Blood Rites of the Bourgeoisie
By Richard Marshall.
Blood Rites of the Bourgeoisie, Stewart Home, Book Works 2010
Our sharpest contemporary picaresque dissenter has in this text presented his funky inquest on contemporary culture’s collusion between art power and power, of art money and money, of art duplicities and duplicities, of art fakes and fakes, of art lies and lies, of art politics and politics, of art bureaucracy and bureaucracy, of art business and business, of art glamour and glamour, and has done so in the mode of an impossible object, an object like the blindspot of the counterprivate, where only you can’t know something.
Ironies detonate as you read. His text is indexical, like words such as ‘tomorrow’, ‘I’, ‘me’ and so on. Meanings shift as they are absorbed and incorporated into other fields and zones of understanding. Time and space are coordinates through which an abstract entity, the reader’s ‘I/Eye’, passes. Seeing is the master sense in the book, as this is a book about reading, writing and looking and so the background metaphors of the eye become important. Home refers to the philosopher of the eye Bataille once in the whole text but this pin-prick of reference is enough.
His ragbag story jams a Carry On-funny penis-zip-snagging to a childhood ball-crushing fall episode that spooks up a serious vantage point for glimpsing the negotiations of pride, shame and face-saving that resilience against poverty requires in mothers. ‘Your mother was afraid you’d castrated yourself but she wouldn’t take you to the doctor because that would mean explaining how the accident happened, and owning up to the fact that when she’d let you out alone you’d gone trespassing.’ So Home presents both an unstable funny with a more secure sense of outrage and compassion.
In referencing Bataille, Home locates the carnality of a viral porn spam with the notion of voyeaurism and Bataille’s Pineal Eye. ‘The eye, at the summit of the skull, opening on the incandescent sun in order to contemplate it in a sinister solitude, is not a product of understanding, but is instead an immediate existence; it opens and blinds itself like a conflagration, or like a fever that eats the being, or more exactly, the head.’ Bataille’s eye is the pornographic snuff eye, the mythic narrative that is death of an ‘obscene and nude victim — and a victim not before an obscure and immaterial force, but before great howls of prostitute’s laughter.’ For Bataille’s I/Eye, existence is ‘a durable orgasm.’ The pun runs out to where ‘I/Eye’ becomes ‘ay-ay’ becomes a terrible parodying opposite of Molly Bloom’s final ‘yes’ at the end of that great republican epic Ulysses. Bloom’s ‘yes’ is affirmation without a full stop following, so Joyce is signaling that this is an eternal affirmation of life, whereas the eye of Bataille is the full stop, the patrolling, murderous imprisoning eye of Benthamite Panoptican prison architecture that frames an ocular dictatorship for the society of the spectacle.
Home’s work links to the bawdy raunch of the picareseque with its itinerary of erotica generated by an exhausting consumption of an insane repetitive sequence of appearances, each one lifted as if from a container to another and then another, on and on, where the drained out multiverses of pornographic image in the eye recall Bataille describing the jesuve in relation to ‘the fecal eye of the sun’ and the violence towards wimmin in Richardson’s Clarissa, another masterpiece of republican epic done as letters rather than Shem’s riverrunning consciousnoise.
All this reminds me of the dissenting radicalized anti-authoritarianism of Home, his Afro-Celt bardism fusing with radical Protestant imaginings to brilliantly weird, antic effect. Bataille worked his surrealist excess against the Nazis. Richardson’s masterpiece was a dissenting puritan reworking of Virgil’s Aeneid at the time of the Restoration after the Cromwellian Revolution targeting Charles the Second. This links the work with Defoe, whose Robinson Crusoe was also a reworking of Virgil. Clarissa is a great republican anti-monarchical novel that buckles itself to the Miltonic sun of truth and reason of Paradise Lost. William Hazlitt also connects with this ethic of communication that Tom Paulin, writing about Clarissa, says ‘ … flies in the face of a culture of secrecy and official manipulation of the truth.’ That is our culture.
