(Sacred Bones; 2015)
By Brent Ables | 23 June 2015
HANNIBAL LECTER: Hello, Will, I’m so glad you’ve come.
WILL GRAHAM: Evening, Doctor Lecter.
HANNIBAL: Have you had breakfast? I was just about to make some eggs and huma—forgive me, I meant to say ham. Wink wink.
WILL: I don’t think you’re actually supposed to say “wink wink,” Doctor.
HANNIBAL: Did you know that words can wink, and through the cracks can slip the fearful wanting that is desire? Of bodies, of flesh and sense?
WILL: “How thick is a suffix?”
HANNIBAL: How open is a wound?
WILL: Your antlers are showing.
HANNIBAL: I think we can both agree that for Jenny Hval, the body is not a subject but an object. This is why emotion is backgrounded, why the materiality of flesh takes center stage. The soul is trapped in the flesh, but it only appears when something opens up the body.
WILL: I’m certain you have many ideas on the subject of opening up bodies.
HANNIBAL: For me, if we are being frank, it has always seemed like mutilation is a fundamentally aesthetic act that borders on the holy.
WILL: This is true. Transformation is the only divinity. Perhaps this explains the fascinating connection between sexual identity and religion explored on Apocalypse, girl. Some are bound to take Hval’s stated project to pursue the holy in music as a transgressive or ironic act: “I’m thirty-three now / That was Jesus’ age when he died / How do I sing religiously?” To begin with, she will not sing of a “Heaven” where bodies are not included. Death is not of the body, but “inside my body,” an internal murder that results from the exclusion of what makes us most us.
HANNIBAL: And if we are most we in the taking of lives?
WILL: Perhaps you should reconsider you.
HANNIBAL: Will, I think we are getting ahead of ourselves. We haven’t even had the hors d’oeuvres yet.
WILL: And those would be?
HANNIBAL: Tongues removed from the jeering, sycophantic mouths of dead music critics.
WILL: Forgive my forwardness, Doctor Lecter, but you couldn’t do any better? They have the lingering taste of Kanye West’s asshole.
HANNIBAL: Every organ has its flavor, Will.
WILL: It would make a certain amount of sense if Jenny Hval was a cannibal, or if she were to demonstrate this about all of us: that our nature is to self-devour, only in more subtle ways. “Self-doubt: it’s what I do.”
HANNIBAL: In this sense the opening onto the divine which Hval seeks on this record is in keeping with what has always been the thrust of her project.
WILL: Pun intended?
HANNIBAL: To be open, to escape one’s body: this is the goal. But the paradox of desire is that we can only escape our own bodies by enveloping ourselves in another. Sex is impossible, but it is also inevitable.
WILL: And it need not go that far: the mere experience of coming across another’s “contagious” nakedness, especially when we are young, is an ecstatic experience: “I was told not to stare then / But my eyes have never been larger / In and out of my body / My stare kept growing.”
HANNIBAL: The world must be internalized before we can become what it offers us.
WILL: So religion and sex are both a means of escape, is the point? Those lines come from a track called “Sabbath.” But one is dragged back into matter, subject to gravity; the other, ideally, ascends.
HANNIBAL: Could it be, instead, that they are both means of control?
WILL: Not according to Hval, who makes this plain later in “Sabbath”: “It would be easy to think about submission / But I don’t think it’s about submission / It’s about holding and being held.”
HANNIBAL: Which opens onto a melody that sounds like a cold front circulating around Valhalla.
WILL: And Valhalla is rising.
HANNIBAL: Rising, falling, cresting and breaking: these melodies move and flow like nothing Hval has ever recorded before. Musically, this is not just her most accomplished record but a landmark fusion of folk accessibility and avant-garde transgressiveness.
WILL: I had no idea you were into folk music, Doctor Lecter.
HANNIBAL: I know all things about all things. And I can determine the content of your intestines through my superior sense of smell.
WILL: That’s nothing. I can tell you everything that has happened in this building for the last 36 hours by closing my eyes and tapping my feet three times.
LANA DEL REY: My pussy tastes like pepsi cola.
WILL: It is also worth noting how refreshing everything about this record is in the current music landscape, and particularly in the context of the sexualization of female recording artists, which hasn’t really been eliminated so much as co-opted for incompatible sociopolitical purposes—Miley Cyrus staring down Meredith Graves. But Jenny Hval sings about the body like she was the first one to discover it.
HANNIBAL: Nothing is freer than the absence of a definition of freedom.
WILL: Though it is not as if Hval is unaware of the weight of convention and the imperative to circumvent it. This would seem to be precisely the subject of “Take Care of Yourself.” The weight, the heat of pressure and tradition, renders Hval’s hypothetical partner flaccid, in need of her care rather than his own. As if to say, to take care of yourself is to take care of another: it’s not about submission, and it’s certainly not about blind confrontation, but cherishing the flesh that stays on this side of desire: “It lies in the hand, where it does stay soft.”
HANNIBAL: Then we are still subjects. Not such a transgressive message, after all.
WILL: Perhaps when inhumanity reaches a certain critical mass, empathy is necessarily transgression. Not being beholden, but simply being held.
HANNIBAL: But to be held is to submit, is it not, Will?
WILL: Doctor Lecter…
HANNIBAL: You smell so good, Will…like blood in an unspent vein, unexposed to oxygen, the white before the red….
WILL: Your antlers are regrettably sharp…
HANNIBAL: Was it not for this that you came, Will? What is the deepest human longing?
WILL: I imagine heaven as a gallery of faces. Now being opened, I will pass into the Open….
HANNIBAL: Is this your sole desire?
WILL: This is my design.