1. I have been thinking a lot about the first question, but the current events worldwide have themselves created a context. In one of your Russian interviews you have ironically remarked that capitalism is moving backwards in its development, therefore your earlier books are more relevant today. Looking at the global acceleration of events, what stage of capitalism would you say we are in?
SH: Capitalism looks very decadent right now. Of course due to uneven development there are still odd corners of the world where the bourgeois revolution has to be completed - including the City of London which has a feudal political system quite at odds with the rest of the UK - but capitalism is a global system and right now it seems to be collapsing. The question raised if not fully answered in those earlier books that are becoming more relevant every day is how do we speed up that collapse?
2.In modern Russian mass-culture Stewart Home continues to exist as an early 2000’s phenomenon, that was the time when your books became popular in subculture circles, which coincided with a rapid growth of skinhead culture in all of its political aspects, the antifascist movement and so on. When I was young, I read “Blowjob” in two hours as a trash-fanfiction piece, and then the book stood for a long time on my bookshelf, reminding me about the glorious days of youth. But later, while preparing for the interview and rereading “Red London” and other earlier works, I could easily trace the writing techniques developed by the dada movement, the beatniks, the surrealists, and the situationists. In essence, when thinking about the earlier “anti-novel”, we’re talking about a mixture of punk-zines with Dadaist (avant-garde) textual art-installation, do I get this right?
SH: Yes my idea even with my earliest writing was to go beyond high and low brow, to mix them around but always to leave out the middle-brow. I developed the writing style found in my earlier fiction around 35 years ago, in short stories and the first two novels in that style which were all written in the 1980s. The books you mention were written in the 1990s but continued a trajectory I exhausted in terms of my own interest in it with Slow Death (written after but published before Blow Job in English). So I stopped working with that particular novel form in 1995, although Blow Job didn’t finally get published in English until a couple of years later. There were a lot of influences stemming from the classical avant-garde of dada and surrealism but worked through later developments including of course the situationists and in particular the writing of Alex Trocchi who was both a situationist and a beat writer. There are also influences from the French nouveau roman, particularly Alain Robbe-Grillet. However where the surrealists and later writers in the middle of the twentieth-century were inscribing elements of pulp prose into their highbrow novels, under the influence of post-modern theories - particularly Baudrillard - I was interested simulating the structure of pulp novels but in an insanely repetitive way that simultaneously deconstructed itself. I took the entire output of pulp writers - dozens of novels - found the elements of repetition between books (plots, sentences, paragraphs) and condensed that down into a single narrative. So the books were never intended to be pulp they were supposed to go beyond and beneath pulp. But also I didn’t want them to be highbrow in the way surrealism or the nouveau roman are. As far as the anti-novel goes for me this is simply a break with the bourgeois novel which is paradigmatically a nineteenth-century style but still widely reproduced throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. A lot of eighteenth-century literature might also be seen as being anti-novel because the convections of the bourgeois novel had not been established at that time. Punk is a reference point for me but not so important to the construction of my fiction, although I guess it emphasised bricolage but that’s something that can be found in earlier 20th century culture anyway.
3. Your books are rarely translated into Russian, and recently they published an online translation of your earlier piece “The Assault On Culture: Utopian currents from lettrisme to class war". It was translated by compiling chapters, each of which had been sent to random people for translation. Some parts in the book were replaced by the publishers with recipes of “dressed herring”, a Russian herring salad, some other parts – with random nonsense generated from the original text with a neural network. After all those years, how do you see this book, looking back at it? Also, what’s your attitude towards this “literature game” that the Russian translators performed?
SH: At the time I wrote The Assault On Culture it was hard to find a lot of the information in it but there’s an overload of material on much of what I cover now. That said, the legitimacy of the Scandinavian situationists is still something that can and should be re-emphasised in the Anglo-American world, and some other places too. So there are arguments in there that are probably still useful and under-exposed even if they’ve been elaborated by others since then. I don’t really think about that particular book too much or any book I wrote decades ago - they exist, I’ve moved on. I wasn’t aware of the online Russian version of Assault On Culture but it sounds good to me, I do the same sort of things to other people’s texts and I’m always happy to see it done to mine too. Of course due to animal rights and sustainability issues I’d have rather the salad had not been a herring salad but making parts of the book nonsense and adding recipes sounds like a groove sensation to me.