So Home too writes out of this dissenting stance. He identifies the insincerities and hypocrisies of contemporary society and aims to overthrow it. Home thinks that art culture, the ‘blood rites’ of the title, serves to protect our hypocritic society by commodifying dissent, drawing its fangs and stifling revolutionary zeal. And so here’s his problem. How to write a novel that doesn’t serve to appease dissent rather than provoke it?
The indexicality of the text is signaled through the use of viral porn spam attack texts that are used alternately with the narration paragraphs to increasingly bizarre effect. These are strange writings, like Van Gogh sunflowers. Van Gogh thought of sunflowers as disturbing flowers, being always in various stages of decay, always between living and dying. Home, as always, has carefully structured his book and by using these sunflower texts as alternative tablets of text — so we get his fiction followed by a block of spam throughout — he is able to show how indexicality unfixes the solid flesh of script into something more turbulent and fluid. Yet the viral aspect of the spam messages introduces the idea of language being generated as a spontaneous living form and at the same time as an ultimately dead one too. The messages are literally mindless and the substitution of artists’ names into the message strings arbitrary and random. The viral element has the sinuous aristocratic fluidity of the undead. They are the modern day correlative of the Lovelacean dandy. In Clarissa Lovelace, the rapist, writes the devilish style of the cavalier. Home has paraphrased this as the language of the pornographer.
The prototypical contrast that this picks up on is the one between writing and speaking. The written word is characterized as being trapped, policed, bureaucratised. Dr Johnson’s dictionary imprisons spellings; the ungoverned spontaneity of language becomes mapped and loses its fresh physicality and unpredictability. The Benthamite prison language creates the prison, as Blake argues. The spoken word is the language still flighty, soaring, able to free itself into vernacular muscles and feathers that source older and more eldritch powers, Pan waiting on the end of the long tongue. Home uses the word eldritch in the novel, signaling a connection to H.P. Lovecraft, denizen of the New England weirds, of Melville and Poe, of Joyce Carol Oates’s Mysteries of Winterthurn. Hazlitt contrasts poetry with prose using similar opposition. The poet is free, juicy, soaring sublime like a great eagle above the highest peak. Only the greatest prose can, like a chamois, stand upon the mountain top, still rooted and fixed by gravity, never so lofty as to actually leave the ground.
The epistolary form effaces the obvious contrast by being speaking likenesses, a writing that is spontaneous and flushed through with the bright verbosity of genuine exchange where the light, vernacular pulse of speech is retained. It is writing that speaks, or speaking that is written. A kind of contradictory form. The great eighteenth century authors of the epistolary novels such as Richardson galvanise writing out of its prison. The epistolary novel is, for Richardson, ‘writing to the moment’, a phrase of Richardson’s used by our great dissenting critic Tom Paulin as the title of one of his potent collections of radical, urgent essays. And such exchange requires the subtleties and epistemological constraint of indexical reality for them to make sense. In the modern world of the blog, Twitter, MySpace and so on, the indexical writer is multiplied and Home here has proved that he is awake to their significance.
There are horizons of understanding and knowledge that indexicality provide that are often overlooked. There are things that I can’t know that you can know because my point of view precludes such knowledge. Where is the self? The location and naming of identities is a crucial issue in Home’s work. The vanishing point was invented in representative painting in the sixteenth century. The ocular eye of flesh was transferred into a geometric abstraction. The vanishing point is invisible in the painting. It isn’t part of the painting but is the internal limit of the picture. The frame is the external limit. Contemporary theory has made much of the external limit, the ‘problem of the frame.’ It has ignored the problem of the internal limit, the vanishing point. The self is the equivalent of the vanishing point. The self is not in our experiences but is the internal limit of identity. This is why our bodies are not us. Nor are our minds. What we are always remains outside of the experience, working as the frame of reference for indexical experience. Home has always known this.
