Defiant Pose Revisited: An Interview with Stewart Home
Bridget Penney interviews Stewart Home.
Defiant Pose, Stewart Home‘s second novel, was originally published in London by Peter Owen in 1991. German and Finnish translations appeared in 1995. The English edition has long been out of print with secondhand copies commanding hefty prices online, so it’s great to see this 25th anniversary edition from Penny-Ante Press in Los Angeles, with an introduction by McKenzie Wark and afterword by Home, make it affordable once again. Since 1991 Home has published several novels; among them Red London (1994), Slow Death (1996), Come Before Christ and Murder Love (1997), 69 Things to do with a Dead Princess (2002), Tainted Love (2005), Memphis Underground (2007), Blood Rites of the Bourgeoisie (2010), Mandy Charlie and Mary Jane (2013) and The Nine Lives of Ray the Cat (2014). He has also published books of cultural theory, edited anthologies of fiction and non-fiction, issued recordings of his own work, made films and carried out other cultural interventions which can be read about on his website. Solo exhibitions of his artwork have been held at White Columns, New York and [ space ], London. Earlier this year his show Re-enter the Dragon at Queens Park Railway Club, Glasgow, was part of the Glasgow International. He has also contributed to numerous group exhibitions. Since 2008 he has edited the engagingly diverse Semina series ‘where the novel has a nervous breakdown’ at Book Works. In addition to all of the above, he maintains an active presence on social media.
I’ve known Stewart Home since 1985, when he was writing and publishing SMILE, an international magazine of multiple origins. He commissioned my book Index for the Semina series. As co-editor of small press Invisible Books, I was involved in publishing The House of Nine Squares (1995), a collection of correspondence between Home, Florian Kramer and others, which Home has described as his least effortful publication since no further editing of the manuscript was required on his part. When it was suggested I might be interested in interviewing Home about this new edition of his second novel, I jumped at the chance. Having read his books as they appeared over the last quarter-century, it felt like time-travelling to reread several in the course of a fortnight. This interview was conducted by email over a couple of weeks in late November/early December 2016. I sent Stewart an initial list of questions, then a second set, based on his answers, to which he responded in turn.
3:AM: Stewart, it feels strange to be asking you about a book that you wrote, and I first enjoyed reading, 25 years ago. You were on Art Strike when Defiant Pose was published so we didn’t discuss it then.
SH: I wrote it in 1989 and so it was actually written 27 years ago, and I was pleasantly surprised by how good I found the book when I reread it. I didn’t discuss it with anyone at the time, and got various friends of mine to pose as me for press interviews. I didn’t do any readings from it until 1993 either. I knew the scene in which the main character Terry Blake recites Abiezer Coppe was a groove sensation because I still read it. Well recite it, I got the idea to recite my work live in part from that passage, since I wanted to mirror what the narrator was doing, although generally I’m not also getting a blow job while I’m reciting that piece in public. However, beyond that passage which is in my head, I’d forgotten how good the rest of the book was. The prose is tighter than my first novel Pure Mania, so rereading the book for reissue I was very happy with what I’d done with it. But generally I don’t revisit my old books, better to forget them and move on, but obviously to write a 25 years on piece about the book for the reissue (or first US edition depending on how you configure that) I had to look back at it.
3:AM: In an interview with Tom McCarthy back in 2001 you said, ‘So having read Baudrillard I was trying to write simulacrums of pulp novels, and simultaneously taking ideas of inscribing pulp prose into experimental literature from the surrealists and the nouveau roman; but instead of just reinscribing pulp prose into a non-linear or non-standard plot I wanted to appropriate the plot as well — which led to my novels being misread as attempts to produce pulp fiction’.
SH: I thought the deliberate repetition in my prose clearly signalled an interest in the nouveau roman among other things, but it wasn’t until I got so fed up with being misunderstood and I made my sixth novel Come Before Christ and Murder Love obviously non-linear, that critics suddenly got it and in the reviews people like Alain Robbe-Grillet were cited as an influence on me. Robbe-Grillet was an influence all along, but when I was simulating plot, while simultaneously undermining it through repetition, no one writing reviews of my work seemed to understand this. I know some readers who weren’t writing reviews got it, but while most critics saw the humour in what I was doing, they didn’t see the drift of that humour, where it came from and where it was going. I should also point out that the novels were not always published in the order they were written, so Blow Job appeared in English after Come Before Christ and Murder Love, although it was written before that book and Slow Death (it did appear in Finnish translation before Come Before Christ came out in English or any other language). My German publishers had cash flow problems so didn’t do translations for a few years (as they have added expenses in terms of paying a translator, etc.) and so after a gap of five years between publishing Pure Mania and Defiant Pose, they brought out Blow Job next as they wanted to do my most recent book, but they ended up with an older one because of the way the books were published in English…. Because they’d not realised the publication order of the books wasn’t the order in which I wrote them.
