Stewart Home is the author of numerous books, including Defiant Pose, No Pity, Red London, Slow Death, Cunt, Blow Job, Down and Out in Shoreditch and Hoxton, 69 Things to Do with a Dead Princess and, most recently, Tainted Love. He lives in London, England. He was the creator of The Art Strike 1990-93 and is the writer of The Assault On Culture, a controversial chronicle of the more extreme and political avant-garde movements of the 20th century.
Just before talking with Stewart, Scarecrow published an excellent interview which covered the ground that I would normally go over in an interview. So, Stewart and I decided doing our interview in an acrostic style might be nice:
Mark Thwaite S: S is for sex. 69 Things to Do with a Dead Princess – it's an hilarious title, but it's a very provocative novel. Is it important for you to shock?
Stewart Home: I think shock is just something that happens around me. Usually I’m not trying to shock, it just happens that people who don’t like to question consensus reality and who come across what I do are sometimes outraged by it. Take a twit like Slavoj Zizek, someone showed him one of my Necrocards, and he immediately leapt to the most ridiculous conclusions. Essentially these cards were an example of black humour being used to make an explicit and serious point, that the only acceptable forms of sexual activity are consensual ones. In theory necrophilia could be consensual, since consent is something given in advance and could be given before death, but in practice it rarely is. So the Necrocard was the NHS organ donation card reworked with new copy about wanting to help others sexually after your death. I printed and distributed fifty thousand of these in 1999, I first heard of Zizek misrepresenting them in January 2004 when he appeared at the ICA in London, where I’m told he criticised them as an example of Americans (I was born and live in London, I have visited the US but I’ve never lived there) becoming over sensitive to the sensibilities of others. Later I came across examples of Zizek continuing with his tirades against the Necrocard in interviews carried by the likes of Another Man Magazine. Squares like Zizek are too thick to understand the complexity of what I do. Zizek simply isn’t sophisticated enough to comprehend humour, which is why he reacts with shock, but that says far more about his limitations as ‘Europe’s leading intellectual’ than it does about me. I once took the trouble of emailing him after reading The Sublime Object Of Ideology, if it wasn’t that book then it was some other heap of shit he slung together, to point out that he knew nothing of communism since he’d claimed something along the lines of even the communists believe in democracy. He seemed to be confusing communism with Bolshevism, which as we all know was a form of anarcho-captialism. The Bolshevik revolution didn’t abolish money or the state, or achieve any of the other aims of communism, rather it oversaw the transition from the formal to the real domination of capital in the Russia and its satellite states. Bolshevism was thus a capitalist and not a communist revolution. If one, instead, takes the actual communist movement, rather than a bunch of capitalists posing as communists which is what Bolshevism was, then there was a debate about democracy with a split between the council communists who were in favour of democracy, and the Bordiguists who saw democracy as a capitalist political form, although capitalism also manifested itself in and through fascism. According to the Bordiguists both fascism and democracy can only and must necessarily be opposed by communism, which is the movement of vast majorities. I simply wanted to help Zizek improve his flawed positions, but I wasn’t that surprised when he failed to reply to me, although I had been introduced to him at a Block conference at the Tate. Zizek has persisted with his misrepresentation of communism, and has now taken to misrepresenting me too, and so clearly there is no point in continuing to attempt reasoned debate with him. He isn’t capable of it. That said, it wasn’t my aim to shock Zizek with the Necrocard. Zizek’s tragedy is that he’s so fixated with his identity as an ‘intellectual’ that he’s incapable of real thinking, something which must necessarily be mediated by practice.
