It must be said at the outset that I did not know Selim Lemouchi. Nor do I know any of his friends, family or associates. I am simply someone who was struck by his work in The Devil's Blood, and I have been left with much to think about in the wake of his death. All that is said below refers solely to the ideas expressed in his lyrics and interviews, as they appear through my own filters. I make no claims of perfect understanding, and it is my sincere hope that no one’s perspective is misrepresented in what follows.
In the days immediately following Selim's death, the world of underground musical subculture expressed responses ranging from sympathy and personal dismay to bafflement and contempt. While many have expressed a sense that Selim's life, work, and death were imbued with an earnest pursuit of the divine, the underground hosts its fair share of scorners. The latter are inclined to write Selim off as a deluded junkie, attributing his death to "drug addiction" and "mental illness". This spiteful reductionism, typical of a world up to its ears in crass pop-psychology, is worth addressing briefly.
Selim, by his own admission, struggled with drugs and despair right up until the end. However, to narrowly pathologize his death as nothing more than a psychological breakdown in the face of "personal problems" is to ignore the death revering religiosity that defined his artistic output. Selim's music and lyrics in The Devil's Blood conveyed a fervent, unguarded devotion to a force that is just as terrible as it is beautiful, a passionate baring of the naked neck to the jaws of death. It is not surprising that many have trouble relating to this attitude, or even believing that such a sentiment could be genuine. Some have a natural (and quite understandable) concern that such religiosity might conceal concrete problems in Selim's life. Others, experiencing their own lives as trivial and base, assume that everyone else occupies similarly flat psychological terrain. And yet, Selim's attitude is not without historical precedent. In Selim's lyrical poetry there echoes a perspective which is timeless and universal. One might call it the gnostic impulse.
This impulse threads its way through every religious and occult system of thought, and even through the foundations of many of the modern world's "secular" ideologies. It makes itself known in many of the world's great literary and poetic traditions. Whether the object is called salvation, transcendence, liberation, or nirvana, it comes from the same place: a sense that life as we know it is incomplete and flawed - that conventional human existence is a kind of prison or illusion, behind which lies a divine 'something else'. And no matter what that 'something else' is called, one is intimately connected with it. It is the source of one's soul, of Being itself, an inwardly burning light that has been concealed by the smoke and ash of the world.
It should not come as a surprise that those whose lives are defined by acute suffering, alienation and impoverishment (material and otherwise) are among the most vigorous adherents of this worldview. Inevitably, the gloating reductionists addressed earlier leap on this, proclaiming that it is those who have "failed at life" that have the most to gain by looking past its borders. In reality, however, even those who are powerful and fulfilled in every social and material sense often find themselves on the same path. They come to feel that life as they've known it is stale and empty - that every pleasure contains a hint of pain and anxiety that comes into greater focus with the passage of time. A bit of historical and cultural awareness reminds us that the greatest champions of religious transcendence have frequently come from the social elites. Those familiar with Buddhism know that the Buddha, according to legend, despite coming from a position of princely wealth and comfort, was so acutely aware of the thread of suffering inherent in embodied existence that he abandoned his aristocratic birthright to pursue a life of spiritual questing. And he is not alone in this regard. From Ashoka the Great, Buddhist emperor, to the zealous medieval crusader king, Louis VII... the list of kings, emperors, and other figures of material wealth and social influence who have felt the nagging incompletion of this life, and consequently responded to the call of the beyond, is too long to include here.
It must be said, at this point, that none of this is to dismiss the possibility that Selim was a "troubled" and "unhappy" person, afflicted with torments of an immediate, concrete nature. The point is to understand these torments in their greater existential and spiritual context. 'Normal life’ is not somehow cut off from 'religious life' or 'magical life'. From the occult perspective (and any perspective rooted in genuine curiosity about our condition), nothing in the intricate weave of human experience is 'insignificant' - everything that occurs on the periphery inherently refers to the center, whether its effect is to obscure or reveal that center. Everything that happens below refers to the world above, whether its effect is to draw down or to elevate. With this in mind, there is nothing mundane about "depression"; there is nothing mundane about "drug addiction". These are 'particulars' of a more encompassing suffering, even if they're not recognized as such. And the fact that they're not recognized as such, in this era, as they HAVE been in almost all previous eras, speaks volumes about the world we find ourselves in now.