4. Back to 2020 and its main topics. Are we witnessing something new in the media-hysteria around Covid-19 and Black Lives Matter, or are we still just running in circles, enslaved by the Baudrillardian simulation mechanisms? What was your personal perception of the coronavirus story, and did it inspire in you a special cultural reflection, like it did with many philosophers like Slavoj Zizek or Alain Badiou?
SH: I’ve met Slavoj Zizek but I don’t pay any attention to what he does, he’s more like some guy you’d meet down the pub who is full of bonhomie but can’t think too well because he’s pumped up on lager. I pay even less attention to Alain Badiou. That said, I did respond to the Covid 19 pandemic in various ways. While the situation was serious and required action I also tried to inject some humour. I wrote various pieces for online outlets, my favourite being about British Prime Minister Johnson attempting to construct personal protective equipment from donuts: <http://stewart-home.blogspot.com/2020/04/7500-covid-19-ppe-ring-donuts-for-boris.html>
I also did some parody videos, one about the British government’s change of public messaging where they talked about controlling the virus, which reminded me of training with various martial arts instructors, who’d always talk about controlling your opponent. That video is here: <https://youtu.be/UsoRCXVapxE>
Another parody video that also used an instructional format was about keeping things ’normal’ by recreating a London tube commute at home: <https://vimeo.com/414724369>
With Covid I felt like laughter could help us get somewhere else. BLM was something that needed addressing with more seriousness but the anger that was expressed through it has been channelled in some very positive directions. I think this goes well beyond simulation and points towards potential major shifts on a global scale. That said it is important to emphasis that race is not real but is experienced as real because of racism. The world has changed as a result of the pandemic but we still need to push to make sure than change goes in the right direction.
5. Another trend – a sharply exacerbated struggle around cultural identity and theory of privilege that exploded in the US and then spread across Europe. Your Twitter is filled with posts about torn down monuments. What positive and negative connotations do you have about this whole story? On one hand, there is and element of anti-bourgeoisie politics in it, but, on the other hand, we see the establishment trying to tame this wave? Do you see any kind of potential for longstanding historical change in it?
SH: The memorials that have been removed and others that there are demands to remove are simply the most visible manifestations of institutional racism, there is of course a lot of anti-racist work that needs to be done beyond their removal. That said, in London the statues being removed are closely connected to the current ruling class and the protests agains them should serve to make this visible. Even a mainstream newspaper like The Guardian has raised this. For example, there was a piece by Catherine Bennett on 14 June this year entitled As Statues of Slave Traders are Torn Down, Their Heirs Sit Untouched in the Lords. <https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/jun/14/as-statues-of-slave-traders-are-torn-down-their-heirs-sit-untouched-in-the-lords>
So these links need to be made, although for me the most important of them aren’t with the upper chamber of the British parliament as Bennett has it but with the City of London, a bizarre local authority whose civic structure is totally enmeshed with the global financial system. Many of the memorials being removed around London pay tribute to top council officials from this particular local authority and the positions they held still exist. Right up to this year the top officials from the City of London council were involved in annual celebrations of John Cass, but despite having been photographed celebrating this slave trader, the current Lord Mayor William Russell also signed off on a Black Lives Matter statement in June. What we need to do is bring out the contradictions inherent in these incompatible positions and make the attempts of figures such as Russell to tame this wave unsustainable. The City of London is in many ways vulnerable and if this wave crashes against it with sufficient force then it will have global implications - as I’m sure many people in Russia will be aware since much of the wealth looted from them was ultimately transformed from dirty money into something hard to trace thought the (City of) London laundromat.
6. Apart from systemic racism, which is easily visible to any non-authoritarian leftist or anarchist, we’re also seeing a new wave of feminism and movement against harassment and rape, which, in Russian social media, has caused a surge of ultraconservative outrage. Could your describe your relationship with feminism in 2020, in the light of your recent novel and your permanent interest in female and transgender identities?
