In a recent article on this site entitled “Violence and ‘Soft Commerce’” Dominique Venner spoke about leftist radicals being absorbed by the system which they affect to detest. He was referring in particular to the collected manuscripts of Guy Debord, the left-wing revolutionary and situationist, whose pabulum was recently saved for the national library by Chirac’s minister of culture.
The same could quite easily be said of Stewart Home who has inveighed for years against the cultural establishment and the Turner prize, but now finds himself ensconced as the writer-in-residence at the Tate gallery.
Note: for those not privy to this magic circle, the Turner prize is the “leading” art bequest for post-modern work in the visual arts in Britain. It is the brain-child of Nicholas Serota at the Tate and only gives awards to anti-objectivist art from the last twenty years. If you’re wondering how you can have art-works without objects then read on . . .
Home’s career began with a communist and nihilist magazine called Smile, which he later sold on, and that was distributed via left-wing bookshops. Twenty years ago, when the post-sixties Left had some kick, every large town in Britain featured a progressive bookshop of some kind. Smile set the scenes on his early productions, in that it combined materialism, gross anti-transcendence, libertarian-communism, and scatology (or virulent descriptions of sexual acts) in the same brew. It was, if you will, a hybrid of John Rechy, the Bonnot gang’s legacy, elements of William Burroughs’ aesthetic, and a kind of bohemian slap-stick.
A militant homosexual, Home refuses to accept that sexuality is grounded in biology, but, instead, believes in détournement and processes of social and cultural determinism. Home’s cultural pornography is not just dirty-mindedness, however. It is Situational; in that he believes in anti-Bourgeois transgression, shock as a tactic in and of itself, as well as attraction through repulsion or inversion — much like Baselitz’s upside-down paintings, of course. It’s a species of cultural terrorism (if you will) which I doubt that too many trustees of the Tate Gallery have taken on board over the coffee and croissants. In many respects, Home’s work isn’t very important save for the fact that is has led him into the bosom of the artistic establishment via the avant-garde, and that he has attempted to theoretically justify it.
Home, having wiped the Smile off his face, published a series of perverse novels which combine pornography, the skin-head aesthetic, left anarchism, and militant Gay liberationism. One could call it a species of conceptual Onanism mixed with communism and loosely based on the skinhead novels from the 1970s of Richard Allen. These were a publishing phenomenon in and around the rise of the National Front in Britain during the ‘seventies. Allen was a drunken soak who churned out hundreds of pulps down in Brighton, but the skinhead series became so notorious that several Labour MPs urged them to be banned.
Home attempts to invert them in more ways than one, yet these fandangos, laced with situationist theory though they are, are really an effeminate He-man hunting for a lost masculinity. They denote a sexualization of Guy Debord’s situationist maps from the surrealist underground a quarter of a century before.
Nonetheless, Home’s obsession with force, violence, and working-class masculinity lends a cross-over aesthetic to his oeuvre. This has got him into trouble in more ways than one. For, by virtue of their exaltation of strength, Home comes perilously close to left-right productions like Jack London’s stories of wolves and dogs, never mind his third positionist novel The Iron Heel. Likewise, a hard-edged, bitter and violent sub-current in Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s Spartacus (say) links it over time, and semiotically, to national-Bolshevik lesions, even Joseph Goebbel’s Strasserite novella, Michael.
Home attempted to justify these out-pourings with his one theoretical work to date, namely the Assault on Culture: From Lettrism to Class War, which was published by a tiny outfit called Unpopular Books in the mid-eighties. It deals with a range of avant-garde art-movements that had hardly been systematically documented until his time. (This is Home’s real claim to fame — as a taxonomist of cultural decay.) It is also important to point out that these movements were relatively “fringe” even in terms of modernist art.
In order of sequence, he deals with Situationism, Lettrism, The Movement for an Imagist Bauhaus, Fluxus, Auto-destructive art, Mail Art, and a couple more. He commences with situationism due to the fact that it emerged from French Surrealism as it died. (Remember: Surrealism had been formally aligned with Communism, and the French Communist party under Maurice Thorez in particular, from the ‘thirties onwards by AndréBreton.)
Home himself is highly critical of Situationism and senses quasi-transcendent, semi-religious, and idealist urges in it. If they exist in Guy Debord’s or Vaneigem’s texts at all, they are present due to their debt to left Hegelianism in the past. Home also makes use of Jean Barrot’s What is Situationism? This is a hard-line, neo-Communist critique which typifies the Marxian notion that every father devours his young like Zeus’ parent, Kronos, feeding on his offspring in Goya’s painting.
Stewart Home needs to clear the Situationists out of the way so that his own cultural warfare can flourish. He does so by supporting personal creation and auto-infantilism in Kultur, yet, interestingly, he doesn’t support Art Brut or Outsider art which stems from the art of the insane. Nominally speaking, this was another tributary of Surrealism via Jean Dubuffet.
