Stewart Home vs Heidegger
By Richard Marshall.
Again, A Time Machine, a Stewart Home retrospective in New York (White Columns, 22 October – 19 November 2011) & London (Space Studios, 6 April – 19 May 2012), curated by Matthew Higgs.
The Stewart Home show at Space packs in a short intro to the catalogue Stewart Home Says I Can’t Show You My Nude Pictures here! If You Wanna See Some Then take A Good Look Through My Flicker Stream entitled ‘Fuck Em If They Can’t Take A Joke’. The show includes Heroin is the Opium of the People (1986), issues of Smile (1948-1989), Smile Expands (1985-1989), Stewart Home Flyers Etc., Re:Action newsletter and two other publications, Event Flyers, Invitations, Pamphlets, Pamphlets and Books in Translation, Books in English, Postcards/Mail Art, the Semina series, Stewart Home t-shirts, the Art Strike Bed (1993-2011), the video Stewart Home Talks About The Art Strike (2004), Prostitution II: The Return of the ‘Male Gaze’, The Readymade Brought To Book, Vermeer II, Three Signs removed From A Shop In Whitecross Street, the video The Eclipse and Re-Emergence of the Oedipus Complex (2004), the film Simulated LSD Trip In A Lithuanian Forest (2009), Becoming (M)Other and More Sex More Violence More Copyright Violation! Edition. There are coloured circular Destroy Serious Culture badges.
A one-man reaction to post-Kantian downstreams, Home’s piss-taking extends the breakdown of the comprehensive conception of reason found in German idealism and the responses of Fichte, Schelling and Hegel. Necrocards grant permission for sex with cardholders after their death. Home makes fun of the national socialist Heidegger who made death powerful in itself. For that right wing nutter a genuine being toward death enables one to ‘go right under the gaze’ or jaws of death. Home flicks his over dignified nose and says ‘fuck me when I’m dead!’ Home was playing it rough again with the high culture love-in of metaphysics, epistemology and value. High culture art theory getting exposed as high philosophy Nazism is one big laugh.
Cutting through the crap of all other art shows ever Home is a brazen materialist, even down to his 1850s hallowed brow and skin-head prime. His was a first language of early science, spewing out Buchner in hand buckets and Czolbe in knuckle dusters. Feel the hard. Both Vogt and Feuerbach leveled critical eyes at the physiology of the Becoming (M)other photos. Uncanny portraits taken by Chris Dorley-Brown of Home posed imitating snaps of his mother were revealed to have strangeness beyond appearance. Home struck the same poses as his mother before he even knew that she existed. Some sort of heritable physiological gesture mechanism asking for scientific investigation spooks the uncanny pics. Do gestures and poses get packaged as transferable information through generations in the same way as body features? Materialism of Schopenhauer and Nietzsche cuts to the bone: replace philosophy with science and have done with it. Replace art with science and have done with it. Replication of gesture over time may generate exact copies if settings and purpose are related closely enough.
Home’s mum was a fashion model and men’s club hostess in the 60’s. Home’s Tainted Love spills the beans. Modelling has limited repertoires so the unlikely replication of poses is less unlikely than at first might be supposed. Nevertheless the love and loss theme is a key to these images as well as in the video The Eclipse and Re-Emergence of the Oedipus Complex where a responsiveness to psychoanalysis returns empirical studies to investigations of the mental. The subconscious is a fact that is suppressed in much contemporary theory where the ideal is autistic shoot-and-load thought and calculation. The logic of dream and the crazy as Dada, Lettrist and other early manifestations of the avant-garde is contrasted with the commercialization of this in cinema and art (Godard, Marker, Resnais are cited as examples of this) leading to its exclusion from structures of meaning and the lived life.
Heidegger’s breakthrough was to co-opt neo-Kantians such as Helmholtz, Fischer, Cohen, Windelband and Rickert and synthesise their philosophical ideas into a defence of tyrants in the modern context. The mysterious and sad death of Home’s mum Julia Callan-Thompson is a victim of secret forces celebrated by Nazi metaphysics. Landlordism and dark forces of tyrannical influence hover nastily over her tragic death.