SH: Obviously it’s important to understand intersectional issues and support the struggles of those fighting against different forms of oppression, so feminism is a major aspect of that. The me too movement is part of a broad fight against hierarchy and patriarchal bullshit. In terms of my new novel She’s My Witch (2020), it features a female character who in terms of her occult interests wants to go beyond a male and female binary, and the difficulties and contradictions of attempting to do that even with magick when working within a contemporary capitalist society are explored. My interest in this is probably as evident in my visual art as my writing, starting with the series Becoming (M)other (2004) and moving on into Occult Androgyny (2016). For the former I reposed as a 42 year-old my mother’s modelling portfolio pictures from when she was 22 years-old, so through the morphing process you get a composite of the two of us where gender is very blended and there is an unnatural age reversal between parent and child. With Occult Androgyny I used photographs of a London based witch who doesn’t look anything like me which I then reposed and morphed with my attempt to replicate her poses. Whereas there is a close resemblance between me and my mother, this is not the case of the ‘all woman’ I merge with in Occult Androgyny. In many ways this visual work opened up a passage that later enabled me to write fiction on the subject. I made Becoming (M)other before the witch whose images I used in Occult Androgyny told me about her magical work in relationship to going beyond gender, and possibly the fact I had done the first piece led her to tell me some secrets from her coven. I later discovered a number of women I knew - who were also witches although I’d met them through the London art world - worked in similar ways, but only after I’d exhibited on Occult Androgyny and they told me they were into the same type of magick. Becoming (M)other was also a precursor to the novel based on my mother’s life Tainted Love. One work often leads to another and the visual very often to the written word and vice versa. Becoming (M)other grew out of a film I made a few months before the morph series entitled The Eclipse and Re-Emergence of the Oedipus Complex. The film is here: <http://ubu.com/film/home_eclipse.html>; a catalogue with images from Becoming (M)other and a related later visual work The Age of Anti-Ageing is here: <http://www.functionroom.co/antiage/age_anti-ageing_cat.pdf>
7. Our time, when even J.K. Rowling comes under harsh criticism, gives a new impulse to reactionary conservatives, and is marked by a new kind of censorship, when even essentially positive change can have a reverse effect because of political and media-manipulations. In your novels, you pay those things a great deal of attention, showing infinitely repeating sex scenes which become a metaphor for infinite domination and validation of various fascist practices. Do you feel like you’re ready for an attack from either left or right, and have such attacks already occurred?
SH: Sometimes it’s good to trust people to an extent but if there is an individualised attack then it’s often best to redirect the attackers energy so that it trips them up, rather than directly confronting it. Certainly posting about the removal of statues draws the ire of a certain type of conservative - one who perhaps likes to think of himself, and it usually is a he, as more progressive and ‘intelligent’ than he actually is. Ultimately these attacks don’t add up to much so it isn’t worth spending much time on them. Often those making trolling in this way are just sad and lonely and want attention but it would be a bad idea to reward their obnoxious attempts at getting attention by giving it to them. It isn’t really worth engaging with those who rant about cancel culture, it’s an invention of the right and follows on from similar rhetorical attempts to silence anyone who isn’t a reactionary such as so called political correctness. Of course, historically, there have been lots of attacks on me from the right, characterised by the campaign of Green Anarchist and their friends which was documented in The Green Apocalypse. Parts of that are online here <https://www.stewarthomesociety.org/smear.htm> and here <https://www.stewarthomesociety.org/pit.htm>
8. All these years you’ve remained a proponent of class perspective and proletariat consciousness, and you have opposed making up new identities of that sort, like the precariat. The 2020 crisis and the lockdowns have reiterated those questions. How do you make the image of proletariat relevant today? Do you think that the media are trying to blur that image, sparking division in any movements attempting to resurrect the action of unions and political movements to a degree that would be dangerous to the establishment?
