trying to decide on a title for the collection i put together for Expozine last month Eaten Back To Life was the first thing that came to mind (runners-up included I’d Trade It All for A Little More – a Simpsons reference, and Stay Hungry – a Talking Heads reference). mostly because i like the ring of it. it is the kind of phrase that sticks in one’s head, or my head at least, because of its somewhat paradoxical implications.
my reservations about it as a title sprang primarily from a concern that it might also carry some suggestion of a memoir of self-discovery and rejuvenation – taken the wrong way, it could well conjure the romantic trope of someone down in the dumps and over the barrel, who through cooking, eating, food-writing (even worse) or what have you rediscovers their lust for life. which impression is absolutely the last i would like to give, however much i respect that this is a fine thing and probably a reality for some people. of course i do not deny the importance of food as a lifeline, a source of pleasure and of community, but this is No Big News, and to the extent that i do succumb to extolling this in my own writing, i don’t want to advertise the fact.
rather, when i think “Eaten Back To Life”, i think of Cannibal Corpse’s 1990 debut album, which presents a whole other set of unfortunate associations. while i am a great fan of early death metal (if a picky and predictable one), i really do not like and never have liked Cannibal Corpse. part of the reason for this is musical (i find them boring), and part of it is that i find them particularly offensive and misogynist, as arguably one the first bands to really set the stage for the intensely misogynist gore-metal subgenre that has unfortunately continued to expand over the past couple of decades. on one level it is unfair to single out Cannibal Corpse for this, as certainly there are strong misogynist themes (or at least tacitly woman-hating shitty lyrics) running through the work of many of their contemporaries (such as Death and Autopsy, go figure, both of whom i listen to with aplomb), but with Cannibal Corpse sexualized violence toward women has always been foregrounded, which makes them an easier target, and harder to ignore, for all that.
there is probably much that can be written about the centrality of cannibalism to death metal for a food blog such as this, but frankly i’m just not that interested. there’s a pretty smart, nuanced, treatment of the broader topic to be found here (TRIGGER WARNING: SEXUAL VIOLENCE), and the argument has been made that such death metal songs fall into a (modified) tradition of horror storytelling and/or grotesque poetry, but my response to that is a firm “Uh, maybe?” / “This is not Bataille we’re talking about.” while there is a strong association between death metal and horror cinema, i think the constrained form of the song leaves little room for the kind of play required for what (for example) Carol Clover would argue is the basis for a “cross-gender identification” that runs through horror film (although Men, Women, and Chainsaws was published in 1993, remember, and deals more with the slasher films of the ’70s and ’80s than the ‘torture porn’ genre that has blown up since, and with which i would argue gore metal lyrics have more affinity). in terms of a sort of ‘poetry of excess’ approach, the early Carcass records are interesting because of how heavily they are concerned not necessarily with cannibalism but specifically with pathology, decay, putrefaction and endoparasitism. famously inspired by the singer’s sister’s medical dictionary, the lyrics careen gleefully through a rupturing, distended, leaky and pustule-ridden bodily topography so bloated with technical medical and anatomical language that at times the songs threaten to break down into total multisyllabic abstraction, like pathological magnetic poetry, or a graduate Cultural Studies paper:
Bloody hypertrophy of papillae spewing urethritis like urticaria, septicaemia-filled dermis scorched by acidic uric nocturia. Ureterocoeles excreting warm, decaying, cystic pemphigus, gnawing at flesh with rancid uraturial lust
Pyosis mucolysifies malignant mucocoeles, pustules endocrinating disseminated mortified cells . . . Putrefying your pyorrhoea – infested corpse excretes away, expelling pyuria and septic goitrous membrane. Mucopurulence excretor!
in the end, reservations notwithstanding, i went with the Cannibal Corpse reference, in the hopes that the metalheads would go “ha”, and the rest would suspect that maybe it at least had something to do with zombies, maybe? what really won me over was thinking through the phrase “eaten back to life” in relation to the cover of the record, which as you can see features a zombie crazily devouring the hell out of itself. the phrase and image trade on the understanding that zombies require (or at least feel the need for) flesh to live/persist, but fly in the face of accepted wisdom that the living dead tend not to eat themselves or each other. fundamentally, it presents a hilarious painting-oneself-into-a-corner situation that suggests the inevitable end result of the zombie reduced to an embarrassed, one-armed torso, who looks around after his frenzy of revitalizing, intoxicating autophagy and is like “Ah, nuts.” thus eating-back-to-life contains within it its inverse, eating-unto-death. i write “inverse” intentionally, if clumsily, in an attempt to avoid “opposite”, because in this example toward-life and toward-death actually point in the same direction, toward the same (if not self-identical) object.
this is no new terrain, but it’s been a while since i’ve thought about it (2009?), as i’ve gotten a little better at not eating wildly toward (self)destruction. but this is the tension that animates gastronomic desire and gustatory pleasure, as one teeters on the edges of excess – the basic need for food, eating to live, both perverted and exalted by the pleasures of taste, as we well overshoot the mark of survival and drive toward death. whether it’s the self-negation of gross crapulence or simply the gradual hardening of the arteries that i’m casually certain my “Multiple Fats, All The Time” philosophy engenders.
no new terrain, for those of us who get a little crazy. for whom the idea of the “will” as a ruling mechanism, within yet quasi-independent of the self, seems an ill fit for the governing of our appetites. who suspect that there is only enough want or not enough want, compulsion or complacency. the will is not lacking, it is simply a way of understanding desire that does not feel relevant and does nothing to illuminate, for those driven and derided by taste.*
i could call that object, at which both the toward-life and toward-death aim, satisfaction.
FYI, copies of Eaten Back To Life are available by mail, via myself (for i guess 5$), or in Montreal at Dépanneur le Pick Up.
* i’ve had it in my head for some time, somehow, that the last line of Araby was “driven and derided by fate” when it is in fact “driven and derided by vanity.” i’m not sure when this happened, because it’s definitely something i used to know.