At another angle Home’s art strike bed is a bolder materialism developing out of the replacement of high art doctrines with a method conceived of as politics, critique and scientism. High art asked to be responsible to its own facts, a responsiveness that would lead to simultaneous auto-destruction. Years before the idea of the unmade bed was nicked by second rate high art darling Tracey Emin, Home’s bed first appeared in a show with Emin and other high art stars such as Sam Taylor-Wood and Jake and Dinos Chapman. Home applies Lukas, Gramsci, Adorno, Horkheimer, Marcuse and Habermas to evict authenticity from the art strike bed. Emin reveals her tyrant-streak by re-injecting hers with all sorts of authentic shit. The actual bed used in Homes’ actual strike has never been used as the art-strike bed in any exhibition.
The neo-Kantian high artists are given a good hiding in each and every one of the Home anti-novels. Never anything less than a response to the emergency of psychology (though often so much more), Home countered the redundancy of so-called authentic literature by eviscerating the influence of Helmholz, Fischer, Cohen, Windelband and Rickert from each writing. Turning the phenomenological turn inside out, his reaction to questions of the nature of thought and meaning, logic and introspective reality in high art literature was to eviscerate writing of any kind of authentic mental life. He refused any attempt to use empirical studies of mental life as entertainment for bored well-educated rich people looking for their kicks. Smelling the reeking ass of Heidegger’s emphasis on the relationship between structures of meaning and lived experience, Home enlarges the inauthentic in every line.
The video talk about the art strike is a step forwards and backwards to crucial engagement with the blending of idealism and neo-Kantianism. Disgust at Heideggerian neo-Kantianism pervades his 1989 announcement – a year before the Art Strike – that “the time for theorising the art strike will be after it has taken place.” In this Home opens the door to Marxist critique for a while, but recognises the threat of the blending of idealism (his dream daemon Hegel) and neo-Kantianism in the hermeneutical twist. He promptly shuts the door in the face of reactionary readings of Plato by Heidegger which defends political tyranny. As is well known, Heidegger’s philosophy is the philosophy of Nazism. Even those who still find him worth studying like John Richardson (and as an anti-Nazi no one should burn books or proscribe reading) find him obscure and problematic. Alan Gilbert shows Home is right to take the piss out of him. His reactionary reading of Plato interprets the cave metaphor in terms of the tyrant ruler having to return to the cave to rule over the weaklings within the cave. They must obey the tyrant in everything and the tyrant has no constraints.
“No theoretical summing up” was how Home made clear his disgust at the reactionary historians who make history to suit their repulsive views. If Heidegger’s side had won the war he would have been more important than Hitler. Heidegger is a presence continually surveyed by Home and mocked at every turn. Junkies of the deep eco movement and their authenticity cultist chums were noticeably absent from the happy crowds celebrating the inauthenticity of everything in the room.
Adorno and the Frankfurt school take a hiding in attempts to regulate wimmin performance art. Adorno’s claim of the radical autonomy of art is taken for a walk and found wanting in relation to Cosey Fanni Tutti’s use of men’s porn in the seventies. Home finds bogus the attempts of high culture in the Frankfurt mould to police wimmin. Like recent arguments about whether Muslim wimmin can wear anything they like, wimmin get fucked every which way. In distancing himself from this totalitarian mentality Home makes feminist porn a non-contradiction. Not being able to see the difference between this and the actual global porn trade is the shockingly idiotic element. Adorno’s ‘high art as autonomous realm’ pose ironically suppresses the political, economic and social facts.
Running through this is also an attack on a hermeneutics that combines idealism and phenomenology. Where the emphasis is on the relationship between language and thought, the nature of historical and social understanding and the finitude of human understanding we can still ask: where is the market? Where is the recognition that high culture is a consumer item just like anything else and one consumed on the whole only by the wealthy? Herder, Schleirmacher, Dilthey and Gadamer are sent to the market but they don’t like the riff raff they find there. This is what Home’s The One and The Many sculpture is about. A monument of ’72 of his own Down and Out in Shoreditch books still wrapped in bundles stacked on top of each other, its issue is the price and value. Each book’s individual cover price is £7.99 which works out at £575.28 if each book were sold individually. But Home offers his statue for £383.52, a bargain basement price. The question is whether a buyer of the statue will reckon that the value of the sculpture will increase if kept intact rather than ripping open the packaging and selling individual copies.