Shock is always a matter of context, as the example of Zizek shows. I’m very much against extremism for its own sake, because extremism is always relational and not rational, you can only be extreme in relation to something else. You can only appear extreme in comparison to something else. Shock works in the same sort of way. What may appear shocking at certain times, or in certain cultural circles, is not in the least bit shocking elsewhere. On the other hand, I am not trying to write timeless and deathless prose, so I think about the possible reactions to what I do. I’m not even looking for a single reaction, I like to split the audience for and against whatever I’ve done. I’m not a fan of royalty myself, and I found it odd when Princess Diana died that the newspapers were full of all this ‘a nation mourns’ bullshit. Although the nutters dumping bunches of flowers down The Mall appeared to have been genuinely grieved, I never encountered any of them, so I got the impression it could have been some sort of media hoax since I only saw them on TV and in the press. Where I lived in Bethnal Green at the time, no one seemed to care about Di’s death. I’d get on the number 8 bus to go down the West End, or else go in a restaurant, and all I’d ever hear was people making jokes about Princess Di. All the usual things, like: "Q: What was Princess Diana’s favourite record? A: The Wall by Pink Floyd". There were loads and loads of Di jokes going around, so I came up with the title 69 Things to Do with a Dead Princess and initially I thought I’d do a cartoon book, like 101 Things to do with a Dead Cat. In the end the idea evolved and I wrote the novel. The title caused me a few problems, there were publishers who refused to even look at the manuscript because they said the whole concept of the book, which was a book within a book about a conspiracy theory that Diana’s body had been carted around neolithic sites, was so offensive. It actually took me several years to get the book published, there was a lot of resistance to it in the trade. That said, I personally wasn’t at all interested in Diana as a necrophiliac sexual fetish object, but she definitely occupied that role in a certain part of media (anti)-culture. My tastes in that type of thing swerve much more towards someone like Jane Mansfield. I’m not really interested in Mansfield in her Hollywood mould, there are some good visual jokes in The Girl Can’t Help It, like the milk bottles that bubble over in her sex bomb presence, but basically I prefer poverty row rock and roll movies to this type of ‘mainstreaming’. My favourite Mansfield movies are low budget exploitation effors like The Fat Spy and The Wild Wild World of Jayne Mansfield. I like the sleazy angles, the connection with The Church of Satan, the Playboy centrespread and the stripping as part of her nightclub act to keep herself in the public eye. Like Princess Diana, Mansfield died in a car crash, but way back when in 1967, and she was virtually decapitated in the accident. Ten years later a new wave band called The Motors were promoting their records in the music press with a picture of Jayne Mansfield and the slogan ‘I lost my head over The Motors’. I’m into Jayne Mansfield and I found that funny at the time, and still do. I think it’s pathetic that some scumbag royalty lover would get upset by the title of my book 69 Things to Do with a Dead Princess, it’s like they have no sense of humour at all, which I guess is the difference between people into Jayne Mansfield and those into Princess Diana. Personally I think you’d have to be pretty perverse to think of Princess Di as some sort of sexual icon, she always just looked like some incredibly dumb and dull Sloane Ranger to me. How anyone could ever find Diana sexually attractive is just beyond me, although I’m not surprised Prince Chaz did because he’s a total plonker. In terms of sexual attraction I go much more for that classic full fifties body figure that Jayne Mansfield has, or the women in Mario Bava’s Planet of the Vampires. The three women in Bava’s 1965 sci-fi/gothic crossover have full figures that look fantastic in the black patent leather space suits they’ve been geared up in. You get all these beautiful shots across the very broad and expansive command deck of the space ship, and every time I look at that I find my eye drawn to the huge arses of the actresses dressed in leather. They look fabulous, which isn’t something you can say about Princess Di without sounding completely twisted – or indeed the movie Aliens which is partially based on Planet of the Vampires.
MT T: T is for Tainted Love, your latest and arguably most accessible novel. Why the Soft Cell title!?
SH: Get away! Soft Cell only covered the song. I like the version by Gloria Jones best, but when I was fourteen/fifteen I had a friend who shared a bedroom with an older brother of seventeen or so who used to play that song again and again. The version my friend’s older brother had was by The Jezebels. Mark Almond certainly knew what he was doing when he covered that song, a fabulous choice and he even had the first big hit with it, but it was an old song and the Soft Cell version is to my ears not nearly as strong as the previous cuts of it. I was probably more impressed with original Soft Cell material, and in particular I thought the video for Sex Dwarf was fabulous. Conceptually, and Soft Cell were much more about concept than musical ability. I thought the Sex Dwarf video was fantastic, but I haven’t seen it since it came out, and so I’ve no idea how it may or may not have stood up to the passage of time. However, to return to my friend, his older brother was adopted, so I always associated that song with adoption. It seemed appropriate for the book. Otherwise I might have called the novel Ladbroke Grove, but doing that I’d have run the risk of casual bookshop browsers believing they’d stumbled across some kind of Monica Ali goes west type title. I didn’t like Brick Lane as a book much. I used to live right by Brick Lane and that novel just read like the fantasies of someone who’d taken a day trip there. You could have transposed it elsewhere and it wouldn’t have made any difference, I don’t think Ali has the faintest idea of what it’s actually like to be working class, and the Bengali locals living in and around Brick Lane are overwhelmingly working class. Not that I’m a fan of realism, but you need to have some understanding of your starting point, even if you’re going to jump off from it into complete fantasy. But then I guess Brick Lane wasn’t really being pitched at people who knew the area, more at people wanting something dull, bland, and to the ‘white’ ‘middle-brow’ market ‘exotic’.
MT E: E is for Empire ... and excuse! This is my excuse to ask you about politics, particularly the war on Iraq: new imperialism or benign intervention?
