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Stewart Home interviewed by himself

Having embarked on a series of interviews to promote my novel Come Before Christ And Murder Love (Serpent's Tail £8.99) and the anthology Mind Invaders: A Reader in Psychic Warfare, Cultural Sabotage and Semiotic Terrorism (Serpent's Tail £9.99), it struck me that I was far better qualified to interview myself than those who were being paid to do the job. Given both this and the fact that Come Before Christ features doppelgangers the like of which haven't been seen since E. T. A. Hoffman's The Devil's Elixirs was first published in German nearly two hundred years ago, followers of Freud may discern schizophrenic tendencies in my work. However, since I consider the notion of the unconscious to be a nonsense, whatever maladies psychoanalysts claim to divine in my prose are of no concern to me.

STEWART: Do your have a set schedule when you write?

HOME: Usually, like when I'm doing a piece of journalism I'm given a word count and a deadline, then I just scream along as I type and it's done before I know it. Of course, I do get complaints from the neighbours, who sometimes want to know why the hell I'm making so much noise at three in the morning. The phone goes all day, so I prefer to write at night. You know, once you've got a cult reputation people just call with the most ridiculous propositions, like do you want to host a tv show? It never stops, Weekdays 10 am. to 6 pm. is really bad, so I lounge about in my silk pyjamas munching cashew nuts. Between six and midnight the calls are a mixture of my friends and nutters wanting to buy rock memorabilia I threw away years ago, not to mention a surprising number of strangers who want to give me blow jobs or have me kick them down the stairs into their basement and thinking I'll be thrilled that they want to be my slave. So in the evening I answer letters and listen to old soul records. After midnight there aren't so many phone calls, so I slip into my Crazy Gang kit and sit at my desk writing fiction or journalism while knocking back strong coffee and drams of classic malts like Ardbeg, Bruichladdich, Glenfarclas, Glen Scotia, Laphroaig, Macallan, Scapa or Talisker. If the neighbours come up to complain about the noise of me screaming as I type, I usually open the door and holler "Wimbledon! Wimbledon!" while shying salted peanuts at them. Interruptions used to be quite a problem after my last move but the other people in the block have got used to me now, and once they realised I was a writer I think they were less puzzled by what they viewed as my eccentric behaviour.

Anyway, I just scream through the night, then have a bath at about 7 am. and go to bed. I only need three or four hours sleep, so I'm always up well before lunch. What I write varies, I have binges on different forms. The journalism is quickly turned over when it comes in and I have intemperate bouts of book writing. Then I just stick the answerphone on and write eighteen hours a day until the thing is finished. I don't keep a journal but these days I save copies of all the letters I write. Just had my first collection of letters out, it felt like a book without any effort.

STEWART: Do you use note cards, do you carry a notebook or scribble on napkins?

HOME: Occasionally I'll take a notebook out when I'm going somewhere and want to describe it. Usually I just use my memory for stuff like that, or I'm checking in books. I don't use note cards or plans, I just get an idea and run it straight onto the computer when I'm doing a book. Of course, I'm reading all the time but I never write in books or make notes, I just throw in a scrap of paper to mark the page if I come across something I think I'll want to go back to. This works fine with books I've acquired permanently as long as I remember not to lend them to other people, it's a bit more of a problem with books I've borrowed from friends or used in the library, it just doesn't seem to work with them, the bits of paper tend to fall out if someone else reads the book.

I also have a great fondness for old envelopes. I tend to write messages all over them. They usually get filled up with people's numbers. I have piles of them by the phone and I can never find the numbers I want because I've written all over the back and front of every envelope and there are usually dozens of them lying around. As a result I'm pretty bad at returning calls because generally I can't find anyone's phone number and there comes a point where I get so fed up with all the scribbled over envelopes lying around that I just throw them away. Then I leave a message on my answermachine saying I've lost my address book and can everyone who calls leave their number. But I don't use these envelopes for my writing, they aren't an alternative to using a notebook. I just prefer the spontaneity of jumping right into writing, preparation is for wimps.

STEWART: Do you think of yourself as an underground writer?

HOME: Not really, I tend to think of people like Burroughs and Ginsberg as being underground, six feet underground to be precise. In fact I try to avoid the underground, especially in the summer and during the rush hour when it gets unpleasantly hot in the tube trains. I prefer the buses. I'm particularly fond of the S2 route that goes from Stratford to Clapton Pond. It's well cool, especially the bit where it loops down from the Bow Flyover to Bromley-by-Bow. I'm also well into the portion of the 35 route between London Bridge and Clapham, particularly the bit where you go through the Elephant and Castle. In London, there was a time when they were putting poems next to the advertising in the subway trains but it was always really naff. I wouldn't want my poems put up on underground trains, I'd prefer to see them on the side of a 22 bus.

STEWART: Who do you admire?

HOME: A Catalonian monk called Raymond Lull who lived in the fourteenth century. He was a logician and invented, amongst other things, the Ars Magna. This is a universal system of true statements derived by the means of tables which can be combined in mechanical ways. The result is a machine which creates philosophical questions about and reflections on universal truth. Lull actually created this machine as a tool to convert non-Christians. The tables and the ideas it used were based on what Lull believed would be accepted as true in all religions. So he used this combinatory table for converting non-Christians to Christianity. Obviously, it is secular appropriations of Lull rather than Lull himself that interest me. These really began to gain ground with Athanasius Kircher in the seventeenth century. Kircher was a Jesuit and wrote, among many other books, a new Ars Combinatoria which paved the way for practical applications of Lullism such as algorithmic permutation in poetry, especially in the speculative poetic plays of Harsdšrffer, Kuhlmann and others.

