Kentucky Meat Shower #22: Praying to Kill the Man

a collage by Christopher Sloce.

Kentucky Meat Shower #22.  I wrote an essay about “I WHO BEND THE TALL GRASS” by Lingua Ignota. Just read it.     


If I inflict the pain, then baby, only I can comfort you.” The Afghan Whigs, “When We Two Parted”

“I was reading several books about surviving abuse and they’re basically like, ‘be nice and get a hobby.’ I feel like this enforces patriarchal models of civilized femininity. Instead, I come out and scream at you—’BURN EVERYTHING TRUST NO ONE KILL YOURSELF’ and ‘REPAY EVIL WITH EVIL.”- Lingua Ignota’s Kristin Hayter


Language is confession. In this sense language is not just a written record but also a performance. We change our language based on roles we get cast in. We carry within us base language wherever we go, but also our subaltern languages. I speak English at work. At home it’s modified. Around friends I organize politically with, I can use phrases like “hegemony” or “imperialism”. Around my smart-ass, online friends, I can say someone is being “owned” or something is “Reddit”.  And then as we have smaller connections with one another, our language represents shared mythos, concepts, moments between us. I can say things to my roommates and close friends nobody else will understand. They will be communicated in the general sense, but the why of communication will be lost. The words will be heard but the meaning will be obscure.

The most intimate language ever created was by Hildegard of Bingen, a Christian mystic and polymath. Her invention was Lingua Ignota, which roughly we can translate as “unknown language”. This language and its systems were revealed in the Riesen Codex and the Cheltenhamensis Codex. What was not revealed is its purpose.  The way it worked was a language within Latin phrases: a cant between her and God, a relationship a language so intimate only one person talks. The language constructed between ourselves and God, including the words and the sense of performance we use, is a language that cannot be easily replicated.

Lingua Ignota, beyond being an “unknown language”, is also the name of a musician: Kristin Hayter, a classically trained vocalist who studied literary art in Brown and took the genre of extreme metal, which can be a breeding ground for brutal misogyny, and turned it inside out

A quote from The Guardian: “While Hayter doesn’t want to undermine individual responses to abuse, she is attempting to expand what it looks like to be a survivor. “There’s so many layers to survivorhood,” she says. “There’s rage and despair and we don’t really talk about that.”

This despair and rage is a literal unknown language: the capacity and words for the hate you feel for the person who tortured you, who robbed you of time God won’t create anymore of no matter how many languages you invent for him. A language that is only for you because everyone else refuses to acknowledge it as having a pattern, as only being screeching. This is not cheery, but this is what that rage very much feels like.

Lingua Ignota’s vocals are performance in the full sense, with Lingua Ignota inhabiting every emotional possible that could be conceived of in her songs: fear, pity, euphoria, fury. To do this sometimes she will scream. Other times she will overlay a series of harmonies that sound like Bulgarian choral music. That this is one woman makes me believe she may be the greatest vocalist alive today, and one using her voice as a confession of interior, unknown language made public. I don’t believe at all this is a persona or an ironic distancing. This is one woman’s story. The only thing more intimate than what is done in music is whatever she may say to God in whatever language they’ve established between each other. Which is why she recorded a song that is a prayer.


“I WHO BEND THE TALL GRASSES”. A mirror image of “Into My Arms”. Nick Cave wanted God to guide the facsimile of PJ Harvey into his arms. Lingua Ignota wants her subject cast from her arms violently.

This is “Prayer to God” by Shellac not as a comment, but as drama. In that song, Albini’s protagonist asks God to mercy kill his wandering girlfriend, but for the man she has left the protagonist for, he does “not care if it hurts”. Ignota sings and prays: “Take hold of my gentle axe and split him open/Gather up my quiet hammer and nail him down/Use any of your heavenly means/Your golden scythe/Your holy sword/Your fiery arrows studded with stars/I don’t give a fuck/Just kill him/You have to/I’m not asking” over church organs.

This all may seem harsh, but context points towards a different direction. Throughout Lingua Ignota’s career, she has given us stark images of domestic violence. For those of us who have been violated we do not have to hear flesh bruise flesh to know that when she sings about teeth covering the ground like pearls, it comes from brutality. Her work always moves to violence and rage, but not as a plot point to make things happen, but rather the ultimate conclusion of continued trespass.