SH: I kind of glanced at Empire, but I thought Negri had degenerated somewhat from his earlier stuff, like the Domination and Sabotage essay which appeared in English translation in the Semiotext(e) Italy publication twenty or whatever years ago. That said, I don’t really see how anyone but an Anglo-American neo-imperialist could be anything other than against Bush and Blair’s ‘war in error’. We all know who the real terrorists are, and they’re not the Islamic reactionaries like Abu Hamza. Of course, while I think Hamza is a complete moron, I don’t really see that as a good reason for jailing him. It would be far better to ridicule him, leaving him free and ineffectual rather than turning him into a pseudo-martyr. After all, he’s so constrained by the ridiculous religious ideology he’s adopted that he’s fundamentally incapable of organising a piss up in a brewery. What pisses me off is the way Hamza, among others, gets described as a ‘radical’ all the time in the media. He clearly isn’t a radical, he’s a reactionary. While so called Islamic tradtionalism (a current that can be traced back to and through European converts like Rene Guenon), is a product of modernity (as, of course, is Christian fundamentalism), it cannot recognise itself as such because such an admission would completely undermine it. If you think about it, it makes no more sense to call Hamza a ‘radical’ than to call a Christian fundamentalist like Billy Graham or Pat Robertson a radical. The application of a term like ‘radical’ to scum like Hamza is part of a widespread and ongoing attempt to discredit progressive political, cultural and social currents. This is an attempted softening-up process designed to make it easier for butchers like Blair and Bush to carry on with their policies of mass murder. And let us not forget that Bush and Blair are responsible for far more deaths than their alleged ‘enemies’; that said, these people need each other, whereas we don’t need any of them. Terrorism is necessarily elitist, vanguardist and inevitably and invariably contributes to preserving capitalist exploitation. And the same is true about what Bush and Blair are overseeing in Iraq and elsewhere, which is the worst type of terrorism. We know that it is Bush and Blair who actually possess weapons of mass destruction (and not those they accuse of having these things), and that if they stuck in practice to the logic of the rhetoric they use in their attempts to justify the unjustifiable, Britain and America would be waging war on each other, instead of embroiling themselves in neo-Imperialist adventurism in the Middle East.
MT W: W is for Writer - you seem, to me, to write a lot! How do you write longhand, straight on to a computer? Do you have a set pattern, treating it like a job, or do you wait for the Muse? Is it Work or pleasure?
SH: I write straight onto the computer, and have done since I got my first Amstrad in March 1987. Before that I used to type straight onto a typewriter, I can touch type so this is no problem for me. I can actually type faster than I can write by longhand, so it makes sense for me to work on the keyboard. I never wait for the Muse, I don’t know what the Muse is other than an attempt to sneak the idea of divine presence back into a secular world. The notion of the Muse exudes the rotten-egg smell of the idea of God, which is so beloved by right-wing mystical cretins ranging from Bush and Blair to Omar Bakri Muhammed. Having an idea is not at all the same thing as running with it. I always transform my ideas as I’m working them out in practice; that is assuming we’re talking here about a book or graphic or whatever. You also get one liners that come in flashes, and they don’t really need changing, but that’s because of all the shit that’s gone into your brain just coming out again in transmuted form. So just now I noticed I’d typed the name Abu Hamza above this, and Gary Glitter is also on my mind because I went to see Luke Haines play the other week, and afterwards we were joking about Gary Glitter because Luke does a song about him ruining the career of the Glitter Band. Luke told me that because of Gary Glitter’s exposure as a paedophile, the Glitter Band can’t get work. They were professional musos working the cabaret circuit and it must be a real pisser for them to have their livelihood fucked by the sick and pathetic abuse of children by someone they were once associated with, but whose actions are absolutely nothing to do with them, and which they can’t control. It shouldn’t need pointing out, but I’ll do it anyway, that paedophilia is always abusive since the enormous power differentials between children and adults mean children can’t freely consent to sex with adults, they are necessarily coerced into it regardless of whether they verbally agree or not. Even Freud, who I don’t have a lot of time for, understood this. So seeing Luke Haines made me think it was strange how there didn’t seem to be any jokes about Gary Glitter, which I guess I’d attribute to a failure to analyse power relations when dealing with subjects like paedophilia, and instead we’ve been subjected to this insane media campaign that is based on a hysterical moralism. This is something that needs addressing, since there are paedophiles (and here I’m thinking in particular of the American Muslim convert and right-wing anarchist Peter Lamborn Wilson aka Hakim Bey) who will brazenly defend themselves against moralism, while completely ignoring the real and non-moral reasons as to why paedophilia is abusive. So while watching Luke Haines sing, I started thinking I could start a rumour that Gary Glitter had recorded a ‘cum back’ single, a double A-side featuring reworkings of a couple of retitled seventies hits I’m The Leader of the Paedophile Ring, I Am and Hello, Hello, I’m Back Between Your Granddaughter’s Beef Curtains Again. So after the show we got into making increasingly tastelsss jokes about Gary Glitter and came up with a whole scenario of him being executed on Top of the Pops by a firing squad made up from the members of the Glitter Band, and debated whether only one member of the Glitter Band should have a bullet in their rifle or whether all of them should have loaded guns. I would stress that this was simply humour, I doubt if anyone present actually agreed with capitol punishment, but black humour is useful in breaking through the sterility that moralism brings to a subject such as this. Finally, to return to the point about where inspiration comes from, all of this accounts for why just now I suddenly though of the following joke "Q: What do you get if you cross Abu Hamza with Gary Glitter? A: Someone who likes abusing people of their own mental age." As you know there’s a formula to a lot of these jokes, so they can be endlessly adapted. For example: "Q: What do you get if you cross Tony Blair with Roadrunner? A: A streak of shit." "Q: What do you get if you cross Abu Izzadeen with an egg? A: Botulism." "Q: What do you get if you cross Gordon Brown with caviar? A. Gut rot." "Q: What do you get if you cross George Bush Junior with a brain surgeon? A: A lobotomy." "A: What do you get if you cross pop paedophile Jonathan King with an Allen Jones sculpture? A: A fucking monstrosity." There’s no mystery to coming up with jokes like this, they are a working through of existing tropes, some results will be better than others, so then you have the job of editing out the worst stuff, which leaves the best. There is no point in waiting for inspiration, you just get on with it. That aside, it is most definitely a pleasure to ridicule scum like Tony Blair and George Bush Junior.