STEWART: What inspires you to write?

HOME: A mixture of things, like I might look at my bank account and realise I'm running out of money, so I'll knock up a novel to get an advance on it. You know, or I might hear a bit of conversation, something like "you want to split up and I want to split up, that means we've got something in common". I heard that and had to write a novel I could put it in. However, I don't really need to be inspired to write, I'm more or less addicted to it. Especially when I'm writing some kind of social critical piece, I just get into it and see where an argument takes me. It can be surprising, I end up with opinions that ten years before I couldn't have imagined holding. Working through arguments is the best kind of magickal mystery tour, you go down roads you've never been down before, so you really haven't got a clue where you're gonna end up.

STEWART: How would you like to be remembered?

HOME: I won't be remembered, as my writing becomes increasingly self-referential, I am rendered invisible. It is not so much a case of me wanting to be invisible, I am being rendered invisible whether I want this or not. Invisibility is an inevitable by-product of fame, the concrete individual is lost amid a plethora of hype, the image of the star is shaped by the fantasies and dreams of those who idolise them. The multiple identity is a way of publicly laying bare dreams of both invisibility and fame. This is one of the reasons I got involved in these projects where a lot of people were writing under the same name. When you have an open situation with a number of people using the same name and sharing an identity, you have an extreme case of an arbitrary signifier because there is no pretence that the name is unique in the way that someone might think the words Paul Smith refer to one individual. In fact, Paul Smith isn't a unique signifier. When I saw Wire playing on the South Bank a year ago, a middle aged woman asked me how I'd got in to what was basically a private party. I told her that I knew Paul Smith and she thought I was talking about the clothes designer rather than the bloke who runs Blast First Records and had organised the Wire gig.

With a shared name and identity like Luther Blissett or Karen Eliot, which are names various people have been involved in using collectively, the name is fixed, but the people using it aren't. From one perspective, the use of a multiple name is extremely arbitrary. You have an extremely flexible signifier and signified relationship. There is no fixed referent, merely a fiction created by those using the name. However, as soon as you use a multiple name, by sharing the identity and adopting an arbitrary signifier, you immediately find that you are in a position to mould both the signifier and what is signified. Suddenly you find yourself involved in something that is a perfect example of what a cabbalist might call Edenic language. By doing something as Luther Blissett, you find yourself actively shaping this identity. The relationship between the signified and signifier no longer appears arbitrary because each is shaped and mediated by the other. It follows that multiple names create a flip-flop effect in which those using them unlock the secrets of infinity.

A slightly truncated version of this piece previously appeared in Sick Again! Spring 98 under the title "Rotten, Boring And Imbecilic: Stewart Home interviewed by himself".

Memphis Underground

Stewart Home interviewed by Michael K


Stewart Home in Brighton hotel May 2007
Stewart Home in a Brighton hotel room May 2007, nearly a decade after he conducted the interview with himself just to your left.

"Play The Story" Matthew Buckingham, Camden Arts Centre, London (April-June 2007)
Like a lot of people in London, I first came across Matthew Buckingham when his 2003 film installation "A Man of the Crowd" was included in the group show "Universal Experience" (originated in Chicago but toured to The Hayward on the South Bank); this used reflections in glass and mirrors to draw the viewer (literally in the form of their shadow) into a contemporary Viennese street scene, which in its turn invoked an old Edgar Allen Poe story. Of Buckingham's three works at Camden Arts Centre, the video installation "The Spirit & The Letter" is the most elaborately staged and to my mind the weakest piece; an actress playing the eighteenth century feminist Mary Wollstonecraft walks mainly upside down on a ceiling, reciting subtly altered phrases 'originally' penned by this radical icon before falling silent and even disappearing at times - the room one watches this from contains a light matching the one on screen, but we are also upside down because a similar light sprouts from the floor of the gallery, while at the other end of the room a mirror reflects both the projected video and those viewing it (thereby both reminding us of how our visual perception works and inviting us to question to what extent our contemporary world might appear upside down to a visitor from another time, as well as simultaneously warning us that like Wollstonecraft we too will one day be ghosts). A second piece "Everything I Need" concerns the return to Berlin of lesbian author Charlotte Wolff; on one screen aspects of her life story are recounted using projected text, on another there are shots of the interior of the type of aeroplane that took her back to Germany in 1978; this work is spare and moving since among other things Wolff's life reminds us of the terrible fate of the many gay and Jewish people who didn't escape from the Nazi regime as she fortuitously did by fleeing Germany in 1933. A third work "False Future" is a meditation on the life, work and mysterious disappearance of early film inventor Louis Le Prince; in this a ten minute and apparently banal surveillance style clip shot at Leeds Bridge (mimicking but extending the one second of surviving Le Prince film, the first known piece of film footage) is juxtaposed against the story of Le Prince's achievements and mysterious disappearance in spoken French with English subtitles. "False Futures" is spooky and effective, and overall Buckingham's Camden show succeeds in building simple elements into a complex but contingent totality despite sliding towards the baroque in "The Spirit and the Letter". "Play The Story" is touring so you should be able to catch it elsewhere later in the year if you're not going to be in London... and if you aren't already familiar with Buckingham's austere but nonetheless queer sensibility, then this is a must see.
Home blog entry 15 June 2007.

Stewart Home in Brighton hotel May 2007