3:AM: McKenzie Wark opens his introduction with an account of the occasion on which he first heard you ‘chant’, while standing on your head, the passage where Terry Blake recites from Abiezer Coppe’s ‘A Fiery Flying Roll’ that you mention above. I’ve heard you perform this piece several times, most recently in November 2013. You’re always introducing new elements into your performances, so what is it about this passage that you’ve kept it in your repertoire?
SH: Although I have recited this passage standing on my head, I haven’t done that too often as it takes between 12 and 15 minutes to recite depending on speed. So, although I have delivered lectures of up to half an hour standing on my head, generally while speaking to an audience in this inversion I like to keep to shorter passages as that is less strenuous! A long headstand while also performing puts a lot of pressure on my neck. Five minutes speaking while standing on my head is relatively easy. 10 to 30 minutes is hard work! What I like about that passage is that it has sex, violence and intertextuality. It’s just one of my favourite passages from anything I’ve written, although I’d say both 69 Things To Do With A Dead Princess and Tainted Love (among others) I like overall more than Defiant Pose. I think that passage is where I first really nailed what I wanted to do with writing and quotation; I just think it’s a great piece. When I was doing ventriloquism during my readings, I chose not to ventriloquise that passage because I thought it would lessen its impact. It’s thundering and would have lost impact if I was projecting through a puppet. Terry is trying to complete the recitation from Coppe while approaching orgasm because he’s getting a blow job, so I didn’t want to mute the crescendo effect I can achieve with the section. I always sub-vocalise what I’m writing because how it sounds is important to me. It’s obvious most literary writers don’t care what their words sound like or else they have tin ears because their prose falls dead from the page. But the rhythm of that passage is simple but perfect. I have thought about doing it in public in other ways. Literalising it by being given a blow job is one way, but that or even doing it while getting oral sex when standing on my head is not much of a challenge for me (I can definitely do that physically but it isn’t a great idea to repeatedly put the kind of strain on my neck this requires in terms of long term spine health). Recently I’ve wondered if I could successfully recite this passage while suspended kinbaku-style. I think the sway and lessened control over movement would make recitation while suspended from the ceiling much harder. I guess I’d have to try it, but if it works it could make a great public performance. I have good core strength so I don’t think this would be impossible for me, and I like the parallels with Houdini, who was of course suspended upside down for his water torture escapes – although I’d skip the water (I do practice breath holding but just to increase my overall aerobic fitness, not so that I can spend long periods of time underwater). Good kibaku would of course also lessen the danger of ankle injuries, which was always a potential problem for Houdini when he was suspended upside down, and why he needed to be winched slowly and carefully into position. By using slip-knots it might also be possible to escape like Houdini. I think this type of suspension would be one way to keep my recitations of this passage interesting for me. Besides, I don’t want to just read from my books; I’d rather make things more performative.
3:AM: I’m relieved to hear you’d skip the water! Famously Houdini almost drowned when he was tied up for this trick by William Hope Hodgson, author of The House on the Borderland and a former sailor. Water, however, is a crucial element in the passage we’re discussing as it takes place in a boat on the River Thames. And while we’re on this topic, the ‘non-linear’ Come before Christ is plotted on the Thames, over and over again, and in Memphis Underground a passage begins ‘I thought the Thames ran through my veins. The river was my constant point of reference…’
SH: It’s curious about William Hope Hodgson isn’t it, that he looms so large in the imagination of so many fiction writers we know — and among contemporary writers Iain Sinclair is perhaps the most obsessed by this pulp fiction legend (although obviously quite a number of other writers I’m personally acquainted with, including both you and China Mieville, dig him too) — and yet he doesn’t register so much with the general public. In the Kenneth Silverman biography of Houdini we have Hope Hodgson portrayed as the King of Handcuffs’s ultimate nightmare and described as a follower of Eugen Sandow, but no mention is made of his later achievements as a horror and fantasy writer. Sandow, who was once as famous as Houdini, is now largely forgotten except amongst those interested in the history of bodybuilding, since many regard him as the founder of that sport. Returning to Hope Hodgson, the way his reputation has never really extended beyond a relatively narrow circle of enthusiasts is well illustrated by this post from a year or so ago.
Moving on, the Thames I would imagine looms large in the imaginations of most of those who, like me were born in London, and many who weren’t too, since it’s such a huge feature of the city. I’m still always amazed looking at the difference in the water levels in central London between high and low tide (despite having observed this all my life). I’ve also always used the river as a way of navigating my way around London: I just use it as a kind of line between north and south, so I can usually work out where I want to go just by thinking about where the Thames is in relationship to me if I’m not too familiar with the part of London I’m in, something that happens more when I’m cycling around rather than walking. But beyond that water is also one of the four elements, and the Thames is such a huge body of water it can represent one quarter of what in certain traditional conceptions of the universe the world was seen as being made of.
3:AM: Incidentally, I’ve always assumed that the lovely underwater passage near the end of 69 Things to Do with a Dead Princess, which has also been part of your live repertoire, is largely lifted from Hope Hodgson — though I’ve never bothered to check.
