Sketches of Home

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The works of Stewart Home are often morally devoid. This isn’t something the author particularly aspires towards, they’re just by-products of the avant filters he applies to his art. He is keen though to distance himself from the delinquent characters he writes. When Glass meets him, he isn’t the anarchist dynamo that we expected but more of a taciturn conjuree of arcane knowledge – a socially awkward tidal wave of obscurity. Face to face, there is not a glimmer of the sardonicism or Bacchanalian free-falling of his despicable characters. Things, it seems are not to be taken lightly.

This doesn’t make him any less impressive though. His output –around 30 books of fiction and non-fiction, numerous performances and art actions – upon a myriad of publishers and platforms have given us some of the most salient and vicious anti-art to come out of Britain – and on the online terrain – during the last 30 years, work which has been lauded and despised in equal measure by many high profilers such as urban prattler Will Self and psychogeographic progenitor Iain Sinclair who, according to the late great critic Elizabeth Young, voiced the suspicion that “Home’s major project is himself”.

And as Young writes, “Always two steps ahead of his questioners, he can parry and undercut any analysis of his work with his lethal combination of post-everything irony and his extensive range of references. Age cannot wither nor custom stale his infinite variety act.”

Glass discusses his shocking new offering, Charlie, Mandy and Mary-Jane, a tale of university administration, date rape drugs, art critique and forced purgatory and attempts to ascertain to what extent “Stewart Home” is a ruse or indeed a bizarre conduit for the frightening actions his characters take?

Read on to see if you are any the wiser:

There don’t ever appear to be any consequences to Charlie’s scandalous actions. If anything he is sometimes rewarded for his crimes. What kind of moral code were you working by here?
He’s not somebody I particularly like, he’s based on a number of people I quite heavily dislike … I’ve met some pretty appalling academics over the years – it is a very strange profession. It’s like the priesthood basically, particularly within the humanities.

So have you worked in the cultural studies sphere before?
No no, one of the main inspirations is actually a guy who taught philosophy, so I’ve taken from different places. I wrote the book when I was a writer in residence at York university in the English department. I’ve also been writer in residence and artist in residence in various arts schools and universities.

Some of the more humorous exchanges within the book come out of the seminars Charlie conducts with his array of ignorant and petulant students. Are these a riffing upon real students you’ve taught?
When I was in Strathclyde (this took place after writing the book) a student came into my office to talk about his “novel” and the novel in question was a long short story, possibly a novella of 1800 words. He comes in and says, you got to tell me how to get a big fat advance for my novel because I’ve got so my problems with my student loan! The long and the short of it, for the industry now, a novel is 80,000 to 120,000 words long. You’ll never sell this to anyone because you’re not a famous name … forget it.

On the topic of publishing, your output has been quite sporadic. Do you find it hard to sell your challenging style to these publishers each time?
It depends because there always editors and well-respected publishers who would like to publish my books. Every time I do a book, the editor says they want to do it and then of course, the higher-ups decide they’re not allowed to do my books … Because they have to get it past the accountants. Because I offend people.

(This book) is on a small American publisher. I wrote the book in 2005 and I sent it to the usual suspects. The usual editors who want to publish my work and are never allowed to wanted to. But other people were shocked by the 7/7 stuff because I set the book around at the end of 2005.

The climax of the novel is set in a time of false panic, during the aftermath of the 2005 7/7 terrorist attack in London. Have you tried to give those events a different perspective by releasing this ten years on?
Yes, I would like to expose the way fear is used to maintain the capitalist system we have. At the same time, I didn’t want to validate false conspiracy theories. The fact that anti-terrorist operations would pick those targets (the bomb sites) is because they are actual targets. You don’t need a conspiracy to explain that. He (Charlie) becomes convinced it’s a pagan bombing … I used the Pagan thing to send up ridiculous conspiracy theories.

Do you worry though that when you write in first person, people will consider it to be you?
People inevitably do but it’s (just) an opinion expressed by a character in a book. It doesn’t necessarily represent mine. I have Nazi characters in my books, I don’t agree with their opinions, I don’t agree with racism. Again, I’m surprised because I’m considered offensive but I’m very careful about the kind of racial slurs I use in my books. A lot of writers popular with the literary establishment use far worse racial slurs than I do … When you’ve got a fascist character that will do to indicate their racism. But people don’t seem to realise that there’s actually a consideration of that. And also there seems to be a confusion between sex, sexuality and sexism.

