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Radcliffe, Shelley, Freud, Reznor

The “forbidden experiment” has provided a great deal of insight into brain development during childhood. This includes the case of a girl known as Genie, who was found in 1970 at thirteen years old, having been confined to a single room all her life.

Following her rescue, Genie demonstrated the capacity to love, learn and communicate, although she never learned to form sentences.

This led to the theory of the “Critical Window Hypothesis,” which suggests that certain aspects of the human brain are only open to new information at a certain age, and this window closes at puberty.

The concept of a “critical window” should always be regarded as theoretical; it would be inappropriate for any civilized society to attempt to replicate the deplorable data available from the Genie case.

From personal experience, however, it is clear that certain facts and emotions can become indelibly engraved in our minds.

For instance, the capital cities of Midwestern states; I drilled them so hard and so early that I can never forget them. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, I have other parts of my memory that are both more troublesome and more creatively useful, such as the religious education I received when I was younger.

In this essay, I will not point the finger of blame at my parents. My brother and I had to watch a variety of frightening filmstrips in public school during Nancy Reagan’s anti-drug campaign, yet the effects of this experience were drastically different.

I was scared into a lifetime of abstinence, while David wholeheartedly said yes’ to the prohibited substances. He didn’t even take the threats of our Sunday catechism class seriously, and seemed to forget all about them within an hour. I was disturbed by the Catholic Church’s morbid fascination with punishment and suffering, and don’t believe I should have been exposed to such things.

But I can’t blame my parents for something which didn’t affect David, especially since his reaction was more typical. After a nun handed out a baby doll and taught us about baptizing a dying infant to save it from limbo, I was deeply affected by this story, while the other children played with the doll.

This example of mine and my brother’s different reactions shows why Jung’s theories are more valid than Freud’s, since I’m hard-wired to obsess over fear, while David is not.

It was a mistake on my parents’ part to let me watch The Exorcist on television when I was ten. We lived in the Washington, D.C. area, so an older cousin drove me to the staircase on M Street where Father Karras fell to his death at the end of the movie, shouting “Take me!” to keep the little girl from the devil’s clutches.

My cousin informed me that the movie was based on a real incident in nearby Mount Ranier, Maryland. It was clear that Satan was not only real, but that he had a connection with the D.C. area and seemed to target children.

I started to research how to protect my soul from Satan. Sadly, my only resources were from secondhand books from yard sales. I read that salvation was a never-ending struggle and that any momentary lapse of attention could let the devil in.

This made it hard for me to sleep. However, it did give me an effective way to combat loneliness. I was in a continuous, hushed dialogue with God, Mary, and some of the saints, making an impenetrable wall of spiritual devotion that the devil could not breach.

When I reached eighteen, I had come to the realization that many of the things I had been taught were wrong and that maintaining this belief was an unfair action. Despite this, I could not completely break away from my Catholic upbringing as I had been indoctrinated in my youth.

Though I find some of the Church’s principles to be inhumane, I still miss the rituals and the communal prayer. I have experimented with other forms of religion, yet none of them can replace the fear-based Catholic model that I had grown up with. Anthony Burgess, author of A Clockwork Orange, had similar feelings towards the end of his life; he felt that the terror he had been taught early on was more powerful than reason.


Could I be content? Most likely not. Since I am now beyond the age designated in the Bible, I must contemplate death, and that idea does not appeal to me. I still have a lingering fear of damnation and even purgatory, and no matter how many times I read the works of rationalists, I cannot completely erase it.

The faith of your youth, just like the Minnesota state flower, can be tucked away in the recesses of your mind, yet it can never be fully forgotten. Memories of the religion remain, and their strength does not seem to diminish with the passage of time.

It’s comforting to me when someone who has achieved a lot in life admits that being taught about Satan and Hell as a child can be very psychologically damaging.

It’s surprising when one reads about the same details of their own childhood fear coming out of someone else’s mouth. In 1995, musician Trent Reznor confessed to Details magazine’s Chris Heath that The Exorcist “ruined his childhood”. Heath wrote that after watching the film, Reznor was frightened of the devil, made imaginary deals to give away his soul, and would sleep in a certain position because he felt that if he slept in any other way, he was in for something bad. This is not really a surprising thing; those with schizophrenia often have hallucinations about government conspiracies and people with anxiety often develop rituals to cope with fear. But what this interview did was to break my belief that my story was totally unique.

