scarecrow editorial

Tuesday, March 13, 2007


13: Offbeats & Brutalists

If you’d have asked me one year ago if a literary scene existed and was alive and most definitely kicking in London, or New York, or California . . . anywhere, I’d have laughed at the very thought. We’re still standing in that long, drawn out shadow The Beats created I would have wailed. I would have bemoaned the very nature of it (not that there is anything wrong with The Beats really – I mean, has anyone actually touched the genius of William S Burroughs since? I very much doubt it). I hate the word scene anyway. But now, one year on, ask me. Go on, ask me.

Well, it’s already happened. I think. And it seems to have happened right under our noses. And we’ve created it. It was our design. Not a marketing team in sight. We stand alone.

I don’t really care for names, but two seem to have immerged: The Offbeats and The Brutalists respectively. Both these movements encompass a varied and capable horde of writers. It’s funny, really, most reside in London, and most are originally from the North of England – born outsiders it seems.

"Brutalism calls for writing that touches upon levels of raw honesty that is lacking from most mainstream fiction. We cannot simply sit around waiting to be discovered — we would rather do it ourselves. Total control, total creativity. We Brutalists see ourselves as a band who have put down their instruments and picked up their pens and scalpels instead. The only maxim we adhere to is an old punk belief, which we have bastardised for our own means: 'Here’s a laptop. Here’s a spell-check. Now write a book.' " [The Brualists].

Three very determined independent publishers have immerged also: Social Disease (London)[check out their myspace page], Wrecking Ball Press (Hull – although this well established publisher has existed long before many of us picked up a pen), and Burning Shore Press (US). Each of these publishers is crucial; they take risks, they shun current trends.

"[Heidi] James sums up Social Disease’s raison d’être as: “Zadie Smith is not fucking interesting”, and neither are Monica Ali and the dozens of other writers of similar social comedies that emerged in the wake of White Teeth’s huge success. “All this postmodern irony is just so dull,” James explains. “And I realised that I really hate the homogeneity of the publishing world where it’s next to impossible to get genuinely interesting work published. The big publishing houses would have you believe that there isn’t a market for new and exciting work that takes a few risks and makes a demand on its readers, but that’s bollocks. Absolute bollocks.”" [Sam Jordison, The Guardian].

As I have already mentioned before this gathering of like-minded individuals, who all eschew the current trend in publishing, have acted alone. We are elsewhere. We don’t belong. We have, more or less, turned our backs on the conglomerates; we ignore those vainglorious money-men who’d rather lunch in the stinking, laughable Groucho than sniff out new writing talent; those moronic cretins hell-bent on sales, sales, sales; we ignore marketing departments; those same bozos responsible for the horrid 3 for 2 dross in every high street bookstore; those grand panjandrums that are mostly responsible for everything that is wrong with contemporary literary fiction in this country.

The Offbeats and The Brutalists are a reactionary crowd of literary dissidents who just want to hear a new voice; we have evolved, little by little, on our own terms and have never bowed down to the conglomerates’ demands – not that they care who we are or what we do anyway. This is a new northern passage, a new way, of course it is, and it is largely due to the hard work of Andrew Gallix and A. Stevens of 3AM Magazine who have, over the last five years banged the drum for the marginalised, and have, in the process, unearthed, some of the most exciting writers of our generation.

An alternative route, a Brobdingnagian backlash of our own making, a reactionary leviathan with a sting in our tail – call it what you will.

Long live the dissenters I say!

This issue of Scarecrow is a celebration. It is dedicated to each and every one of you. Names need not be mentioned for you know who you are.

Lee Rourke © 2007

For more information see >HERE<, >HERE<, >HERE<, and >HERE<.

Latest Off-beat & Brutalist gathering: pictures on Scarecrow Gallery.

