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FIVE THOUSAND YEARS OF FOREPLAY: Stewart Home interviewed by Marko Pyhtil
To meet Stewart Home is to come face to face with the meaning of hype. It has been claimed that Home works hand in glove with his detractors to lubricate a PR machine without beginning or end. If the resultant publicity is believed, then Home spends much of his time shagging seventeen year-old girls while simultaneously utilising the international telecommunications system to slander every straight-edge punk rocker and anarchist 'revolutionary' who ever stood up to a system that oppressed them with welfare payments and a free education. When I met Home in a Tampere sauna there wasn't even a telephone, let alone a bevy of seventeen year-old girls, in sight. These distractions being absent, I was able to get the answers to a series of important questions from the cult novelist and notorious egg bagel eater.
MP: How do you define the term ideology? Marxists define it as something like imaginary change that can't be lived in the real world. Do you agree with them?
SH: I think ideology refers to forms of false consciousness and the activities that give rise to and arise from these belief systems. Those involved in the creation/dissemination/elaboration of any particular ideology may or may not be deceiving themselves about the actual nature of their ideas and activities. Rather than being something that can't be lived out in the real world as you suggest, I see many ideologies as being lived out by those in their thrall and in this reflecting - albeit in a distorted fashion - the material conditions experienced by those adhering to any given belief. The way in which I use the term ideology could quite easily be traced back at least as far as its use by Marx and Engels in The German Ideology.
MP: You have argued that art is a myth or ideology that serves as a secular religion within bourgeois society. How does it function in practice?
SH: The myth of the artist as The Rebel (the Tony Hancock film of the same title is a good deconstruction of this) and notion of 'genius' serve to propagate ideologies of individualism. Consumption of different forms of culture, as well as different ways of consuming culture, serve to reinforce class divisions and propagate bourgeois centred male subjectivities as a universal standard from which to make judgements. Art as a supposedly superior cultural form is used to celebrate both capitalism and bourgeois modes of life.
MP: Why historicise anti-cultural currents such as the Situationist International that have traditionally attempted to escape the historicising process?
SH: I would question your assertion that these anti-cultural currents have traditionally tried to escape the historicising process. The Situationist International, for example, was clearly very concerned about being historicised in a particular way. The SI always did its own public relations and The Veritable Split In The International and the placing of documents in archives are just two examples of this in action. I am, or at least was, interested in the process of historicisation and in demonstrating how it takes place. I see, or saw, rereading the SI through the lens of different discourses (i.e. art, drugs, the occult) as a form of psychogeographical activity.
MP:. Are you still interested in the process of historification?
SH: Particular areas of research and themes in my work might assume positions of more or less importance depending on what I'm doing. The process of historification which was central to a number of my pursuits in the period 1985 to 1989 is currently of less interest to me. With regard to the situationists, it has become completely tedious attempting to deal with their ongoing historification. This is due to a number of reasons, but a not unimportant factor is an unwillingness to waste time addressing an ever increasing volume of utterly spurious published material on the subject. A particularly atrocious example of the latter is issue 79 of the journal October. This includes an essay by Glaire Gilman entitled 'Asger Jorn's Avant-Garde Archives' which uses the writing of Guy Debord to explain Jorn's painting while completely ignoring Jorn's extensive theoretical output much of which is at variance with Debord's positions. It seems that certain academics - such as Thomas McDonough who edited the situationist issue of October - don't care to research their subject properly, and I'm not going to waste too much time on this ever growing band of incompetent careerists. Another reason for being less interested in the situationists is that - in the British Isles at any rate - psychogeographical practices now exist quite autonomously of any interest in the situationists.
MP: In what areas is psychogeography 'valid'? Are you transforming it into a new form of literary criticism?
SH: I was always most interested in psychogeography as an 'unacceptable theory', as something that would be treated as invalid, particularly by those involved in academic and political discourses. However, having said this, psychogeography is becoming increasingly acceptable as a discursive formation within both academic geography and literary criticism. As evidence of this one might cite the fact that I was recently hired by Westminster University to take some of its urban studies students for a tour around the Brick Lane area of London, or the existence of publications such as Transgressions: A journal of urban exploration issued by the geography department of Newcastle University. Likewise one could examine the recent reception of London based novelist Iain Sincalir's non-fiction book Lights Out For The Territory.
MP: Do you see any value in the theories of the SI after they've been transformed into a non-fluid ideology of situationism (by Debord who refused to criticise himself)?
SH: The theories of the SI must be located within the context of both left-communism (and particularly the French ultra-left - Pierre Lanneret's Internationalists In France During The Second World War provides a useful introduction to this) and the historical avant-garde before they can be properly evaluated. The parallels with the Berlin dadaists whose texts appeared alongside those of the German communist-left are intriguing. The theory and practice of the SI is rendered senseless if it is divorced from this broader political cum cultural praxis. To treat Debord as an isolated genius is to succumb to the ideology of the aesthetic.
MP: What do you see as the major stengths and weakness of the theory and practice of the Situationist International?
SH: This depends on what one takes to be the Situationist International. Obviously, the politics of the Second Situationist International are barely worth considering since it is clear from publications such as The Antinational Situationist that they were anarchists. In terms of the Paris centred situationists of the middle and late sixties, they are a useful source for classically correct ultra-leftist positions on things such as vangardism and terrorism. However, while this version of the Situationist International formed part of the broader left-communist movement, too many of those attracted to it after the fact replicate the sectarianism associated with this particular groupuscle. This is one of the downsides to those associated with the theory of the spectacle. There were, of course, more than two tendencies within the SI and I think Asger Jorn's attempts to supersede the more conventional positions held by the likes of Debord or Jorgen Nash are perhaps flawed but! nevertheless interesting.