So here’s Home doing the metaphysics of mereological price/value. Calculating how whole relates to part becomes inflected through the prism of Marxist economics. What persists is a question Home persists in asking. The Marxist interest brings the highfalutin’ threat of metaphysics flying out of service of the political, the scientistic, the material, the naturalistic back to earth. Home breaks down the parts into a hierarchy that inverts itself at each turn. So the individual book becomes a higher part of the sculpture, but then sculpture trumps each token of its book parts and so reverses the hierarchy.
Groovily, Down and Out in Shoreditch and Hoxton is multi-purpose. Group the books and we have a sculpture. In reverse, Home shreds a token of the novel into its material base. But the supposition that this is a reduction is contradicted by the high art joke connotation that makes the reduction a higher form of what the novel token originally was. Its material base is at least revealed as constituting the novel but at a higher level. The auto-destructive work of the legendary Gustav Metzger of course is an echo, alongside an updating of John Latham.
As it is in the title of Vermeer II, Vermeer being Metzger’s fave painter. Again the dissatisfaction with Adorno’s lie that art is autonomous is the issue here. The painted-over photocopies of Vermeer pictures were originally priced as an inversion of the usual BOGOFF offers – each item was cheaper the fewer you bought. The one on display is the only one not sold, so its uselessness as a commodity is reversed by finding itself the star attraction of this element of the Home oeuvre. The dissatisfactions with the politics, critique and scientism of original Marx which led back to the original Kantian questions of justification by Lukas, Gramsci, Adorno, Horkheimer, Marcuse and Habermas is again reversed like Metzger’s corrosive acid works conceived of reversing the relationship of the artist to the curator of art galleries.
With a claw hammer Home got a readymade for the Strange Attractor salon in 2010 which shows Home playful in his tormenting of Dilthey, Gadamer, Schleiermacher and Herder. Recognising the use of a species of the hermeneutical that blends idealism and phenomenology to find relationships between language and thought and the nature of historical and social understanding, it is the Hegelianism and the history that Home invokes. He comments: “Whitecross Street where I saved these signs from being skipped was once notorious for its poverty, but more recently has been somewhat gentrified.”
Home’s simulated trip in the Lithuanian forest is dismissive of the linguistics and social science influenced structuralism because of its attempt to make systems autonomous. His interest in psychology, historicism, teleology and economics derides this mistaken perspective, in the same way he derides Adorno inflected claims about the autonomy of art which we’ve already noted. Zizek’s Lacanian diatribes are condemned as humourless rants and Foucault in the end needs Marx to have any traction. But simulation of acid head experience hides this pervasive theme and some suspect it isn’t there. Po-mo gets a laugh and so Home does a little nod to it but Derrida is not funny enough, Deleuze a sexist bore and Foucault just another dead white male. That’s funny because of course Foucault groupies will hate being associated with the usual targets of that accusation DWM. The joke is aimed to show that they are groupies, which is also funny. But most of all po-mo is just a modern version of extreme skepticism set up first by Heidegger and various misreadings of Niezsche and the tool of choice in all modern advertising.
As a joke we can see the way certain reactions to Kant stream into Home’s works. German idealism, especially Hegel but also Fichte and Schelling, predates Heidegger and so its wonky view of metaphysics, epistemology and value plus its emphasis on historicist forces has some limited appeal. Home gets that, plus the German materialism of the mid-nineteenth century which introduces science as a replacement of philosophy. He likes his Marxism, where politics, economics, critique, materialism and scientism all help to make monkey noises at the refinements of what happens next. Neo-Kantianism responded to the new science of the subconscious. Nietzsche was there first. Freud stole his best ideas. Helmholtz, Fischer, Cohen, Rickert were all in this, as was Windelband, notable for being the egg head from whom Beckett culled his philosophy.