Sunday, June 18, 2006


12: Death of Language

Dare I say it? Many people won’t get Travis Jeppesen’s latest offering. I can hear them now: why bother writing poems while watching TV? Some will ask: why bother writing poetry at all? Others will read his, at times, difficult and awkward verse and be immediately shocked by its brusqueness, its anger, its cryptic playfulness. But then there will be those who tune in to his unique airwaves, those who bother to listen - the enigma-crackers - those willing to spend some time with this extraordinary book. And it is these readers who will gain the most – and ultimately matter.

The very idea of letting foreign TV creep into the mind is as intriguing as it is baffling, yet Travis Jeppesen’s marvellous collection is - as topsy-turvy as all this seems - accessible (accompanied as it is by Jeremiah Palacek’s striking paintings) and it matters. Jeppesen’s language, although new in approach, unhinged and at odds, still manages to invigorate the reader. It is fresh, and as compelling to us as first switching on the TV in a foreign hotel room for the first time: it taps into our natural curiosity, our shared sense of the other. Travis Jeppesen’s hypnotic collection should be applauded for this.

Maybe this new language we are witnessing, this sudden emergence of a group of writers (interlinked via the internet and spanning the globe) who have eschewed the glut of the conglomerates' writing-by-numbers formulaic nonsense, designed for the consumer and not the reader: this same “lifestyle fiction” novelist, artist and essayist Tom McCarthy so bitterly laments and writes against - maybe Travis Jeppesen is part of this?He is certainly hard to ignore. He is well aware, of course, that he is not alone. This new system of language and literature he speaks of isn’t solely his – and it is this awareness that makes his work all the more relevant.

The system of language in Poems I wrote While Watching TV is striking:

“Through the thin haze of her shadow dented across the shudders, the/weatherwoman can make out her husband fucking some other cunt/with too much lipstick on” ['Psykologikal Make-up of the Avokado' Pg 11].

While addressing the reader with its sheer temerity the writing above still jolts us into another undercurrent altogether, a feeling, an image – we read it again and again and we see the cheap make-up, the tight dress, the lacquered hair, the bright TV studio, the shallow existence, the ill-communication, the desperation – and above all Jeppesen knows he needs not mention this: the fact that she wears “too much lipstick” tells us all we need to know. Ultimately Travis Jeppesen keeps his distance, using the clichéd medium of TV to steer us into the direction he wants.

And Poems I Wrote While Watching TV is about this same distance: looking into another culture, another country through the distorted prism of the cathode ray. It is the wrong way of course, yet this is how we encounter new culture, through the manufactured images beamed into our homes/hotels. TV is our first point of contact, like it or not, and it sticks to us like a virus. It is this very retelling, this forced series of images we choose to believe - and as a result it is killing language, all language, and the use of it. We are now force-fed culture [MTV is a very clear example], it is no longer our choice:

“I see through every televised illusion/Word spacing corresponds to handwriting/Between the lines/Of some producer’s coke binge . . . All of America looks/The same I realize from the/Distance of two years and/A foreign screen” ['I See' Pg 3].

Enough said. I think we’ll leave it at that. Besides Travis says more than I ever could right here.

Lee Rourke © 2006.

posted by scarecrow  # 12:13 PM

Sunday, March 19, 2006


10: Opening Paragraphs

Recent online musings concerning the value of opening paragraphs in Literature has led to further contemplation here at Scarecrow. I cannot stress enough the power that lies beneath a well-orchestrated opening paragraph [not to be confused with opening lines]. And, although it doesn’t happen enough, it is simply paramount. It is the legerdemain of great literature. It is the hook, the dazzling light that draws us closer, that pulls us into the text. And, to my sheer delight, most of the time we don’t even know it’s happening to us. Although it can’t happen without the presence of voice, it isn’t an event, or a milieu, or some dialogue that pulls us in - it is something much more esoteric; something beyond tonality, voice, scene and setting; it is an unfathomable undercurrent, and it lies beneath each word, each caesura, each sentence. It simply lurks, waiting for us.