There are plenty of works where domestic violence is just something that happens. The Lifetime Channel is an entire industry of works where domestic violence just happens, which is the difference between a work having a theme and a work having a hood ornament.  We can only really describe what Lingua Ignota does as an apocalypse. Her experience is revealed and given what it deserves. As an oft repeated slogan goes: abuse of power comes as no surprise.

What Lingua Ignota sings about is not the negative version of power idealist anarchists speak of, or as the glossy Time magazine man of the year version. But rather she is singing of the reckoning deserved, a righteous one, Christ’s feet burning and a sword in his hand.


We run the risk of casting Lingua Ignota’s work as only an inversion of the violent, misogynistic metal music and message board posts that made up her MFA thesis and part of her first EP, All Bitches Die. Pure inversion could be fun, but is not necessarily deep. Pure reversal of ethos creates shallow work: nobody needs to read “what if John Wick was a woman”. Lingua Ignota’s work has grown into something much more powerful and gripping than some Joss Whedon bullshit, mostly because she would cut Joss Whedon in half like a pumpkin roll.

What we do not want to do is cast her as the redeemer who has come to cast out the devils. Idealization is a prison: a doll who your movements must conform to, who you must dress like. The freedom of a doll is for the person who plays with it is the amount of possibility. This possibility is not created but it is taken from the doll.

Lingua Ignota’s work better represents the growth after the violations, recovering what was lost. As Kristin Hayter said, all of the books that spoke to her about survival modeled a version of docile femininity that suggested nicety and learning to knit in an attempt to escape the unescapable. What you need is growth, a growth the abuser would never allow themselves. It’s not inversion, it’s subversion.

This subversion is a tricky one. The more violent moments in Lingua Ignota’s catalog are as far from the rote repetition of a sort of horror tinged girl power ethos as possible, and has more in common with Jael driving a tent peg through the head of King Jabin. Her work is so much more than “what if being abused made a woman a werewolf” nonsense, but we do ourselves a disservice by ignoring that violence for the abused  exists as a possible answer to the problem posed in “I WHO BEND THE TALL GRASSES”: who will stop the violence against me if God won’t? The song doesn’t conclude, but exists in eternity, of the thought of if we should be willing to use preemptive violence.

These works are a subversion of the will of her abuser, a casting off of all impositions on her, but also a subversion of the inversion: “girls rule, boys are icky” media, which in some way turns the abused women into a doll.  Joss Whedon made a fortune off of this, and in some sense we have to ask if violence was anything other than biff bam sound effects. Violence hurts the violent and the violated but exists always as the terrible final option.

And when that is done, the result is the women who do fight back, refusing any longer to be dolls, are tarnished. Nobody cares about Black Widow or Catwoman when a woman kills her abusive husband. Lorena Bobbitt becomes a clownish figure rather than the abused. To hear Lingua Ignota tell it, her music also speaks to the possibility of having to take that final step.

“I just find that [extreme misogynist metal] occupies this weird space of being simultaneously very loaded and totally obsolete, especially when we consider that none of these guys are actually sodomizing female corpses in their free time. So my thoughts were to flip this whole paradigm and to try to make it meaningful, to reframe extreme imagery for survivors of violence, upon whom very dark shit has actually been visited, and who may have been confronted with the possibility of committing homicide in self-defense to survive an attack.”

The inversion of this music would not have made the paradigm meaningful. I should note that meaningful can coexist with the pulpy and grotesque, though Lingua Ignota’s music is neither. After all, one of the most iconic images of 90s cinema is from True Romance: Alabama putting a corkscrew in a hitman’s foot. Within the strong performance, there are complex notes. Righteousness can be powerful, but it’s more akin to monsoon weather than a quip.


Normally I would rather eat glass than refer to myself, but in this instance, I have to. The Epic, as I discussed earlier this year, is “the exaltation of a subject so as to celebrate ourselves.” What Lingua Ignota’s music does is undercut The Epic for a more troubled engagement. Perhaps the best evidence of this is in her live shows. I’ve been lucky enough to see one: her voice fills the hall as she stalks the stage, sometimes whipping around a chain of lights as her music loops in the background. To quote her herself, most people aren’t expecting to go to a show and to be made the subject of the performer, as opposed to the performer being the subject.

