:: Article

9 lives of class war

By Richard Marshall.

Stewart Home, The Nine Lives of Ray the Cat Jones, Testcentre, 2014

Stewart Home is the left-field roaring boy writer who has been revising our plans about what a novel and an artwork is for decades now. Often mentioned as if a po-mo writer – and po-mo is a nomenclature he self-assigns from time to time too – he’s actually much more difficult to pin down than might be supposed. A brief glance at his writing trajectories since the seventies indicates how he has reinvented and redirected himself to zig-zag often treacherously difficult underground counter-cultural territories like a picaresque Dante doing the rounds of hell. From beginnings as punk music communist writer of his fanzine ‘Down the Street’ to the now legendary art zine manifesto-engine ‘Smile’ and Dadaist ‘Generation Positive’ through to being a punk-pulpist author of Richard Allen style novels with lefty subcultural elements and experiments (His ‘69 Things To Do With A Dead Princess’ is a perfectly rendered insinuation of form, aesthetics and mockster-occult psychogeographical writing) he has proved himself to be a limber sophisticated presence amongst the literati. In 2005 he wrote “Tainted Love’ which was , amongst other things, a fictionalized account of his mother’s life and now he has pubished a fictionalized ventriloquentism of his mother’s cousin. Both do what Home does best, asking us to revise preconceptions of acceptability and standards of truth and justification. Don’t forget, Home is massively productive in a huge range of counter-cultural fields, including music, art, spoken word, film, propaganda, pamphlets, performance and porn as well as non-fiction and short stories.

His novels are thus just part of his various projects and deals, deals that are increasingly a secret wager one detects as you try and trace the outlines of his vast prodigious oeuvre (counting novels alone there have been 14 since Pure Mania crashed onto the scene in 1989 to head-butt a complacent and largely middle class literati). It’s a wager with the secret underground and takes the form of a silent fury that Home taps into and wages can be the source of hope. This fury takes many forms, but in his latest it’s a matter of class war revenge that circles back to Dante. He takes on the persona of his mother’s cousin in his latest, a ‘creeper’ who robs from the rich only and gives to the poor like a latter day Robin the Hooded man. Home then adjusts his own voice to that of the creeper, the criminal who has justice on his side, who recognizes that it is the economy, stupid, that needs recalibrating. His wager is that he can use the art word fancies as a vehicle for real change, and this is what accounts for him being both an edgy mover and shaker in many art fields whilst at the same time maintaining a wide distance from any idea suggesting that changing art alone is enough. His only concern with the future of the novel is about whether it’s any use for battering the rich, and if it hasn’t he’ll move on.

The caustic acidic humour of his defiant pose is caught in the last words of his Ray the cat: ‘The only way to make this world a better place is to soak the rich. Some say revenge is a dish best served cold, whereas I think it something that should be delivered piping hot! So let’s hit the toffs where it hurts them, in the wallet! Overpaid businessmen, bankers taking home huge bonuses, millionaires and their families are all legitimate targets for our class anger. Such people have no right to the wealth they enjoy, since the working class created it and it’s high time we took it back! It’s not a question of demanding such ill-gotten gains be returned to us, it’s a matter of deeds. My activities as a creeper demonstrate one viable form of direct action against the rich, but there are many others… Get to it kids!’

So the book’s a vehicle but Home is astute and smart. He knows that there’s a whole set of questions that connect with his project of taking class war onto the streets from a book, one of which is of course that he knows that it’s ridiculous to believe that his novelisation of Ray’s life is going to bring about the desired class war. So as always Home turns his books into knowing and sly exercises via form and implicit philosophical questioning. An autobiographical first person fictionalisaton raises all sorts of delicious questions and Home leaves us with them in our laps with that detonating smile of his that is never the end of the matter.

The matter is always where we need to keep revising. How (if at all) is his book telling the truth? Does a fictionalized biography leave more gaps than a non-fictionalised one, where there are inevitably parts whose truth values are indeterminate? Or does it create a glut where we are confronted with parts that are both true and false somehow? We are thrown onto some huge questions and my sense is that the label ‘po-mo’ is often used as a way of signaling that these are issues. The trouble is that often we’re left with the label as if it’s a solution. Is his approach a sort of expressive relativism where once we have a policy and we understand the claim of truth relative to that policy then we can answer whether something is true or not? This is what he forces us to think about whilst enjoying the grab and nettle of his narrative.