Quite possibly the most remarkable opening paragraph I have read [and reread] for some considerable time is Lydia Davis’s translation of Maurice Blanchot’s haunting l’arret de mort [more commonly know to us over here as Death Sentence]. Please consider:

“These things happened to me in 1938. I feel the greatest uneasiness in speaking of them. I have already tried to put them into writing many times. If I have written books, it has been in the hope that they would put an end to it all. If I have written novels, they have come into being just as the words began to shrink back from the truth. I am not frightened of the truth. I am afraid not to tell a secret. But until now, words have been frailer and more cunning than I would have liked. I know this guile is a warning: it would be nobler to leave the truth in peace. It would be in the best interests of the truth to keep it hidden. But now I hope to be done with it soon. To be done with it is also noble and important.” [Pg 1].

The weight in this, on the surface rather simple, opening paragraph is quite overwhelming. [see Steve Mitchelmore] It speaks of the past, of something that has already happened, of something that haunts the narrator, of something that will not end. It speaks of strength, that in whatever has happened the narrator has still attempted to write it down. When he exclaims:“I am not frightened of the truth. I am afraid not to tell a secret.” Is this his strength? And if it is, what kind of strength is it? Read this paragraph again and let each word pull you closer. Consider Kafka’s Überschuß der Kräfte: is the strength in this opening paragraph the very fact that it has been written at all? Amidst all that has happened? His retelling? His suffering? Or is it something else? That unfathomable undercurrent lurking beneath each breath? Here, then, is its power. [See also Lars Iyer.]

Something similarly remarkable happens in the opening paragraph of Margeret Sayers Peden's translation of Juan Rulfo’s [this week’s Scarecrow cover-star] Pedro Páramo:

“I came to Comala because I had been told that my father, a man named Pedro Páramo, lived there. It was my mother who told me. And I had promised her that after she died I would go see him. I squeezed her hands as a sign I would do it. She was near death, and I would have promised her anything” [Pg 3].

The weight of this opening paragraph is not in the mother being close to death but in the squeezing of her hand, the contact, the touch. It is the regret, the passing and sense of life this gesture creates that is so powerful to us. It is something that touches us all. But, rather tellingly, she is not yet dead, she is still alive, waiting. Something else lurks beneath this paragraph. And just as Maurice Blanchot declared:

“There is in death, it would seem, something stronger than death: it is dying itself.” [The Writing of the Disaster].

It is this idea of waiting that resonates within us all. Even if this scenario is meaningless to you, there is something unfathomable in its directness, it reaches out to you as you skip along in life, it touches something in you, something you are/were unaware of. It gradually seeps into you, changing you from here onwards. Susan Sontag, in her revealing foreword, states:

“These sentences, of a bewitching concision and directness that pull the reader into a book, have a burnished, already-told quality, like the beginning of a fairy tale.” [Pg 1].

Here the nail, as rusty as some may see it, is hit firmly on the head. The point of great Literature, then, is to pull the reader into the book, to hoodwink them with understated, simple brilliance, with slight of hand; and I guess it is this “burnished, already-told quality” that Maurice Blanchot [like all writers] was hoping to illustrate.

It is why a book like Tony O’Neill’s Digging the Vein can fall into this category. A book that some may turn up their noses at [as we all do from time to time whilst skimming the surface], a book some may call cult or whatever, ignoring the fact that its surface is exactly that, a façade, and deeper, beneath what we ostensibly see first time around is something else, something powerful, something that pulls us closer even if its subject could not be more diametrically opposed to our very being. Please reread this opening paragraph and I defy anyone to tell me that there isn’t something unfathomable prowling underneath, something lurking, waiting. And if you still can’t find it I suggest you look again immediately, because it's still there, as it always was/is.

But then again why bother? Is any of the the above really worth it? Really? Should we really be worrying about the strength of an opening paragraph? Should we? Consider the following paragraph:

"The heroes we know from history or literature, whether they have shouted love, loneliness, anxiety of being, of non-being or revenge, whether they have fought against injustice or humiliation, we don't think these figures have ever been forced to the point of expressing - as their only and final claim - the profound sense of what it means to belong to the human race." [Avant Propos, L'Espece humaine (1947) Robert Antemle (private translation)].