Phenomenology picked up the neo-Kantian interest in returning questions of the nature of thought, meaning and logic were returned to the study of the facts of the mental life. The introspective turn of Husserl split the neo-Kantian stream into two. One flows from Husserl to Heidegger, who betrayed Husserl in real life by making sure Husserl couldn’t teach in Freiburg University once the Nazis took over. The other flows out to Frege. For the recently deceased Michael Dummett this was the decisive split that formed the so-called continental/analytic divide in twentieth century philosophy. But this would be to discount the other streams that flowed from Kant predating the neo-Kantians as well as those neo-Kantians predating or independent of Husserl and the phenomenological turn. The analytic/continental divide only makes sense if German idealism, German materialists of the 1850s and German Marxists are ignored as significant alternative responses to Kant. When idealism and phenomenology fused into the hermeneutics of Herder, Schleiermacher, Dilthey and Gadamer Heidegger’s influence was watered down and Gadamer, one of his pupils, openly disdained the Nazi. Structuralism wasn’t Heideggerian – it came from linguistics and social science and emphasized the autonomy of systems. Post-structuralism however is more tainted with Heideggerian radical skepticism as well as having the Nazi Paul de Mann as an early leading figure.
Heidegger is the great philosopher of tyranny. Heidegger misread Plato as his precursor, the ur- philosopher of tyrants. Heidegger gets this wrong. Plato argues against tyranny and for democracy although he does so in a not very straightforward way. Plato’s Republic has an arcane meaning. The philosopher should not hide when democracy is threatened by the storm of tyranny but should rather either rule as a philosopher king or take action to defend democracy against tyranny. Heidegger just misread Plato and thought he was saying the philosopher should become a tyrant. This is the sort of misreading one expects when you’re reading Socrate’s conversation with Glaucon and Adeimantus for Nazi stormtroopers.
Heidegger is for scholars a source of the philosophical base of fascism. Are Heidegger’s ideas free from Nazism even if the man wasn’t? So we ask if his own philosophical fascism was or wasn’t derived from untainted theories of phenomenology and hermeneutics (his mixture of phenomenology, idealism and neo-Kantianism) giving priority to the structures of meaning and lived experience? Scholars work hard to decide this matter. If it is then his fascism is just an accidental bi-product of the man’s repulsive personal character. Yet claims that the green movement and deep ecology are more than accidental byproducts of his philosophy seem equivalent to those fixing the relationship between the philosophy and fascism. If you claim deep ecology is fused to his philosophy, then so too is fascism.
A cowardly man, he declared himself a Nazi once it was safe to do so. He was rewarded by Hitler’s regime with the post of rector at Freiburg university. He immediately proposed purging the university of ‘Jewish and modernist influences’ in his address ‘The Self-Assertion of the German University’. He was personally involved in shopping Jews to the Nazis. In a notorious example he passed on gossip about Hermann Staudinger, later a Nobel prize winner for chemistry, to the Gestapo. He never left the Nazi party. He did criticise it for not being extreme enough in its metaphysical commitments but in so doing the commitments of his concoction of phenomenology, neo-Kantianism and idealism brewed fascism and deep ecology in the same pot, writing “the stuff which is now being banded about as philosophy of National Socialism – but which has not the least to do with the inner truth and greatness of this movement (namely the encounter between global technology and modern man) – is casting its net in these troubled water of ‘values’ and ‘totalities’.” In other words, he offered his philosophy as showing the inner truth and greatness of Nazism. This was no accidental byproduct.
Heidegger’ wife was a Nazi as early as the 1920s. Heidegger kept his sympathies quiet until Hitler came to power as before then he would have lost his job at Freiburg University. After Hitler’s rise, he became one of the very first intellectuals, along with Carl Schmitt, to say he was a Nazi. Being and Time is a reactionary reading of Plato couched in the obscure language of a cult. In ‘The Essence of Truth, Plato’s Cave-metaphor and the Theatetus’ he reads Plato admiringly as defending tyrannical rule against democracy. He read Plato’s Republic as a National Socialist tract. Law cannot be transmitted in anything as inauthentic as writing but is rather carried in the unwritable authentic wisdom of the tyrant. Urbanism and technology are associated with Jewishness (and anti-Semitism generally with Marxism and capitalism).