MP:. What answers do you see to the problems that Helena Sederholm raised about the Art Strike in Intellektuaalista Terrorismia? a) Only an artist can go on an art strike, b) Anti-art confirms the category of art, c) Refusal of art confirms art?
SH: Unfortunately I don't read Finnish and have only the English summary to go on with regard to Helena Sederholm's study, therefore I am not the best person to answer these questions. I have no particular desire to defend any of the various Art Strikes that have been propagated and possibly took place. These issues can only be resolved as a matter of social practice. Given the limited number of people who are aware of these Art Strikes, they should not yet be deemed of any great significance. However, it is possible that this situation will change due to the dissemination of information about various Art Strikes as 'historical' phenomenon leading to fresh discursive activity around the issues Helena Sederholm raised - indeed, it is even possible that this has already happened, but if it has I am not aware of it.
MP: Your work might well be described as 'post-modern' since you mix 'high' and 'low' elements in your texts and use 'intertextuality'. Can anyone escape the limits of their own time?
SH: Disregarding the fact that time itself is an epistemologically questionable construct, the difficulties in defining and using the term 'post-modern' are instructive. What you characterise as the 'post-modern' elements in my work can be found in works that are usually cited as examples of high modernism, for example the texts of Joyce, Eliot and Pound. In fact, there is so little agreement about what constitutes 'modernism' that there seems little point in attempting to use terms like 'post-modernism'. If people insist that what I do is 'post-modernism', then I like to add the qualification that it is 'proletarian post-modernism'. This is, of course, an (almost) unexplainable joke about 'master narratives'. Likewise, while I think it can be useful - at least occasionally - to attempt to escape the limits of one's 'own time', seeking to pass judgement on this type of activity strikes me as both monumentally futile and an urgent necessity. Horkheimer argued in Traditional and Critical Theory that no thinker can entirely escape his social origins and that the greater the work, the more it is rooted in the concrete historical situation. Horkheimer might be taken as confirming the banality that it is easier to judge contemporary attempts to escape the limits of our epoch in terms of failure as opposed to success, when in fact the relative ease with which these negative judgements are made merely illustrates the current limitations of judgement rather than decisively confirming the conclusions drawn from it.
MP: Why have you become so interested in the occult?
SH: There is the question of the relationship between the occult and the avant-garde, which is extremely complex. Equally suggestive is the way in which the occult often appears to be an 'unacceptable' discursive formation, particularly within academic circles. Despite this, the occult permeates academic - and particularly literary - discourse. To see this, you just have to look at an influential book like Jessie L. Weston's From Ritual To Romance, which was originally published by Cambridge University Press in 1920. Chapter 13 of this 'study' of the Grail romances is given over the 'perilous chapel' and includes the following:
At the risk of startling my readers I must express my opinion that it was because the incidents recorded were a reminiscence of something which had actually happened, and which, owing to the youth and possible social position, of the victim, had made a profound impression upon the popular imagination. For this is the story of an initiation (or perhaps it would be more correct to say the test of fitness for an initiation) carried out on the astral plane, and reacting with fatal results upon the physical... ...And here I would venture to beg the adherents of the 'Celtic' school to use a little more judgement in their attribution of sources. Visits to the Otherworld are not always derivations from Celtic Fairy-lore. Unless I am mistaken the root of this theme is far more deeply imbedded than in the shifting sands of Folk and Fairy tale. I believe it to be essentially a Mystery tradition; the Otherworld is not a myth, but a reality, and in all ages there have been souls who have been willing to brave the great adventure, and to risk all for the chance of bringing back with them some assurance of the future life. Naturally these ventures passed into tradition with the men who risked them. The early races of men became semi-mythic, their beliefs, their experiences, receded into a land of mist, where their figures assumed fantastic outlines, and the record of their deeds departed more and more widely from historic accuracy...
MP: Did you use any occult literary models when writing Come Before Christ And Murder Love? Is this the current direction of your writing?
SH: This really rather depends upon what is meant by occult, obviously if I had any deliberately 'hidden' models then it would be rather counterproductive if I drew attention to them. I was addressing a number of issues in that book and I was particularly interested in the literature on mind control. This is an area that one enters at one's own peril, it is not something which I view as resolvable and that is why I didn't use a linear narrative in Come Before Christ. Anyone who, for example, read through the literature on the John F. Kennedy assassination attempting to determine what actually happened in Dallas is likely to drive themselves crazy, if they aren't already 'mad' at the outset. Other models were, of course, the works of writers like Alain Robbe-Grillet and Jim Thompson. I also wanted to address the theses on ritual killing and cultural formation found in the writing of Rene Girard - and to a lesser degree members of The College of Sociology such as Georges Bataille - with whom I have some major disagreements. A more recent and currently unpublished novel makes little overt use of the occult, although I may return to the subject at a later date.
MP: You've said that the SI should be located within their historical context before they can be evaluated, does this apply to your work and if so, what would that context be?
SH: Yes and no. I am still alive, still producing texts, still making interventions. Since my work is an ongoing project, it would be premature to definitively place it in any particular historical context - now or in the foreseeable future. History is always a radical simplification made in retrospect. That said, it is perfectly clear that a good number of my critics haven't got the faintest idea what I'm doing due primarily to their own ignorance. If these critics cared to read a little more widely and made a greater attempt to utilise their understanding, then they might find themselves capable of engaging with what I'm doing. Of course, no one can be expected to know everything and there is no reason why any given critic should immerse themselves in the discursive formations which I am attempting to manipulate. However, if a critic wishes to write about 'my' texts and/or activities, then they cannot assume that they are equipped a priori to do so. It is not my responsibility if having applied the wrong theoretical tools to the task, a critic makes a series of category errors and is thus transformed into a laughing stock.
This interview dates from circa 1998.
Stewart Home tells it like it is....
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