No, Home advocates the creativity of a universalized proletariat — i.e., no culture whatsoever. Nonetheless, the fringe art-movements which he champions all have various things in common . . . such as shock value, anti-bourgeois defamation, the currency of excess and reverse entropy à la Bataille, as well as the intrusion of perversions. (This is meant to impact with the unconscious or implicit mind, as well as acting in a “terrorising” way.)
It is important to understand this psychopathology. In The Necessity of Red Terror Leon Trotsky declared that the vanguard would subdue a million by killing ten thousand in their name. The terror advocated here was physical, material, martial, left paramilitary, and so forth . . . yet Home and the Situationists were concerned with cultural “terror,” distortion, progressive misalignment and (de)vastation. It links — albeit implicitly — to Samuel Beckett’s concept of viduity.
In short, you work upon the tremulous and post-religious despair of the stultified majority. You do this by utilizing the nihilistic imprimatur of many contemporary intellectuals and their art-works — including quite considerable creators like Beckett and J. G. Ballard. Why do you do all of this? So that individuals, wallowing in despair and self-contempt, will look to you in order to lead them out of this impasse. In one respect, and without its practitioners realizing it, it’s a left-wing variant on Spengler’s The Decline of the West.
How far it technically ramifies with the earlier Communist forms of cultural warfare, pre-Frankfurt School, which advocated making western civilization stink in the nostrils of those who have to live in it is unclear . . . it’s perceptibly the same sort of struggle enacted at different times. One can see this quite clearly in Raoul Vaneigem’s advocacy of child molestation in the situationist text The Book of Pleasures. Why does he do this? It’s primarily to spit in the face of civics and conventional society; to express his hatred and contempt for everything which exists, particularly biologically, prior to his attempt to change it.
Conventional conservatives (Tories in Britain; Republicans in America) never understand that their enemies are in deadly earnest. They mean every word of it — one of the many reasons why, in Revilo P. Oliver’s words, conservatism is never enough. It never conserves anything anyway.
But to return to Home’s example: His ideas contain dangers for his own side. The advocacy of a new start for culture where the slate is wiped clean (Neoism in his jargon) can lead to a phenomenon like Mail Art where a female sent unannounced traditional paintings of Adolf Hitler to various dignitaries. This was not necessarily the “transgression” which Guy Debord had in mind via his doctrine of détournement. Also, Home’s sheer aestheticism can devour itself or just veer off into a demented stunt — a sort of leftist Rocky Horror Show, Archaos, negative circus, Vermin from the Sewers (out of Catalonia), or an industrial band like Throbbing Gristle. At this level, it amounts to little more than a freak-show from the nineteenth century brought up to date.
Likewise, the aestheticism can come home to roost. On the front of Jean Barrot’s What is Situationism? one sees piles of human skulls — just like the killing fields in Pol Pot’s Cambodia. But hold on a moment: Weren’t his peasant cadres, mostly teenagers high on drugs and indoctrination, implementing the fanatical hatred of the family advocated by Maoist-feminists like Kristeva? She explained later on that it was merely salon effrontery — literary extremism, in other words. She hadn’t really meant it . . . a bit late now. Furthermore, what about the cover of one of Stewart Home’s editions of The Assault on Culture? It depicts a mummified man, swathed in bandages like Boris Karloff in a film from the early ‘thirties, and intent on auto-mutilation. It could have been a metaphorical extension of Metzger’s auto-destructive art — the root, incidentally, of rock stars like Pete Townsend from The Who wrecking their electric guitars on stage. But, in this case, it relates to Action Art and a particular Austrian performer could Schwarzkogler who used to make suicidal gestures of despair, alienation and bi-polarity in gallery spaces. Some artists in the ‘seventies (of this sort) were alleged to have committed suicide or lopped off their limbs as a mute protest against contemporary conditions. Right on . . .
Perhaps Home could engage in the ultimate detournement, akin to Schwarzkogler’s, by going on strike and not producing any more art-works at all? In fact, he once advocated such a course in the early 1990s, but nobody noticed, and the tide of self-expression continued. But there is one answer: to turn anti-art into art through Objectification; just take a blue noose from Jewsons or Travis Perkins (the leading suppliers of building materials in Britain), put it round your neck like in Punch and Judy, and, as you’re doing it, take a photograph of yourself on your mobile phone. Perhaps the images could be later blown up and exhibited by the committee, chaired by Serota, who awards the annual Turner prize? I christen it Corpse Art; a new and veritable happening: the rescue of all of those who suffer under the tyranny of representation. Perhaps what remains could be turned into a Plastinate or an exercise in mortal taxidermy by Professor Gunter von Hagens? I’m joking; of course — but, as a character in a Godard movie ought to have said, laughter is a gun in the hands of the class enemy.