In 1999, I finally got curious enough to go to a Nine Inch Nails show. Even from the furthest seats in a sports arena, I still got a feeling of familiarity and strangeness as Reznor sang. He was positioned in a crucifixion pose and sang lyrics like, “You’re going to get what you deserve” and “I’m wearing a crown of shit.” He also acted as if he was blessing the crowd with holy water. In other songs, he sang as if he was an angry petitioner to God, asking for an apology and begging for an explanation for why he was betrayed.

But then he seemed to switch roles and instead was commanding the crowd, telling them to “March, you fucking pigs.”

I had previously noticed a rock star being critical of Christianity, with Madonna being the most notable example. She typically did so with a playful and mischievous attitude, such as her song “Papa Don’t Preach.” However, when she did take a more serious view on the matter, it was in the context of women’s rights and empowerment, a message of liberation from the oppressive view of a father-like figure.

Tori Amos explored her frustrations through songs like “God,” a lyrical expression of a disappointed Christian woman’s disdain for the deity.

However, many other bands have used rock concerts as an opportunity to express their own form of sacrilege with a more light-hearted approach.

In contrast, Nine Inch Nails was the first group to engage in a lengthy and serious theological debate. Where Madonna and Amos took on one role, Reznor commanded all aspects of the conflict, from God to priest, from rebel to victim, and from transgressor to Faustian figure.

Nine Inch Nails is an artistically Romantic endeavor to free the human soul from Christianity and to replace the spiritual hole with a new metaphysical being. Reznor’s music communicates his sense of alienation, and seventeen years after his song “Head Like a Hole” he continues to struggle with the same issues. While it may seem redundant, this is something that all the Romantic poets were not able to solve.

NIN’s 2005 return to the rock scene was especially impressive due to the fact that it had been sixteen years since their last noteworthy album, Pretty Hate Machine. When their 1999 album, The Fragile, had come out, it failed to produce a hit song and drove away some of their fans due to the lack of dance beats and sexual content.

The promotional slogan for the tour was “too fucked up to care,” which is a line from the opening song on the same album. Reznor’s lyrics often contained an epic-Romantic feel, and this album was an exception; instead of caring too much, as he usually does, he sounded tired and dispirited. The song titles, such as “The Wretched” and “I’m Looking Forward to Joining You, Finally,” indicated his weariness.

After a six-year break from creating music, Trent Reznor released a new record in 2005. This was accompanied by a series of interviews in which he discussed the dark nature of The Fragile and his period of absence from the music industry.

In the six years prior, Reznor had gone through rehab for his addictions and then found out that he was nearly penniless, besides his home in New Orleans, when he asked his manager (who he had been friends with for two decades) for an accounting of his assets.

This led to a multi-million dollar lawsuit between the two, which Reznor won. After the release of With Teeth in 2005, Trent was financially strained, had been betrayed, and had sworn off drugs. On the brighter side, he had sold his house to actor John Goodman and moved to L.A. before Hurricane Katrina struck.

Trent Reznor’s recently opened up about his life which could be a result of his time in a recovery program that stresses being honest as an important part of a sober lifestyle. It is also possible that Reznor wanted to advertise Nine Inch Nails as it had been six years since The Fragile was released and it was uncertain what kind of fans the band had.

In January of 2005, New York was covered with large black posters with three white letters: NIN. A few weeks later, another set of similar posters asked the question: can you rise from your knees? These were eventually replaced with a third set that posed the inquiry: how deep do you believe? The fourth and last poster posed the question: will you resist the hand that offers? Under each of these questions was a proposed answer: (5_03_05).

The promotion for With Teeth capitalized on Reznor’s lyrical focus on S&M sex as a metaphor for Christian faith in tracks like “Sin” and “Happiness in Slavery” while intriguing non-fans with mysterious, antagonistic, and vaguely sexual phrases.