This is why he takes on Heidegger. This is the latest and most powerful and successful mugging of the Nazi philosopher yet from Home. Heidegger, like all his theorist followers, denies the existence of non-material existence and builds his whole philosophical enterprise from this. But any fool knows that non-material things exist. A baby sees shadows. Shadows are not made out of anything. They are absences of light caused by an object blocking light from moving into another space. The blackness of a shadow is not colour-suppressing light, as in the black painted squares of Malevich. Yet we see it and it exists. A hole is an absence of stuff. You can touch holes. You can see them. There’s one in my pocket. The sky is one big hole. It isn’t stuff. It’s the absence of stuff. Silence is the absence of noise. But we hear it. A deaf person can’t hear silence. Heidegger denies all this kid’s stuff. Home is groovy because he writes in a way that the flaccid Nazi phony can’t.
Home plays the serious sophism of Jean Buridan, the secular cleric at Paris University in the thirteenth/fourteenth centuries. Sophisms are crazy sentences that provide clues to the logical structures of thought. Albert of Saxony’s eleventh sophism in his ‘Sophismata’ is ‘All men are donkeys or men and donkeys are donkeys.’ The sentence can be read as being true and it can be read as being false depending on how one construes the distribution of the conjunct and disjunct. The ambiguity is deep because as a written sentence there is no clue to disambiguation.
Grammatical sophisms can also generate infinite substitution routines, repeats that go round and round forever. And the finite human can’t of course go round and round forever. For example, in 1967 Emmon Bach and Stanley Peters thought about the sentence ‘ Francis touched the beggar and cured him.’ The natural theory about pronoun reference proposes that pronouns work by borrowing the reference from an earlier referring phrase. So the sentence about Francis is solved as ‘Francis touched the beggar and cured the beggar.’ They then wrote the sentence ‘ The pilot that shot at it hit the Mig that chased him.’ Applying the rule of pronouns to this sentence results in an infinite substitution routine. Which raises the question is what do we actually do with that sentence. Is it really meaningless to us? Or do we leave some pronoun ungrounded? Which returns us to Home’s use of the ever repeating texts of the porn spam virus which raises the same perplexity in us. Are they really meaningless? How do they mean? What do they mean?
The philosopher Roy Sorensen thinks that medievalists didn’t learn about sophisms from fossil layers found in the Bible, Cicero or Aristotle, nor were they imports from the Greeks or Islamic commentators. Sorensen thinks they were unintended consequences of an intellectual routine that all students at the University of Paris were put through. These were oral tests, because written tests were too expensive. They took the form of debates. They might last from four in the morning until evening. These were king of the hill debates where, as Aristotle explains in his Topics VIII 4, which was used by the university to structure and shape the debates, ‘The business of the questioner is to develop the argument as to make the answerer utter the most implausible of the necessary consequences of his thesis; while that of the answerer is to make it appear that it is not he who is responsible for the impossibility or paradox, but only his thesis; for one may, no doubt, distinguish between the mistake of taking up a wrong thesis to start with, and that of not maintaining it properly, when once taken up.’
Sorensen comments that ‘the point of the dispute is to create a specimen for postgame analysis’. Blood Rites is a written version of this. Home’s text incorporates postgame analysis in an appendix discussing the identity of ‘Belle de Jour’. The previous body of text suggests that it is the specimen the appendix somehow discusses, but although the form of an obligational dispute seems to make that an obvious structure, a second thought makes such a thing less plausible. The appendix recasts genuine debate in the blogosphere into the Blood Rites text as a whole. It is just too simplistic to imagine that the debates of the appendix are merely discussing the non-appendix as ‘a specimen.’ Those readers familiar with Home’s oeuvre will perhaps prefer to think of all his previous work as the ever-expanding specimen being discussed. And, of course, it is not implausible to think that the Semina series itself, of which this is the seventh part, may also be the specimen that is really the subtext for the disputes. The postgame analysis is to some readers the vanishing point of the texts, occurring as the limiting inner frame structuring their meanings.