SH: Class clearly remains relevant to understanding both what the ruling class is and sensing our own power which becomes increasingly visible the more we struggle together against exploitation. For images of class struggle to be relevant they need to connect with people’s lives but I don’t think that’s so difficult. When the working class conscious acts as a class for itself then it is always a danger to the ruling elite. It remains the class that must ultimately abolish all classes. What isn’t relevant are vanguardist notions of bringing consciousness into the class from outside, or rhetoric about providing leadership. The working class self-organised and drawn forward in struggle is the only kind of proletarian movement that has ever been relevant.
9. I was particularly deeply impressed by your book Tainted Love. While working on that book, which is very sincere in terms of personal and intimate matters, have you experienced anything special? I saw this book as an attempt to receive a transgressive experience and perform something like a spirit session, just using writing techniques.
SH: I did a lot of research into my mother’s life without any plan of doing anything with the material, it was more for my own interest and because she took me back through a lot things from the sixties that I knew about but made me look at them in new ways. So I learned a lot from this and was quite surprised by how closely our interests and even friendships matched, given that I’m not aware of anyone else in our extremely large family at all like us and I befriended some of my mother’s friends without knowing they’d been friends with her. When I got my mother’s address book from my auntie I wasn’t surprised it had a lot of famous names in from the sixties in it like William Burroughs, John Lennon and Berry Gordy, but some of the activists like Chris Gray (who was in the Situationist International/King Mob) did make my head spin for a while. My mother’s connection to Chris was more through drug dealing than anything else, unlike me she didn’t share his political interests. I ended up spending quite a bit of time hanging out with Chris before he died and so learned a lot about King Mob I hadn’t know before. He’d refer to me and his daughter and other kids whose parents were on that scene in the sixties as ‘the lost children of Ladbroke Grove’ because a lot of us ended up growing up separated from our parents. Because I’d been talking to Chris around the time I did a panel talk on punk with Malcolm McLaren (the Sex Pistol’s manager) I was able to speak about splits in the King Mob group based on the type of drug and or alcohol abuse different members indulged in, and McLaren was obviously completely flummoxed about how someone my age - too young to have been in the group - could have all this insider knowledge about it. So at that talk because I spoke before him, McLaren didn’t make some of the more unlikely claims he’s floated about his involvement in that group. The stranger moments tended to come before I wrote Tainted Love, when I reposed my mother’s fashion shots I got some great information about her, and really understood how she projected herself, but its not verbal knowledge it’s physical and spiritually embodied. These aren’t secrets but to really understand this you have to know it in ways that don’t involve words. The photographer I worked with on Becoming (M)other, Chris Dorley-Brown could see how weird this all was as we did it. I was in contact with the original photographer who took my mother’s fashion portfolio shots but I figured Chris who worked with morphs a lot would better understand what I was doing. Nonetheless, he said it was weird the way I wanted to mixi different generations and shoot myself in colour but to morph with old black and white photos etc. Not a standard approach to morphing work at that time. He could definitely see some of the magick I was getting from the process as we did it. But there were many strange moments with the research because my mother’s life and mine mapped so well onto each other’s despite neither of us knowing about many of these overlaps before I uncovered them. It took a while to process and accept a lot of ‘co-incidences’ but after all this time they are fully integrated for me. I did a lot of research but sometimes how easy it was to get information surprised me. I’d never applied to get a copy of an autopsy before and when I wrote to ask for my mother’s autopsy, I figured I was at least going to have to prove who I was and possibly pay for a copy. But the coroner just send the autopsy to me after my first letter asking for it and I wasn’t expecting or prepared to receive it when it arrived. So when I opened the letter and saw the autopsy was there, I put it back in the envelope and spent about an hour lying down and mentally preparing myself to look at it before I actually read it. Now I’d be better prepared for doing that but all this was before I wrote the book. And, of course, with my mother there is always the possibility of new surprises, so I may yet experience more high weirdness with regard to her, although I haven’t had any experiences like that recently.
10. Your mother’s figure in your novel is surrounded with mysterious circumstances and provoking facts, about which one could endlessly argue where the line between fiction and reality is. Have there been any moments in Julia Callan-Thompson’s biography that even you yourself found too unreal and decided not to include in the book?