SH: Yes, the second half of page 158 in Dead Princess is lifted and very slightly adapted from the middle of Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land, which is an incredible book. Sinclair’s fixation of course is more with The House On the Borderland which is also fabulous. Those are certainly my two favourite books by Hope Hodgson, I’ve never read the physical culture journalism with which he started his writing career, but I should chase that up at some point. People didn’t seem to pick up on my interest in Hope Hodgson, evident in some earlier novels as well as Dead Princess, but seem more taken with my reworking of Ann Quin in that book. I guess there is so much, people are going to miss most of it. The Hope Hodgson lift actually segues into a little reworked Jacques Derrida, which I found really funny, and I think the gag works even if you can’t identify the sources…..
3:AM: Beyond the shenanigans of Dead Princess, where you riff extensively on her first novel Berg (1964), Ann Quin is an abiding presence in your work. The Night Tripper in Mandy Charlie and Mary Jane seems to echo ‘Nightripper’ in her fourth book Tripticks (1972) — through Dr John, of course, but he’s probably her source too!
SH: I first read Berg when I was eighteen. The manager of Basic Essentials (an indie band I was in) called Dave Tiffen gave me a copy he’d picked up in a charity shop. He was one of quite a number of people who mentored me in this way by giving me books and tips on writers. He must have been a dozen years older than me, and I guess he didn’t meet too many people of my age who were into Beckett, Burroughs and Robbe-Grillet. Berg really chimed with me and made a huge impact, since Quin was a local to me; a writer who I saw as being as good as Robbe-Grillet, and better than say Claude Simon or Nathalie Sarraute. I’d come across Trocchi and the more international end of the writers put out by John Calder, but Dave wanted to turn me onto the English side of it including also Christine Brooke-Rose, B. S. Johnson and Alan Burns. I remember thinking that while they were well written, the B. S. Johnson books Dave gave me just weren’t as thrilling as Quin or Trocchi, and I thought the first Alan Burns book he gave me — The Angry Brigade — was awful, but then I wasn’t taken with Europe After The Rain or Dreamerika! either! But, yes, I think Quin is definitely a figure who haunts me, my relationship with a lot of writers who groove me is similar to my relationship to music, in that I have a lot of tunes in my head and they float in and out of my brain because of something I come across or that someone says. I was talking to a friend yesterday about northern soul tunes that reuse the same backing track, and she mentioned ‘There’s That Mountain’ by The Trips and ‘That Beatin’ Rhythm’ by Richard Temple as one example, and I responded with ‘Bright Lights’ by Deliah Kennebruew and ‘Burn, Baby, Burn’ by Mel Williams. Now I have another friend who, like me, loves Mirwood releases, which is the label the Richard Temple tune came out on (my friend’s Mirwood favourite is probably Bobby Garrett’s ‘My Little Girl’ — one of mine too) but she also has a real obsession with Melba Moore’s ‘Magic Touch’, now all this resulted in Charles Thomas’s ‘Man With The Golden Touch’ turning into an earwig for me at that moment because this song was released on Loma like the Deliah Kennebruew number and ‘Magic Touch’ took me to ‘Golden Touch’. This might seem a long way from Ann Quin, but something will kick a bit of one of her books into the top of my consciousness and then it meshes with something else, and who knows where I’ll end up. This is a part of the process that’s at work when I’m writing, and it’s usually those writers like Quin who’ve made a big impression on me who come back into my mind… of course I could sit down and go through Quin’s books and make comments resembling literary criticism with regard to them, but that’s not really how I work when I’m writing my novels — what I’m saying here is much more illustrative of how I write. And I have gone back to Quin’s four novels over the years, so it’s not surprising that you should see them bubbling under in various of my books. And, yes, I too have imagined Ann Quin diggin’ Dr John’s ‘The Night Tripper’ — and even the covers of his song ‘Walk On Gilded Splinters’ by the likes of Johnny Jenkins and Marsha Hunt….
3:AM: I’d like to bring you back to Houdini: he’s such an interesting figure. The showmanship he used to create the scenarios for his extraordinary escapes was also displayed in his flair for debunking — for example his exposure of the fake medium Mina Crandon. And H.P. Lovecraft ghostwrote ‘Imprisoned with the Pharaohs’, originally published in Weird Tales as by Houdini. Houdini’s ‘afterlife’ in cultural terms has been astonishingly wide-ranging, yet another TV series featured an incarnation of him this year, and he’s obviously on your radar.