Trent Reznor took a measured approach to supporting With Teeth, avoiding the long, extensive arena tours of the past in favor of a few smaller shows. This decision paid off in a big way: the album debuted at number one on Billboard’s charts, with an astounding 272,000 copies sold in the first week. Even further down the line, Nine Inch Nails was playing to sold-out arenas. In the end, Reznor achieved something remarkable, reaching both his artistic and commercial peak at forty, sixteen years into his career.

Theories have arisen as to why the album and tour of With Teeth, which was expected to have limited success, have been so popular. This album represents several important milestones for Reznor and his fans. Having been sober for some time, he has had to consider what kind of spiritual support his sobriety is built on. Furthermore, Reznor has also begun to take in the world and write about it, a new development for him. The analogy of a one-way window in his home in New Orleans, which Reznor could use to observe the people outside without being seen, captures the former detached, introspective style of his music. With Teeth still contains elements of his former musings on his tortured soul, but Reznor is now also engaging with the external world.

The lead single from the album, “The Hand That Feeds”, is a strongly-worded critique of the Iraq War, and Reznor refused to perform at the MTV Movie Awards because the producers would not let him play the song in front of a picture of President Bush.

This represents a huge change in Nine Inch Nails’ attitude.

All that was previously shielding them–drugs, alcohol, Christianity, the walls that blocked communication, and the people who were taking advantage of them–has been taken away, and Reznor is now trying to deal with both his own anxieties and the worries of the world. His battles with his faith–and my own–have taken on a different meaning under the Christian leadership of the White House. On With Teeth, Reznor has decided to be clear-headed in a very dangerous period.

The music has an added weight and depth that was not present before. However, how often do serious and intricate songs become popular in the rock genre?

In the early ’90s, Nirvana rose to immense popularity in a seemingly inexplicable manner. Though their songs were offbeat and their lead singer wore a dress, the public seemed to accept them. It is theorized that when the quality of Top 40 rock decreases, a gap is created that allows fringe music to slip through. In a similar fashion, Nine Inch Nails rejoined the mainstream in 2005. It is speculated that people allowed Trent Reznor back because they had a need for him.

In 2004, the top Google search was for Britney Spears, an artist whose career was then based on covering other people’s songs such as Bobby Brown’s “My Prerogative.” At the same time, hip-hop was focused on sex and bling, while young white girls were singing about cat fights and white male pop was full of over-sentimental Weezer-style music that, without Rivers Cuomo’s meanness, had little more than a toothpaste commercial.

The ad campaign for With Teeth addressed the same issue as “Smells Like Teen Spirit” did: an understandable and yet inexcusable apathy in the rock fan community. Can you get up off your knees? Just how deep do you believe? Will you bite the hand that feeds? These questions perhaps connected with a generation of rock fans who bought Sean “Puffy” Combs’s “Vote or Die” T-shirts but then did not actually vote. 2005 was, in fact, the perfect time to appeal to rock fans with S&M humiliation taunts. “Oh, well, whatever, nevermind” was a real let-down.

The lyrics of Reznor’s With Teeth track “The Collector” have been embraced by a legion of young male fans.

The words “I’m trying to fit it all inside / I’m trying to open my mouth wide / I’m trying not to choke and swallow it all swallow it all swallow it all swallow it all.” operate as a metaphor for fellatio, similar to how Nirvana’s “Rape Me” was a metaphor for rape. It is inspiring to see so many straight guys singing along to the lyrics, though they may not understand the full connotations of the metaphors.

The songs are about more than just sexual acts, they are a call to action to engage with the world, to connect and to matter. In the same way that the Romantic poets of the 19th century sought personal salvation, Reznor struggles to do the same in a time of great difficulty, creating a result that is both full of sorrow and hope.

The term Romantic in literature has lost its original meaning. To a purist, it represents a drastic change in European culture in the 1800s that does not have anything to do with “romance” in the sentimental sense.

The well-known “big six” of Byron, Shelley, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Blake and Keats were, to varying degrees, Christians who viewed religious faith as the essential part of life, yet found institutional Christianity to be inconsequential or even wrong.

