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For more than 25 years Stewart Home has been one of Britain’s most striking and individualistic creative voices.  Dancing along the dysfunctions of daily life, semi-isolated in a reservoir of cultural and creative jelly. Remaining a literary maverick, an acidic aftertaste after all  the glop has been swallowed. Home will not, cannot compromise his visions and truths. From the early provocations of the international Mail Art interceptions through the wilful contradictions of the Neoism and Praxis movements to conceptualising and instigating an Art Strike.  While simultaneously investigating the conceptual conceits of plagiarism with intensive periods spent creating artworks, music, publishing manifestos, pamphlets and novels doused in absurdist humour, brutal realism and Situationist irony. Certainly Home has no fear of analysing, dissecting and taking on the big issues. The ugliest truths, especially the uncomfortably ugly ones, head on, never failing to leap out of the post-democratic wilderness flux of spin, shit and whitewash. I’d been itching to put some questions to Home for some time, the publication of his twelfth novel Memphis Underground earlier this year provided me with an opportunity to do so.

MWNN: Within the text of "Memphis Underground" and some of your other novels there seems to be a certain amount of ironic distance between the narrator and the characters, a distance that varies. At any points within the books are you any of those characters?

SH: I'm not really any of the characters in the book, and the narrator's voice isn't steady either, but in "Memphis" the diary accounts in the second half of the book are a very straight account of what I was doing at the time. However there is always this difficulty of people wanting to equate the fictional voice with the author, but while it is my voice since I created it, there also needs to be an understanding that it is a fiction. So the relationship between the two things is extremely complex..

MWNN: Throughout your creative life to date the concepts of plagiaristic writing and a healthy taste for surrealistic observation are key themes. What continues to fascinate and inform much of your work within these areas? Is it an exploration of schizophrenia and shifting identity roles as well as an appreciation of those art forms?

SH: I find the idea of split-personality really fascinating, because we all have a lot of contradictions running through us, and the notion of split personality takes that to an 'extreme', but I think we have to be careful because in many ways reality is more messy than descriptions like split-personality imply, so I think we need to treat the medical notion of 'schizophrenia' as in many (perhaps all) ways being a fictional construct. I've known people diagnosed as schizophrenic but basically they just seemed to be in a lot of emotional pain, I'm not sure their personalities were split, because if you didn't go along with the games they'd play with schizophrenia to get what they wanted out of it, you could kinda draw them back into interacting with you on a more reasonable level (although unfortunately this often seemed to entail being rough and tough with them). But the "schizophrenics" I've .known definitely had an element of control over their condition. And I guess this reflects the world we live in, we make our world but not from conditions of our own choosing. So I think schizophrenia is something explored in a lot of post-modern culture, and very obviously in the instance of a theoretical work like "Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism & Schizophrenia", but yes there is also a relation back to a lot of modernist culture including surrealism (which is on the more romantic wing of modernism). The positive side of both schizophrenia and surrealism is the stress it places on our ability to reinvent ourselves and become something else, the negative side of it is this will continue to happen in a fucked up way as long as we're confronted by capitalist alienation...

MWNN: What were your main cultural influences when scripting "Memphis" and have/do you ever adopt experimental techniques such as automatic writing to channel inspiration and even construct characters/ideas from the ’third mind’?

SH: I've been working on books and films and installations for so long that the influences are assimilated and they can just be brought out at different times as I need them. While I don't strictly practice automatic writing, I really think making a first draft should just be a case of hammering away on the keyboard (I can touch type), you know just keep on pushin' on and bang stuff out... but then I'm not in agreement with this Kerouac first word is best word approach, I do believe in revising, but I guess for getting the first draft what I do is akin to automatic writing. I have an idea of where I'm going but I don't believe in making detailed plans, I just scream along as I type. While constructing "Memphis" I was thinking of both high brow and low brow, all my favourite culture comes out of those two things, so the structure in the first half of the book is lifted from sci-fi novels without any actual sci-fi elements, and I guess there is a relation to surrealism because I think you can make up anything you want (just like in a lucid dream) because this is fiction; later in the novel I'm using straight diaristic accounts that aren't fictionalised at all... but then in the second section of the first part of "Memphis" I just slam into hardcore nouveau roman territory where I essentially give a textual description of a map and that is very much coming out of my teenage reading of Alain Robbe-Grillet. But there is also the influence of trash movies in there, and of course all the northern soul I was listening to at the time I was writing the book, which is referenced in many section titles, and also elsewhere in the text... There are just so many influences pouring in it is hard to list them all... I’m familiar with the notion of the "third mind" but I don’t really apply Burroughs and Gysin that consciously in what I do… I even have my doubts about the notion of the “subconscious”, because after all if something comes out in my texts then I’ve found on the whole I’ve very consciously intended it; and I think it is possible to over estimate the role of "inner space" in the creation of novels and under estimate the effects of "material reality".