SH: Houdini was such a great showman, and such a figure of his time. It’s hard to imagine him succeeding in the way he did at any other time. He was a wonderful self-publicist (something I greatly admire) but at the same time so much of what he did was typical of the carnival and vaudeville circuits. Although Sandow did a strongman and muscle posing act, rather than escapes and magic, both are simultaneously ambiguous in terms of viewing them as athletes, because while what they did required physical development, skill and sports training, they weren’t really competing against anyone but themselves. And while they are remembered for other things, both Houdini, Sandow and many others, made a lot of money from mail order businesses (Houdini offering magic tricks and Sandow physical development courses). So I’d see them in a long line of sports showmen-cum-salesmen that might also include Alois P. Swoboda, Siegmund Breitbart, Selig Whitman, Joe Greenstein, Max Rosenstock, Charles Atlas, Frank Rudolph Young, Bruce Lee, Chee Soo and many others. My favourite contemporary example would be the Japanese female wrestler Manami Toyota, who despite now being 45 is still a truly extraordinary and highly skilled performer. Of course Toyota appears to be involved in a competitive sport, but the outcomes are predetermined. However, despite fixed matches and even with the cooperation of opponents, the moves she pulls are still stunning. All that jumping on and off the ropes, the flying double kicks and especially her use of bridge poses while holding down opponents just totally groove me. To me she’s every bit as good as Bruce Lee, who some call the world’s greatest martial artist despite his refusal to participate in competitions (so his posthumous reputation truly is the art of fighting without fighting, which also features in his Hollywood vehicle Enter the Dragon). Lee is cited by many today as the founder of mixed martial arts, although that honour could just as easily go to Edward William Barton-Wright who developed Bartitsu (the fighting style adopted by the fictional Sherlock Holmes) as the nineteenth-century morphed into the twentieth. Of course, some of these figures embraced some truly bizarre aspects of the occult (although how far they believed in them is a moot point, since they were a sales feature of their systems as much as anything else). Obviously I’d find Frank Rudolph Young curious if he’d only marketed his exercise systems, but the fact that he also managed to hype himself as the ‘Einstein of the occult’ makes him even more singular. Young seems to have refused to appear in public or even meet journalists face to face, the only interview with him I’ve managed to unearth was conducted by post! Nonetheless, both his mail order business in teach yourself pamphlets on everything from bodybuilding to stop yourself stammering, via hypnosis and psychic skills, as well as his occult and exercise books of the sixties and seventies, are not only bizarre, they’re obviously designed to be attention grabbing. I think Young exemplifies the element of hucksterism that characterises all these figures — one of his pamphlets I was looking at earlier today supposedly provides exercises to spot reduce fat around the waist, but anyone who knows the first thing about exercise knows you can’t spot reduce fat (admittedly it was easier to get away with these blatantly false spot reduction claims when the text was published in 1961 – but amazingly there are still people around who are ignorant enough to believe this is possible)! And while Young amped up the occult claims, there are some fairly idiosyncratic mind-body ideas to be found even in Charles Atlas mail order courses. The muscle building business seems from the beginning impossible to separate from so called New Thought, and even today a lot of bodybuilding mind pump ideas still seem very close to things like the law of attraction. Obviously work has been done by the likes of Mark Singleton on the origins of modern postural yoga in Scandinavian primitive gymnastics, but I also suspect that a lot of the mysticism accompanying it is not from the original eight limbs of so-called ‘Indian yoga’, but is instead derived from old school occidental physical culturists (even if it has been run through a more recent new age blender). Of course, contra the clearly deluded Hindu nationalists (from the poisonous Narendra Modi on down) who want to claim yoga as their unique cultural heritage (and the UNESCO idiots who just backed them up by proclaiming yoga an Indian cultural intangible), clearly celebrating yoga’s hybridity is a much better idea. Houdini, was of course, a great debunker (and had he been around today I’m sure he’d have had great fun puncturing the pretensions of various yoga ‘gurus’) and naturally his more recent imitators like the Amazing Randi continue with this tradition, but at the same time without spiritualism (and in particular the Davenport Brothers) it is unlikely Houdini would have developed the escape act that made him famous. Curiously, one of the only spiritualists never to be exposed as a fraud is my namesake Daniel Dunglas Home — in his day perhaps the most famous spiritualist of them all (but again someone who is now largely forgotten). There is a lot to be admired in Houdini and his attacks on charlatans, but his more negative personality traits can be seen in his attack on the man who inspired him and from whom he took his name in the book The Unmasking of Robert Houdin. There are many reasons for the ongoing interest in Houndini, John F. Kasson addresses one of them in his 2001 book Houdini, Tarzan and the Perfect Man: The White Male Body and the Challenge of Modernity In America. Kasson traces the origins of current ideals of masculinity — both an affirmation of capitalist civilisation, and in terms of spectacle a ‘return’ to ancient and ‘primitive’ ideals — to the three figures evoked in the title (‘the perfect man’ of course being Sandow). It’s curious that the two real life figures who are Kasson’s focus alongside the fictional Tarzan are Jewish (like many other well-known old time strongmen). The reasons for Houdini’s ongoing fame, and Sandow’s eclipse are complex, but I’m aware of more than one TV series based on the former, although I haven’t seen them as I don’t watch TV.