The French Revolution, although it promised a lot, did not deliver and was followed by two decades of bloodshed. The industrial revolution had similar results- it promised a great deal, yet the outcome was dehumanizing.

Christianity seemed to be failing because it promised rewards after long suffering and people were beginning to doubt it. John Keats sought a salvation that was consistent with reason and humanity, while William Blake stated that he would “create a System or be enslaved by another man’s” in Jerusalem.

The fundamental idea of Romanticism was to cut out all the restrictions, regulations, and mediators that stood between people and a divine experience. This meant disregarding institutions, ceremonies, and holy texts, and not worrying about the afterlife.

The Romantics re-imagined Paradise Lost by Shelley, believing it could be found in the present world, through self-examination and connecting with nature.

For some, this was a literal connection with the outdoor world, while for Shelley, it also encompassed sexual and familial relationships. This new vision of faith is hard to define because it is so open-ended. It is also very positive, considering humans to be able to find God without outside help, and to be able to save themselves.

M.H. Abrams, in Natural Supernaturalism, explains the Romantic poets’ adaptation of Christian narratives into psychological symbols. Even though the Romantics embraced fresh, unconventional ideas, they couldn’t completely let go of Christianity, most likely understanding that the human mind can never entirely discard the Bible’s stories, but rather transform them.

Replacing heavens and hell, the human mind encompasses depths and heights never imagined before. Instead of gods, the power of the mind is the main focus. Therefore, the Bible becomes a metaphorical representation of a person’s internal struggle as they experience life on Earth.

Despite their awareness of it, the Romantics knew that spiritual autonomy, while advantageous, could also be hazardous. For a mind with the capacity to rescue itself, it could also have the capability to annihilate itself.

Nine Inch Nails and Trent Reznor’s music can be seen as a reflection of the Romantic era of Western literature. Through his work, Reznor delves into Christian cosmology ( Pretty Hate Machine ), condemns it ( Broken and The Downward Spiral ), mourns its defeat ( The Fragile ), and ultimately discovers a path to secular salvation on With Teeth. His music provides what the Romantic poets did for their readers: an artistic expression of the vastness of the universe, a form of emotional release from spiritual enmity, and, on With Teeth , an exploration of what personal salvation looks like in a post-Christian world.

Me, Reznor, and the Romantic poets all have a common secret: we all long for Christianity. Is it possible to maintain the practices that Christianity does well such as its rituals and communal atmosphere whilst discarding its doctrine? Could spirituality be crafted and practised both by individuals and in groups? Through his recovery and sobriety, Reznor appears to have adopted a Romantic viewpoint and found himself in the cycle of twelve-step recovery – which could be considered an iteration of the Romantic journey. It involves developing a philosophy to believe in, and then gathering with others to approach the difficult questions.

In Shelley’s poem Prometheus Unbound, a literary protagonist is presented that is similar to Reznor’s transformation as Nine Inch Nails. As the Greek myth goes, Prometheus is a god-man hybrid that takes pity on mankind and steals fire, thus incurring Jupiter’s punishment. As a result, he is exiled from the godly and human realms and is chained to a mountain where he is tormented by an eagle. The original story ends with Hercules rescuing him. However, Shelley’s version ends differently. Prometheus realizes he has become what he loathes and retracts his curse, causing his chains to vanish. This moment symbolizes the power of the mind to heal itself, as stated by The Spirit of the Hour in the play’s third act.


The detestable mask has been removed, revealing the man still underneath


“Unrestricted and unfettered–only human:


Level, unspecified, without tribe or state;


Unburdened by reverence, adoration, or rank; the monarch


Over himself; reasonable, amiable, sage–yet still a man:


Devoid of emotion? No–but free from blame or misery,


That either were, by his will generated, or endured;


Nevertheless not liberated, though controlling them like servants…


Shelley chooses for Prometheus to remain with his malevolence once his liberation has been accomplished–a deviation from the Jewish-Christian perception of mental health as a mind void of any evil. The Romantics’–and Reznor’s–interpretation of spiritual prosperity won’t turn away from the psyche’s native wickedness. Or sexual desire. Prometheus Unbound embraces Prometheus’s spiritual self-realization with a union to his beloved, Asia.