In the Paris debates the strange sophisms that distress logic were fired up into view. ‘You do not exist’ forced defenders into defending the proposition because it is logically consistent. Accepting the proposition leads the questioner to attack with ‘ You are drop dead sexy.’ Denying or accepting this will assert that you do exist and so contradict the initial assertion. Once understood as being undefeatable, these sophisms became expansive and corrosive.
‘You are sleeping’ builds in a conflict between the content of the statement and the act of disputing. You can’t sleep and dispute. Buridan was the master of these traps. He knew that in any yes/no dispute an opponent is defeated by the statement ‘Your reply will be negative.’ Saying yes says you’re agreeing that you’re not affirming. Saying no denies he is denying. This is Buridan’s Bridge. Buridan’s Bridge was not invented by Buridan, but this is the tactic that develops the response to cruel dictators and monsters. If a crocodile takes a child and says to the distressed mum that she can have it back if she can tell him what he’s decided to do, she must answer ‘you aren’t going to give it back’ thus trapping the monster into giving it back.
Home has been playing Buridan’s Bridge for the last two decades. His texts trap readers into obligations of response that are then exposed and discussed. Home’s book is a dialectical variant on pragmatic paradoxes and liar paradoxes. The liar paradox is possibly the more familiar of the two. ‘This sentence is false’ poses a variant of the liar paradox. Home, when using the liar paradox, is interested in looped liar paradoxes. In the last section, the appendix that discusses the identity of ‘Belle de Jour’, the liar paradox is structured as The Other Margaret Thatcher saying ‘ What Stewart Home says is true’ and Stewart Home replying ‘ What The Other Mrs Thatcher says is false.’ This shows that no direct self-reference is required for the liar paradox. But Blood Rites is more about pragmatic paradoxes.
The pragmatic paradoxes are possibly less well known, but are perhaps more interesting than the liar and are the most invasive and pervasive of Home’s work as a whole. They can directly expose the structure of indexicality and first-person reporting. This links with the eighteenth century epistolary novels of Richardson and Sterne. Sterne’s Tristam Shandy has long been extolled as an extended exercise in exploring the constraints of perspectivism. Home, like Sterne, is writing out of the knowledge of the existence of the ‘counterprivate.’
Once admitted, the exploration of the ‘counterprivate’ leads to the understanding that not all consistent thoughts and sentences are expressible. This is the equivalent of the existence of non-material things like shadows, holes and silence. The assumption that anything that isn’t logically precluded can be thought and said is undermined. It is an avenue that mocks theorists that mock fallibilists. It mocks anyone who would try and lock up minds and bodies by force of logic and consistency.
The ‘counterprivate’ is where a person cannot judge what state she’s in. It is a Sorensenian, Gombaysian blindspot. Moran said that the counterprivate is ‘an emblem for peculiarities in the first person point of view’. Ironically, given that Home is no admirer of the analytic school of philosophy, it is a field of enquiry associated with GE Moore, one of the founding fathers of Analytic philosophy, a friend of Bertrand Russell and a staunch antagoniser of Idealism and Hegelianism. The absurdities of the counterprivate are absurdities that are not brought about by logical contradiction or a failure in the meaning of the words being used. So the prototypical example is both meaningful and logically consistent but absurd nevertheless. Moore’s Paradox is the paradox that requires interrogation of the counterprivate. If I said: ‘Stewart Home was Belle de Jour but I don’t believe it’ then I am being absurd. The implication of an assertion of a proposition is that I believe, which implies that the implication of the sentence takes the form of ‘p but not p’. But the meaning of the sentence does not include the implication. So it is consistent and meaningful. This is an example of Moore’s Paradox. Home’s Blood Rites takes the form of ‘The arts are important but I don’t believe they are’ as the crux of the whole issue. It is a perfectly meaningful and logically consistent statement that cannot be said by anyone. The absurdity is a radical, undefeatable blindspot that Home uses to ridicule the very blood rites he uses when writing his novels.
