12-2 literature2

The Center for Literate Values ~ Defending the Western tradition of responsible individualism, disciplined freedom, tasteful creativity, common sense, and faith in a supreme moral being.

P R A E S I D I U M

A Common-Sense Journal of Literary and Cultural Analysis

12.2 (Spring 2012)

 

literary analysis

index.8

courtesy of artrenewal.org

 

What Became of Subtlety? A Literary Analysis of Tool’s Ænima

 Adam Jefferson Kirby

As the second decade of the twenty-first century wears on, America seems to have thrown itself off the continuum of literacy into a state which could be considered “post-literate”. Taken as a culture, we have generally passed beyond any semblance of appreciation for written texts and the utility they provide with respect to allegory. Though some of the classics still make their way into public schools, it seems merely a rote, antiseptic ritual for bleary educators who, for the most part, are merely attempting to accommodate the performance benchmarks set by bureaucracy. Young college graduates emerge into the commercial private sector with lives thoroughly unexamined—ill prepared, it seems, to make informed, rational decisions about the responsibilities that come with money and credit, with starting families, or with interpersonal relationships. All the while, we are bombarded with advertisements for legions of disposable goods and useless services. The entire arc of mass marketing strategies employed by all Fortune 500 companies follows a similar trajectory: encourage the most rudimentary human tendencies, and instigate the fear of loss—while always appealing to the lowest common denominator in tastes. The cycle self-perpetuates as it amplifies. These corporate entities are only responding to carefully studied research about how we behave when stimulated—but that stimulation must grow more extreme as we become acclimated. No doubt, we live in a malaise, an insipid, moribund, dreary twilight of capitalism bereft of any spiritual or moral balance.

In place of the self-realization which can come from the ability to assimilate literate text, we engage in mere casual perusals of pop fanfare and technical how-to’s. We do so merely to decide which consumer products to digest. And yet, there is still well-refined, deeply meaningful cultural expression to be found in modern art—outlets which use the post-literate paradigm as the mechanism for delivery of highly literate ideas. One such post-literate phenomenon of considerable worth is the progressive metal band Tool.

No doubt, the name of the band, itself is indicative of the artists’ objective: to provide utility for something. What that something is can be revealed through the lyrics (written principally by the singer, Maynard James Keenan), through their live performances, and through the vivid, visually stunning music videos directed by guitarist Adam Jones. The band’s1996 album, Ænima, stands out as a breakthrough accomplishment in all these regards, and solidified the band as a legitimate artistic force amid an industry pushing musical products not unlike the Slap Chop, or Viagra in their fickle appeal and venality. The album’s name, Ænima, is an amalgam of the word “anima”, referring to Swiss psychiatrist Carl G. Jung’s concept of a feminine subconscious (within men), and an “enema”, the medical procedure intended to purge the colon. So, in essence, we can regard this musical work as an attempt by the band to “cleanse” the human psyche, since the void left by the failure of self-exploration has been filled instead by the artificial, corrupt and damaging memes of post-literate society.

The artists have referenced Jung indirectly and, quite often, specifically with lyrical content suggesting the interconnectedness of the human soul with something external. According to psychologist C. George Boeree, the “collective unconscious”, as described by Jung, is “the reservoir of our experiences as a species, a kind of knowledge we are all born with”.[i][i]  This resource is generally inaccessible to the conscious mind, but does manifest in ways which can be understood, given proper encouragement. Boeree states, “It influences all of our experiences and behaviors, most especially the emotional ones, but we only know about it indirectly, by looking at those influences.” Keenan’s lyrics for the song H. seem to tap into this realization:

 

I am too connected to you to

Slip away, to fade away.

Days away I still feel you

Touching me, changing me,

And considerately killing me.

 

Keenan’s reference to being “considerately killed” might indicate a kind of symbolic inner death that occurs in a moment of profound self-realization. It is his termination of the changeling within him which was nourished on consumerism and raised in a spiritual wasteland. In its place he births a new spiritual self connected to the collective subconscious that is a part of humanity’s true heritage. Keenan makes reference in the second person, as though he’s speaking to another entity. This could simultaneously be what patriarchal religions interpret as “God”, but it is also an internal conversation with the neglected part of himself, his “anima”. The longing for this kind of intimacy is also described by Boeree as the prime impetus which drives our romantic relationships: “We are, as an ancient Greek myth suggests, always looking for our other half, the half that the Gods took from us, in members of the opposite sex. When we fall in love at first sight, then we have found someone that ‘fills’ our anima… archetype particularly well!”[ii][ii]  The whole identification with the “anima”, particularly since the band consists of four men, may be aimed at young males in our culture, most of whom are taught to suppress their intuitive and emotional aspects due to prevailing shibboleths. The spiritual damage is akin to being torn in half or disfigured, also an image which appears frequently in Tool’s music videos.