On The Fragile, Reznor’s most despairing album, his most straightforward love tunes can be found. In these songs, a woman’s, a parent’s, or a friend’s love is fraught with philosophical implications. Love can repair the damage described on Pretty Hate Machine, and its lack can open the injury again.

These are Romantic compositions that anticipate more than consolation and entertainment from a love relationship; they anticipate something resembling a substitution. For love to stand up to the spiritual/divine systems we have destroyed, it must be, or at least feign to be, as robust and imperishable.

The positive aspect of The Fragile is that its romantic songs rise as high and strike as hard as the passionate love they aspire to.

However, the bad news is that the power of love does not manage to triumph; it perishes, fails, and betrays. The concept of the album presents a pessimistic epilogue to Prometheus Unbound in which the relationship between Prometheus and Asia breaks down and he is unable to survive on his own. According to The Fragile, to be estranged from one’s gods and defeated in matters of love leads to being completely dependent on oneself. If that individual is “fragile,” they will not make it.

The narrative of Prometheus is more analogous with Nine Inch Nails’ journey than any other Romantic writer due to its ability to adopt both pre-Romantic and post-Romantic aesthetics. It brings together the Gothic mindset that affected the Romantics as well as the psychological theory they advanced.

Romantic poets are indebted to the often-criticized “Gothic” authors (most particularly, Ann Radcliffe and Horace Walpole) who came before them. Dismissed in 1764 and 2007 alike as “low” literature, Gothic novels nevertheless held a large readership with accounts of shocking nastiness and mortality. Few components were necessary for a Gothic novel, but integral: a malicious villain; an unassuming victim; a dreadful setting, concealed from sight; suffering and distress. Incest and sickness were recurrent topics, as was the ineffectiveness of decency. In Gothic narratives, wickedness nearly always prevails.

In his work, Nightmare on Main Street, Mark Edmundson examines the Gothic in modern America, and how the Romantics reinterpreted the Gothic’s tales of physical danger as stories of universal crisis with mortal victims pitted against a punishing Christian God. To illustrate this, they held onto the same symbols from the Gothic narrative, such as chains, slaves, shackles, and ghosts, but used them to symbolize something else. On top of this, Sigmund Freud adopted the Romantics’ metaphors and applied it to his own concept of the human psyche as a three-part trinity. Freud removed the external forces from the equation, making humans their own greatest adversary.

The trajectory of Nine Inch Nails’ albums, as carried out by Reznor, is evident: a Gothic-style atmosphere, with a simplified view of morality, gives way to a classical Romantic effort to re-establish man’s relationship with God. When this attempt fails, the protagonist of his music undergoes personal disintegration, which is addressed on With Teeth as it delves into a Freudian analysis of understanding that the real battle is within the mind itself. This made the performances of the With Teeth tour so captivating and therapeutic: the Romantic hero’s dilemma was explored in its entirety, with a Gothic flavor to give it theatricality and a Freudian element to cause the most firm atheist to feel humbled.

The initial concept of Nine Inch Nails conceived by Reznor was intensely dark and had an inclination towards S&M related topics. Reznor wore the standard “Goth” costume for many years, which included black clothing, jet black hair and a complete coating of white powder prior to performing on stage. The effect of the lights and fog machines created the appearance of a reanimated corpse. Videos for his first two records included S&M sex and torture scenes; for instance, “Happiness in Slavery” featured an act of sexual violation and death performed by Bob Flanagan. Additionally, the video for “Gave Up” was filmed at the house in Los Angeles where the Manson family had murdered Sharon Tate and her associates.

The images of Gothic torture and S&M sex may seem similar, but their power dynamics are completely different. In S&M sex, the so-called “victim” is a willing participant, whereas in the Gothic mode, the victim is always a victim of coercion. The themes of Reznor’s first two albums, Pretty Hate Machine and Broken, explore both of these scenarios, at times enraged and seduced by the idea of giving up control and submitting to pain. The fusion of Gothic and S&M in these records allowed him to express the conflicted theological stance that the Romantic poets found themselves in, unable to resist the “systems” they had critiqued. The song “Happiness in Slavery” is a perfect example, with lyrics that make reference to the sadomasochistic aspect: “Slave screams he’s gonna cause the system to fall / Slave screams but he’s glad to be chained to that wall.”

