Kurt Cobain

Dieter Roth, Self-Portrait of a Drowning Man, 1974


Cobain clearly demonstrated the empty simulacrum that is life under the violent spotlight of the spectacular

Upon learning of Kurt Cobain's suicide, William S. Burroughs said he was not surprised by the act. “He was already dead.” Yes: dead in life, Kurt Cobain was like a zombie. A soul within a topology junkie. She needed lithium to stabilize her mood, she needed to dream about returning to the womb to fulfill her lack, her desire. Hence, everyone knows that the true, insidious and absolutely ferocious impossibility reigns beneath the rubble of the heavy and unhealthy narcissism of the Self. Autocide, after all, isn't that what it is? Give “enough” to the awareness of the impossible, subject the barrier to the ultimate consequences.

Every hero, from the ancient tragedies and great myths of Greece, not only carries on his face a piece of deprivation in which the world is just a stage for his performance, but also holds for himself a model of violent sacrifice. The only difference that lies between them and Kurt Cobain is the spectacle, the media, the specialized hyper-ultra-mega production of the postmodern text. But a hero of himself, Kurt Cobain was also a hero of otherness. Identity itself cannot endure such a nightmare without its opposite face. Or: to say that this forged subject is divided, bipartite, that this subject is, in total, schizophrenic. No longer a subject, no longer a person, no longer something else. One thing already.

Now, modernity is a great producer of infantilism. No different, Kurt Cobain is a voice of homecoming (I can go home, On a plain). The fact that, in this risk, one, two or three layers of the mind is given up and an odyssey begins, reproducing Ulysses in eras of super-information, towards the psychosis of the displaced body. Like it's pure travel, the practice of decoding space (having the perception that everything has disappeared leads Cobain to despair, like all depressives). The repetition of the transfigured face, shaved like Bacon's painting-interpretation of Portrait of Pope Innocent X (there are accidents on the surface of the screen, in addition to the essential violence), it is nothing but mortification.

Something echoes and turns into melancholy. The profuse melancholy, after all, ends up resolutely stating: nil, go back three spaces in the game. In this, what is uncomfortable is not worth describing beyond gestures: screams and screams when singing are the only things left. In Smells like teen spirit, for example, there is the feeling of infinite incompleteness. One that, at an extreme level, can never end. It is at this level that the very obvious case of the cover of Nevermind (1991), born from the immediate social code embedded in whoever sees it. The submerged baby that aligns itself with the figure of the money lure is as buoyant as a commodity and passes, at the mercy of the happiness promised by the monetary paradise, like a deformed image. Damaged – and stupid like Cobain's libido – like the future (which couldn't come in its entirety). “Forward the worst” (Beckett). Below us, only ruin; above too.

When we talk about ruins, we talk about dirt and waste. In this event, Roland Barthes had imbued facticity into the concept of pop in 1980. In that which is cruelly real and dirty (not symbolic), there was always the eidos Platonic, substantial figure, in an ontological clash between the object and the representation. No one knows for sure what decision emerges from this struggle over the cruelty of matter-art. But Nirvana, in any case being part of the post-Warholian (or post-pop) atmosphere, extended this expectation to the heavens (to be more appropriate, to the hells): the low, the low, the tramp and the prostitute, the vomit and abuse, in short, that entire range of repulsive horror is pure becoming-trash. Everything looks like rubbish.

Kurt Cobain's solidarity, in interviews, with women, black people and gays, with abject bodies is no coincidence. The result of this raw realism is the fact that when intimacy itself is ultimate or when, as Júlia Kristeva said, the “I” is in the pre-conceptual Other, always thrown to the unfamiliar extreme. There is no doubt: it is the catastrophe, the corpse in its pure act, that enters the scene, that acts. Cobain plays in a coffin all the time and absorbs indifference all the time, which must ironically allow for a certain community. But a community crossed by chains constructed in a bizarre way, as this plebs of grunge – ugly and poor – articulated an opportunity: despair. They were just children playing in the tombs.

There is a mark and a trace on these useless adults who dreamed of the umbilical cord. O engram formed on top of their brains directs thoughts to the East, where the Sun appears. Sloterdijk called it the Last Judgment of the beginning: the mother’s “you are welcome, you are not welcome” (Sloterdijk, 2016, p. 460) is the first meaning a baby hears, the power of which, by definition, can It also sounds like the last positive sign for the rest of your life. This is out of our reach (negative creep): the music of a band like Nirvana, across the entire affective spectrum, was already present as an indispensable sound within those who heard it (and still hear it).