Begin with rewriting a version. It continues by laying down a policy and then follows it. Normativity is just the policy in action.

A man walks into a bar saying he’s got the story on Ray the Cat Jones. So what’s the story. Robin Hood. Boxer. Cat burgler. ‘Creeper.’ Who is this guy? No one can remember anyone saying anything. They can’t remember which bar they were in when they heard the stories, nor how they got there. Afterwards the barman insists there never was anyone there at all.

A Welsh hardman is buried. He has newspaper stories that have been following him for years. Since the forties he’s been on the brink of being a criminal superstar. He has a code that means he never handles shooters and only targets posh. There is an even tone in his voice that’s like a warning. He has not been talking for years. So this last effusion before dying unsettles old scores. There are lights back on in offices that noone’s seen for thirty years. Someone is scared.

Princess Margaret is having sex. Pictures are taken. The pictures are stashed away for use later. Someone is talking about threats and the need for protection. Years later there are rumours that the snaps have been stolen, gone missing from a safe deposit. A series of characters from the deep time are mentioned in files. Ray the Cat Jones is supposed to have them somewhere. Inspection of the photos was always secretive and no one had been allowed to record what they had seen. But the whisper is that the camera was outside the upper floor bedroom window. Security at the Palace is ratcheted up. There is a discernable panic amongst security. The talk is of a legendary creeper.

Someone has been working with ghosts. Mad Frankie Fraser goes mad telling his story about the man who escaped having broken his legs thirteen times during a single escape. The man with the smashed legs is seen only hours later walking without a limp. So who was the man left dragging his crocked legs along the ground near the prison that night? Fraser has an odd gleam, as if in his inhaled smoke something like a daemon lurks. It’s a whitening of the air.

Film star Sophia Lauren is often found drunk and half dressed. Her eyes tell a story of a younger life of poverty. Her riches are endless now. She tells the story of her missing diamonds and is acting only a little when she wails. She has the noisy greed of someone who knows poverty and betrays her class to escape.

Ray the Cat Jones invents himself but without needing a psychology. This is a thrilling invention. His muscled up body and puritan radicalism are impervious to fear, anxiety, doubt and other elements. He resists all bourgeois conceit. People who meet him forget him quickly afterwards. There is no mind to read, just a physical presence and a process of elimination. There are those who do recall though a sense of dread afterwards. Its source they can’t locate.

The boxer is able to give it out fast. As everyone knows, the seventies and eighties had some of the greatest fights and fighters. After all the Cat’s fights there was a confusion, because the beaten men never could remember who had hit them nor why. Inevitably they were left behind by someone who was pursuing something that they couldn’t grasp. They were like petty Virgils, poets of Empire of the old dispensation whilst Ray was transcending them all. The women who knew Ray said he had the privilege of the beatific vision. He was always wary of glib falsity and unworthy goals.

The guy who fitted up Ray the Cat was actually not the one named in the book. The mistaken identity is ironical because it is multiple. In every case there was someone else. The irony is that no matter who you pick, all the coppers were bent. The result of this is that no two scenes were ever captured straight on. On some nights you could watch a door and see someone standing in the doorway. But then you blinked and they had disappeared. Or the face had altered too much to be anything but an alias. Or they had never been there in the first place and had been less than a touchstone.

In one room there was a woman whose friend was hardly dressed. These women smoked slowly but they were staring across the Thames through the window of their client’s apartment. If this was the sixties by then they wouldn’t have been surprised. They felt they had been in the room for decades. The MP was a gentle sort of toff who deserved to have a hard time because he was a toff but who nevertheless wasn’t rapacious like most of them. This was their settled opinion. Here was an underworld where souls of the dead are as they were in their lives.

An argument between lit critters. There isn’t any sex. It’s gone soft, nothing like the scurrilous porn he used to do. This was a complaint in one gob and a reason for pleasant surprise in another. No one cared who they were, but were taken aback when no one could find either of them later on even though the barman swore no one had left. Others at the bar remembered a strange howling sound, as if souls were being wrenched from bodies. Were they living souls? Someone fearfully dared to ask.