Reznor’s capacity for working with machinery led him to make Pretty Hate Machine, a record containing angry lyrics about a powerful God, yet its music was crafted in a godlike manner. The album was unique in its blending of industrial and electronic sounds with the catchy tunes and heartfelt lyrics of pop. Reznor’s ability to toggle between these two sides, between confidence and fear, has secured his place in the rock world. His music was divine but his words were human.

Prometheus’s fate of exhaustion with the victim/villain, god/man dualities of Gothic served as a model for Reznor when he made the jump to Romanticism in 1995’s The Downward Spiral. His new system was not easily attained, as evidenced by the album’s contrast between the assertive opening track and the somber “Hurt” at the end. In “Hurt,” Reznor’s voice reflects on his life as a mockery of the spiritual kingdom he spurned, viewing it as an “empire of dirt” and a “crown of shit.”

The song “Hurt” is a challenge to a higher power, similar to the plight of Prometheus and the painful consequences of his rebellion. The same result is reflected in the song, with dirt, shit, and needles serving as symbols of the physical horrors that can be inflicted upon the body. The album The Downward Spiral expresses an intense preoccupation with the body’s vulnerability to all sorts of damage, whether it be from guns, viruses, broken bones, rape, insanity, drug use, bamboo torture, or self-mutilation. The move away from divinity brings the physicality of man into the spotlight.

Julia Kristeva, a psychoanalyst and literary theorist, refers to a certain type of fear as the “horror of abjection”. This fear is caused by witnessing something that we believe should be contained, such as any of our bodily fluids or organs being outside of our body. For instance, Prometheus was subjected to a particularly abject punishment when he was forced to watch his liver being torn apart. This fear of being reminded of our animalistic nature is what drives this feeling of unease, and religion can provide some protection from it by providing images of souls that can transcend the body’s mortality. Nonetheless, without religious conviction, evidence of our animalistic side can be unsettling.

The concept of human fragility and its horrific consequences may lead to the fantasy of man as machine: strong, impenetrable and dependable. Reznor’s albums portray this identity crisis in its most vehement form. In The Downward Spiral, these songs express the desire to experience both animalistic pleasure and omnipotent control, then transform into machines when the intensity of the situation becomes unbearable. This duality is explored in “The Becoming,” where two unsatisfactory extremes are considered.


The person that you were familiar with used to be emotional


but now his heart has stopped beating and he’s left to deteriorate


the individual that you recognize is now composed of cables


and even when I’m in your presence I still feel so distant


The fourteen tracks on The Downward Spiral illustrate the anger, confusion, and pain of a body and soul deprived of faith. The album doesn’t close on a negative note, however, as the last words of “Hurt” offer a glimmer of hope in the form of a resolution to try again, no matter how far away the starting point is: “To start anew, a million miles away, I would stay with me and find a way.”

The title image of a “spiral” and the closing image of “keeping” the self in the album seem to reflect the writings of Romantic Age philosophers who desired to redefine the perfect-circle concept of human life, which states that a person’s journey ends where it began, exchanging one state of bliss for another. There is an inner drive to go back to the starting point, however, this is not the same as old-fashioned regression; instead, it is like a toddler who pushes their parent away from potential danger, feeling the need to separate, explore and come back to the same spot, yet changed. The spiral was used by Romantic Age philosophers to depict this idea, as it encompasses development through integrating everything, and revisiting the same points at higher levels.

M.H. Abrams dubs this “the Romantic way,” which he describes as a “circuitous journey homeward,” an “inclined plane back towards the origin.” Goethe, a well-known Romantic author of The Sorrows of Young Werther and Faust, also remarks on this concept, declaring that “if we were to ascribe a spiral movement to mankind, it would still return always to the region in which it has already passed.” This is distinct from the Christian belief that learning from life’s experiences should be abandoned when one passes on to the afterlife. The “spiral” model of human life, however, includes all and “keeps itself.”