SH: Biography and autobiography always contains fictionalised elements, so the conversations in Tainted Love are imagined just as they usually are in non-fiction books of this type when you see this approach. That said, unlikely as it seems to many, my mother did have encounters with all the historical figures in the book of roughly the type described except Brian Jones. I wanted to include a chapter about a very rich and famous sixties rock star who my mother did have an encounter with through her involvement in drug dealing and prostitution, but given he was still alive at the time the book was published and likely to sue he couldn’t be included. He didn’t behave like Jones but in the chapter Jones is fictionalised to behave like Jones and not the person he is substituting for. I also didn’t include much about the occult experiences my mother had as I wanted to focus on London, as I’ve never been to anywhere on the Indian subcontinent or in North Africa which were important to my mother in her spiritual quest. My lack of first hand knowledge of these places as physical locations was an issue. I’ve been to many of the places my mother went to in the United States but at the time of writing hadn’t been to Bolinas where she’d lived for a year and so this was the most significant location in the US for her. I went to Bolinas in 2013 and had hoped to see the house my mother lived in, but after asking people where it was when I couldn’t find the number on the street, I eventually discovered it had fallen into the sea between my mother living there and me visiting. Bolinas in 2013 was more gentrified than it would have been when my mother was there in the mid-seventies but you could still see how much of a hippie drug haven it had been back then.
11. The last question on this book is about the figure of Alexander Trocchi. As an accomplished writer, why, do you think, he didn’t reach his potential despite his amazing talent? Is the heroin the reason, or was there something else?
SH: A lot of people around Trocchi and Trocchi himself were more interested in living poetically than writing poetry. So they didn’t prioritise writing. Some of the same attitudes can be seen in Trocchi’s comrades at the Situationist International and the ideas they had about revolution being poetry. Drugs may be the reason Trocchi didn’t write more but I think there were other factors. I dislike the views of the literary types in the Anglo-American world who say Trocchi wasted his talent and should have produced more books. I’m happy enough to have the books Trocchi wrote and don’t have an issue with the fact the didn’t write more. Trocchi didn’t live a particularly happy life but I don’t necessarily think it would have been any better if he’d written more books - and people’s actual lives are way more important than literature.
12. Going back to modern art. In Russia, everything there goes in circles, and new generations of artists essentially repeat either the most successful things from western countries, or the performances of their predecessors. What strategies and tactics would you recommend to actionists who would like to remain relevant in the current political context? Do you see any potential remaining in the alliance of actionism and politics, or is everything doomed to become some version of Banksy?
SH: Banksy doesn’t interested me. I think it’s best not to have too much of a programme but rather to look at a situation and see what will work as an intervention. Obviously on many occasions I’ve taken actions from the past, combined them in new ways and put them in new situations. Other times something comes to mind which isn’t necessarily consciously based on old works by others but that may without my knowing it have resonance with things others have done before. It looks like galleries are going to be a lot less important after the pandemic, so things will be best for those happy to work online and in the streets. It’s also always important to remember that the communities that create cultures are much more important than any cultural objects they produce. So the best way forward for cultural workers is to focus on social relations, on how to bring people together in struggle and move the world forward in a positive way, while of course having a laugh! I like to organise bizarre street demonstrations, which I’ve been doing for decades. One I did a few years ago was against overdevelopment and gentrification in central London and called Hex In The Park. It got TV news coverage and we reconfigured footage from it into a video spell online. I worked with a coven of witches on this, so there were a bunch of them doing a ritual to generate a cone of power nearby, as well as those you can see on camera. It’s here: <https://youtu.be/nYMQiBlY4eg> Is it art? Is it protest? I’d hope it is hard to define and that very fact makes it more effective.
13. What stands behind your interest in studying the occult? Is it just a creative game, or something more serious? What, in your opinion, could enable a person today to dive into mysticism, and could you tell me about anything you’ve seen or heard about the occult practices of the London bohemia?
