The standard reading of a metaphor is as a negation, or a covering—a turn of phrase that could mean anything but for its literal meaning. On this reading, the proper place for a metaphor is the psychoanalyst’s couch, where skilled readers can mine its unconscious (a metaphor itself—how could we extract mineral ore from the printed word?).
This reading is a violence against the text. Were meaning truly covered, it would be inaccessible to not only readers, but also to authors. We could never say what we mean, nor could we ever understand the voice of the Other. So how do we mean what we say when we use metaphors? What does “mine” mean in the context of my above sentence? Questions about metaphors propagate in Brooklyn-based electronic noise duo Kill Alters’ new video for “D20”, taken from their album C32 released in February through GODMODE.
The video combines “compiled footage from when [Bonnie Baxter, half of Kill Alters] lived above a porn shop with mom in 1987…mixed with what was on TV at the time.” It’s an alienating piece. “Are you ready to die, little girl?/Yes!” Childhood tropes break down above experimental, blown-out noise pop: mother and daughter play together, but sometimes the play is sexual. Children’s television is warped to a disturbing alternate reality (Miss Piggy is especially ghoulish here). “I try my best to know you but I can’t”—the alienation between viewer and video stands in, perhaps, for that between mother and daughter, or family unit and life.
Yet that alienation demands attention. That the work was originally shot on video—not expensive film—speaks to the need for increased visibility of marginalized experience. At whose hands is that little girl ready to die? This cobbling of found footage does not metaphorically abstract from and obscure lived experience. Instead, it conveys it viscerally. Confronting us, “D20” leaves us unsure how to feel. How else could living above a porn shop as a child leave someone? Much like a great horror film, “D20” draws us in not by promising something lurking in the shadows, but by entrancing us with the shadows themselves.