After he had promised himself to stay on The Downward Spiral five years before, Reznor began The Fragile with an admission of failure:


admired for what you have achieved


made a valiant effort to be just like you


but I flew too high and my wings were scorched


all my trust was gone in an instant


I explored the divine wreckage


and I could taste the abundance of hatred within me


my skin was shed and I surrendered to failure


this machine is out of date.


–“Somewhat Damaged”


The lyrical protagonist of Reznor’s work has been unsuccessful in each of the areas–man, animal, deity, machine–that he has attempted to occupy. Reznor’s lyrics have moved away from the Romanticism and towards a more Freudian outlook, which views the mind as a prison and believes the punishing God is a symptom of a mental illness, and affirm, “The universe is over and I comprehend it was all within my imagination” and “It appears as though it’s continually coming from the inside.” When Reznor the lyricist shifts from the Romantic to the Freudian, Reznor the individual turns to psychiatry and rehabilitation from substance-abuse in order to save himself.

Six years later, there was a vast gap between the two albums The Fragile and With Teeth, as suggested by the title of each. Where The Fragile offered little in terms of hope, With Teeth was made more powerful by the impossibility of reconciliation. Reznor was able to move forward with his work without completely discarding his prior work. Whether it was a conscious choice or the result of his recovery, Reznor was forced to confront things he had tried to conceal with his addiction. His journey of recovery was, in a way, a Romantic spiral.

On With Teeth, Reznor remains the leader of his fan base in a significant battle; the situation has not altered, but the characters have. The Gothic and Romantic themes have largely been left behind and replaced with Freud’s vision of the mind as a battlefield. Reznor will express his anger on With Teeth regarding topics such as drugs, religion, President Bush and the people who support him; however, those are only minor aspects of the record that are focused on a person’s search for truth and accountability. Out of the thirteen songs, eight emphasize the verb believe as the mind strives to come up with a system that keeps it alive. In “Only,” the narrator decides to no longer be part of an individual or entity that he no longer trusts or needs. It could be a god or it could be the “Mr. Self-Destruct” image that made Reznor renowned.


I have been alone for a while, I believe it’s because the person I thought I knew never really existed. It was just a figment of my imagination that I used to emotionally hurt myself. There is no one else, just me.


Originally, With Teeth was named Bleedthrough; however, Reznor may have reconsidered since the title by itself has a connection to Nine Inch Nails’ past of Goth-horror. In the context of the album, “bleedthrough” symbolizes Reznor’s new, sober mindset in which seemingly conflicting elements are able to exist together. Although there is anger and contention on With Teeth, no longer is there an entity to be held accountable.

It can be a somewhat bittersweet realization if one’s earlier spiritual understanding was influenced by The Exorcist that in order to abandon the Christian notion of individual demons as external assailants, one must accept an onerous however eventually more bountiful burden. The movie’s conclusion, however, is not one of accepting and learning to live with the evil spirit, but instead of the afflicted child being liberated from its clutches.

John Gardner, in his divisive handbook on writing fiction, gives the following counsel to the despondent, misanthropic writer: It is permissible to view the universe as a cavity full of infant skulls; in fact, it may even be a correct assessment. But it is not beneficial to your work or your environment to continually stay at the brink of the abyss and compose countless volumes on what a cavity full of infant skulls appears to be. Gardner urges us to address our writing to what can be done: how can somebody endure in a world where there are pits of infant skulls?

With Teeth has been noted by Spin Magazine as a “figuring out how to live inside” the void. I might be inclined to agree, yet with a slight modification; the void is not isolated, but rather a part of our psychic house, akin to the baby skulls, the torture dungeons and suc

If we lock the door and ignore it, we are naive, but descending down and living there will lead us to ruin. The album is an example of how one can live in the midst of the void without being consumed by it. Reznor has achieved something remarkable in this regard, as he has managed to neither exhaust nor corrode.

Final Thoughts

Reznor provided an overview of Nine Inch Nails’ Year Zero prior to its April 17, 2007 release date:

In about fifteen years from now, the world has become a place of deeply rooted greed and power. Politically, spiritually and ecologically, the world has reached a tipping point and “year zero” explores the different perspectives of the people living in this world. Before long, the listener will be able to hear all about it.

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