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By Bill Drummond (06 April, 2004, Guardian)Stewart Home - theorist, Neoist, anti-novelist - takes a walk with Bill Drummond
This latest has a first-person narrative. The first person is a young woman called Eve, who is a performance artist. Her current practice involves her working the streets of Shoreditch and Hoxton, in east London, as a prostitute. Mind you, the art might be the crack cocaine habit that she has worked on so diligently and now needs to feed with her streetwalking.
Whether she's being an artist, a prostitute, a drug addict or whatever else is pretty irrelevant. In Stewart Home's novels, you never have to concern yourself overly with the characters; they exist for us readers merely as a bit of light entertainment, and for Home, the writer, as a frame on which to hang his political, artistic and literary prejudices. And that's fine by me. I hate proper novels anyway. So much of the first half of the book is taken up with Eve servicing "johns" while she debates political, artistic and literary theory with them.
In the second half of the book, things get a bit weird and it may be all about death - but I'm not too sure. Nor am I too sure how much of the book Home has actually written. He has a history of lifting whole chunks from other sources and dropping them into his own work without a nod or a wink to anybody. My guess is that more of this book is made up in this way than any other in the history of literature. Eliot - that's TS not George - would turn in his grave to see what he had started.
I met up with Home at a friend's flat he had been staying in, off Old Street, London. I noted that he looked leaner and fitter than the last time I had seen him, and that his wardrobe still reflected that of an early 1970s suedehead. He probably noted that I have lost more hair. He had a walk planned for us, a walk that would take in some of the locations of the book. I had 10 questions planned to ask him. We got walking and I got questioning.
"Here goes, Stewart. Question one: 'Who is Stewart Home?'" Without a pause for thought he replied: "Stewart Home is a multiple-name project invented in 1979 by Fiona MacLeod and KL Callan. And I am Tony White, the actor hired to play the part of Stewart Home. Stewart Home books are written by a collective and we are just about to walk through Bunhill Fields cemetery, last resting place of Blake and Defoe." I accepted his answer at face value and wrote it down word for word.
"Question two, Stewart: why do you write novels?" The implied question was: why bother wasting your time writing novels, Stewart?
He answered: "Are they novels?"
"I think they are a kind of anti-novel."
Is this a get-out on his part? I wanted to quote him a line from Down and Out in Shoreditch and Hoxton about novels being the spew of the bourgeoisie, but I couldn't remember it, so instead I asked him if he read novels.
"No, I read fiction."
"What's the difference?"
"I read ghosted autobiographies about London lowlife, underworld, criminals, that sort of thing. It's fiction. I've just read the Janie Jones one."
"The 1960s whore?"
"Not a whore, a madam. There is a difference, or so she would say. But yes, that Janie Jones, the one the Clash wrote a song about."
We keep walking, cut through Liverpool Street station. "Question three: was Henry James Saucy Jack?" As theorised by Eve in Down and Out.
He then went on about Henry James being an interesting writer because he straddled the pre-modern and the modern eras in novel-writing. And that although he himself had no interest in Jack the Ripper, he did have an interest in the fact that the Whitechapel murders are still a magnet for conspiracy theorists of all persuasions, and he fancied starting his own fictional theory that Henry James was responsible. As I have no interest in novels, conspiracy theories, Jack the Ripper or for that matter anything at all to do with serial killing, I ask question four.
"Who is Karen Eliot?"
"Karen Eliot is also a multiple-name project. She first appeared in the publication Smile, in 1985." Serious students of the work of Home will know all about her. You probably don't need to know anything about her and I don't think she appears in Down and Out, so I don't know why I bothered asking the question.
"Question five: why do you use so much sex and violence in your novels?"
"Well, you know."
"I don't know if I do. What I do know is that I hate all sex and violence in any form of fiction, be it novels, films or songs. Not from a moral standpoint but because I am totally against getting your kicks vicariously. If you want sex and violence, get it for real and don't live it out through any kind of fiction. To quote the great Scottish artist Ross Sinclair, 'Real life is better.'"
"Are you always so pompous?"
"It is a tendency of mine. Anyway, on to the next question. Who are the Neoists?"
"The Neoists are an avant-garde movement that doesn't exist because the word neoist is a prefix and a suffix without any content." If you need to know why this question had to be asked, put the word neoist into your internet search engine.
"Question seven: why whores?"
"They are quintessential figures within modernism, from Manet's Olympia onwards."
A good answer, I thought, and while we are on the subject of whores I invite you to visit youwhores.com. It is not a porn site but one that will engage your creativity.
"But why whores in your book?"
"I lived around here for almost 20 years. I would pass the prostitutes every night on my way home. They got to know me, knew I wasn't a john. It interested me that there had been prostitutes working these very streets for hundreds of years. They will have witnessed the unfolding of the history of London from generation to generation from a different perspective from those of the documented chroniclers."
We are now walking up Brick Lane, talking about gentrification and the BNP.
"Question eight: why do you lie?'
"One lies to gain."
"But why do you, Stewart Home, lie?"
"'We arrive at truth through error,' to quote Kant, and I love paradox and I hate all that reaching for authenticity thing."
I asked him this question because so much of his work seems to be about trying to undermine supposed bourgeois culture by spreading lies. "That is my problem, Stewart. I'm always reaching for authenticity. One of the fundamental differences between us is that you like to make the world a better place by spreading lies while I like to try and do it by spreading truths."
"You should try lying more, Bill. It works better."
"I'll try lying when I write up your answers to some of my questions. Anyway, enough of whores. Question nine: when will the revolution come?"
"When we learn to act collectively as a class against the bosses."
"And when will that be?"
"Very soon, I hope."
"And lastly, question 10: what is dell?"
"What do you mean?'
"The last sentence of Down and Out in Shoreditch and Hoxton is just one word - dell."
"Ah, it's an Elizabethan word for prostitute, like doxie."
So that was that. We looped back and finished our walk with an early lunch in a cafe in Fortune Street.
While writing this, I realised I had forgotten to note down the precise route we had taken, so I emailed Stewart. He mailed me back with street-by-street detail and what each and every street meant to him and how he had walked these streets for as long as he could remember.
Even if the above doesn't make you want to go out and buy his books, you should get hold of one of Stewart Home's necro cards. You should never go out without one in your purse or wallet. It looks like an organ donor card but in fact it gives permission for your body to be used by necrophiliacs.
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You're such a fibber!