This is the sixth in a series of articles analyzing the lyrics from the 1993 Carcass album Heartwork.
This Mortal Coil
Tearing down the walls
Breaching frontiers, unlocking the gates
To a new world disorder
A fresh balance of terror, the equilibrium of hate
All flesh entwined, in the equality of pain
Archaic nescience unleashed
Entrenched, a bitter legacy
Tempered in mental scars
All flesh entwined in mortal equality
Tangled mortal coil
Twisted and warped
Tangled mortal coil
“After three thousand years of explosion, by means of fragmentary and mechanical technologies, the Western World is imploding. During the mechanical ages, we extended our bodies in space. Today, after more than a century of electric technology, we have extended our central nervous system in a global embrace….Any extension, whether of skin, hand or foot, affects the whole psychic and social complex.”
If we are not here in the traditional sense, then where are we? If our world has transformed from one of fragmented nations to a global village, what does that mean for us, the humans that inhabit such a world? Today’s human is locked into a nearly constant struggle for identity, attempting to at once be an individualized autonomous Self, plus an interconnected part of an ever-shrinking world. We are engaged in a process of knocking down many of the walls that—for generations—have kept us separate. In this moment of great potential, one is left to wonder whether we will seize the opportunity for global embrace or build a new set of seemingly insurmountable walls. This question is the echo of our footstep as we wander headlong into the new frontier.
If the Self is no longer locked in its corporeal shell and has, indeed, reached beyond the body into an ever-expanding universe, what does that really mean for us? After all, I look at myself in the mirror and see a structure remarkably similar to that once inhabited by my ancestors. Yet, my mind and spirit reach out beyond the fleshy walls of the Self and live an all-at-once, timeless existence in the technological superstructure that is fast becoming our world. Or, more precisely, what does it mean that these ideas are flowing out of my mind via my fingers, through the ethers into your brain, almost simultaneously and yet I’ve barely moved? It is not as simple as thinking things have changed from one form to another. Rather, it is significant to understand that we are both individualized fragmented bodies and an eternal collective. We are currently living in an age where we are consistently faced with being two things that ostensibly cannot inhabit the same space. How can a thing be finite and infinite at the same time? More importantly for our purposes, how does a being reconcile the stresses that arise from living in multiple realities in the same moment?
There is no easy answer. The lyrics to this song reflect the pain one might feel when coming to terms with a question of this magnitude. The quest for identity under such bizarre conditions could well lead to overwhelming feelings of rage or despair. It’s not hard to imagine “archaic nescience unleashed” as the Self reaching back through time, clutching at any answer that spares us the incomprehensible uncertainty of the world. But this coil Shakespeare so eloquently described constricts us from multi-dimensional travel. The connection of seven billion spines could truly be an inexplicable, inescapable tangle.
Perhaps the very act of answer-seeking is the larger problem. If we believe in the need for a solution, we must also believe in the existence of the problem. Maybe all there is to do is to call the thing what it is. The world offers us an impossible contradiction—even in the confusion created by this idea, we are still given the power to say yes, both are true in this moment. Thus, the daunting terms of our existence. There is no rational context under which we can properly understand what it means to be alive. In stopping the search and accepting an answer that defies all we think we know, we may begin to understand a question whose vastness reaches beyond eternity and whose minuteness is less than the size of one atom of our physical body.
Globalization is a metaphorical magnification of the quest for spiritual identity in all humans. It is the human condition writ large, to be directly observed by anyone willing to ponder the meaning of the Self. It broadcasts the eloquence of our contradiction in a way that is both tangible and boundless. While our immediate reaction to the question may be fear, it also offers a sublime opportunity for self-awareness. This form of awareness may feel like a curse at times, but it is a gift of the highest order. It is nothing less than a window into the deepest recesses of our communal soul.