MT A: A is for anarchism and for avand-garde. Pure Mania, your first novel, was set amongst a milieu I understand you knew well - anarchists and ultra-leftists in London. The situationist-inspired magazine, Smile, with which you were involved, and your books on art (The Assault on Culture: Utopian Currents from Lettrisme to Class War) and Situationism (sic!) (What Is Situationism: A Reader) show you to be fascinated by avant-garde currents. Are these kinds of politics/thought still important to you?
SH: I’ve tried to make it clear over the years that I think anarchism is an extremely problematic ideology, and the idiocies that have been associated with it since its emergence in the nineteenth-century were greatly exacerbated by its revival as a creed though big selling pop records released by anarcho-punk bands ranging from Crass to Chumbawamba. That said, I view the incoherent ideogology of Crass to be far worse than the silly season antics of Chumbawamba. Anarchism only means one is opposed to the state, and beyond that covers a whole range of political positions from left to right. Crass, who had no critique of the commodity and who used money as a real measure of value (with all the pay no more than rhetoric on their album sleeves, which in the end was simply a marketing ploy, since their music was atrocious they needed another angle to sell it), were most definitely not on the left. But what Crass did was get a whole load of kids into the idea of being anarchists as a pose, a life-style. Crass convinced a bunch of confused and privileged children that it was possible to ‘live differently’ in a capitalist society, that they could forget about proletarian revolution and coalesce into their own sect of the elect in the alienated here and now. As a direct consequence of this there is now a predominance of life-style anarchism in what are allegedly political activist circles, where even those anarchists who are into abolishing money will more often than not defend right-wing anarchists when the their far-Right life-style ‘comrades’ are criticised by people who don’t self-identify as anarchists. Anarchism is a swamp in which a lot of kids (both adolescents and their elders who never figured out who to grow up) get lost. But I think I’ve made my critique of contemporary anarchism and there isn’t that much need for me to go back there. I deal with anarchism in fictional form in various stories and my early novels from Pure Mania, through Defiant Pose and Red London, to Blow Job. Then there are the non-fiction texts, some of which I wrote as Luther Blissett, so I think I make my positions quite clear, particularly in The Green Apocalypse and Anarchist Integralism or indeed in the essay Anarchism Is Stupid: Comedy, Identity and Fictive Politics which is included in my book Confusion Incorporated: A Collection of lies, hoaxes and hidden truths.
What one does with the cultural avant-garde is a little more complex. It was, for example, exemplary when the surrealists spat on priests in the nineteen-twenties and thirties, such gestures helped remove the dead weight of the Toad of Nazareth from our backs. The avant-garde is also a lure to draw artists into abandoning their privileged position as specialist non-specialists. I’ve written elsewhere about how the artist is in many ways a deformed prefiguration of the communised (in)dividual. For Marx, once we had communism, we could be hunters in the morning, fishermen in the afternoon, and critical critics at night. Being vegetarian, I’ll be an egotist in the morning, a porn star in the afternoon, and a critical critic at night. But the point is we won’t be tied down to alienated roles, instead we’ll be able to realise all the facets (physical, emotional, intellectual) of being human. Both bourgeois aesthetic theory and Marx draw heavily on German idealist philosophy, so it isn’t surprising that there are parallels between them. But artists still produce commodities to be sold on the market place, which is why they and their activities remain alienated and deformed. The job of progressive artists is to destroy their privileged role as specialised non-specialists, and the avant-garde is one lure to draw them to a place where they can live out the death of art. Likewise the job of progressive politicos is to destroy politics as a discourse and thus overflow capitalist canalisation. The ultra-left is as dry as dust these days, but it nonetheless developed certain theoretical insights that can and must be applied to the ongoing practice of class struggle.
MT R: R is for Robbe-Grillet: Robbe-Grillet is, I know, a writer you like (me too) - who else inspires your work? R is also for revolution - your Art Strike (inspired by Gustav Metzger) was a revolutionary attack on art and art production: are your revolutionary/ultra-provocative days over?