Its sound was directed directly to our interior. In the device of the song, which affirms what I can be, it is clear that the disseminative profusion for the masses connects desire and subject in a single node. Therefore, the last great generation of rock it could not go beyond a format that embraced the full degree of self-destruction inherent to modernist madness. There is something relational and intrinsic in the German romantics, in Nietzsche, in Marinetti's futurism, in the Freikorps, in the bands rock: the puerile sentimentality that does not know how to deal with the fact of the Father's death, except alongside the chance of total bankruptcy. Profound destruction and self-destruction…

Because God is nothing, because Buddhism is right, Nirvana presented pop culture with the symptomatic outline of this masculine and Western insignia. Much more than Ian Curtis, Cobain clearly demonstrated the empty simulacrum that is life under the violent spotlight of the spectacular. Extreme negativity, self-annihilation, and the absolute understanding that historical time is impure time – and many other things – have significantly shaped the way we experience culture. Maybe that's why Kurt Cobain opted for the counterpart, remembering Simone Weil, whose reading of the The Bhagavad Gita yielded the defense of nadification. “God reveals himself when I cancel myself.” And the nothingness of God breaks the substantiality of life – that is, this ek-sistence, for Kurt, is an already lost project. God is the beggar.

Without the foundation, he was left to lament through music with the smell of funeral flowers and the architecture of the bucolic aestheticism of the city. MTV. This notion appears, in fact, as a natural development established by Eckhart's negative theology in sermons. In both we have the mystical appeal (Light my candles in a daze 'cause I've found God, Lithium). But Eckhart's God holds the ends still with a kind of substance, while Cobain's is the already exhausted line. In other words, the condition that arises, in this impossible statement that expands – I desire non-desire –, immediately corresponds to another: I desire to be what I am in prehistory (the One) and I desire to become God, my father.

The world is my representation

The world is nothing when my will fails.

If Freud one day cited the Schopenhauerian nuance of annihilation, it was because he knew that we never leave theology aside. The difference between the instincts of life and death, resides in the conjunction of the sexual instincts and the Ego, gives us, in full, an object file of the Cultural studies [science of culture], which brings to light the solidarity that exists between organism and mechanics. In this way, the instinctual processes of return, impulses to repetition, are not only real, but also help us to establish a conceptual distinction in the phenomenon of popularization of a band like Nirvana and a pop star like Kurt Cobain. Symptom.

The course for the restoration of a previous state works against the image of displeasure and, therefore – Nirvana as a religious cult of non-redemption – the lyrics of Cobainian poetics have an important part in the symptomatology that only the late culture of the West brought to the surface. We are direct children of a community already saturated by the formal praise of difference, a praise that is never substantial. What Kurt Cobain tried to show, denying the individual with the act of suicide, was the unconditional embrace of the species, thus triggering the otherization that post-1960 popular music was able to show with such precision, despite all the contradictions in its way of thinking. Act.

Between Michael Jackson's cyborg dancing/androgynous singing and Kanye West's hedonic-ultrapornographic bipolar Christology, there is a space for Nirvana in this constitution schizo of postmodern pop culture. This space is based on total surrender to the void, to what cannot be calculated (at least in its foundation), to the catatonia of indifference. Kafka once said that the point aimed at is the point from which one can no longer return. And Nirvana and Cobain's suicidal fatality very well revealed the helplessness of that underlying the layers of corpses, of those descendants of Cain, of those forever exiled.

Before any objection can be made to this nihilism full of uncertainties and deviations, we can start from the following principle: if the spaces of bodies were covered with rotten vegetation, if one of the epochal characteristics points to corporeal dismemberment, then the present is surrounded by monsters. The monstrosity, the anomaly, the disease: non-standardized acts that are purged from the social norm, from the Law? Let us remember Paul Celan's very current poem.


No one molds us again with earth and clay,
no one evokes our dust.

Praise you, Nobody.
For you we want
To yours

A nothing
We were, we are, we will continue
being, flourishing:
the rose of nothing, the
nobody's rose.

the stylus,
the sky-high stamen,
the red crown
of the purple word, which we sing
about, oh, about
the thorn

In this urgent matter, to go beyond individualism and personality, if impotence, Nobody and Nothing can excavate the trauma to face it – as we know, even in the face of a congratulation to the fissure –, it means that, who knows , the path that Nirvana took is precisely out of circulation (as incredible as it may seem, unintentionally).

Without a proper name, dispossessed by the commodity sign. Spit on, reduced, dehumanized. This is the grit that sets in when hearing the voice of Nirvana. She, the voice of Nirvana, was a Test-drive: “a permanent hypothesis, always ready to fail, collapse, weaken, collapse” (Ronell, 2010, p. 11).

*Eduardo Galeno He has a degree in Literature from UESPI.


CELAN, Paul. Crystal. São Paulo: Illuminations, 2011.

RONELL, Avital. Proving Ground on Nietzsche and the test drive. Florianópolis: Culture and Bárbarie, 2010.

SLOTERDIJK, Peter. I Spheres: bubbles. São Paulo: Estação Liberdade, 2016.

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