a love song
When every country has been homogenized into the cultural puree that is America, there is no motherland, no mother tongue. English becomes the mother tongue that smothers, just as American culture is the culture that assimilates. Without a sense of political individuality, when political identity has been imposed from without, authentic self-awareness becomes impossible. The “I” in this stanza appears long enough to say what it is not saying (an interesting notion), then melts back into the “we.”
Even normal, garden-variety relationships become impossible. In “Stein um Stein,” the lover’s desire to possess the beloved drives him to wall her in. Note that she makes no attempt to resist; this is the ultimate conclusion to the romantic-relationship-cum-rape-fantasy that American culture insists is the norm. The lyrical richness comes from its blend of fairy-tale imagery and modern bodice-ripper sensibilities, along with a healthy dose of Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado.” There is similar richness, albeit from different sources, in “Heirate mich.”
“Heirate mich” holds a special place for me for a couple of reasons: One, because the mind of the narrator is so fully present in the lyrics, and two, because of the etymology of the title. The latter is of interest here. Those of you who have had a little Greek or who have studied linguistics will see similarities between hieros ‘sacred’ and heiraten ‘to marry,’ i.e., to consecrate through marriage (though the path from Athens to Berlin seems to pass through the Gothic term heiwa ‘household’). The narrator of “Heirate mich” has driven himself mad hanging around the grave of his fiancée, who, if I’m interpreting things correctly, died on their wedding day. She is buried in sacred ground (“dort bei den Glocken”), she wears the vestments of her sacred role as bride (“im schönsten Kleid”), yet none of this is enough to save the lover. He becomes more profane the longer he is around the sacred, until he blends the two by having sex with his beloved. There can be nothing sacred, and at the same time nothing profane, so long as there is such alienation.
By the way, the song playing while I wrote that last bit was “Happy Together” by Lovin’ Spoonful.
My Rammstein essays were originally part of a series posted on both Herzeleid.com and the official Rammstein fan area. It kills me to see them expire, so I caved in and got a Blogger site.
This image is of three of the band members (Doom, Till and Olli) with Vin Diesel and another man (the one on the far right..I'm sure he's terribly important, and terribly offended). The other band members are Paul, Flake and Richard. Give the names a German pronunciation, if you don't mind. They're hanging out with Vin Diesel because they performed in his film xXx.
The music is great, but the lyrics are what have kept me interested. I used to be a Tool fan. Once I discovered the depth of Rammstein's lyrics, I changed codes.
Anything can be anything, but without an idea spurring it on, it's worthless.
Unexamined ideas are worse than unexamined lives. An unexamined life may yield good and just actions; an unexamined idea is at best repetition, at worst malicious ignorance.
Welcome to the world of my ideas. I claim only what originality my tone and style can lend them.