This pragmatic paradox arises from the notion of the counterprivate. It isn’t restricted to assertion. Thinking the thought would be equally absurd. And there are pragmatic equivalents, such as going to a Stewart Home book for no sex scenes knowing there’ll be many. Stigler’s ‘Law of Eponymy’ proposes that no name of a scientific discovery is named after the actual person who discovered it. So ‘Russell’s Paradox’ was not discovered by Russell but by Cantor. Jourdain’s ‘Visiting Card paradox’ was discovered by GG Berry. ‘Stigler’s Law’ was discovered by Robert Martin. ‘Moore’s Paradox’ is the counter-example to Stigler’s Law. There is no precursor although some may argue that actually Moore’s Paradox was discovered by CH Langford as an objection to Moore. Timothy Williamson thinks that Fitch’s knowability paradox that denies that all truths are knowable inspired Moore’s paradox. Williamson admits that Fitch’s paradox is an embarrassment to analytic philosophers. So Home’s use of its inspiration, though in the Analytic tradition, comes as less of a surprise once you know that. And Buridan’s work may also have inspired Moore. But Moore seems to have been the first to identify precisely the issue of the paradox.
Home’s novel uses counterprivate texts to structure the text. One idea in the book is about modeling refutation. If a lie is a falsehood and a falsehood is something that isn’t true, and what isn’t true doesn’t exist then the puzzle of thinking falsehoods becomes Parmenides’ thought that we can’t think about what is not. The repeated riffs of pornography, which jams together Artwhore viral spam attack messages about penis enlargement and sex gratification mechanisms with the names of wimmin artists creates an Abstract Literature joke where although the ‘… text is pornographic, its obscenity lies in the fact that it can’t be imagined, it can only be experienced in its totality as concrete form. Blackness. The void. Too many light-years between stars… An exhausted sun compacted into itself. The slow painless death of literature… Syllables should be moved around the page like clouds passing across the moon. Dense thickets of rhetoric must grow inexorably into an impenetrable jungle of words that overrun any and all attempts to extract a coherent meaning from…’
The book takes the form of the thought, ‘The book isn’t pornographic but I don’t believe that.’ The incoherence derives from perfectly innocent, coherent thoughts. The counterprivate structure of the text is a hidden void; the blackness that exists not as a suppression of meaning but an obligatory blindspot built into the very structure of the first person.
Thinking untrue thoughts is a puzzle to Parmenides. What is false is unreal. Home’s assumption is that the untrue proliferates madly everywhere. His unease is profound. His investigation into the life of his mother, which was the subject of his brilliant last book and which has been a prism through which many of his formal narrative games of investigation, scrutiny, investigation, historical reenactment and disinterment have been threaded, is the objective correlative to that unease. Someone is not telling the truth. Like the Scottish common-sense philosopher Reid, Home suspects the sincerity of the stories, including art stories, being told.
Sincerity is a constraint that infects the counterprivate and constrains it. The absurdity of ‘I went to the pictures last Friday but I don’t believe I did’ is condemned as absurd because it can’t be sincerely asserted. The constraint is not logic or meaning but the implicature of any first-person perspectivism. Buridan knew that a proposition is possible even though it can’t be true. What he didn’t know was that a proposition is impossible even though it can be true. Moore’s paradox takes that form. I may well have gone to the pictures last Friday and I may well not believe that I did, but I can’t truthfully assert or think that. The counterprivate perspectivism restrains the possibility.