His idea of dwelling in the world and his philosophy of the pre-reflective life are fused with his political affection for Hitler (and Hitler’s beautiful hands) and National Socialism. ‘Being there’ (Dasein) is paradigmatically the engagement of a Schwarzwaldian farmer splitting wood with his axe, yodeling Swabian folk songs about Being-towards-Death (Sein zum Tode) whilst blaming new fangled technologies and the Jews for all the wrongs of the world. His new vision for philosophy was the non-alienated pre-reflective existence of a peasant. He conveniently ignored how peasants were continually abused and vulnerable to oppressive landlordism and capitalist oppression. Peasants were the majority group who got killed on the German side in World War 1. Posing in peasant farmer gear and Nazi badges, he spouted Blut und Boden stuff in obscure and sly works all his life before getting his brother to bury him in a hypocritical Roman Catholic grave. Presenting himself as the ‘secret King of philosophy’ this berk managed to hoodwink wimmin to sleep with him, notably Hannah Arendt who continued to defend him even when the game was up, and he fooled Sartre too.
‘Authenticity’ (eigentlich) is what he spouted. Dwelling in the world (Dasein) gives you a destiny (Schicksal) in your generation’s fate (Geschick). Often thought of in terms of an individual’s life, what he meant was that you became authentic when you fell into the fate of your collective generation’s destiny. To substitute ontology for metaphysics is what this is all about. To probe below the surface of things, to get below the merely ontic, and to discover the underlying, authentic Dasein, is the routine he goostepped on about. Starting philosophy from a new place was just him philosophising about Germany circa 1930s-on looking to a national socialist apotheosis.
Heidegger’s authenticity celebrates anti-urbanism and deep ecology, to use Michael Zimmerman’s term in Heidegger’s Confrontation with Modernity: Technology, Politics, and Art, and convicts western metaphysics of arrogant, anthropocentric humanism. Scientific naturalism in either capitalist or communist settings diminishes humankind and wrecks the planet. Heideggarian authenticity culminating in national socialist metaphysics will sort this out. Most deep ecologists drop the last bit but in doing so it isn’t clear what survives once the Nazi metaphysics is dropped. The new philosophy just is national socialisms’ deep and inner meaning. Heidegger thought so anyhow.
His idea of ‘engagement’ with rather than ‘theorising’ about the world is what intellectual berks like Heidegger and other egg-heads think working class people and uneducated wimmin do. This is the argument the Tories and other reactionaries on both the right and left use to justify different but equal policies in education. They overlook the fact that education, like art, is about money, cultural capital and isn’t autonomous. If chopping wood, being in a forest and having no money forever is so great how come no one signs up for it?
He didn’t like consumerism and commodity fetishism but we can get at that in Marx without going anywhere near Heideggerian ideas of ‘falling into the one.’ In fact, many of the things people bang on about when they’re defending Heidegger’s ideas are not really all that deep. Exploding nuclear power stations are a bad thing. Seeing shopping as ultimate is not good. It’s kind of obvious.
Living so the world becomes ‘disclosed’ and ‘revealed’, subordinating consciousness to the life dwelt in it abandons the idea of struggling against oppression, against one’s fate, against the idea of destiny. It is pessimistic and fatalist, a quietism that serves to keep the tyrants untroubled by revolt. It is a philosophical position that doesn’t grasp that Socrates founded civil disobedience. By making death the ultimate arbiter of one’s whole life, the philosophy just hands people over to tyrants and anti-democrats who can justify your shorter life and everything miserable that happens to you in terms of Sein zum Tode, that crazy idea of ‘being towards death’. It is the philosophy of Thrasymachus the tyrant who thinks that justice is just whoever wins. Plutocrats, tyrants and anti-democrats everywhere can rest easy in their beds knowing that the suffering masses are fulfilling their generationally fated ‘ownmost possibility’ by slaving away to keep their betters in clover. This isn’t individual existentialism nor Thoreau overthrowing conventionalism. It’s national socialism fulfilled.