Have we ever truly recovered from the one single true "event" that has shaped our lives? This is something, it seems, even Maurice Blanchot couldn't fathom.

Lee Rourke © 2006.

PS And, please, try not to confuse the above with the great Midnight Bell's views on the opening paragraph.

posted by scarecrow  # 7:21 AM

Monday, February 27, 2006


9: Almost Blue

It was A. Stevens from 3am Magazine who first referred to novelist Tony O'Neill as a potential "Nelson Algren for the 21st Century". I'm the second and I won't be the last. 3am Magazine having unearthed this extraordinary writer, you'll recall, long before current interest. Talk long ago was about Tony O'Neill's, then, forthcoming debut novel Digging the Vein. Well, we don't have to wait any longer as Digging the Vein has just been published over in America by New York's Contemporary Press. The heavily awaited British release is scheduled for July via the ultra cool publishers of Dan Fante - our very own Wrecking Ball Press.

The book is hard-hitting, yet beautifully written. The first paragraph speaks for itself in its clarity and splendour. It is also a paragraph that articulates many things:

"In Hollywood, the sun rises and stays up in the dirty sky pummelling you into submission for twelve hours or so before sinking behind the hills. Then everybody waits for it to start up all over again, up and down and up and down, futile and ceaseless. No seasons, no change, just relentless brightness. Nobody can ever escape the glare of the unforgiving sun. They just carry on, dumb with sunshine and desert heat, trying to find a darkened corner where they can conduct business that has no place in the daylight." [Pg 1].

With Digging the Vein Tony O'Neill does something quite special: he simply returns literature to its guttural, all too human, roots. He doesn't mystify his words; there is no higher, spiritual, cryptic language or elongated metaphor. Digging the Vein is a human fiction, a book ostensibly about misplacement and love, a book that is true in every sense of the word, penetrating into the deepest, darkest recesses of human existence without fuss, arrogance and obfuscation. There is no need for Tony O'Neill to try and dazzle us with his prose styling [a weight that seems to loom large in the forefront of many writers'mind]; he knows he will be heard, that every word counts, because he experienced each painstaking syllable. Digging the Vein is a book that, although steeped in its genre's traditions [think Burroughs’s Junky here], transcends this very same genre [think Burroughs’s Junky here also]. It is first and foremost a work of Literature - and I can honestly say this without my toes curling in disagreement. For instance:

"That afternoon developed into a two-day speed and heroin run. We cooked up some of my black tar heroin from McArthur Park next, and I was hit with my second revelation: the beautiful intensity of heroin pushed home into the mainline . . . I knew somewhere in the back of my mind that I had turned a corner from which it would be very hard to come back, but when you’ve got heroin it doesn’t matter.” [Pg 71].

Good Literature always captures mood and setting correctly - it is never forced - it seeps into the book naturally. There are no secret tools that can force-feed any required milieu to a reader. When this happens it's like waving a rag flag at a bull. Readers spot such tricks immediately. Like all writers of his standard Tony O'Neill possesses voice. Digging the Vein, within its heart-felt pages, contains, above all else: VOICE. Tremendous, unpretentious voice; it is a voice so strong in its conviction it will reverberate within the cranium long after the book has been put down. Digging the Vein will haunt you and like other novels of a similar benchmark this unyielding power lays in the book's honesty [think Fante, Bukowski here]. Voice cannot be ignored when you read:

“Some hours later I was sitting on the can in a toilet cubicle within the casino, pushing a shot of heroin mixed with some crystal meth I had brought with me for emergencies into a large vein which curled around the side of my left forearm. The blood coagulated in the barrel, causing the needle to block with five mls. to go. I withdrew the needle and watched a thick trickle of blood run down my arm, drip-dripping off my wrist onto the floor impassively, as I started to sense the speed roaring around my blood, sending my heartbeat into the stratosphere. As was my ritual I pointed the needle at the gleaming white tiles around me and pushed the plunger hard with my thumb. Sometimes, if that shit was really blocked, the plunger would depress fully with a pop causing the blood and heroin inside to spray back around inside of the barrel. If it wasn’t too badly blocked, as happened this time, when the plunger popped, a thin spray of brown blood streamed from the needle and created a pretty pattern on any surface it hit. Beautiful. I felt like a dog marking its territory . . . Perfect. I was the junky Jackson Pollock.” [Pg 90-91].

These are exciting times. It seems the independents are burgeoning into a sizable force. Voices are being found; they're emerging from under the suffocating arms of our "life-style" obsessed society. And long, long, long may this continue. From the blurb:

“Tony O’Neill’s astonishing debut is based on his own experiences as an addict and sideman to acts as diverse as The Brian Jonestown Massacre, Kenickie, and Marc Almond. Through the eyes of his anonymous narrator, see what few tourists ever will: the needle exchanges, methadone clinics, short let motels, and scoring spots beneath the wings of the City Of Angels.”

And for the hell of it, here's what Dan Fante had to say about Digging the Vein:

"Reading it, I could taste the LA smog. Here, pain comes at you like a Mack truck - relentless and unavoidable. Don't blink. Keep reading."

Enough said.

Lee Rourke © 2006.

Lee Rourke interviews Tony O'Neill >>HERE<<

posted by scarecrow  # 9:16 AM

Monday, February 06, 2006


8: Everyday Life

Ask most people familiar with the Situaltionists and most probably [in my humble experience at least], eight times out of ten, they will mention Guy Debord. And Guy Debord only. Fair enough, that’s highly understandable. But for all concerned here at Scarecrow the underlying influence that has continued to dazzle and delight is the quite brilliant Raoul Vaneigem [and some of you may now shrug and say “so what?”, to which we reply “He still matters”]. We are ultimately interested in his seminal work: Traite de savoir-vivre a l’usage des jeunes gens [or as it’s more commonly known over here: The Revolution of Everyday Life].

When Raoul Vaneigem proclaims:

“In a gloomy bar where everyone is bored to death, a drunken young man breaks his glass, then picks up a bottle and smashes it against the wall. Nobody gets excited; the disappointed young man lets himself be thrown out. Yet everyone there could have done exactly the same thing. He alone made the thought concrete, crossing the first radioactive belt of isolation: interior isolation, the introverted separation between self and outside world. Nobody responded to a sign which he thought was explicit. He remained alone like the hooligan who burns down a church or kills a policeman, at one with himself but condemned to exile as long as other people remain exiled from their own existence.” [Chapter 3 “Isolation”, The Revolution of Everyday Life].

We sing from the same hymn sheet, Raoul baby!

Please allow us to embellish this stern proclamation. In our writing we have to reconnect with the bored clientele of everyday life, we have to smash metaphorical bottles over their heads, we have to reawaken these somnambulists, these pampered zombies. Our writing has to hit them like an unexpected jolt of electricity. Dripping with meaning. Our writing has to be loud, there is no time for subtlety - let’s leave that for the academics amongst us. We are writers. We have to escape this “magnetic field of isolation” created for us by those governing the books we are told to read. Ultimately we have to write against our current literary climate - in whichever way one sees fit. There are no rules.

Consider this:

“The bourgeoisie does not dominate, it exploits. It does not need to be master, it prefers to use. Why has nobody seen that the principle of productivity simply replaced the principle of feudal authority? Why has nobody wanted to understand?” [Chapter 5 “The Decline and Fall of Work”, The Revolution of Everyday Life].