‘I am Belle De Jour but I don’t believe I am’ is a Sternian statement. The Home book can be read as an updated Tristam Shandy. But it can also be read as footnotes to Clarrissa. The subject matter matters in Home. The usual sex and violence tropes are here reduced to dark broodings on wimmin and feminism. The hilarious pages of ‘Belle de Jour’ investigating Lockean sense data empirical Idealism through a sequence of increasingly Richardsonian sex scenes are the Archimedian points of the book suggesting that we pry out myths from the otherwise immovable earth of common sense. The earth moves in sex metaphors but also philosophically: if you believe that all you directly perceive are ideas then any beliefs you have about things outside this private domain must be justified by an inference. If a proposition doesn’t follow from inferences based on these ideas, then you have shown it’s not a rational thought. This is Cartesianism, and faced with attempts to uncover the truth, it flies in the face of common sense. Russell’s desk experiment which disintegrates the desk into perceived ideas is condemned by Home, as it would have been by Reid, for its insincerity. Even if reason shows it to be true, it can’t be believed.
Reid’s idea of ‘common sense’ is of something that requires and offers no chain of command or justification. Conclusions running counter to what common sense endorses are fit for ridicule. In 1764 Reid wrote that ‘Nature hath given us a particular emotion — to wit, that of ridicule — which seems intended for this very purpose of putting out a countenance what is absurd, either in opinion or practice.’
Home is a master of ridicule. His targets are always doomed. The idealist who says they don’t believe in material things will always be condemned as hypocrites. The attack on hypocrisy and liars is always adept and deeper than most because he always invites ridicule to be heaped on those violators of Reidian common sense. What the book reminded me of was how its interest with the blind spots of the counterprivate allow it to be a exercise in the interrogation of sincerity. And this in turn reminded me that Home’s books are always deeply engaged books where sincerity and anti-hypocrisy always drive their surface indifference to anything so authentic.
Blind spots are not merely an area where we can’t think or something is not represented to us. The ‘I’ is, as mentioned earlier, a dark spot, the centre of existence and yet curiously not present. Perspectivism is embedded into everything in this way. This is why the curious fact occurs that imagining a place which has no people in it is still imagined from a particular perspective. Home’s focus on the pornographic eye reminded me of Bataille, as again was mentioned earlier, but also runs to Schopenhaur’s studies of Goethe’s theory of vision where Schopenhaur thought that perception is not a passive absorption of ideas from the external world but involves an active invention of reason. The active brain fills in the gaps of perception. So the self is the unreceptive portion of our representation fleshed out by the processing mind.
The twentieth century took the fleshy optic and abstracted it to geometric perspectivism. Which reminds me that Wittgenstein in the Tractatus found that there was nothing in the visual field that allows you to infer that it is seen from an eye. And as Sanford points out, the geometrical eye in space is indexical and has indexical properties. Home is a late twentieth century, early twenty-first century writer. The logic of counterprivates, and in particular Moore’s paradox, depends on good theories of belief. We didn’t have any until Frank Ramsey who was dead by 1930 at the age of twenty-seven.
So Moore’s paradox might not have been visible to Reid and Sterne and Richardson. Home is lucky that it is visible to him. Perhaps, however, it is visible to Sterne too, but as a branch of something other than counterprivacy. Rather like law wasn’t visible to tribal Judaism as law, but was subsumed under religion, according to the brilliant new book by Raz, maybe the oddness of the counterprivate was visible to Sterne but not understood in terms that only a twentieth/twenty-first century person could understand. But Home makes explicit his knowledge of certain features required to understand the full power of Moore’s paradox.
Hilariously he exposes the fraud of voluntarism, the idea that we choose all our beliefs, an idea that Spinoza neutralized but the existentialists et al. forgot. The ‘wandering thoughts’ section early on in Blood Rites riffing on The Suicide Kid and transsexual kinkiness illustrate the impossibility of being able to control thoughts. Without this, there would be nothing to prevent an act of will disarming the paradox of counterprivacy, just as Descartes thought that an act of will could enable someone to believe in an exposed contradiction.