SH: Everything I see influences my work, both positively and negatively. I look at a lot of stuff and more often than not it makes me very certain about what I don’t want to do. What I’m one hundred and one percent against is this culture of mindless quotation, the idea that it is really cool just to cite things, and this pathetic practice completely permeates the art world at the moment and its insufferably boring. There’s nothing wrong with picking up on something but you need to run with it, redeploy it, transform it. You shouldn’t just slavishly cite, you should always be actively doing something with the cultures we’ve inherited. The difference between doing and quoting is, in a nutshell, what separates detournement from appropriation. Reproduction alone is simply pointless reiteration, it’s completely mechanical and reveals the mind behind it to be retarded. An almost too perfect example of this is the Angela Bulloch interview in the December 05/January 06 issue of Art Monthly. In this conversation, Bulloch keeps saying she’s referring to different things in her works, but she never provides any reason as to why she’s citing them. Bulloch is happy just to quote, which is why what she does is as dull as ditchwater. She and Liam Gillick who are showing together at the moment in London, must number among the most boring ‘big name’ artists in the world. This is one of the reasons why the French government has been so heavily subsidising all the bollocks we’ve seen lately about relational aesthetics. Gillick is, of course, one of the key non-Gallic players, although as one would expect given the source of finance, it’s chiefly a French phenomena with a little international anti-flavouring to add to the bland-out factor. Capitalist politicians want people to think this pointless quotational bullshit is in some way radical, so that art bores are diverted from becoming engaged with anything that might actually threaten the status quo. Prototypical exemplars of ‘relational aesthetics’ like Rirkrit Tiravanija doling out food to rich collectors and dealers at art fairs and this being treated as an aesthetic development is a fucking joke. Twenty years before Tiravanija attempted anything like this, when Pete Horobin was creating situations in which different kinds of people could meet and talk as works of art, he picked on marginal spaces like The Basement in Newcastle and dragged people in off the street. Whatever criticisms one might make of Horobin’s art radicalism, he was at least sincere, and not just some smug and cynical git like Tiravanija, whose work looks remarkably like a recuperation of Horobin’s earlier interventions since Tiravanija chooses to re-enact these pieces at swanky biennials.
Moving along to print, recently I’ve been looking at some old books again because they relate to my mother’s life, although I’d already read them as a teenager. I’ve been going through parts of I, Jan Cremer by Jan Cremer and that’s interesting, because Cremer did these two books of supposedly autobiographical prose (I, Jan Cramer 1 & 2) which possibly have Cramer’s life as their starting point but which quickly drift off into complete fantasy. I like Cremer’s urreliability and unbelievability as a narrator, he’s both pre and post-modern in this. It makes me read him critically, questioning all the time whether I should I accept anything he writes at face value. I also like these two books as examples of tall tale telling. You see a lot of attitudes that are now archetypal in these two books. I also like the fact that Cremer was also a painter, in fact more a painter than a writer. He knew a lot of primo-avant-gardists of the post-war period. His novels, sorry I meant ‘autobiographies’, are very picaresque and I love the slippages in them. I dig the way he doesn’t give a shit about proper narration either, you just get this endless series of incidents. You don’t need to read Cremer’s books from beginning to end, you can just dip in and out. I’ve also been looking at Louis Pauwels and Jacques Bergier again, because in their first book The Morning of the Magicians, you can see how a load of the interest in the occult, UFOs, secret societies, the Templars etc. filtered through from them into contemporary culture. Pauwels and Bergier didn’t invent this stuff but they were very important in disseminating it into our post-modern world. The Morning of the Magicians is very post-modern, you’re told at the beginning the good reader will dip in and out, it’s just this endless compendium and is virtually unreadable if you try to go through word by word to the end. A must read for anyone who wants to go ‘beyond the borderlands of knowledge’ to spend a few years in absolute elsewhere. Morning of the Magicians is garbage of the highest order, where the quantity of sheer rubbish in the book transforms its quality. In other words, this is amusing and inspiring bollocks, whereas the art gathered together under the rubric of ‘relational aesthetics’ is tedious bollocks.