MWNN: Some of your work has an underlying social critical element. How influential has British and International politics been in shaping your literary worldviews and has this ever caused a divergence in terms of a project's eventual direction?

SH: One of the things I've done in many of my novels from the first "Pure Mania" through to "Memphis" is address the gentrification of London, and in particular east London, but obviously all my writing is critical of capitalist social relations and I deal with anarchism and fascism as political ideologies in a lot of the earlier books. I'm critical of anarchism but because I come from an anti-Bolshevik communist position a lot of literary critics have difficulty understanding that politically I'm not coming from anarchism but rather I'm a communist, but that what they view as communist I see as capitalism, in that I go along with Bordiga's analysis of the agricultural question within the Russian revolution; viz, that when you reduce the workforce on the land to less than ten percent of the total workforce then you have the transition from the formal to the real domination of capital and this is what the Russian revolution achieved, so there was a revolution in Russia but this was a capitalist revolution and not a communist one. Literature is essentially a bourgeois discourse and literary critics have no interest in understanding what I'm saying, so the critical social element is definitely there but it is often missed or misunderstood. I don't recall ever changing what I was doing because it diverged from my world view, although - of course - my world view is subject to constant revision and correction. I have a lot of conscious control and understanding in the things I do, so despite consciously choosing to incorporate accidents into my work, what I do goes in a direction I choose, and sometimes that leads to changes in my positions but the changes will prove to be correct if I've properly worked through the material, so I almost invariably find it is my previous positions that required revising.

MWNN: Do you regard your continued experiments within the mediums of film scripts, visual art and performance as central to an aesthetic whole or do you see those areas as entirely separate?

SH: I don't really see any difference at all between these areas, but I get forced to treat them as separate in terms of funding and promotion. But it seems to me to be a quite arbitrary process that divides what gets described as a "fictional" exhibition in one of my books, and what I actually get around to making in the visual field... A lot of it is just down to chance and what resources I have access to at any particular time. So I don't really make any distinction here at all, but the culture industry makes huge distinctions, and I confuse a lot of people because like when I got an Arts Council literary award, the people giving it to me were saying, "oh you've never had any money from the Arts Council before, have you?" and I'm saying "Yeah, I have, but not from the literature department, I've had things from Live Art and Combined Art..." And the literary people found this odd, because they had me in this little box as a writer, but that wasn't all I did....

MWNN: Do you feel part of the contemporary art world or do you regard the climate with an ironic distance? I was thinking recently about the 30th anniversary of Punk exploding within the UK. How much of that cultural zeitgeist proved influential then and now in terms of explaining your ideas and interests to yourself and your audience?

SH: I think one of the effects of capitalist alienation is to make everyone feel like an 'outsider', so of course I don't feel like I'm part of the art world, on the other hand I know a lot of art world people, you could even say I'm pretty well connected, but I think I am objectively outside of it in that I don't really concentrate on making objects, and you can't really make it in the art world, or not in the short term, unless you make objects... Mathew Collins even commented on this aspect of my practice, which prevents me becoming a big art world success, in his book "Art Crazy Nation". But I'm not really interested in commodifying what I do; I just keep on keepin' on. But in other ways I don't really believe there is an inside or an outside, capitalism is just one great big concrete maze and we gotta smash those concrete walls down to make a better world... As for punk, I think there is too much mythologisation of it, and I’d even question if it was really the thirtieth anniversary recently! I mean you can talk about The Troggs as the first punk band, or The Sonics, or The Fabulous Wailers, or even Ike Turner and His Kings of Rhythm. Anniversary culture is a drag, especially when it fixes something that should be more fluid, better to do something else. In the late seventies punk provided a way into various things for me, but today kids need to find other ways…. You can’t escape your times. I felt very much in opposition to a lot of what was going on in culture in the eighties, and I think in most ways I was, but if you look at what I did then, it still couldn’t have been produced at any other time…

MWNN: Are the central characters of "Memphis" perhaps searching for a myth to live by? By that I mean partially by finding out what their limits are and rendering it in words.  Maybe an examination of what society would look like if it weren’t defined by oedipal considerations and if taboos were no longer taboo?

