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ART HISTORY CONSIDERED AS A RHETORIC: STEWART HOME INTERVIEWED BY FABIO ZUCCHELLA


I don't think many readers have really understood what I set out to do with The Assault On Culture. My principle concern was actually with the construction of histories, the process of historification, the fact that no matter how much attention is paid to detail, the construction of a history is always a process of radical simplification which grossly distorts the subject under discussion. I believe all historical assertions are inherently subjective and tell you more about the person who makes them than their ostensible subject matter. My intention was to write a 'bad' history, one that wore its subjectivity on its sleeve and made no bones about the fact that it completely falsified its subject matter. I drew attention to this in the introduction, writing things such as: 'After the event, it is easy enough to perceive a tradition running from the Free Spirit through the writings of Winstanley, Coppe, Sade, Fourier, Lautreamont, William Morris, Alfred Jarry, and on into Futurism and Dada - then via Surrealism into Lettrisme, the various Situationist movements, Fluxus, 'Mail Art', Punk Rock, Neoism and contemporary anarchist cults. Taking this as our hypothesis ­ we will not trouble ourselves over whether such a perspective is 'historically correct' ­ we will construct a 'meaningful' story from these fragments.' Clearly, what I was putting together was a rhetorical construction and indeed, I was quite deliberately throwing together elements that jarred. While it is possible to put together a plausible sounding history of the twentieth-century avant-garde from Futurism, Dada and Surrealism through to Lettrisme and Situationism, some of the other elements such as Punk Rock and contemporary anarchists cults don't fit in with this at all. I quite deliberately made the seams that held this construction together show through in a deconstructive fusion of form and content. This seemed preferable to writing a scholarly work on historiography, a subject that interests me but not in the forms propounded by academic institutions. Obviously, those would-be cruel critics who have dismissed the book as a piece of shit rather missed the point, since I intended it, metaphorically at least, to be a piece of shit. The fact that such hastily arranged hodge-podges as The Assault On Culture and Debord's Society Of The Spectacle are taken seriously at all says a great deal about the culture that produced them. A culture so obsessively fixated on historical discourses is in deep shit, since it is clearly unsure of where it is going. Likewise, it is an equally serious indictment of this society that today anyone who wants to read a truly bad book, has to write it themself, since the lifeless commodities thrown onto the mass market are without exception unrelentingly mediocre.

I'm aware that much of the readership for Assault doesn't share my concern with the process of historification, and this is something I quite consciously exploited in the construction of the book. Assault can be used as a bluff your way guide to the situationists and various other subjects. I thought that was useful, since it helps deflate experts. Assault can be seen as an introduction to various currents, a starting point, although I certainly wouldn't claim to have treated anything in any depth. This isn't necessarily a flaw, since I credit the readership with the intelligence to follow things up by itself. Despite the fact that more space is devoted to the Situationists and Fluxus, the whole book is organised around the chapter on Neoism but few 'professional' 'critics' seem to have realised this. Passing Neoism off as a semi-pop cultural movement in the tradition of the twentieth-century artistic avant-garde was the most stupid contextualisation I could imagine. As such, it was predestined to become the only successful contextualisation of Neoism, thus enabling me to claim I'd successfully illustrated the ways in which the process of historification works. Some of those with a long term involvement in Neoism tell me I ought to be ashamed of myself, but then they don't share my interest in constantly reforging the passage between theory and practice. While I share the more intelligent Neoists' contempt of activism, I don't have much time for the Neo-Platonic love of contemplation which several of them have unreservedly embraced. Of course, in putting Assault together, I was concerned with more than simply historiography. Knowing full well that the notion of 'linear time' is epistemologically questionable, I tried to illustrate the ways in which any attempt to utilise avant-gardism as a 'meaningful' category reproduces the core beliefs of the social system the 'utopian currents' featured in the book allegedly oppose. In this fashion, I elliptically challenged the rhetoric of critics such as Peter Burger, who reductively claims that the avant-garde privileges space over time.

One of the things that's inspired me most in the past couple of years has been the Luther Blissett project, which is better known in Italy than England, although it is catching on here too. There are a lot of very interesting adaptations of psychogeographical and related ideas going on right now, groups such as the London Psychogeographical Association, Association Of Autonomous Astronauts, Decadent Action, Equi-Phallic Alliance, Manchester Area Psychogeographic, College Of Omphalopsychism, the Bureau Of Unitary Cosmopolitanism and the Heretical Institute. I'm putting together an anthology of texts by these groups, and will write something about them in my introduction.