Someone else I’ve spent a lot of time looking at recently is Terry Taylor, who was a close friend of my mother. Taylor’s only published novel Baron’s Court, All Change is The Holy Grail for anyone serious about collecting British beatnik ephemera. The book was first published in 1961 and reissued as a paperback in 1965. This tale of spiritualism, jazz, drug dealing, busts and abortion set amongst London hipsters is one of the great lost works of English youth culture: A book so obscure that neither Iain Sinclair, nor any of the dealers I’ve asked about it, had previously heard of this ‘reforgotten’ classic (Jon Savage is the only person other than me that I know of who has a copy). Taylor’s story rattles along, but the author was more extraordinary than his fiction. He was the real life inspiration for lead characters in two bestselling Colin MacInnes novels: the unnamed narrator of Absolute Beginners and the pimp in the follow-up Mr. Love & Justice. Another ‘fictional’ representation of Taylor can be found in the ‘Magic Room’ section of Johnny Dolphin’s Journey Around An Extraordinary Planet. Taylor spent the sixties perfecting his drug based ritual magic. My mother belonged to his Notting Hill coven, and so there is a thinly fictionalised depiction of Terry in my new novel Tainted Love too. For more about Taylor see the Colin MacInnes biography Inside Outsider by Tony Gould. Baron’s Court, All Change is crying out for a reprint. The book is so cool and the prose is so fresh, that once you’ve clapped your eyes on a copy, you’ll believe it came straight from the fridge!
Terry Taylor wasn’t only a writer, the blurb on the hardback edition of his novel mentions that by the age of twenty-eight he had been among other things a palmist, wall of death rider, barrow boy, an actor and a photographer. He was also a painter, an occultist and for a while in the late fifties, an assistant to Ida Kar. Terry became Kar’s lover when he was twenty-three and she was forty-eight. Kar was a Russian who grew up in Egypt and became a big deal in British photography after the second inter-imperialist war, although her career went into decline in the 1960s, leaving her to die in obscurity in a Bayswater bedsit in 1974. The National Portrait Gallery now has the Ida Kar archive, some of which is catalogued online. However, there is a shitload of uncatalogued material including a series of photographs of Terry Taylor. These are simply amazing, showing Terry back in the fifties getting spliffed up, looking like the ‘original London teenager’ (which in many ways he was, due to MacInnes using him as inspiration for his fiction about teenagers), coming across as an amazing cross between a beatnik, a dandy, a mod and a punk. Taylor was so far ahead of his time he looks utterly contemporary in his fifties time capsule with his jazz records and bleached hair (it’s only dyed in some of the photos). I’m hoping to show some of these pictures at the Arnolfini in Bristol in April where I’m organising a show entitled Hallucination Generation: High Modernism in a Tripped Out World.
Another figure I’m trying to revive by showing them in this show I’m orchestrating in Bristol is the currently forgotten artist Francis Morland. Among other things Morland smuggled pot inside his fibre glass sculptures from the mid-sixties onwards. He’s also one of the reforgotten dope smugglers who was moving more shit than Howard Marks long before Marks even got in on the game. When Morland had his first major bust there was a lot of press interest because he'd just been on a skiing holiday with Princess Margaret, he was part of her set. Francis is unfortunately in prison again at the moment for drug smuggling but hopefully he’ll be getting out later in the year. He is quite a character and was taken very seriously as an artist in the sixties. His sculpture is also extraordinarily good. But just because I’m interested in Morland’s work, that doesn’t mean I’ve any time for royalty. I don’t know what Francis thinks of the monarchy, but I’m still one hundred percent against it as a feudal hangover. I wouldn’t say my revolutionary days are over, it’s just that I can’t kick start a revolution on my own, to think so would be vanguardist. But I’m still very interested in participating in the overthrow of capitalism, something that necessarily entails a mass class based movement. As for provocation, I think I’ve only ever been found provocative because the social climate has been so conservative. If you think through what I have to say, then it’s obvious it isn’t in the least bit provocative, it’s just plain old common sense. So if what I’ve got to say appears less provocative than it was in the past, then that must mean the world is taking a more revolutionary turn, which can only be a good thing.
MT T: T is for Trocchi, who I always think of when I think of you! The Scottish, junky situationist is a very flawed hero, writer and thinker. Do you rate him?
SH: Although a tad literary in terms of sentence construction, I think both Young Adam and Cain’s Book are extremely good pieces of prose. I also like much of Trocchi’s occasional writing such as Invisible Insurrection of a Million Minds. He was a very good writer, but definitely flawed as an individual. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to describe Trocchi as a tosser when it comes to thinking through the drug scene around him, and the way he liked to get other people, and particularly beautiful young women, hooked on smack. That said, while my mother was involved in Trocchi’s drug scene for years, he wasn’t responsible for her getting into skag. Regardless of what you think of him as a man (and I don’t think much), you can’t knock his skill as a writer. Your phrase flawed hero pretty much sums him up.
MT H: H is for homoerotica and for Hegel. The first piece I can remember reading of yours was in Smile, I think. About a proud skinhead riding on a bus back to his flat and then getting involved in some hardcore gay sex. Red London has a strong gay element too. Is this just you being provocative? I'm sure I remember you once saying that you were the only person you knew who had actually read Hegel - you still a fan of the Big Aitch?