This is a posthumous voice, and also a mash up. When we look at photographic evidence that the man existed there seem to be at least three images superimposed one on top of the other. One of the images is of a woman. There are striking family resemblances between all three figures in the pictures, and they strike similar poses. They were all taken at different times, says the expert examining the pics.

An unsettling monochrome picture shows a large car and three figures by a road. Two of the figures are men in long dark coats. Their faces are long and white. The third figure is shorter and wears a hoody so his face is hidden in shadows. What you notice is the light that is coming out of the car. There is a sort of flooding of light coming from the cabin, as if hell is burning inside.

There is a cousin who knows Christine Keeler. Keeler and the cousin are friends but move differently. One is doing the toff clubs and hostess work takes her to dark sex with rich cruel animal toffs. One is more into a drugs and art crowd haunted by Trocchi who sometimes is alive but often not. There is a cousin of Ray the Cat who seems to avoid Ray on account of the fact that he’s not going to help her score. The alternative story is that they were close friends and kept this fact shadowy because both were in worlds that required concentration, control and cunning. Could there be something in the genes that would explain the inability to be unconscious even when sleeping? An acquaintance of Ray the Cat remarked in the fifties that he thought Ray lived deadpan. It was as if he was also elsewhere.

A man is reported dead and years later a body is found in a box with legs horribly messed up, as if he had fallen from a great height or been run over by some vehicle again and again. He had no viable face. All his angles were wrong.

John F Kennedy wore several body braces and corsets. He was heavily drugged throughout the few years of the sixties he was alive because of the continuous pain of his weak body. No one would ever say how many women he had had killed. Monroe was just prominent. The cousin met her just once; they passed along a corridor in a hotel somewhere in America in the early hours. It was a kind of shift work. The men at the end of the corridor were extremely tall. In a report now lying in a vault that may never become public the security guys show a degree of panic about burglaries of some of the prominent women Kennedy knew. In at least one file the President was named a possible culprit. How else were they to explain all the stuff that was not Jackie’s afterwards? And a slow-birth certificate.

The cousin of Ray the Cat’s cousin poses for a string of fashion stills. Her son poses many years later for a string of art stills that are exact replicas of her pose. This is happenstance. There are discreet enquiries from men who have been traced back to the White House. Everything is hushed up. Someone is made the fall guy and has his legs severely broken as a warning. It is filmed.

Home invents his ghost machine. It can filter in and filter out. If you stand and half close your eyes even in bright sunlight you can see them coming. In very specific locations you can watch them. If you walked from the cousin of Ray the Cat’s flat you would eventually meet them coming no matter from which direction you had moved. Their eyes are the worst, and their lack of skin. Someone said there was too much of them and others that there was too little. Gappy, some said. Glutty, said others.

Who will remember the identity now? Has anyone noticed any change? This is what some have said after they heard the story. Waking up, a man is able to recite the story of Ray the Cat from the moment he becomes a Welsh coal miner to the moment he last rests his eyes in Hackney’s Homerton Hospital on 4th February, 2001. When he writes it all down he closes his own eyes and is overwhelmed by emotions that are not his own. A couple of years afterwards and he appears to have been sedated, perhaps for his own good, and his anonymity secured.

Stewart Home works on his quantum mechanical biographical ghost machine. He denies that Ray the Cat’s life went through Slit A and went through Slit B. It went through Slit A or through Slit B. The logic is all purpose. His machine tends not to work with macroscopic contexts where everything is mere approximation and actuality is safely ignored. That context, he says, is for Bolshevists and their reactionary vanguardism.

Stewart Home revises his ghost machine so that many of his sentences are deliberately not decidable. It becomes inappropriate – because false – to pin any of them down.

Either Ray the Cat didn’t steal Liz Taylor’s diamonds or he did. He didn’t didn’t. Therefore he did. But now Home revises this element of the ghost machine, rejecting this disjunctive syllogism. This brings with it the explosion. Nietzsche said it of himself first but when Home repeats it later this time it’s more frightening: ‘I am a bomb.’ A clue exists. The clue doesn’t exist. Everything follows from those two asertions. Home closes down the explosion and alters further the constraint on degrees of belief.