3:AM: In Defiant Pose, the texture of the narrative is disrupted not only by silently plagiarised passages from other sources but by attributed quotations from Marx, Hobbes, Richard Jeffries, and, as already discussed, Abiezer Coppe. These are ‘bellowed’ or ‘thundered’ by Terry Blake as he is fellated by various sexual partners…
SH: I didn’t want readers to miss the fact the text was a collage, so I kinda pointed this out. Attribution isn’t necessary, but some attribution draws attention to what’s going on. Also I rather liked taking passages from political works, as this had more potential to divide readers about what was ‘improving’ and what was not. I was also interested in drawing out the relationship between anarchist and fascist ideology, which I addressed in a more theoretical way in a text I wrote in 1997 entitled Anarchist Integralism. However, exploring this at first in fiction gave me a freedom to develop my ideas in ways that might have seemed unlikely if I’d tried to weave together a purely theoretical text back in 1989. Fiction, and even citation, became for me a means by which to obtain a firmer purchase on often slippery ideologies. Much of what is implicit in Defiant Pose I made explicit in Anarchist Integralism.
3:AM: I find the idea of a novel working towards ideas extremely interesting. And citation as a means of getting to grips with slippery ideologies harks back to pre-print ways of teaching, when students would be expected to copy out or learn selected passages by rote, then argue from them. Your use of ‘improving’ — definitely in quotes — intrigues me.
SH: I took the word improving from Iain Sinclair’s review of Defiant Pose, and a number of my other books, in the LRB. Sinclair described Terry’s citations as improving… Of course Sinclair went on to write an awful lot about me (and many others too, as he’s extremely prolific), but that was the first thing he wrote about me and I think possibly the best. When you decide you’re writing fiction it is very freeing and you don’t have to take responsibility for the views expressed. So there are racist and fascist characters (I prefer the term cyphers but I use character because I’m more likely to be understood if I stick to this terminology) in Defiant Pose, and that provides an opportunity to explore the way they think without having to endorse it. A largely glowing review of the reissue of the book has described it as racist, but I think that’s a misunderstanding. The racism is actually held back, I’m familiar with the terminology used by bigots but in the book I restrict it to terms like ‘ethnics’ and ‘immigrants’, I wouldn’t use the kind of racist terminology deployed by, say, Iain Sinclair in his books — not that I necessarily think Sinclair’s use is uncritical, I just prefer not to reproduce some of the language he uses. So racism and fascism (among other things) are explored in Defiant Pose, but it is neither racist nor fascist, but rather part of a struggle against these things that might be lined up with very different books like Paul Gilroy’s The Black Atlantic, that want to know (and understand) their enemy. That said, it is probably easier to let fiction see where it takes you, and once you’ve allowed that to happen theorise more successfully from there. Not that one can ever make a complete separation between fiction and non-fiction, stories and theory; the lines between them will always be blurred and unclear.
3:AM: There’s a lot of dialogue in Defiant Pose, but little is ever just ‘said’. You make striking use of onomatopoeic speech words — hissed, rasped, bellowed, squealed, barked, screeched, snapped, thundered, spat, boomed, bleated, roared, whimpered, snarled, brayed, mewed, trilled…
SH: I was enjoying myself, when all is said and done, but aside from being funny I thought the use of these words added to the over-amped effect I wanted to achieve. I was happy enough to use distortion pedals when I played electric guitar, and I think these were my verbal equivalent. I was also picking up on and exaggerating what you’d find in youthsploitation novels, so in the skinhead and hell’s angels books published by New English Library in the 1970s, you’d find phrases like mewed used to describe the speech of weak characters. I just took that up and ran with it, completely exaggerating it for both humorous and deconstructive effect. The sexual descriptions were often also distortions of what could be found in the same source material, but when a hack like James Moffat writing under the pen name Richard Allen scribbled something like ‘he was no longer in control of his body, the DNA had taken over’, I expanded that to DNA codes being scrambled and unscrambled over the muscular structure of his bulk, and memories of the first star exploding. I guess you can also see the influence of Baudrillard in these exaggerations of phrases and relatively undeveloped ideas I found in ‘English’ (in that they were published in London, James Moffatt was of course an expatriate Canadian) pulp fiction of the 1970s.
3:AM: ‘Terry thought Marx was terrific.’ What do you think of Marx’s prose style? How might he have fared if, like his contemporary G.W.M. Reynolds, editor of radical Chartist newspapers, he’d turned his hand to penning ‘shockers’ like Wagner the Werewolf?