Throughout the book there’s a curious denial of the psychological analysis of concepts. As always, Home suggests he knows that any subjective analysis of concepts misses the assertion/implicates distinction. This is an analysis of ‘It was right of Neoism to include David Zack’ that concludes that it means ‘ I approve of Neoism including David Zack.’ As we noted above, though it does imply that, it doesn’t mean that. If it did then the oddness of a Moorean paradoxical statement or thought is inexplicable. The oddness of Home’s fiction is his well-honed conflict between the meaning and its implications. It has been part of the archived history of Home that confusion between what he means and what the meaning implies has always been rife and a source of his work’s power.
This is where Home’s radical stance lies. He is in conflict with the majority of theorists working the cultural field who, like Wittgenstein, think you can’t understand a statement without understanding its truth conditions. Radicals wishing to reject the prison of reason retreat to positions of irrationality and madness. These often seem spurious, inept or tactless. Surrealists who lingered over mad wimmin as emblems of radical freedom back in the day just seem cruel, indifferent to suffering and compromised. Cultural relativists tend to just operate a viral spread of the original problem; they deny that there is just one set of truth conditions and propose many. But this proposed plurality merely causes exponential growth of the original problem.
And these examples draw me back again to consider that Home is a writer interrogating the notion of sincerity more than anything else. Hence his concerns with authenticity, plagiarism, the use of multiple names and so forth. These are all packed into this agile text, as might be expected. But sincerity is not a feeling but an objective requirement of a certain perspective. Home is attempting to create an edifice of consistent sentences that can’t be consistently believed in order to make a difference.
His book is an impossible object constructed out of consistent, possible thoughts like ‘Art is important but I don’t believe it is.’ There is a history of impossible objects. Illusions relating to notated pitch circularity date back as far as 1550 according to Braus. Diana Deutsch creates impossible objects of sound using such pitch loops. Sounds are repeated again and again and out of the repeated sounds the mind tries to build meaning. The repeated sounds create illusions. The listener hears words. These can be heard here.
In pictorial art there are depictions of impossible relations and objects but the pictures are not themselves impossible objects. There are depictions of violations of geometrical truths. Istavan Orosz’s Cavalier is an example of this. Escher’s famous pictures also depict impossible objects.
Fictions work in ways that can guarantee consistency. But they don’t have to do that. Home’s prankster approach reminded me of the Australian paraconsistent philosopher Graham Priest who wrote a story as a memorial tribute to another paraconsistent logician, Richard Sylvan. ‘Sylvan’s Box’ was a story about an empty box that contained something. Characters in the story report their belief in this box. Priest makes explicit his denial that the emptiness of the box and its containing something can be explained in terms of their being understood in different ways. The storyteller pretends to be reporting her beliefs. Home intrigues the reader by sincerely reporting a whole set of beliefs that no one can have.
Blood Rites seems to be like Sylvan’s box. Empty language with something in it. Reporting a belief in this, Home is playing with the possibility of fictional object as well as embedding it in the blindspot offshoots of counterprivacy. Which reminded me that Home was once given as a punishment at school the task of writing a 500 word essay entitled ‘On the Inside of a Ping Pong Ball.’ Perhaps he is writing on the inside of Sylvan’s box.
And in turn, that recollection drew my attention to his two part contribution to Maria Fusco’s experimental art writing journal ‘The Happy Hypocrite’ called ‘The Psychic,’ which is where he revealed the punishment anecdote. The first contribution appeared in the ‘Linguistic Hardcore’ first issue, and described in detail an empty box. The second part appeared in the ‘Hunting and Gathering’ second issue, which revealed what should have been in the empty box.
In the first part he riffs on ‘Hegel’s philosophical system: starting at first principles means addressing nothing, but to have nothing one must also know its opposite which is something, and if one has something and nothing, then becoming must necessarily exist to mediate between them… and so on.’ Here Home makes explicit reference to the sort of sophisitical gainsaying dialogue we discussed earlier in terms of Buridan in Paris. Adorno has been thought to be the guy who took this and elaborated it into the dialectical metaphysics Home mentions in the quoted passage where contradiction plays a central role. But this is a broad view of contradiction.
