No method in the madness? The problem of the cultural reading in Robert Walser's 'Running with the devil': power madness and gender in heavy metal music and recent metal studies

Brown, A.R (2011) 'No method in the madness? The problem of the cultural reading in Robert Walser's 'Running with the devil': power madness and gender in heavy metal music and recent metal studies.' In: McKinnon, C, Scott, N and Sollee, K, eds. Can I play with madness? Metal, dissonance, madness and alienation. Inter-Disciplinary Press, Oxford, pp. 63-72. ISBN 9781848880573

Official URL: https://doi.org/10.1163/9781848880573_008

Abstract

This chapter offers a critical analysis of Walser’s celebrated text, particularly the role of method in offering a dialogue with heavy metal fandom. It suggests that theory building and methodology in conventional academic research are strategies that maintain symbolic boundaries between researchers and research subjects, in the name of critical autonomy. This is a problem when such subjects constitute a class without symbolic power or voice. Walser’s pioneer work recognizes this imbalance and seeks to redress it, offering a defence of heavy metal music and its fandom. However, Walser’s method, combining a virtuoso musicology and cultural criticism of value hierarchies, ends up speaking on-behalf of metal fans rather than to them. This is clearly apparent in his argument that the themes of horror, madness and mysticism in the music of bands such as Iron Maiden and Megadeth, offer a critique of the ‘madness’ of late-capitalism that fans understand. Yet the evidence of dialogue between Walser and his fan-respondents is somewhat sparse. I go on to suggest that the work that follows Walser exaggerates this tendency to offer a ‘cultural-reading’ that rests on no obvious evidence-base beyond that of the authority of the theorist-researcher. In this respect, the emergence of ‘metal studies’ in the wake of Walser resembles that of fan studies, in particular the transition from academic-fan to fan-academic. Fan-academics seek to contest the value-hierarchies that have previously held their tastes in low esteem. But in so doing they end up legitimating their own identities as fan-intellectuals rather than the majority of ordinary metal fans who cannot participate in this critique. I conclude by suggesting that this tendency may be acceptable if it can be shown that the class-profile of heavy metal’s fan-base has dramatically changed, from working to middle-class. Current research, characterized as it is by a focus on geographically dispersed scene-based studies and/or the theoretical-textualism of literary theory and cultural philosophy, is not best placed to reveal the demographics of this process of embourgeoisement; although it may exemplify it.

Item Type: Book Chapter or Section
Note:

Also presented as a paper at the Third International Conference, Music, Metal and Politics, Can I play with Madness? Metal, Madness and Alienation. Prague, Czech Republic, November 2010.

Divisions: School of Creative Industries
Date Deposited: 15 Jan 2014 13:08
Last Modified: 19 Oct 2020 17:21
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