SH: While Marx can become turgid in places, overall I think he’s a terrific (again a word chosen because it was common in English 1970s youthsploitation novels and in the playground when I was at school) prose stylist. His journalism is mostly a joy to read, and of course his inversions are often laugh out loud funny. You only have to think of what he has to say about the utterly ridiculous anarchist Proudhon in the foreword to The Poverty of Philosophy to understand what is so good about Marx: ‘M. Proudhon has the misfortune of being peculiarly misunderstood in Europe. In France, he has the right to be a bad economist, because he is reputed to be a good German philosopher. In Germany, he has the right to be a bad philosopher, because he is reputed to be one of the ablest French economists. Being both German and economist at the same time, we desire to protest against this double error’. Sarcasm may be the lowest form of wit but I’m a big fan of low-brow cultural forms, and in particular combining them with the high-brow, which Marx excels at! I don’t think intentional humour works so well in horror shockers, and Marx was never going to be unintentionally but side-slappingly funny in the way a bad writer like Guy N. Smith is in Night of the Crabs. So ultimately I think what Marx produced was what the proletariat required both in terms of theory and low humour, and while I don’t agree with all the psychoanalysis Otto Ruhle deploys in Karl Marx: His Life and Works (first published 1929), we can nonetheless apply his conclusions to Marx’s prose and humour as well as his theory: ‘Marx had to be an obstinate, pig-headed, intolerant thinker and investigator; had to regard other people’s opinions with suspicion; had to be hostile towards every alien trend; had to be cantankerous, dictatorial, fanatically obsessed with the rightness of his own convictions, fiercely opposed to any deviations from, any falsifications of, his ideas. He had to concentrate his genius, his understanding, his creative energy, for decade after decade, upon this one point, upon this one scientific task; had to neglect his calling, his family, his livelihood, his friends. He had to be whipped on by overweening ambition, blinded by intolerable selfishness, goaded day and night by a torturing sense of inferiority — that he might be equipped for his formidable achievements. The main thing was the work which had to be done; the qualities of the doer mattered little. Or, rather, the doer of the work which had to be done, had to be spurred to his task by an impetus such as could only be furnished by the neurosis from which Marx suffered… Had Marx, as a neurotic, been content with the semblance of achievement, his work would have precipitated in the void, and he himself would have been a figure tragical in his futility. As things were, however, he performed a supreme task in the history of his own time and of subsequent times. That is why the class which he thus helped to become conscious of its own life and of the future which history holds in store for it, honours him as its greatest genius’. In other words, it was necessary for Marx to be a terrible person in order to be a great prose writer and comedian! I’m fairly sure I’d read Ruhle’s biography of Marx before I wrote Defiant Pose, so I don’t know why I didn’t say (mostly quoting from Ruhle’s book): ‘Terry thought Marx was terrific despite the fact that while quite young, this proponent of historical materialism began to suffer from liver trouble, which was considered a family disease, and which Marx believed himself to have inherited. Throughout life, he suffered from a secret fear of cancer of the liver, which was supposed to be the doom of members of his family. Probably his liver trouble was closely connected with a general weakness of the digestive apparatus, a disorder of the whole gastro-intestinal tract; for, in addition to the ordinary symptoms of liver trouble, he suffered also from various morbid conditions, such as loss of appetite, constipation, gastric and intestinal catarrh, hemorrhoids, furunculosis, etc., which are to be regarded as manifestations and accompaniments of grave disturbances of metabolism’.
3:AM: Terry, however, with his ambiguous class origins and Übermensch-ish musings about his ‘will’ finds his roots in later nineteenth century bestsellers featuring dangerous extremists and plots to destroy London such as Hartmann the Anarchist (1892).
SH: Before I wrote Defiant Pose I’d been reading a lot of Victorian and Edwardian future war novels, a genre that fell out of fashion with the onslaughts of the First World War (I prefer the term First Inter-Imperialist War but for clarity I use the less precise but better known title of this conflict). Returning to the future war genre, I can see the appeal for the frustrated of descriptions of towns and cities within the overdeveloped world being destroyed (and in particular London, where I was born and still live). Michael Moorcock’s Before Armageddon: An Anthology of Victorian and Edwardian Imaginative Fiction Published Before 1914 provided me with an entry into the genre, although my Moorcock reading began with the Elric sword and sorcery novels when I was twelve years old, then ran through the Jerry Cornelius new wave stuff before I caught up with his precursors ranging from George Griffith through to William Burroughs (from when I was about 16 or so onwards). So in terms of Terry’s class background I was thinking of the likes of Burrough’s Junky and the earlier fiction you invoke. And of course Marx himself was not straightforwardly proletarian….
3:AM: I’m glad you’ve mentioned Moorcock. Reading through some Elric stories a couple of years ago, I was struck by the way the action advances almost entirely in metaphors, to hallucinatory effect. His Jerry Cornelius novels demonstrate, magnificently, that when writing fiction there are really no rules that shouldn’t be broken by a more exciting possibility.