SH: No, I don't really go along with the "Oedipus complex" as anything more than a metaphor anyway, although of course we do need to get rid of certain taboos. I don't think the characters are looking for a myth, more just like a way to survive until they can smash capitalism. I don't think they needed to find their limits, I think they already felt oppressed by them, and at the same time I’m very much aware that all of anarchism can be found in the idea that it is possible to live differently in a capitalist society.

MWNN: Who are your major literary, musical and artistic inspirations? Are there any contemporary writers whose work you’re following?

SH: I don't like to concentrate on single figures too much. I think culture develops on broader fronts, as a big collective effort. I'm not sure the novel is going anywhere any more, and I'm not sure I write novels, more like anti-novels... But I keep up with my peers and like Iain Sinclar (although I remain particularly the earlier work), Lynne Tillman, Darious James, Dennis Cooper (and find what he's doing with this shift into blogging very interesting). In terms of older stuff, well Robbe-Grillet and Burroughs we’ve mentioned, but also lots of pulp writers from Jim Thompson through to Laurence James, same with film which goes from Bergman to Jess Franco, Pasolini to Lucio Fulci, Alain Resnais to Jean Rollin.... I like a lot of different things, I found "Raspberry Reich" directed by Bruce LaBruce really interesting because it was addressing themes I was using in a lot of my eighties fiction. And I also just like a nice Japanese rock and roll zombie movie like "Wild Zero" too! My favourite artists are usually anti-artists, obviously people like Gustav Metzger and Henry Flynt, but I always like to move onto something more obscure - which is why I've been championing Francis Morland, who smuggled dope inside his sculptures in the sixties, recently. Not so many contemporary figures I'm big on in the art world, although I find people like Matthew Buckingham interesting, but I wouldn't describe them as inspiration, I kind of feel like they are my peers. Musically I’m still catching up on old stuff like Country Teasers… I think dubstep is interesting as a scene, but while the production is better I don't find it that different to things that were coming out ten years ago. And then there are the surprises, recently I was sent a copy of "Do You Suck As Well As Fuck? Totally Sexed Up Tales of J. Edgar Hoover's America" by Ken Ichigawa, and that novel really is quite extraordinary, almost as good as the stuff that Blaster Al Ackerman was doing at his peak in the eighties.

MWNN: What films have you liked recently and why haven’t we seen any film made from one of your books?

SH: Oops, just mentioned some films above, but I find most of the 'mainstream' films at the moment a bit dull, I feel forced to sit down and watch the odd movie by people like Rob Cohen, but I do it more for education than entertainment, because I like to see how gaming is influencing 'mainstream' movie making. The best films I see tend to be those least influenced by Hollywood, the Japanese films get here pretty quick, I liked the original "Ring" cycle but not as much as "Wild Zero", and Asian horror cinema tends to better than the American "independents" - but actually I suspect there is loads of great stuff going on somewhere which we won't get with English subtitles for another 20 years.  And then there has been the whole trend for documentaries in recent years, but while "Tarnation" had its moments of interest, it was about letting everything hang out in a not particularly interesting way. I nearly always feel disappointed by watching those documentaries, I feel like I’ve been channel changing on TV, whether it be "Fahrenheit 9/11", “Supersize Me”, "McLibel", "One Day In September", "Capturing The Friedmans", "Inside Deep Throat", "Overnight", "Last Party 2000", "Guerrilla: The taking of Patty Hearst", "New York Doll: The Story of Arthur 'Killer' Kane", "My Architect", "Sex: The Annabel Chong Story" or even Werner Herzog's "Grizzly Man". Maybe the good stuff is up there on YouTube or something, and I'll have to tear myself away from watching old pop videos on YouTube and wade through a river of crud to find it…. As for the lack of films of my books, well producers have expressed interest but this has never gone anywhere, which is largely due to the way the film industry works; a lot of capitalisation is required to realise projects. Burroughs took a long time to make it to screen, and precisely because "Videodrome" is one of my all time favourite films, I didn’t really think "Naked Lunch" showcased Chronenberg at his best. Obviously in making "Naked Lunch" Chronenberg picked a challenging project - and I think film-makers and writers should be allowed to fail otherwise they are never stretching themselves – but you also never know what goes on behind the scenes, and maybe the money people wouldn’t let Chronenberg do what he actually wanted to do.

MWNN: Your style of writing sometimes reminds me of a literary fellow traveller to a film maker such as the late Pasolini, who also explored gender roles, the impulses and drives of the societal outcast and revealing explorations of Pornography and its definitions. Indeed Pasolini himself refused to separate genres-film, poetry and criticism. He also refused to separate body and mind. I heard that when he was an old man he demanded that a series of pornographic pictures be taken of him.

