The celebrated experimental author on glass ceilings, shredding your own work and the future of publishing
For over thirty years Stewart Home has been penning wilfully irksome anti-narratives that explore everything from the uses for a deceased princess to the myriad joys of pseudo-Marxist anarchy in prose that is witty, urbane, extremely violent and dizzyingly experimental. His latest novel Blood Rites Of The Bourgeoisie is no exception, employing ‘make her scream with pleasure’-esque spam email to construct a tortuous, gleefully offensive comment upon the glass ceiling that exists for women in the higher echelons of modern art. Arguably, Home is a modern-day Burroughs – although he is considerably more fun to read at times than Le Hombre Invisible – and it has been remarked by his peer Jenny Turner that anyone with an interest in literature should make themselves acquainted with the work of the ever-more prolific Home (a man Malcolm McClaren claimed writes ‘feminism with balls’). Here, the east London-based wordsmith talks to us about the future of publishing, the conservatism of the industry and the satisfaction of shredding you own books.
Dazed Digital: Your latest book Blood Rites Of The Bourgeoisie employs spam email to make a comment upon sexism in the art community – what inspired you to create that novel?
Stewart Home: Well, the novel did come from looking at spam emails, and becoming quite amused at the spam I would receive, which I just thought was great – one of the ones I most liked was ‘Latino Lesbians Lick Taco’! I wasn’t very impressed by the way most people made it, though, because they just thought they could put one line of spam after another and at whatever random point decide to cut it off, another thing I noticed was that most spam referred to ‘she’ or ‘her’ and was meant to project the fantasy of the heterosexual male. I thought it was more interesting to start putting names into it – famous female names from the art world, some of which were amusing because they were dead or old. I realised I could trap my story between slabs of carefully worded spam and slabs of anti-narrative, where the curator and artist were in conflict. It took a long time to write because, although the idea was fairly simple, I had to make it work in the arrangement on the pages, which meant moving things around a lot and rewriting a great deal until it worked together – the idea is one thing, a lot lies in the execution.
DD: Your work is celebrated for its uncompromising experimental anti-narrative structure, but you were saying to me recently that it's almost impossible to get a publisher these days that will allow you to work outside of a linear narrative structure…
Stewart Home: It has become more difficult, and publishers are not really sure how the switch over to limited editions and E-Books are going to work. They have become more conservative, but then they’ve always been quite conservative – if you wanted to push things, in the way you have in Spectacles, for example, it’s often harder to go to a bigger publisher. The funny thing I found over the years was that you’re nearly always under-pressure from people to be more commercial, even from small literary publishers, but in actual fact the most successful novel I did in terms of immediate reaction was 69 Things To Do With A Dead Princess on Canongate, which was the first and only book I did with them, so they haven’t been particularly pushing me to change because there is clearly an audience, and that audience is not being serviced. I think all that’s changing, though, because of the way the industry is breaking down. I just don’t think we’re going to have the big start that we’ve had in the past, because people aren’t going to be hyped up with massive advances.
DD: It’s supposedly the age of the E-Book, but Umberto Eco recently argued that that we are always going to have hard copy fiction, and that the book will never die…
Stewart Home: I think where it’s going is probably limited-edition hardbacks, possibly all numbered and signed – much like the art edition – and, of course, downloads, so the books have got to be much cheaper. I think that the prices are going to drop to the prices of music tracks because people don’t value writing that much. I’ve mentioned to you before about some editors thinking that authors are now going to write for their audience, and that the audience will have some collaborative say in the development of their book. That’s the way some people see it going, but it's not particularly how I want to go, because I have a vision of what I want to do with my books – it depends on whether your trying to make a living or you’re trying to say something, or it’s a combination of the two. What concerns me is the loss of editing because, actually, I think the collaborative process is synthetically really good to kind of really tune up a book. I mean even someone who doesn’t need a lot of editing can have their book improved.
DD: One thing that is interesting is this thing you do where you publicly shred your books – what’s that all about?
Stewart Home: (Laughs) I thought I would shred The Bible to get people going, but it’s too easy; it’s boring. I hate all this literary crap about selling original manuscripts, so I decided I would destroy mine. With shredding my own books it’s much funnier. I made a film of me shredding a copy of my book Down And Out In Shoreditch And Hoxton. I put it on YouTube and people were like ‘Oh…’ Then people kept saying to me, ‘Could you shred your books?’ Now I’m kind of bored of it. I’ve shredded lots of books now. I’ll probably shred one in New York when I go to do a show at White Columns in October. You know, you buy a shredder, and you think, ‘What can I do with it?’ At least I did, so I thought I’d shred my books.