Home has always been political. He attacks lazy green anarchists because of their racism. He attacks high culture for the same anti-fascist reasons. Conversation and internationalism and peace is what his underlying mission is. He identifies with Black Atlantic movements and claims a radical inauthenticity since 1962. Everything in Home is apportioned to scribble over every idea Heidegger ever had. High culture is just the obvious site of his attention. It confuses some critics who can’t quite work out what their problem is . So they ask of his novels: Are they extreme pulp? Are they po-mo jokes? Are they anti-novels? And his art generally confuses people who are really still hung up with Heideggerian notions of authenticity and want to find something serious in modern high art.
Home himself says this about the matter in a recent interview with Joan Cabot posted on his Mister Trippy Blog: “I think that my relationship to the art world is troubled. But at the same time I’m well connected within it, particularly in London, and could be described as an art world insider. It is part of the nature of the art world that no one thinks they are truly inside it, but of course many are. Where I take a different stand from many others is in being more critical of the commodification of culture and in viewing the role of the artist dialectically. Thus because I know disalienation is integral to the communist project, I also understand that to become truly human we have to realise every aspect of what we are – what is sometimes called our ‘species being’. Aside from being social that also means integrating our physical, emotional and intellectual activity. So rather than one person being brain worker (white collar) and another performing physical labour (blue collar), in a classless society (which will also be one without money and nation states), we’ll all do a bit of everything and have a lot of variety in our lives. To look at the role of the artist in a positive light, it is a deformed prefiguration of how we’ll all be in post-capitalist society. But the artist is also a specialised non-specialist in a commodified gallery system, so you can also look at that role negatively and stress it’s alienation and disconnection from what it is to be truly human.”
This is not to be taken at face value. Home is too aware of the origins of the discourse of the ‘truly human’ to be speaking straight lines. Without a sense of humour little of what he does is understandable. Humour is not trivial. It is very corrosive to egg-heads like Heidegger who just didn’t tell jokes and so became a terrible man to compensate for his humour-bypass. It is acid to the dignity of high culture. When in his recent show in New York folk became upset by the proclaimed message ‘seven inches simply isn’t big enough to pleasure the Gorilla Girls’ Home comments that they were making the mistake of taking post modern art seriously. Jokes are his great weapon and they are far more dangerous to Nazis and power than most other devices. He self describes himself as ‘a proletarian comedian with Tourette’s spewing obscenities.’ In the argot of the sixities he gets to take the piss out of the man.
Humour is relational. Home’s work is obscure if you don’t know the context. Heidegger is one big context for Home because taking the piss out of Heidegger is always a laugh. Because Heidegger is a continuous presence against which Home’s humour is directed, he has been given a central place here. That this is a curated exhibition of Home’s vast oeuvre, other relevant strands of interest could have been discussed. But Heidegger helps us grasp what Home is banging on about when Home says that by taking on the role of an artist and a writer he is simultaneously working to abolish those roles.
But it also helps us get why Home also wants those taking up these roles (and other roles of ‘art’ such as curator or critic) to take greater responsibility for understanding art better. Home argues that art is an engine not a camera: it doesn’t just represent but reproduces its subject matter. In Lithuania the Devil’s Museum (Žmuidzinavičius Museum) in Kaunas brings together many representations of the devil. Every devil looks like a Jew. Home noted this when he was out there, and he contrasts this with depictions of the devil in Africa. Artists who bang on about authenticity and so on are like the folk artists of the devil in that museum. They unwittingly reproduce repulsive beliefs as accepted wisdom.
The frame of reference that is important and has to be acknowledged by those artists (and critics, curators, consumers etc) is the Nazi metaphysics of Heidegger where authenticity and depth are ultimate. Home’s extreme joke is at the expense of this metaphysical frame and is serene, cunning and skillful. Discussing aspects of this in a talk at the ICA in 2008 ‘From Violence to Endurance – Extreme Curating’ he summed up by saying: “Art won’t save the world; only the vast majority of us acting collectively can make this marvellous green planet somewhere that is really worth living. Or as the radical New York collective Up Against The Wall Motherfucker put it in the late 1960s: ‘Art is dead, burn the museums baby!'” Heidegger would have hated him.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Richard Marshall is still biding his time.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Monday, April 23rd, 2012.