SH: I used a lot of gay sex in my early fiction about anarchists. This really came out of my desire to satirise them. I mean, I was familiar with the early Class War scene, since some people I’d known from London Workers Group involved themselves in that. Those that didn’t degenerate into unreconstructed anarchists left pretty quickly I hasten to add. So in theory early Class War was into polymorphous perversity, but in reality most of the six or so individuals producing the paper were in monogamous couples, or at least aspired to that. The early issues of the Class War newspaper were all paid for by money from prostitution that came from one aristocratic john, which kind of accounts for the focus on hatred of the upper classes in it. This quickly became institutionalised and ritualised, and I doubt that many of those currently involved with the various Class War micro-splinters have much idea of its origins. But the gay sex in the early fiction came partly out of a good knowledge of the anarchos I was satirising, and the disparity between theory and practice as it related to their proclamations about polymorphous perversity. But simultaneously my interest in graphic depictions of gay sex came out of a theoretical (I’m not going to say and practical here, since I’d then give in to the urge to make some cheap joke about being a wanker) interest in pornography and specifically in the differences between gay and straight pornography. So in gay porn you get this double testosterone dose, but also for fairly obvious reasons less aversion to descriptions of smells and fluids than you find in a lot of repressed vanilla straight porn. I was also just interested in writing that was ridiculous and thus ridiculously funny, and porn was also a route to cheap thrills of this stripe. I’m always surprised when people tell me they get off on my porn, its probably easier for women. Of course, its fantastic if you can laugh while maintaining an erection but for a lot of blokes achieving this is quite a feat. To sum up, I was never trying to be provocative, I was just into satire and theoretical explorations of porn worked out through fiction. And yes, I’m still into Hegel: I really ought to do another Art Strike, since that would give me time to sit down and start reading through him again. I don’t claim to be the only person I know to have read Hegel, it would be difficult to have discussions of him if this was the case. I think what happened was that someone reviewing one of my books said something like I was the only contemporary novelist to have read the whole of Hegel’s Aesthetics, and this was picked up by a publisher who blurbed it onto a subsequent novel. I doubt its true and the claim is nothing to do with me in any case.
MT O: O is for oeuvre - what is the favourite of your books?
SH: My favourite of my books is usually the one I’m working on. Right now I’m revising a novel entitled Mandy, Charlie and Mary-Jane. But of my published books, I probably like Tainted Love, 69 Things to Do with a Dead Princess and Slow Death best. I adopt quite diverse prose and (anti)-narrative styles in my different books, so it’s hard to pin it down to one. Likewise, if I was going to suggest a non-fiction book it would be hard to choose between The Assault On Culture and Cranked Up Really High. I spent a lot longer working on the former but I think the trashiness of the latter suits its punk rock subject matter very well. Right now I also feel very proud of Whips & Furs: My Life as a bon-vivant, gambler and love-rat, a book that I attributed to Jesus H. Christ. This is the novel in which it’s revealed that Jesus wasn’t a virgin who died on the cross, but rather both a pervert and a complete moron. Of course, I didn’t expect anyone to really believe the book was written by the historical Jesus (there is only a historical Jesus, the divine version is a joke), but I thought it needed publishing on the 2000 anniversary of his alleged death. I’ve been thinking lately it would be good to find a publisher for a companion book to that, this time to be attributed to the Prophet Muhammad entitled Flesh Feast: My Life as a raconteur, loan shark and pimp. I think it would be interesting to find someone prepared to put that out, Attack Books who did the Jesus H. Christ book unfortunately aren’t in business any more. I think it’s important to stand up against superstition, while recognising that a lot of communities are under constant racist attack, and that religion is unfortunately often something people fall back on as a defence against this. I also think it’s important to recognise that hundreds of years ago Islam played a progressive role in the world, and Islamic societies were clearly way ahead both technologically and intellectually of what later became Europe when what was then Christendom had been plunged into its Dark Ages. Of course, it certainly wasn’t the Dark Ages in the Islamic world then. So while proletarian post-modernists like me oppose all monotheistic mysticism, it is necessary to simultaneously fight the racism that Muslim communities face both here in London and elsewhere in the world. To return to Brick Lane, which I was talking about a little earlier, the real core of the racism suffered there is institutional, so the Bengali community has very high unemployment and very poor housing, they’re at the bottom of the heap for both those things. Institutional racism is the fetid bedrock from which casual racism and racist attacks spring. So a massive planet wide redistribution of wealth necessarily lies at the heart of tackling both racism and fundamentalism. It’s important to remember that in the US a lot of Bible Belt fundamentalism is tied to the envy of the relatively privileged, the most problematic Christians there culturally construct themselves as ‘white’ and then wonder why they aren’t as economically well off as the East Coast WASP (‘White Anglo-Saxon Protestant’) elite. With regard to Muslim fundamentalists, it is definitely relative poverty that is the major problem. That said, and as I’ve been pointing out for years, and in particular in relation to the Fatwa against Salman Rushdie, most Muslims are not fundamentalists. Saying this earned me nothing but insults from the poodles of the literary establishment back in the mid-nineties, and subsequently they went out of their way to prevent my work being published, and operated an unofficial blacklist against me. There were instances of these twits very actively preventing my work from being published, but in the light of more recent world events it’s them and not me who have been forced to change their tune.
