Monday, August 13, 2012

Darkness and Being

Goddamn Kelly Clarkson, no? The hits keep coming. It’s something about her voice, at once very accessible yet able to soar brilliantly at those key moments of sentimentality. And also the lyrical content of her songs: they depict the evasions, the half-truths we tell ourselves without the critical edge that would make us push deeper. In her latest single, “Dark Side,” she does this by inverting things, by presenting a self-preserving lie as if it were a damming truth. The song begins with what seems to be a moment of vulnerability: “There is a place that I know/It’s not pretty and few have ever gone/If I show it to you now/Will it make you run away.” Here she describes in a generalized way those late night discussions, early in a relationship, in which lovers find themselves talking about the minor disasters and painful defeats that have made them who they are. “Dark Side” suggests that these discussions create a condition of uncertainty and fear in which we feel a deep insecurity that what we have revealed about ourselves will drive our object of love and desire away from us. Clarkson addresses that fear when she sings: “Don’t run away/don’t run away/promise me you will stay.” She expresses the defenselessness of the situation succinctly when she sings: “Will you love me?/Even with my dark side?” But this is mostly self-serving bullshit.

There is a scene in Blood Meridian in which Judge Holden makes gunpowder by mixing powdered sulphur, nitre, and charcoal. Then he takes out his dick and pisses on the mixture. He asks the other men in the group to do the same as he blends the foul concoction with his bare arms. He laughs and cajoles the men to piss for their lives as the urine splashes on him. He spreads the “bloody pastry” on rocks to dry and soon it becomes the substance they use to kill the dozens of Indians who were following them, intent of revenging an earlier massacre. It’s a perfect encapsulation of Judge Holden, a malevolent sexualized predator whose prowess produces only death and chaos. The Judge is the evil, pulsing heart of Blood Meridian, just as the sinister Captain Ahab and the amoral Colonel Thomas Sutpen are the rotten hearts of their novels. Despite knowing the brutality that rests within him, we are drawn to Judge Holden. He tempts us with his seductive sophistries, draws us to him by rendering immorality and the absence of ethics as the only reliable human truths. The Judge’s evil is, in a perverse way, the only thing we can love about him.

It’s the darkness that’s compelling and not just for literary characters. In a social imaginary that locates personal identity within the subject, which rejects the idea that what you look like, what you wear, and even what you do and say define who you are, it is what resides within you that matters. In such a context, your hidden shadows are absolutely central to who you are. In some ways, in our society it is only those private episodes that you can’t share with everyone because they reveal too much about you that make you different from everyone else. All people are good in the same way; it’s the dark side that, like Judge Holden, makes us unique and alluring. So Kelly Clarkson’s question about whether someone will love her even with her dark side is really a fearful evasion of what she and the countless people that identify with this song really want to but are afraid to ask: is my dark side interesting enough to be worth loving?


  1. "Pay in Blood" from Bob Dylan's new album is not only an incredible song, but it reminds me very much of Judge Holden and Blood Meridian as a whole. Ruthless, sinister, entertaining, masterful. Darkness and evil solidified in some kind of moral code. I've been meaning to point this out to you since I made the connection, which came jumping at me on the first listen.

    Check it out if you can.

    - Mintz

  2. Mintz! I'll give a listen as soon as I can. Thanks for commenting.