Haw haw, we’re being naughty here, we know Raoul Vaneigem is referring to the construct of work in this passage, but just think about the current book market with this little snippet in mind. The current conglomerates do not need to become dominant through power; they just need to casually manipulate our reading habits. They simply have to create a reading/book buying culture based on choice - their choice of course. We are told what to read everyday. We simply need to turn our backs, we need to walk away, and we need to make our own choices. It’s as simple as that really. If Scarecrow serves at least one purpose then we are your signpost. We aren’t telling readers to do anything, that’s ultimately up to each of you; we’re just trying to point readers towards an alternative reading culture that’s all. We’re not bothered what books you buy, you can steal them for all we care. We just want you to be aware that there is another way.

“The symphony of spoken and shouted words animates the scenery of the streets. Over a rumbling basso continuo develop grave and cheerful themes, hoarse and singsong voices, nostalgic fragments of sentences. There is a sonorous architecture which overlays the outline of streets and buildings, reinforcing or counteracting the attractive or repulsive tone of a district. . .” [Chapter 4 “Suffering”, The Revolution of Everyday Life].

It is time to sing our own songs, it is time to reclaim what we see, how we see it, what is ultimately ours, create our own psychogeography, it is time to walk down our own streets in wonder and write, write, write. . .

Many of the books we see these days perched perfectly in high street seasonal window displays are written by static, worn-out, curmudgeonly blatherskites, pitiful zombies who write by numbers. It’s not their fault, they’re writing for the tastes forced upon us. But they do not walk amongst us; they do not walk our streets. They sit, motionless, staring at blank walls, waiting for instruction. They write their books, these books are posted to publishers and agents in plain brown padded envelopes to be opened in modern, minimalist foyers, to be published in nice, clean pastel shades, to be displayed in identikit formulae - barbed fishhooks to catch the drab passer-by’s eye. These manuscripts have never touched our streets. They’ve been created for another purpose - and it isn’t ours. We do not belong. We are elsewhere.


Lee Rourke © 2006.

posted by scarecrow  # 5:51 AM

Saturday, January 14, 2006


7: Shindig

A charming evening was had by all on a bitterly cold late December evening at the joint 3am Magazine/scarecrow Xmas Shindig in the hallowed Aquarium Gallery in Bloomsbury. Reading at this event were underground literary/art malcontent and all-round wind-up merchant Stewart Home, debut novelist Tom McCarthy [his extraordinary Remainder being 3am's book of the year], publisher extraordinaire [Attack! Books and imprint Neo-Attack! Books] and 3am co-chief editor Randolph Carter and myself, Lee Rourke, editor-in-chief here at scarecrow.

Not a scene as such but a gathering of like-minded souls who all eschew the current trend in publishing; this was a room packed with those who have turned their backs on the conglomerates, and ignore those vainglorious money-men who are hell-bent on sales, sales, sales, marketing and profile; those same birdbrains responsible for the horrid 3 for 2 dross in every high-street bookstore [Don't forget your coffee!], those grand panjandrums who are responsible for everything that is wrong with contemporary fiction in this country. This, quite frankly, is a new way. A reactionary crowd of literary dissidents who just want to hear a new voice, those who have evolved on their own terms and have never bowed down to the conglomerates' demands. This new way, of course, is largely due to the hard work of 3am Magazine [Buzzwords' editors Andrew Gallix and Andrew Stevens immediately spring to mind] who have, over the last 5 years, banged the drum for the marginalised and have unearthed, in the process, some of the most exciting writers of our generation [take Tony O‘Neill for instance]. Together, with the help of new publishers such as Metronome Press, an alternative route is being forged - and it's fast burgeoning into a brobdingnagian backlash, a reactionary leviathan with a sting in its tail. And it's not just happening here in London, it's happening everywhere. Long live the dissenters we say!

First to take the floor was myself [reading alongside Jamie Ried's original "Fuck Forever" artwork upon the wall]; after a genial introduction from Randolph carter, who hosted the event, I read The Roof - a short story taken from a collection called Everyday. I wanted to dedicate The Roof to ergophobics everywhere but in my nervous excitement I forgot. Ah, well.