SH: Yeah, I mentioned Pasolini before we got to this question, I think he's great - "Hawks & Sparrows" is my favourite film by him. I really like the way what he did changed but you can still see his sensibility in everything he touched, despite his style being so fluid. I like all those movies from "Accattone" and "Mamma Roma" through to "Salo". He is fabulous.  I like Antonioni but you kinda feel you're getting the same movie again and again, which I don't with Pasolini.... Oh and don't forget that I too also make films, even if they never get shown outside galleries and the odd art cinema like Side in Newcastle and The Cube in Bristol.

MWNN: How do you find your work is perceived by your readers and what type of feedback have you encountered with "Memphis" so far?

SH: The perceptions of my readers appear to me quite varied, depends what they know by me and what else they know... But I guess I must be some kind of change from the bland "mainstream" for them, or maybe a lot of my readers ignore a lot of what gets pumped into the bestseller lists. The reaction to "Memphis" has been great from the majority of those who've read it, my best book so far kind of thing... and of course there has been the odd review by a literary liberal saying I can't write... I'm used to that by now, being judged on terms I'm not trying to meet. But I think with most of what I do it is a slow process of really creating an effect, and I always feel the more instant the mass response is, the less long term impact something is gonna have, because if it immediately resonates with a mass audience then what you're doing is just reproducing the dominant cultural values and that's not really what I want to do.

MWNN: I was thinking recently about the impact of the internet in terms of exposing and making accessible so many differing creative disciplines and allowing virtually anyone in the virtual world to blog. It reminded me of a Burroughs quote from "The Ticket That Exploded": "There is no real thing— all show business." What impact do you think the World Wide Web has and will have in terms of writers and new writing?

SH: There is an ongoing obsession with authenticity in capitalist cultures and where you find that obsession you can be sure there won’t be any authenticity, which is how I read Burroughs on that. I've already said I feel the novel is finished, and I think the web is contributing to the finality of that. It isn't something that bothers me, and it's not that I think the book is dead, because actually I think there is still a place for reading off screen. But I feel we're kinda finished with literature. I'm not even sure what is gonna happened to bestsellers. It has been interesting to watch the internet fuck the music chains, with Music Zone and Fopp going, and now even HMV in trouble. Now these chains are selling CDs, books and records, and downloads had some effect but the real killer was people just ordering stuff off the internet in the format they'd have bought them in the shops, while the supermarkets creamed off the bestseller sales by offering bigger discounts. I think ultimately the bookshops are going the same way. In the short term this has screwed the middle of the market but in the long term I think it will level up the playing field, and people like me will do better out of it. Blogs can be empowering to people without a publishing history, but at the same time it can be like pissing in the wind because there is so much stuff online and much of it isn't really being read by anyone. What we've seen with so called Web 2.0 is the corporations clawing back at the internet and making it into something they can control, so you have this ridiculous centralisation going on with social networking sites which are attempting to deliver up a very fragmented audience to advertisers. While we have to live out the contradictions of capitalism, capitalism too has to live out its own contradictions, and the web has its upsides and downsides from a proletarian perspective. But overall I feel optimistic about all of this...

About the interviewer: The Man With No Name is an enigma who was probably born in the late-seventies. His hobbies include reading books written by Stewart Home.

Memphis Underground

Academic paper on Stewart Home's early novels

Stewart Home interviewed on literature & politics


Stewart Home nude portrait
Stewart Home in full buck naked glory!

Buck Naked In Bergen
Piksel 07: Hello Hackability in Norway was a curious experience. Previously I'd only ever visited the beautiful Hansa city of Bergen in the summer, and in the pouring rain it isn't as pretty as it appears in blazing summer sunshine. I was booked into the Citybox 'Hotel', one of those unstaffed automated hotels you find all over Scandinavia. Originally I'd been promised a better hotel and a fee, but after one of the festival's financial backers pulled out I was told only my flight and hotel would be paid. Had I been asked to do the event without payment I'd have turned it down, but since my presence had been announced and my air ticket purchased I trooped on.