What do we know about the case? That a man breaks free of multiple attempts by corrupt forces to incarcerate him. It is surely not irrational to alter one’s logic in the face of this. The paradox of the heterological Ray is a central, starting mechanism of the ghost machine. This stipulates that Ray gets defined as being not true of himself. The account verifies this. So Ray, being not true of himself, is confirmed as being such. Which is to say, Ray is true of himself, in being not true of himself. This is classically a contradiction. The ghost machine has to handle this.

‘There’s either overspill or underspill in any of these contraptions,’ explains the inventor. ‘Overspill is where the contradiction is true, so you get something like ‘Ray was a boxer’ and ‘Ray wasn’t a boxer’, both meant in the same way, no tricks etc. Underspill is where you have a gap: it’s not true or false that Ray was a boxer. Geddit?’ And then he makes a strange and intense addendum that works like a spell or threat even: ‘There must be either overspill or underspill or both.’

No one can remember the conversation later, nor even if they’ve ever met the inventor. They all remember the book about Ray. It is a frightening book, say some of them. ‘It has edges that are larger than its interior.’ One reader had to keep the book outside the house at night. ‘I was afraid of the book. It seemed to take up more spaces than I thought it did initially. Or less. Couldn’t say now.’ Another reader heard vicious voices but never saw anyone.

The history of a radical underground begins here with overspill or underspill because we’re always looking to mechanise the logic of liar sentences. Ray the Cat Jones underspillage has sentences that assert their own untruth and do so at the cost of asserting that not even all its axioms are true. The inventor of the ghost machine agrees with the gap theory, thinking that not everything he’s brought back can be true. The strangeness of this world is caught in the newspaper reports that were written and nearly written placing Ray in different places and different states of mind simultaneously. Or never. The writers admitted in their cups that something had gone wrong but didn’t know where precisely. This is a case of conspiracies that forget their own reasons for existing and can no longer express agreement or disagreement because they’ve misplaced the notion of truth.

Stewart Home works the dramatic case: he obviously agrees with his own underspillage gap theory but thinks there are false axioms in it somewhere.

Throughout the sixties Ray the Cat is the impossible man who is not true of himself. Disagreement with this becomes a matter no one feels they can handle. There develop whole scenes where Ray is there but everyone doesn’t believe he was. ‘I spoke to him but I don’t for one minute believe it was him,’ was a common statement in those days. A whole row of zeros weighing in heavier and heavier until there’s a threat that entering any one of those scenes again would be very dangerous. ‘If you fill in the gaps he left behind,’ warned an official of the corrupt courts through which Ray’s impossibility moved, ‘the whole state apparatus might end up killing us all. It may destroy all history forever.’

Mad Frankie Fraser saw two Ray the Cats. One his lie created and the other walked away from his lies with his legs intact. ‘Overspillage gluts. Here we can say Ray was in the room and say he wasn’t. Unlike underspillage, at least it can say its axioms are true. Mind you, it also says they’re not.’

Ray the Cat’s cousin was the mother of the inventor of the ghost machine. Overspillage glut means that this proposition is both true and false, and the preference for one can’t ever be expressed in terms of truth. Ghosts in this machine are like that.

It now looks like we have a ghost spook history coming from an overspillage glut. It becomes pointless to disagree in terms of truth or falsehood, yes and no, agree and disagree.

The ghost machine of Ray the Cat Jones is all about disagreement in terms of truth values. The forces of state oppression lied. If there is a message in this it has to be this. The truth is important, and is the basis of our disagreement. Ray’s life neither posits underspillage and overspillage but rather asks for one of them. Its strangeness is accounted for by the way it hovers at the brink of this declaration like a kind of fiery agnostic.

What’s this machine doing then? Avoiding the debilitating paradoxes of overspillage and underspillage by accepting all inferences of classical logic but restricting some of the meta-rules so that we’re running a show that’s weakly classical, that’s what. So the machine runs on the axioms that ‘Ray the Cat is true to himself’ is equivalent to ‘Ray the Cat is true to himself is true’ and ‘Ray the Cat is true to himself is true’ is equivalent to ‘Ray the Cat is true to himself’ but rejects that ‘Ray the Cat is not true to himself ’ is equivalent to ‘Ray the Cat is not true to himself is true’, and rejects that ‘Ray the Cat is not true to himself is true’ is equivalent to ‘Ray the Cat is not true to himself.’ Investigators who face the contradictions of the bent coppers and news hacks can accept that the disjunction of two things that imply a contradiction is a logical truth. Overspill and underspill existence is contradictory, no matter which way the cat is skinned or the toast buttered.