The final result of an empty soul animated into action only through progressively more shocking, depraved or extreme stimulation is articulated in the album’s opening song, Stinkfist, and in the accompanying video, which has a style very reminiscent of the work of H.R. Giger.  Visual images of human figures covered in detritus wander aimlessly through what appears to be something between a psychiatric institute and an industrial factory. The lethargic creatures consume rusty nails and are dependent upon machinery to survive. In one scene, a young boy has been placed high upon a shelf. His entire body below the torso is missing, replaced only by the power cable which gives him life. It dangles down like entrails, plugged into the wall of the facility.

Lyrically, Keenan regards this desperate situation as necessary:

 

It’s not enough.

I need more.

Nothing seems to satisfy.

I don’t want it.

I just need it

To breathe, to feel, to know I’m alive.

 

As boredom and overstimulation consume the senses, the input required becomes less and less subtle; Keenan laments this as a kind of sadness, that life could be so desensitizing. The narrative changes as Keenan, again embodying the “anima”, invites the listener to follow his lead through some kind of metaphysical barrier, a process which he warns will be painful: “This may hurt a little but it’s something you’ll get used to/Relax, turn around and take my hand.” So too, is the process of self- investigation, particularly when one is on a destructive path. The idea that some necessary pain is required to break through the “undeniable dilemma” is well placed at the album’s start. Keenan’s gateway, or “borderline”, is in absolute harmony with the album’s objective as suggested by its title. A popular rock band intent on spiritual liberation, while juxtaposed by the metaphorical filth of its contemporaries, could use its exterior appearance as part of the onslaught of unhealthy stimuli to be the ultimate “fist up the ass” that’s needed to finally touch someone meaningfully. This is a remarkable and shrewd achievement, so shrewd, in fact, that it not only made it past the censors (with the one exception that MTV changed the title of Stinkfist to Song #1 for the video), but masqueraded as merely the next most audacious moral outrage!

Tool also toys with religious archetypes within Ænima. Perhaps condemning the conflation of celebrity with divine leadership which is the tendency of a culture inclined to idolatry, Keenan continues with Eulogy along the same lines of Stinkfist by using the Christ-figure as an example of a disposable commodity which society uses until it becomes passé:

 

Come down.

Get off your fucking cross.

We need the empty space

To nail the next fool martyr.

 

This recycling of godheads advances civilization through maintaining a constant fervor among empty people who desperately need something to believe in, but who settle for the progressively more crass and less subtle representatives. (“He had a lot to say./ He had a lot of nothing to say./ We’ll miss him.”) It is through the lascivious and lurid behavior of these empty saviors with whom we identify that we live vicariously from one generation to the next. We metaphorically assassinate them (sometimes literally) in succession in order to facilitate the process, which is why the public seems to be obsessed with celebrity scandal:

 

To ascend, you must die.

You must be crucified

For our sins and our lies.

We’re all sinking alive.

Goodbye.

 

The album delves further into humanity’s latent potential and forgotten qualities. The song Forty-Six and 2 predicts the genetic future of mankind, but from the point of view of reminiscence. (The current configuration of the human DNA contains twenty-two pairs of allosomes and two sex-specific chromosomes, or “forty-four and 2.”) The song Third Eye is a reference to the pineal gland, considered in Buddhism to be the gateway to spiritual enlightenment. The album’s title track refers to Los Angeles as a modern day Babylon, with Keenan entreating Mother Nature to knock it into the Pacific Ocean.

For a group of musicians to attain commercial success without cheapening or altogether abandoning their artistic imperatives is noteworthy. The success of Tool highlights the existence of a literary vehicle which is very much poised to inherit the legacy of the literary forms we have come to know in the now-neglected classical educative model. The literary modes always reflect the cultures which bring them to life; exteriorly, Tool appears as do all commercial entities in the market for consumable popular music, complete with their own public persona, merchandise and a thrilling live spectacle. The interesting part is that Tool’s content is so compelling that it deserves the same respect for its allegory as the finest works of antiquity, due to the band’s ability to provoke deep self-reflection, as well as worthwhile public commentary. For all its deeply complex ideas, Tool’s live performance format is more akin to that of the pre-literate society than that of the post-literate, where audiences receive collectively a body of images, sounds and words, and experience the emotions together. With this in mind, it may be appropriate to define the literate continuum not as linear, but as circular.

  tul

Appendix

Stinkfist

Something has to change.