Next up was Randolph Carter himself, reading from an asortment from his own imprint Neo-Attack! Books. Such titles as GM Mutant Baby Plague, Go Fanny Go, 8 Billion Vinnie Jones's and Dirty Manga Bastards were hard to ignore and Randolph didn't hold back in his reading, bringing more than a wry smile to the chops of those present. Randolph was also proud to announce the forthcoming publication of the 3am Anthology - a collection of 3am Magazine fiction and essays.

After a short interval Stewart Home recited from two of his previous novels: 69 Things to Do with a Dead Princess and Down and Out in Shoreditch and Hoxton. Adding that he would not be reciting from his current novel Tainted Love until he had completed his "Arts Council funded course in ventriloquism." Those in attendance were treated to a machine-gun delivery as he rattled off two key chapters from memory. Most wanted something from his most recent novel, but I guess we'll just have to wait for him to complete his course for that eventuality. Nonetheless this was vintage stuff from Stewart - and besides, he wouldn't want it to be a comfortable reading/listening experience for any of us.

As with everything Stewart Home is responsible for we have to take it on his terms. Like it or not, and whatever people think about this prolific writer, we just could not escape the fact that we were in the presence of a considerable influence: the shadowy figure behind much of what has happened in the literary and art worlds of subterranean London the last 15 years or so. Fact.

Finally, we were treated to a, very much anticipated, reading by Tom McCarthy from his astonishing debut: Remainder. Hot off the back of favourable reviews in the TLS and Independent this is the book everyone is talking about - a literary tour-de-force that isn't afraid to say so. It is a book that demands to be read and re-read over and over again [read my reviews over at RSB and 3am]. Tom read well, fuelling his words with the attention to detail such a book deserves. And even though the alcohol was in full flow all night [and most of us had tired feet] the room remained silent throughout Tom's reading [it even felt like the traffic had stopped outside, including the ubiquitous police sirens], each of us hanging on to his every word. It was a speacial moment and if you ever get to see Tom McCarthy reading from this remarkable novel count yourselves lucky - we all did.

So, personally, I would like to thank every last one of you who braved the cold on this special evening. Thanks for making these things happen. Thanks also to Stewart Home, Tom McCarthy and 3am Magazine. And let's hope to see you all at the next 3am/scarecrow shindig!

Lee Rourke © 2006.

Photos in order: 1: Tom McCarthy. 2: Lee Rourke. 3: Randolph Carter. 4: Stewart Home.

More photos from this [and other 3am magazine events] can be found HERE.

posted by scarecrow  # 2:57 AM

Monday, December 12, 2005


6: Tainted Love

Has Stewart Home's time finally arrived? Is he, at last, beginning to be accepted? Understood even? Welcomed into the established literary fold? Probably not - which can be construed as a good thing - but he is one step closer with his latest offering, the extraordinary novel about his M/other: Tainted Love.

Stewart Home has been way ahead of our time for, well, a long time now. We have a whole body, a whole decade's worth of intellectual provocation. Rooted, as he is, firmly in London's underground art world we pose the obvious question: would Brit Art be what it is today without his shadowy influence? We seriously doubt it. Stewart Home invented Brit Art we tell you - you doubt us don't you? Well so what, we beseech you to look into the facts. Read his work. But just try telling Brit Art's jet-setting, bed-wetting, Gin-swigging, coke-snorting stars this. They'd ignore you; they'd wander straight past you towards someone who looked more interesting and didn't bother them with questions. You know who they are, we know who they are and they know who they are. But they just won't budge.

It must be a strange predicament to find one's self in: knowing that your work is relevant in every conceivable way but still your publishers and the bourgeois world they inhabit don't know just what to do with you. How do you exactly market Stewart Home? What would you do? Where would you place him? Exactly, you can't. You just allow his work to speak for itself - and it does. As we stated, it was London's art world that first felt Stewart Home's sting, his genius tying them into knots, the vainglorious left in paroxysms of wonder.