You boast an encyclopaedic knowledge of many niche cultures and art forms. Italian Cinema features extensively in this book, for example. Do you consider yourself responsible to educate your readership culturally, much alike Charlie?
I just tend to pick on different subjects. In Dead Princess (Canongate Books 2003) I pick on whisky for example, I could do coffee if I wanted. We all have our own tastes. Italian cinema was the biggest cinema production in Europe in the post-war period, 60s, 70s and into the 80s before the money started falling away. A lot of popular Italian cinema is interesting because it often tries to masquerade as being American but actually the storytelling is completely different from Hollywood. One of the things I find so boring about Hollywood film is the (contrived) plot points … Italian cinema doesn’t work in that way at all. Especially with the horror and the crime, it hangs together much more on the suspense. It pushes you to an extreme emotion and you kind of go with whatever is happening.

Do you try to approach your books in the same way? They certainly don’t contain conventional narratives.
I try not to use plot points because I think it’s boring. I do know about it but I don’t want to use it because I think it’s more interesting not to work with that and just try to speed the reader through. It’s like a cartoon character going over a cliff, who doesn’t fall until they look down.

To what extent is this book a reaction to journalists comparisons between you and Bret Easton Ellis? It certainly has a touch of American Psycho about it.
Come Before Christ and Murder Love (1997, Serpent’s Tail) got compared to American Psycho, which was written in third person. I was using notions of simulation from Baudrillard, as well as picking up on surrealist, pulp and crime writing tropes in experimental, non linear fiction. I thought, well let’s just try and simulate the plot and make it very repetitious. Most of the critics just thought I was trying to write Pulp which wasn’t what I was trying to do at all … Suddenly I was being compared to Bret Easton Ellis and American Psycho which struck me as really, really odd because his whole trip is a really even tone throughout that book, which is part of his psychosis.

But it varies from book to book … The new book doesn’t have so much collaged-in material from other sources but some of the other books have a lot. That book (which) suddenly got me compared to Easton Ellis used massive chunks of material copied and pasted from other sources …

So do you literally lift from other books?
I always do that yes. I think if someone’s written something as well as you’re going to be able to write it, why try and be original? Why worry? I did that for my first books, but the amount of what you could call plagiarism in the books varies.

Appropriation and re-contextualising is obviously a big part of your writing style …?
Yes, but what I appropriate isn’t necessarily meant to be recognised by most readers. I depends if I want it recognised. Sometimes I want readers to recognise something, sometimes I might not. But I also always adapt. I rewrite the stuff. I used to love reading Kathy Acker. Her prose was absolutely brilliant but she tended just to drop the stuff in. I like a roughness and collage effect but I don’t necessarily want the glue showing.

It would appear that the counter-cultural hubs that inform your work are disappearing. How do you adapt to this new landscape wherein a lot of activism has moved online?
One of the things I write about is the interaction that goes on the internet. There’s a lot of curious things and obviously Blood Rites of the Bourgeoisie (Semina, 2010) was picking up on that. There’s a whole online sexual dating culture on sites that aren’t ostensibly dedicated to dating, (there’s) a lot of psychosis that comes out of that … I’m always wondering about whether I want to write a novel based around the late 70s punk scene … You can trace a lot of politics (from that era). That was before the punk scene fragmented and became really boring. The subcultures still exist but they come together in a lot of weird ways…

Apart from your authorship, are you still performing? I hear you adopted ventriloquism a couple of years back …
I haven’t done that since November 2011. That was in New York. You have to practice regularly. I’m currently reading standing on my head and increasingly thinking I should incorporate pole dancing while do my readings, but that would take some training because I’m not a trained pole dancer. Although I am reasonably fit.

So with all these extra skills, do you consider “Stewart Home” a product?
I try not to be a product. I use stupid slogans like “quick, clean and efficient since 1962” or whatever just because, you know, I can do copy-writing if I feel like it as well. It’s kind of humorous because, well I was born in 1962 and I wasn’t exactly quick, clean and efficient, so it’s meant to undermine itself at the same time.

by Benjamin Lovegrove

All photographs by Emily Rose England

About The Author

Benjamin Lovegrove

Glass Online music and literature writer

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