SH: Moorcock was incredibly prolific and seemed capable of turning out endless books that thrilled me back in the seventies. While I read (in translation where necessary) books from around the world, I guess the culture that was local to me, and particularly that which emerged out of London, had the biggest impact on me in terms of books, especially when I was younger. I haven’t read the Elric stuff since I was at school, but what I liked was the way it gave me another way to view the world and opened things up for me, which reading stories like Arthur C. Clarke’s ‘The Nine Billion Names of God’ failed to do. Clarke seemed too serious, whereas Moorcock was playful and, in the earlier work, it really seemed like he could do anything. When it came to films, English movies captured my imagination a lot less than stuff from elsewhere. I used to catch the old Universal horror movies on late-night TV, and BBC2 used to show old silent expressionist classics, and I liked these more than Hammer horror. I also remember catching stuff like The Five Man Army on late-night TV as a kid, and while I’m not sure whether or not at the time I realised movies like that were Italian, I certainly liked them more than regular 1960s and 1970s Hollywood features. I also did my best to see as many kung fu movies as I could too at that time of course…. So it’s curious that while I read widely, with the exception perhaps of Robbe-Grillet and Burroughs, it was English pulp writers like Moorcock who had the greatest impact on me. I read a lot when I was teenage, at least one pulp novel a day, sometimes several, but if I read some Victorian triple-decker, that might take two or three days. I liked rule breaking pulp novels set in London, or in other places and times that stood in for contemporary London, and Moorcock is a great example of someone doing just that, but so are the four Mick Norman Hell’s Angels novels (actually written by Laurence James) in which the gay bikers are tougher than the straight ones and motorcycle gangs are the only hope of saving England from dictatorship after the government smashes the Angry Brigade!
3:AM: ‘Society does not consist of individuals, but expresses the sum of interrelations, the relations within which these individuals stand’ – Marx, Grundrisse. The ‘theoretically coherent’ pro-situs view Terry as a ‘proletarian’. Terry considers himself a ‘clever businessman who used revolutionary rhetoric as a means of striking deals and selling products’…
SH: I was probably thinking of Malcolm McLaren when I wrote that particular description of Terry. But like so many other lead anti-characters in my fiction, Terry knew the price of everything and that values are an essentialist con. Oscar Wilde as negative influence, if an influence at all… And of course I wanted to make Terry a character/cipher who the pro-situs would hate as much as me and Malcolm McLaren. It seemed to work, when I was at Artists Television Access in San Francisco in 1995, a pro-situ called Greg Dunnington (or something similar) turned up with leaflets denouncing me as a ‘Defiant Poser’ – but the critique he made was so inept and he was so inarticulate when I invited him to come up on stage and explain what his issue with me was, that the audience thought he was a plant who I’d paid to make the ‘intervention’. However, it wasn’t only pro-situs who were upset by the trilogy of books of which Defiant Pose is the first (it was followed by Red London and Blow Job which continue to explore the relationship between anarchism and fascism). Blow Job got an even angrier response from Russian fascists than Defiant Pose from American pro-situs. Fascists petrol bombed my publisher in Moscow and involved themselves in a legal campaign against my books on the grounds of blasphemy. When one of my Russian translators died from cancer, the Orthodox fascists claimed it was God punishing him for spreading my work. However, it was probably the National Bolsheviks who were the most annoyed by Defiant Pose, since I parody what was an obscure tendency to the right of the Nazis in Germany in the 1920s but became a more substantial reactionary movement in post-Soviet Russia. And like pro-situs, fascists really don’t like being laughed at.
3:AM: The opening scene at the Enterprise Allowance Scheme seminar, where Terry is supposed to be preparing for his legitimate business career, is absolutely hilarious.
SH: That is almost autobiographical, based on my own experience right down to twodifferent girls hitting on me at the seminar. The whole thing was so ridiculous, but the scheme was pretty good: it was like being on the dole but without the hassle of having to sign on or having someone breathing down your neck telling you to get a job. My way of dealing with being sent for jobs by the dole was to try and make myself appear too good for them, so that those interviewing me would reject me as intellectually and socially over-qualified for the employment they were offering. I once got sent for a job at a Job Centre, so I dressed up in a good suit, folded a copy of The Guardian under my arm and had a briefcase with me. When I arrived the people at the Job Centre panicked because they thought I’d come to do an inspection of their work. I’d get turned down for jobs all the time because I’d do this ultra-conformity act where I’d also make myself out to be some sort of super intellectual. But the Enterprise Allowance Scheme took all that pressure off, although I was quite confident of my ability to present myself as too good for any job. I had a friend who went to a private school (rather than a bad state school like me) and strangely he took the opposite approach. He’d stay up drinking the night before a job interview, then splash alcohol over himself before presenting himself as a candidate, as well as clutching and drinking from a can of beer throughout this charade. He never got offered jobs either!
3:AM: McKenzie Wark writes in his introduction ‘Some lovely pages of Defiant Pose have Blake frequenting op-shops and secondhand record stores, sifting for nuggets such as rare porn vids or skinhead music compilations. It’s a parody version of the bourgeois at work — buy cheap and sell dear — but it is perhaps better as a metonymic hint at the actual work of détournement‘. Key to Terry’s vision of an improved London is 24 hour shopping. You describe the effects on the central nervous system of shopping, shoplifting and bargain-hunting.