His Art Strike of 1990-1993, for instance, was a stunt that still rankles in some quarters:

"The 1990 Art Strike was called as a means of encouraging critical debate around the concept of art. While certain individuals will put down their tools and cease to make, distribute, sell, exhibit or discuss their cultural work for a three year period beginning on January 1st 1990, the numbers involved will be so small that the strike is unlikely to force the closure of any galleries or art institutions. It will, however, demonstrate that the socially imposed hierarchy of the arts can be aggressively challenged.

Art as a category must be distinguished from music, painting, writing &c. Current usage of the term art treats it as a sub-category of these disciplines, one which differentiates between parts of them on the basis of 'perceived values.' Thus the music of John Cage is considered art, while that of Madonna is not. Therefore, when we use the term art, we're invoking a distinction between different musics, paintings, works of fiction &c., one which ranks the items to be found within these categories into a hierarchy.

Given the diversity of objects, texts, compositions &c., which are said to be art, it seems reasonable to conclude that there is no common denominator among these 'art works' which can be used as a criterion for deciding what should or should not be considered art. What distinguishes the art object is the particular set of social and institutional relationships which are to be found around it. Put another way, art is whatever those in a position of cultural power say is art.

One of the purposes of the Art Strike is to draw attention to the process by which works of art are legitimated. Those artists and administrators who are in the privileged position of deciding what is and is not art constitute a specific faction of the ruling class. They promote art as a superior form of knowledge and simultaneously use it as a means of celebrating the 'objective superiority' of their own way of life on the basis that they are committed to art. Appreciation of art is generally used as a mark of distinction, privilege and taste."

Part prank, part serious caterwaul against artists that deem themselves to be existing on a higher stratosphere than the rest of us via their creations, Stewart Home simply wanted to point out that art isn't that important so he encouraged the entire art fraternity to partake in a strike for the duration of 3 years - it is of no surprise, then, that only Stewart Home did [apparently doing nothing all day except sleep and watch Kung Fu films]. The strike, of course, was an act of plagiarism in itself, aping Goran Dordevic and also giving more than a nod and a wink to Alain Jouffroy.

After his strike Stewart Home exhibited the one constant in those 3 long years: his own bed. Do you see where we're going now with this, eh? Understanding the power of plagiarism he knew he could stoke up more than a few fires to help keep his name burning for a long time. Maybe this is something that Tracey Emin - who was exhibiting some of her paintings alongside him at that very same exhibition, at that time an unknown 28 year old - should take into account herself. Who knows? Maybe one day she will?

Stewart Home's literary output over the last fifteen years runs, pretty much, on the same level of insouciance it always has. His work to date being one gargantuan anti-narrative that juxtaposes pulp/trash/porn with high-minded literary/social/political theory - an intertextualising of dissent, and a vital one at that. It's about time we begin to accept that Stewart Home is the shadowy figure lying beneath modern British artistic/literary culture as we know it today - like it or not. Don't believe us? Then we urge you to dip into his numerous essays written, self published and distributed we hasten to add, over the last 10-15 years. Or try Neoism, Plagiarism & Praxis for example. Go on, we dare you. You'll find that his influence is fluent, tangible and integral. It already lies with us; we've just got to scratch beneath the surface to find him that's all. Take Tracey Emin and other British boom artists and writers circa and post 1990 and look a little closer, all are not what they seem are they? Yup, there he is, there's your man Stewart Home, that's him there, lurking beneath their polished façades.

But do we actually care? Robert McCrum et al may not, but we certainly do. We beseech you again to read his work, anything; we don't care just as long as it's written by Stewart Home. As the novelist Ellis Sharp once to us: "...his [Stewart Home] footnote in 69 Things to Do with a Dead Princess on the late Ann Quin is worth the asking price any day."

All that Stewart Home is responsible for [including a detailed bibliography of his work to date] is recorded in great detail here.

Lee Rourke © 2005.

posted by scarecrow  # 9:05 AM


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