SH: Under communism we’re not just going to reclaim the modes of social organisation of primitive communist societies, we’ll also see the return at a higher level of the modes of consciousness associated with pre-class societies. Communism will will be shamanic or it will not be at all. I hang out with a lot of witches but their practices vary a lot. Those into Wicca tend to be more rigid about how they do rituals so if you get involved in sex magick with them it can be quite gruelling to get through the structure of the things that must be done and performed. Post-Wiccan witches think the world has moved on and as a result magick has had to change too. They tend to be a little freer in how they do things, so I find sex magick with post-Wiccan witches is generally more fun, even if it’s intended produce specific results. So I’d see witchcraft as both a creative game and something more serious. High magick tends to attract men, just as witchcraft attracts more women, so I prefer the latter because its much more female centred, although the (moon) goddess doesn’t exclude the green man. There’s a really wide variety of occult practices in London right now, so its just a question of going out and finding which ones turn you on. There’s also a lot of people charging money particularly for sex magic instruction although generally they don’t know too well what they’re doing but at the same time they seem to be hoping to harvest the energy being generated to put to their own uses. So they’re trying to rip-off and exploit those who follow them both financially and by stealing their labour. This is the kind of occultism it is easiest to connect with anywhere in the world, but if you search there are more interesting connections out there. I wouldn’t pay to go on Zoom and stroke my ‘pussy’ for hours while someone else watches and harvests the energy but it seems some young women are being conned into doing that.
14. In late July your new anti-novel She’s my Witch was published. Is there something new or radical in it for you with regards to your writing experience?
SH: I see She’s My Witch as being closely related to Tainted Love in terms of content but stylistically it is rather different. It takes a parallel life to that of my mother, so the main character is born in Spain in the late-sixties but ends up in London, is involved in sex work and has a heroin addiction. But rather than the beatnik scene, punk rock provides an entry into the drug world, and rather than Indian gurus mysticism is explored through witchcraft. You see the parallels with my mother’s life a generation down but also the differences. Spain is, of course, a different starting point to Wales as well. The book uses flash back to the earlier life around Valencia and much of it is told through social media messaging, in some ways making it like 18th century epistolatory novels such as Samual Richardson’s Pamela but bringing that forward to the 21st century. In terms of content The 9 Lives of Ray The Cat Jones triangulates with Tainted Love and She’s My Witch because there I detailed the life of my mother’s cousin who was a notorious London criminal in the 1950s and 1960s - he came up to London from South Wales when he was young. In that book I was very interested in how lives are fictionalised in biography and autobiography and explored that through the novel form. I called 9 Lives a novel but it was no more fictional than many ghost written ‘autobiographies’ of criminals. Moving on, in terms of an endless discussion of books and music played through a nominally heterosexual relationship, She’s My Witch has some similarities to 69 Things To Do With A Dead Princess, but it is a more straightforward love story - despite detours into sex magic, BDSM, drug addiction and much else - and also much longer than that earlier book. Steve Finbow whose review of it went up on the literary site 3AM a few days ago says it’s my best novel to date. I always like my most recent novel best so I’m not really in a position to say if it is my best or not, but its nice to hear someone else saying that. I certainly like the book a lot.
15. Last question – I haven’t read Re-Enter the Dragon, but could you, as an expert, name me a couple of the best kung-fu movies that you’ve seen?
SH: Re-Enter The Dragon is specifically about films that riff on Bruce Lee and rip him off to sone degree and thus have become associated with the genre known as Brucesploitation. I’m a big fan of the old school basher and also Jimmy Wang-Yu - the big Hong Kong action star before Bruce Lee, famous for the One-Armed Swordsman series etc. - so if you’re only going to watch one kung fu movie I’d say watch Master of the Flying Guillotine. But you should also watch Angela Mao in Hapkido (not a kung fu style of martial arts as it’s Korean but the flick is generally considered a kung fu film). And if you’ve never seen a Bruce Lee movie then Fist of Fury is easily his best, for me it carries an anti-nationalist message as I observe in Re-Enter The Dragon, this is not how most film studies hacks understand it but then I’m always ready to correct their faulty theorising. There are also so many Shaw Brothers movies I love like Spiritual Boxer. In terms of Brucesploitation Clones of Bruce Lee is the paradigmatic example of the genre…. But moving away from kung fu films to martial arts movies more generally then Sonny Chiba in The Street Fighter is a must see too! I think it’s impossible to recommend just 2 kung fu movies, there are so many you should see!