Back to Citybox. I've used automated hotels before and found them pleasant enough. However, the Piksel organisers had jammed people who didn't know each other together in rooms at Citybox; therefore when the first person arrived and checked in using a digital code, they got the electronic keys to the room, leaving half of the hackers booked into this establishment locked out. I repeatedly phoned the Citybox number I'd been given, only to be put on hold after being told by a recorded message that Citybox was very busy but someone would deal with my call as quickly as possible; the reality was there weren't any staff at Citybox and there was no one there to take my call. Instead of checking into Citybox, I headed out to the country to stay with some friends. It had been cold but was warming up by the time I arrived, the temperature in the lake I often swim in during the summer must have been hovering around zero, and those areas that got no sun were still encrusted with ice. I decided to forego swimming, the salt water fjord which was also within easy walking distance may have been warmer than the lake but it still didn't appeal. I took some walks and had fun times with my friends. After two days and dozens of calls I still hadn't managed to get anyone to pick up the phone at Citybox. I needed to get into my room by Friday afternoon because I had Piksel commitments in town that evening and so I headed into Bergen early in the morning and was able to get into the reception area of the Citybox 'Hotel'; after much sitting around and some futile calling from the 'hot line' in the reception area, someone from this august establishment turned up and issued me with a key card. However, I still wasn't able to get into my room because the guy I was sharing it with was inside asleep and he had locked it manually from the inside for 'security'. I went back downstairs and finding the guy who'd given me the electronic key was still there told him about this problem. We went back up with the security key for the manual lock, so finally I was able to get into my room and leave my bags.

My next task was to find Pixsel, this proved more difficult than you might at first believe. Jonni and Martin who were organising the section of the festival I was in had told me to meet them at the USF Arts Centre at 17.00 to talk through what everyone was doing the next day - however after walking there I quickly discovered it was deserted. There were a few other venues for Piksel and I made a tour of them but was still unable to find anyone. I even tried the building where the festival office was supposed to be but couldn't get an answer at the door. I decided to kill time by heading into town. I checked out Platekompaniet, which has a really cool selection of DVDs but mostly at prices way beyond what I'd be prepared to pay (oil rich Norway is an expensive place) - although there is always the odd bargain to be found, and in this instance it was a five disk box set of early Peter Jackson movies for 99 NWK. Hours later, I managed to get into the Piksel office, where the festival organiser told me she'd spent all day getting people from the airport (strange no one from Piksel had offered to meet me from the plane when I'd arrived two days earlier) and that she didn't have a progamme of events, however with a bit of prodding she printed one out. When I told her Jonni and Martin had arranged to meet me at USF at 17.00 she told me not to go there because everyone would be next door at the art school by 17.30, having moved over from the Teknikerkroen. I decided to go back to USF anyway, and by shortly after 17.00 everyone taking part in the Saturday events was also to be found there. Having had our meet, we went to the art school kitchen for food; there wasn't a vegetarian dish, so I had to eat boiled rice with some peppers sprinkled on top. From the art school we went back to the Teknikerkroen for an old school rave and to watch performances. The Teknikerkroen is a night club in a former cold war nuclear bunker, the night looked fun but going in I was told I had to check my bag in case I had alcohol in it (you had to buy bottles of beer for around 60 NWK from the bar). I said I didn't want to check my bag and that it could be searched for alcohol instead, I was told this wouldn't do and I had to check the bag, thinking this was stupid I decided to leave instead.

I'd been told I should get to the USF around 10.00 on Saturday, two hours before our all day event was due to kick off, but figuring there would be technical hitches I didn't arrive until noon; I was right about the hitches but over optimistic about how quickly they'd be resolved, we started two and a half hours late. I hung out around the harbour and watched a few of the demonstrations and talks. On just before me was Otto Rossler, the German biochemist and chaos theorist. He gave a speech pitched at a general audience and although it concluded by claiming the earth might be destroyed very soon if certain experiments involving the generation of energy from mini-black holes are allowed to go ahead, there was no hard science involved and the argument was easy to follow although for this very reason it was less convincing than it might have been for anyone with a clear grasp of rhetoric who'd have preferred to hear hard science; I found Rossler's delivery curiously similar to that of Gustav Metzger, they both speak very quietly to gain audience sympathy and draw people in. I was on next with my panel speaking about social networking and data mining. The two hours we'd been given for our talks and workshop had been reduced to an hour and I was the first with the mike. After I'd been speaking for ten minutes I was handed a note which read: "can we make a very quick announcement?" I stopped and one of the Pixsel organisers picked up a mike and said that a rough cut of the film that was being made of the festival was being screened in the cinema downstairs and urged everybody to go and see it. The room emptied, the evening drifted on. I ended up horsing around singing and stuff with Jessica Rylan. I left the USF around midnight and went back to Citybox. I was leaving the next morning and missed the final day of the Pixsel Festival... so I can't tell you about that.
Stewart Home blog Tuesday, November 20, 2007.