She has mentioned part of the rage in the music comes from her experiences in Providence dating a prominent noise musician who forbade her from performing. By casting her audience as the subject of the show, you are seeing what she kept choked back for so long. She saw many shows where her abuser was performing for audiences that watched him, rapt in attention, not knowing what he did to her. But also, he was the subject of the show. They stood in worshipful context for every movement, rise of feedback and fuzz. They were not challenged. The Epic, by its very definition, does not challenge anyone. It comforts them.  Noise, as an art, does not really allow for the comfort the Epic does, but it can pulverize you, leave you supplicant, in a stupefied awe. In that it is closer to the Epic, a narcotizing effect.  It cannot leave you running for your life. Lingua Ignota does.

Her first full length album, Caligula, was inspired by her relationship with this prominent noise musician and the sense of abandonment she felt. The first single was called “DO YOU DOUBT ME TRAITOR”, which asks a question of those rapt in attention at her ex as she told them what he did to them.

But in a prayer, the subject is whoever prays.


What are all of the reasons someone may pray? I may pray for a promotion. I may pray for guidance. I may pray for delivery. But often the things I will pray for are for things I cannot get myself. I cannot get a promotion, guide myself without splitting myself, and in some instances may not be able to deliver myself. I pray for what cannot be done. And when it comes to killing the man, the knowledge of erasing someone’s life, specifically someone we may love, is heavy to hold in our thoughts. So in this sense, we may pray for the man’s death.

But prayer fills other roles, as well. It is confession and absolution, admission unto the redeemer of troubles of the troubles that are caused by our own natures. But we ignore that in many strong senses we read God as how things happen and the things that are happening. The trinity is confusing enough as is to add more to the Godhead, but we are in constant conflict with God, who we understand as reality and who we understand as the driver of reality. To pray for our desire for the man to die, we confess that we hold this, and ask for the slightest remittance towards our pain in God as things that are happening: end it. But this is not blasphemy.

Our prayers for absolution enter a torturous question: why do bad things happen to good people? Many people under God’s hand ask why they are experiencing what they are experiencing. Job had his council with God, Christ asked why he was forsaken, and even the Lord’s prayer is a request to not be led into temptation, but to be delivered from evil. None of us would call Job, Christ, or anyone who speaks the Lord’s prayer as blasphemous. There are extrapolations, however, that claim that these moments are, and this is the Christianity we encounter today in many cases, an apostasy that has more to do with domination than salvation.

Our loose understanding of the vein of Christianity Lingua Ignota is engaging with is that to question God, or to demand he damns something, is to blaspheme. But, then, if God puts Christ on the cross and and he then asks why he has been forsaken, then is Christ not a blasphemer? He is not, as neither was Job or any number of Christians who have questioned the providence and choices of God. If God’s love is eternal, then his tolerance for questions must be as well. In the story of the song, he must be worthy of worship to be worshiped. And it is in the lack of interruption, in the song’s spaciousness, we see God, who we call responsible for what is happening and what happens, as unlimited. In the mind of the brutalized God is more infinite than in the mind of the torturer. The song ends without telling us who wins the argument, and is at forever in stasis. Such is our prayers. But because prayer is more infinite in the mind of the tortured, it has more of a possibility to subvert the abused’s will. Acknowledgement is not nothing.


In revolutionary Kurdistan, a curious science has come about. It is called jineology, the science of women. It is a wide ranging study of the question of patriarchy starting with the turn from hunting and gathering to the beginnings of agricultural societies. One of the primary effects of this turn is that there was essentially a masculine coup, where the high priests and warriors and hunters made the women who helped count the grain and store it subservient, nothing more than the housewife. In their estimation it is this that was the beginning of the ills of domination, even class. I am still considering and chewing over their beliefs and theories, but I do view it as a real attempt to answer the questions of misogyny.

In their congresses, where male Kurdish fighters come to reflect on patriarchy so as to create better bonds for battling the Turkish state and ISIS, some men answer the call and they are theoretical and dry. The woman is the center of the revolution. Their insistence then is that the stories must become personal. What does patriarchy do to you? They are told that they must reflect on. This is all in the process of attempting to do what Abdullah Ocalan, their imprisoned founder, calls killing the man. To kill the man is to face up to the dominant element, the need to capture, the need to control. By telling what has effected someone the man is killed. The man may be killed through prayer or song or God’s axes or ours, but he must be killed.

In front of the revolutionary Kurdish congresses they may say I have been dry or theoretical to talk about it, but I am dominated as well. Not more, but I see these patterns. There is a man to kill as well, deep in me. We can only hope analysis amounts to attack.