People like Selim Lemouchi are animated by a genuinely religious impulse in a world that is largely dead to such impulses. They are brave enough to take to paths grown disused, overgrown with underbrush, and viewed with uncomprehending contempt by a large number of their peers. For this, they will always have my undying respect and support.
All of that said, I don't believe that the act of suicide is the necessary culmination of a life aimed at the Other. I do not believe that there's anything inherently liberating about corporeal death. In many cases, the flight towards death, away from the world of form and finitude, suggests a desperate wish for escape. I believe that to conflate liberation with escape is a profound error. At its heart is an attitude that divides reality into two separate and utterly antagonistic categories: formless and possessing form, immaterial and material, body and soul, true and false, light and dark. This dualistic tendency has always laid claim to one half of the gnostic path, while the other has always been the domain of monism. In the latter perspective, there is only one reality: infinite, yet expressed in an endless stream of finitudes; formless, but expressing itself perpetually through form; absolute, but perceived only through relativities; totally light, but subdividing itself with shadow; totally dark, but subdividing itself with light; totally beyond, but elusively present in everything.
These two positions have both had their complex ideological and theological expressions throughout the centuries, but more often than not, they are felt instinctively. The differences are easily overstated, and at the essential level, there is much overlap. And yet the subtlest distinctions can have dramatic implications on the order of experience.
If we can trust Selim's lyrics as an accurate representation of his perspective, he seems to have most keenly felt the Manichaean divide: the world as a prison, and death as the cruel but intimately loving force of liberation. I believe that this may be true - but only if we understand that what must die is not the body, but the cringing and deceitful lesser-self that squats within. The world is only a prison insofar as the lesser-self is allowed to play jailor. Through its eyes, the burning essence of Being appears as dust and clay. It is through this lens that the beyond appears to be remote, and that the immediacy and immanence of the divine mystery is obscured. The abyss is here. The primordial darkness is everywhere, all around us, expressed in an infinite array of colors. Tiamat was never slain and dismembered, except by the Marduk of our perception. This little man-spirit, tiniest of demiurges, is full of wants and fears. It has routed us, teaching us to fear the flames of life and death, and deafening us to the voice that underlies all phenomena. In flight, we are ensnared. Our perceptions become compressed and distorted. All things come to resemble the phantoms that pursue us. Pushed to the limits of our endurance, we might break, either imploding in escapist fantasies of peace and uniformity, or frantic attempts to lash out and bring order to chaos by twisting it into the image of our lesser self. Only by subduing and making a sacrifice of this part of the psyche do we have any hope of freedom.
All monist objections aside, it is entirely possible that Selim attained this freedom. I cannot deny that bodily death might represent the ultimate gesture - and test - of victory over the lesser self. One must accept the appropriateness of such a thing in a certain context. And yet, it is not the seal or centerpiece of liberation. In the Sanskrit language, there is a term called 'jivanmukti'. This translates, basically, into 'living liberation'. It refers to the state reached by those who have shattered the cycle of samsaric life, but continue to occupy the world of form and embodiment. Victory on this path is represented by the dancing skeleton, or the being raising their own severed head into the air in a gesture of triumph. Those who attain this state are the heroes and divinities of the charnel ground. The living dead, they are more alive than those who have not undergone spiritual death. For them, the labyrinth without center or exit becomes the center and the exit. The whirl of samsara is recognized as the simultaneously binding and liberating dance of the Master.
Ultimately, no matter one's worldview, there are risks of misinterpretation, self-deception, and abuse. If one accepts the dualistic vision of corporeal death as an opportunity for liberation, it carries the threat that some will take this as an invitation to evade the deeper challenges of finding gnosis in the midst of samsara. Some truly do fear the chaos of life more than the imagined peace of death. At the same time, to completely deny the appropriateness of corporeal death in certain contexts is to foster an equally narcotic idea. Many would like to believe that confrontation with the extinguishing force of total death can be ignored, or that it offers no unique challenge to the transformed psyche. Both of these 'easy way out' fantasies are counterfeit forms of liberation.
To bring this back to Selim Lemouchi… Selim has left the world musical works of transformative power. These were some of the gifts of his life. Whether or not his death will yield gifts, I'm not qualified to say. It has undoubtedly caused great injury to many of those closest to him. I hope, however, that the echo of his fury and yearning continues, in one form or another, to work its magic on this world.
Written and submitted by M / Second Heart Magazine
Meditations, Articles and Interviews
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