It is also necessary to put ‘fundamentalist’ anger in its proper historical context. One only has to go back to the seventies to see the disgraceful way in which the film-maker Jens Jorgen Thorsen was treated when he announced he was planning to make a film called The Sex Life of Jesus, as a follow up to the success of his 1970 marriage of exploitation and art house cinema Quiet Days in Clichy. It isn’t clear whether Thorsen actually intended to make the film, or whether the announcement was a prank, but as a result he was banned from filming in something like thirty countries. Thorsen was banned from the UK, and here too at the end of the seventies there was the notorious private prosecution of Gay News for running a poem depicting Jesus as gay. One simply has to look to contemporary America to see how Christian fundamentalism warps a society. There are frequent terrorist attacks by not necessarily state aligned Christian fundamentalists in the US against people and institutions they dislike. The US government is also peppered with Christian fundamentalism and it currently constitutes absolutely the worst threat to the world in terms of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. Christian fundamentalism is clearly a more immediate problem than any other type of fundamentalism, but that doesn’t mean one shouldn’t oppose all forms of fundamentalism and monotheism. Books like Whips & Furs play a role in demonstrating that belief in God is simply mystical cretinism, and I think Flesh Feast, if I can find a publisher for it, could also make a small contribution to dismantling disabling superstitions. So to sum up, religion is just as bad as patriotism, they both stink up the planet.
MT M: M is for mother - Tainted Love is a(n anti-) memoir about your mother. I don't take you for a sentimental writer, but you do seem to be mellowing a tad: was writing Tainted Love important for you emotionally?
SH: I’m very proud of my mother, and I think she looks really great on the cover of Tainted Love. She had a life that was worth recording, even if it was thinly fictionalised. I think we need more writing about so called ‘ordinary’ lives and less about those of the allegedly ‘great’ and ‘good’. Anyway, I love my mother and my mother loved me, so why not do a book about her? I guess doing the book was emotionally fulfilling in some ways, but what I’d like to come back from it is a bit more information about her death. This may or may not happen, but those who could tell me something about my mother’s death, who maybe don’t know I want to know about it, will recognise the story in the novel, and I may get some more details as a result. If this doesn’t happen, then it doesn’t happen, but it was very much on my mind when I decided to do the book as a novel. However, I also think it’s important to keep evolving in terms of all the stuff I do. I do a lot more than just books, but too many novelists just stick with the same thing. So I deliberately write very different books. People shouldn’t expect what I do to remain the same. I think a lot of people were surprised by Tainted Love. I wasn’t trying to write a commercial book, I just opted for the right style for what I wanted to do and say, and its being perceived as more commercial than what I normally do. The fact that I can vary things so much demonstrates my skill as a writer, and I think these days people too often want ‘authenticity’ and wrongly view a lack of skill as signifying its presence. Technical ability, in writing and visual art, is under-rated at the moment. Of course, technical ability on its own simply produces empty virtuosity, which is actually worse than having something to say but lacking the skill to properly articulate it. It’s having a combination of the two that produces something really good. I’ve worked hard at improving my writing skills and I’m proud of the diverse range of my achievements. I wish my mother was around to be proud of them too. One of her friends did tell me she’d have been very pleased to have been the focus of one of my novels.
MT E: E is for experimentation. You have always played with form - this likely to continue? What is coming next?
SH: I’ve already mentioned that I’m just doing some revisions to a novel entitled Mandy, Charlie & Mary-Jane. I guess this lies somewhere between my novels Cunt and 69 Things to Do with a Dead Princess. It’s my parodic response to being fed up with the endless Bret Easton Ellis comparisons I’ve suffered, so I have a serial killer narrator to bring out both the similarities and the differences. I thought American Psycho was a very workman-like piece of prose, nothing wrong with it, but if I’m doing that obsessive thing, I like it to take off into some new level of insanity towards the end. I find Ellis too even keeled throughout his books, the ends just stay on the same level; whereas with Dead Princess and Mandy, Charlie & Mary-Jane I think I’ve gone somewhere else towards the end (mentally in Princess, geographically as well as mentally in Mandy because at the end the narrator believes he’s blown himself up and is in hell). Aside from Flesh Feast, which I’ll do very quickly if I can get a publisher for it, I have a couple more things I’m planning to write. I’d imagine Blood Rites Of The Bourgeoisie as having a similar composition process to Tainted Love but with a very different content, since it will be set in the contemporary art world. Then I want to do another novel Chicken Strut to continue with my critical exploration of autobiography and memoir as a form. But these are only my starting points. It’s quite possible these works will be radically transformed once I start work on them. I don’t like to predetermine the form or content too much. I have a starting point and an end point I’m aiming for, but a goal is just something to aim at, a direction, I’m happy to overshoot it or go somewhere else, I just like to mess around with shit and see what evolves.