looking at the corpse, 10 years later

Negation is not nihilism. Nihilism is the belief in nothing and the wish to become nothing [...] Negation is the act that would make it self-evident to everyone that the world is not as it seems -- but only when the act is so implicitly complete that it leaves open the possibility that the world may be nothing, that nihilism as well as creation may occupy the suddenly cleared terrain [...] Along the way to the realization of the wish for negation, though, the tools one seems forced to use -- real or symbolic violence, blasphemy, dissipation, ridiculousness -- change hands with those of the nihilist [...] Often the same rooms are rented, and sometimes the same bills are paid. Usually the coroner -- be he or she critic, historian, epigone, or even loved one -- cannot tell the difference by looking at the corpse. -- Greil Marcus, "Gulliver Speaks," Artforum, November 1983.
People just left me alone. They were afraid. I always felt they would vote me Most Likely to Kill Everyone at a High School Dance. -- Kurt Cobain, 1993.

Death is on every stained page of Kurt Cobain's notebooks, excerpts of which were published as Journals in November 2002. But it's not the death you think it is, the obvious one: Kurt's own death, a suicide by gunshot, on 5 April 1994. No, it's something else.

On page 140 (the entries are not dated), he says that he's in "absolute and total support" of many things, including "full scale violently organized terrorist-fueled revolution." Killing is necessary because "you cannot de-program the glutton," and because "it would be nice to see the gluttons become so commonly hunted down that eventually they will either submit to the opposite of their ways or be scared shitless to ever leave their homes." And so Kurt's advice is "arm yourself, find a representative of Gluttony or oppression and blow the motherfuckers head off."

This isn't an isolated outburst of anger and pain, but a theme, perhaps an obsession. Five pages later, above a figure ("Fig. A") that shows an assassin standing above a line of Ku Klux Klan members, Cobain writes "And hairy, sweaty, macho-sexist and racist dickheads who will soon drown in a pool of razor blades and sperm from the uprising of your children, the armed and de-programmed crusade." And on page 162, "Fig. A" returns, only this time more vehemently: one of the KKK guys carries a sign with a Nazi swastika on it and the assassin's gun is filled in, better drawn.

But of course Kurt wasn't an assassin, a gunman standing on the roof. He might have composed, sang and played several killer songs ("School," "Negative Creep," "Paper Cuts" and "Teen Spirit" among them) but he never wielded a gun against anyone but himself. No, not negation but nihilism: the death in the pages of Journals isn't Cobain's suicide, but the killings and suicides that took place almost exactly five years later at Columbine High School.

-- 20 March 2004.



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