SH: There’s been some 24 hour shopping in London pre-dating Defiant Pose, I personally would use the 24 hour bagel shops, cafes around Smithfield market, and the all-night greengrocer on Essex Road in Islington. I was never really down with Charles Atlas (the mail order physical culturist mentioned before, not the artist) when he claimed nothing interesting ever happens after 10.30pm. However, 24 hour supermarkets failed to really catch on. Rather than digging stress, it seems that too many have been conned into trying to relieve it through yoga and meditation…
3:AM: Of course, nowadays we can shop away online 24/7. There’s a fine passage in your novel Mandy Charlie and Mary Jane where Charlie binges on ordering dvds without even having to leave work. However I’m glad you’ve mentioned those particular places above because the geography of shopping, how it’s experienced as a physical process in the built environment, was something I really wanted to ask you about. Terry’s shopping habits seem to be crucial to how he stores his memories and functions in the city.
SH: I think because when I was a kid you got information by going to rock clubs, cinema clubs and shops. I was able to get Das Kapital and various other well known books from the public library, although it was necessary to order Marx — he wasn’t part of the general stock. However, in the 1970s, I learnt a lot from shops in Soho like Dark They Were And Golden Eyed, which I first stumbled across with some friends when I was 12 years-old. That’s where I discovered figures like Aleister Crowley and H. P. Lovecraft (as well as some seriously strange comics). And places like the Rock On record stall in the long gone Soho Market was an important place to learn about music (as were the DJ sets between bands at clubs like the Marquee in Wardour Street). When I was expanding my reading into literary stuff that was only around on import in the late 70s, Compendium in Camden Town became very important. I must have started using Compendium a lot when Mike Hart took over on the fiction desk. He was always very helpful and turned me onto things he thought I should know about — he was just one of many people who did that. Years later Mike told me he divided the teenagers coming into the shop in the late 70s/early 80s into two categories: those who bought Burroughs and those who bought Kerouac books. I was in the Burroughs category and so worth taking trouble over and mentoring (as were in his opinion all the kids who bought books by Burroughs), the teenagers scoring Kerouac he ignored. But there were so many places you needed to physically go to to find out about culture in London then, it was my way of mapping the city. Kids today can just go online, learning doesn’t involve travel, and now rarely is there a gap of weeks or months or even years, between hearing how good a book or record is and getting hold of it. It’s a different world now, but Terry’s attitude to London reflects how I grew up using the city from the age of 12 (which is when I first started going down the west end without adults) onwards.
3:AM: In your afterword, you write that some of the journeys Terry makes by public transport would be easier and quicker now. How about walking around London? Sometimes — when I’m there — I feel it’s being made more difficult!
SH: There is more traffic now than in the seventies, but I’d say I don’t notice it being any harder to walk around. Maybe that’s just because I’m always walking around London, so I’ve accommodated myself to the changes that have happened gradually. Cycling is definitely harder than it was last century. In the eighties there were still hardly any cyclists in London, so it was easy to slip down the side of traffic, but now I find myself endlessly held up behind slow cyclists. I think there was a gradual increase in cycling in the city, but it really exploded after the 7/7 public transport bombings in London in 2005. After that a lot of people were scared to go on public transport and switched to cycling. Also, of course, there are more people in London now than in the seventies and eighties, so public transport is also a lot more (over) crowded and unpleasant to use. And the introduction of Boris bikes (share cycles that are hired by the hour and left in stands around the city) in the summer of 2010 brought a lot of cyclists onto London roads who were slow and often not very competent riders. Of course, the bikes themselves are extremely heavy, so the riders themselves are not entirely to blame for being so slow. I have my own bike that is much lighter and faster than public hire cycles, so I’m at an advantage when it comes to speed.
3:AM: And finally, after all this discussion of a book written 27 years ago, what are you working on right now?
SH: Well since doing this interview reminded me of claims that Frank Rudolph Young was the Einstein of the occult, I’ve decided I’ll post the following social media status: “I’m the Einstein of bullshit! SEND CA$H for a free sample of my bollocks!” But I have been looking at some of the figures talked about above — particularly Houdini — with the intention of making some visual art about them. The research notes I made for my Glasgow International show earlier this year entitled Re-Enter The Dragon have been transformed into something resembling a book on Bruce Lee and Brucesploitation films, but I have yet to start looking for a publisher for it. I’m also still working on what’s turned out to be an incredibly long first draft of a novel about punk rock and modern occultism, with a strong focus on the Tarot, entitled She’s My Witch. And I’m seeing the last two short experimental novels in the Semina series I’ve been editing for Book Works through to publication. Iphgenia Baal’s book is at the typesetting stage, and I’m still editing Mara Coson’s. And of course, I’m still working on my hand balances and inversions, not to mention my weights. I’ve been keen on Turkish get ups with a kettlebell for quite a few years now, and reading about Sandow has made me wonder whether I should try to master the bent press, which would work nicely alongside the Turkish get up. I could do a bent press with a barbell or a kettlebell, although I don’t think I’d be going to the really heavy weights Sandow did!
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER
Bridget Penney‘s work has most recently appeared in gorse 6 and Transactions of Desire vol.II; Are You Allergic to the 21st century?. She is currently working on a novel. A number of her texts loosely centred around Abney Park Cemetery in North London have previously appeared in 3:AM Magazine.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Friday, March 24th, 2017.