I've already talked about my interest in the construction of history. If Assault represents an amplic or expansive phase in my critical relationship to historiographical practices, then Cranked is an attempt at chiselling the edifice I'd conjured up. I am still surprised that when I wrote the book, I'd not come across anyone who'd lifted genre theory from film criticism and applied it to punk as a musical genre. If I'd simply applied genre theory mechanically to the existing literature about PUNK, then I could have produced a respectable and well regarded book. However, as I've already said, my interest is in producing bad, and preferably atrocious books. So I cut a dialectic of ideological Punk Rock against the treatment of PUNK as a musical genre. Also, as I move through the book, I parody various forms of rock journalism. All of this constitutes a quite conscious programme of undermining any academic credibility my work might otherwise attain. I hope people laugh when they read Cranked and Assault, they are intended to be read as satire. If the likes of Greil Marcus have written official histories of punk by focusing on the Sex Pistols, then Cranked is an anti-history, a necessary corrective with its meta-historical perspective and concern with relatively 'obscure' and 'unknown' bands. As long as the critical reception of the book is mixed then I'm happy to leave the readership to work out what it is that I'm doing. I love 'bad' reviews, if I was getting a unanimously positive response then I'd feel I was doing something wrong. I don't seek approval and I'm happy to be disliked, since I know who my friends are.

I have four novels and a collection of short stories published in English. These are Pure Mania, Defiant Pose, Red London, Slow Death and No Pity. Oppi Tulee Idästä, which is not a literal translation of the English language title Blow Job, has only been published in Finnish. I've also just completed another novel called Come Before Christ And Murder Love, which has yet to be published in any language. These books are all concerned with rhetoric, chiefly in the form of 'extremist' political discourse, although I also quite commonly treat art as a form of ideology in my 'fiction'. Another element of these books is the deconstruction of conventions used in various forms of genre writing, particularly youthsploitation, pornography and hardboiled crime. However, Come Before Christ And Murder Love marks a significant shift in my concerns, since it is principally concerned with the occult, both as an ideology and as a means of organising 'knowledge'. It is left up to the reader to decide whether the first person narrator is schizophrenic or, as he claims, the victim of state sponsored mind control experiments. While the principle character in the earlier novels could be considered to be London, in Come Before Christ And Murder Love the narrative shifts to the US and Zurich, as well as the English counties of Essex, Kent and Suffolk. The narrative is extremely fractured and as the narrator's assumed personas fall apart and are revealed as fictions, the 'distinct' geographical locations of Greenwich and Spitalfields, in south and east London respectively, merge to create the meta-fictional landscape of 'Greenfields'. If the slogan 'sex, violence and anarcho-sadism' could be applied to my earlier novels, the latest is more accurately summed up with the phrase 'eating, fucking and occultism.' I quite consciously set out to undermine all belief in belief. I'm not interested in offering people a set of simple solutions to the problems of daily life. The actual process of struggle is a key element to the development of social struggles.

In as far as all narrative tends towards the fictional, the novel Come Before Christ And Murder Love is further removed from the realm of 'make believe' than The Assault On Culture. While all my books are playful, I relish the 'fact' that I cannot impose a single understanding of them upon their readership. It is not for me to say whether 'my' 'fiction' is 'just' a 'divertissement', it is up to each and every reader to decide how they want to treat these 'works'.

In English there is a phrase that states 'there is no success like failure'. To the extent that the Art Strike was a failure, it was a success. It considerably retarded my 'career' as a novelist. I didn't produce any work or do interviews for three years between 1990 and 1993. Since I didn't want a conventional literary career, I was very happy about this state of affairs. By framing my inactivity as an Art Strike, I became more famous than many of those who chase after publicity and by this means, expanded the audience for my books. The Art Strike has already been given a fictional depiction in Iain Sinclair's novel Radon Daughters. It is, of course, far harder to deal with success than failure, but I feel I've risen to the challenge.

I'm producing a theory-death of the avant-bard, in an attempt to deconstruct the twin categories of the avant-garde and the occult ­ the later is treated principally in its Celtic-Druidic form. I'm also engaged in various activities designed to show that it is impossible to make any meaningful distinction between 'fiction' and 'reality'. Otherwise, I continue to investigate the process of historification by writing about myself, my friends and anything else that interests me.




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