Home has always pranked his bourgeois readership with his broad stroke Marxism, but the contradictions of Blood Rites are narrower than Hegelianism ever was. He knows that there is a contradiction in ordinary scenes not just the vast historical. Being in a doorway makes Vladimir both in and out of a room. Viral blogs are both writing and non-writing, just as Van Gogh’s sunflowers in a vase are both dead and alive flowers. And Home’s use of ‘I’ makes the first-person point of view generate contradictions that are not divisible into self-consistent conjuncts. Hegel requires P and not P to be the base of the dialectical progress. But self-identity is not divisible even though Hegel thinks it is false. There are no two sides that can be part of the dialectical process. Russell contradicted himself when he said there was a set for every property. Wittgenstein contradicted himself when he said that there is a decision procedure for every logical truth. But as top philosopher Roy Sorensen notes, they were not in two minds.
Home undermines the fictional beliefs of his characters, including the Stewart Home of ‘The Psychic’ because, as Blood Rites establishes, he knows that a broad approach to the embedded contradictions of thought will not allow Blood Rites off the ground. The idea relates to logical truth understood with the full machinery of Frege et al. Hegel predates this machinery. Yet Home’s Blood Rites works with the notion of a logical truth that states that no novel depicts all and only those novels that do not depict themselves. But if Blood Rites (and ‘Psychic’) depicts itself then it doesn’t depict itself. But if it doesn’t depict itself, it must be among the novels that depict itself. This a contradiction that emerges once one engages with the initial novelisation and the appendix that follows. In this, Home is engaged in fiction in the metaphysical doppleganger tradition of Pirandello’s Six Characters In Search of an Author.
As in many of the films of Bunuel, it is the indivisible inconsistency that attracts me to Home. Where there is divisible inconsistency there is the possibility of doubting what is being meant in an uninteresting, Hegelian, way. Given two equal options, we can doubt which of the two was meant. Continuity errors, such as being told by Conan Doyle that Dr Watson was wounded once in two different places creates doubt as to which wound Watson had.
Home doesn’t create that kind of doubt. Rather, he takes the eighteenth-century picaresque form as sophistry to wither the redemptive claims of art and links it to the idea of the counterprivate, which prevents just you from knowing what can be known by everyone else. Kafka is the literary master of this where doors through which only a single unique person can pass are barred only to that person. The sinister strangeness of this takes the form of an unsolvable puzzle, a paradox, but one which seems to violate no logical, no syntactical, no semantic requirement. From someone else’s perspective there is no barrier. As in Bunuel’s great film The Exterminating Angel the guests of the party seem perfectly unconstrained and yet something inexplicable, unknowable, prevents them from leaving. Until the flock of sheep wander through the Parisian mansion, they are doomed.
Redemption has a part in barter systems of monetary exchange but Home seems to be offering something that pre-dates barter as the primitive ancestor of present-day banking. Mauss’s notion of ‘potlatch’ returns us to the Northwestern American tribes the Tlingit, the Haida, the Tsimshian and the Kwakiutl where the economic institution was used, according to Bataille in his essay ‘The Notion Of Expenditure,’ to ‘…exclude all bargaining and, in general, it is constituted by a considerable gift of riches, offered openly and with the goal of humiliating, defying, and obligating a rival.’ So Home’s work can be seen as an act of potlatch, presenting an obligation on the art culture he represents as ‘blood rites of the bourgeoisie.’ The happy accident of potlatch being the name of Debord’s Situationist journal merely helps expand the depth of Home’s project.
So Blood Rites is a madman’s Clarissa, a groovy retake on potlatch obligation which requires payback with interest, a philosophical tour de force presented as a picaresque comedy of counterprivacy, and a feminist autosodomising vehicle that renders membership and attendance at the MoMA, the most popular art gallery in the world, an act of contradiction and absurdity. Home is a groove sensation.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Richard Marshall is biding his time.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Monday, June 14th, 2010.