Undeniable dilemma.

Boredom’s not a burden

Anyone should bear.

Constant overstimulation numbs me

but I would not want

You any other way.

Cause, it’s not enough.

I need more.

Nothing seems to satisfy.

I said, I don’t want it.

I just need it

To breathe, to feel, to know I’m alive.

Finger deep within the borderline.

Show me that you love me and that we belong together.

Relax, turn around and take my hand.

I can help you change

Tired moments into pleasure.

Say the word and we’ll be

Well upon our way.

Blend and balance

Pain and comfort

Deep within you

Till you will not want me any other way.

But, it’s not enough.

I need more.

Nothing seems to satisfy.

I said, I don’t want it.

I just need it

To breathe, to feel, to know I’m alive.

Knuckle deep inside the borderline.

This may hurt a little but it’s something you’ll get used to.

Relax. Slip away.

Something kinda sad about

The way that things have come to be.

Desensitized to everything.

What became of subtlety?

How can this mean anything to me

If I really don’t feel anything at all?

I’ll keep digging ’til

I feel something.

Eulogy

He had a lot to say.

He had a lot of nothing to say.

We’ll miss him.

He had a lot to say.

He had a lot of nothing to say.

We’ll miss him.

We’re gonna miss him.

So long.

We wish you well.

You told us how you weren’t afraid to die.

Well then, so long.

Don’t cry

Or feel too down.

Not all martyrs see divinity

But at least you tried.

Standing above the crowd,

He had a voice that was strong and loud.

We’ll miss him.

Ranting and pointing his finger

At everything but his heart,

We’ll miss him.

We’re gonna miss him.

No way to recall

What it was that you had said to me,

Like I care at all.

But you were so loud.

You sure could yell.

You took a stand on every little thing

And so loud.

Standing above the crowd,

He had a voice that was strong and loud and I

Swallowed his facade cuz I’m so

Eager to identify with

Someone above the ground,

Someone who seemed to feel the same,

Someone prepared to lead the way, with

Someone who would die for me.

Will you? Will you now?

Would you die for me?

Don’t you fucking lie.

Don’t you step out of line.

Don’t you fucking lie.

You’ve claimed all this time that you would die for me.

Why then are you so surprised when you hear your own eulogy?

He had a lot to say.

He had a lot of nothing to say.

Come down.

Get off your fucking cross.

We need the empty space to nail the next fool martyr.

To ascend you must die.

You must be crucified

For our sins and our lies.

Goodbye.

H.

What’s coming through is a lie.

What’s holding up is a mirror.

But what’s singing songs is a snake

Looking to turn this piss to wine.

They’re both totally void of hate,

But killing me just the same.

The snake behind me misses

What my damage could have been.

My blood before me begs me

Open up my heart again.

And I feel this coming over like a storm again.

Considerately.

Venomous voice, tempts me,

Drains me, bleeds me,

Leaves me cracked and empty.

Drags me down like some sweet gravity.

The snake behind me hisses

What my damage could have been.

My blood before me begs me

Open up my heart again.

And I feel this coming over like a storm again.

I am too connected to you to

Slip away, to fade away.

Days away I still feel you

Touching me, changing me,

And considerately killing me.

Without the skin,

Beneath the storm,

Under these tears

The walls came down.

And the snake is drowned and

As I look in his eyes,

My fear begins to fade

Recalling all of those times.

I could have cried then.

I should have cried then.

And as the walls come down and

As I look in your eyes

My fear begins to fade

Recalling all of the times

I have died

And will die.

It’s all right.

I don’t mind.

I am too connected to you to

Slip away, to fade away.

Days away I still feel you

Touching me, changing me,

And considerately killing me.

 

Notes

[i] Exposion on Carl Jung, C. George Boeree. http://webspace.ship.edu/cgboer/jung.html.

[ii] Ibid.

 

Adam Jefferson Kirby, soon to receive his Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Texas at Tyler, has already acquired a wealth of “life experience” as (among other things) a successful songwriter and performer in his native California.  He is active about campus in libertarian causes and is keenly interested in the home-education movement.  He welcomes responses to this essay and may be reached at texaspodunk@gmail.com.