Weakly classical agnosticism rejects overspill and underspill because they are contradictory. And there is more than that in the workings of the ghost machine. Inferences are being denied. In this state the mechanism of the ghost machine should make the inference from: ‘If Ray the Cat Jones is true to himself is true implies the forces of the State are oppressive’ And If ‘Ray the Cat is true to himself is false implies the forces of the State are oppressive’ Then it follows that whether Ray the Cat is true to himself or not, the forces of the State are oppressive. But being weakly classical, the machine rejects the inference. The official authoritarian data is mocked by something going further than agnosticism. This is indeterminacy arriving on a night bus with a bleeding nose.

The inventor leans in to the next weighty comment. It’s captured on a presumably wonky CCTV camera. ‘ Overspill or underspill. Contradictory. But it must be one!’ The pictures flicker and lines corrode the monochrome blur. Something explodes somewhere. Two stops down the line from Bethnal Green Stewart Home is caught walking at a ferocious pace away from the North Greenwich station followed at a distance by two figures who seem stretched and only two-dimensional. We assume this is an effect of the poor quality surveillance lens and the grimy weather.

Truth is more than being able to express agreement and disagreement in a wider context. But this is a pared-down world a ghost machine doesn’t fully flesh out. Home is out to express disagreement. He produces the ghostly presence of Ray the Cat Jones and nothing more.

This is subtle and nimble political creativity of the sort we expect from Home. He is working the territory of anti-authoritarian shape shifter again. Ray the Cat is a dissident voice, a tireless reawakener of the comatose and servile who lie underneath his narratives, or in their swill of the ruling imbecility. Like the late great Czech dissident poet Holub he takes on ‘the disrespectfully grey, insolent/frontal bone of fact’ and likewise ironises a European legacy of Romanticism and heroic leadership, reviling the toffs who rule and their lackeys who betray their class and become as commodified as fridges. The voice of Ray the Cat contains a dogmatic and insane heroism that inverts the authoritarian cults of the modern state. Home’s strategy is one of wit without stoic void or illusions underpinning its bracing onslaught.

With Ray the Cat Home is imagining a far better creature, one that would stretch and speak into the dismal bone of the factive world from a staunch moral law and an adrenalin- driven adversarial position. Ray is the ghost of a man who begins redressing wrongs in a landscape where corrupt state policemen are its apt poets and which unfolds through a century where the culture of a working class solidarity is wrecked by the sentimental brutalism of a tyrannical order. There is a quality of the ‘first man’ in this character, an Adam or Prometheus formed fully before the corruption and fall, yet one who will be betrayed and lost. Beckett said that ‘a poem is not one of the last but one of the first things of man’ and Ray becomes an emblem of this primacy of value, a man who we can substitute for the poem in Holub’s powerful affirmation of poetry: ‘ But in its aimlessness, in its desperate commitment to the world, in its primal order of birth and re-birth, a poem remains the most general guarantee that we can still do something, that we can still do something against emptiness, that we haven’t given in but are giving ourselves something.’ And of course the poem is itself a potent symbol of political communitarianism, the imagining of a lush Miltonic Paradise.

Ray the Cat is a desperate commitment and man of ruins who refuses his condition. He rises through the world that drags him to hell towards his own Dantesque vision of Beatrice. The idea of the cat burgler as the climber to ‘the starry sky above me’ contains the terrible commitment to the world and its higher sources and golden days without failing to admit that this is a man under pressure, a man in a crowd fighting for breadth against the cruel follies of human illusions and desolating tyrannies. If he is a house in ruins he is a glorious ruin. The stringent, earned pessimism speaks into the new Europe and the new world order with deadpan openness. The character we’re given here is Joyce’s classical artistic mind, one tempered by ‘ security and satisfaction and patience’. Ray the Cat is unfixed by geography and age, becomes a timeless figure, a craftsman in his approach to life as in all things.

This is a Homeric character, one without a modern psychology. He’s a maker, someone who shows profound fortitude and skillfulness as the forces of the tyrannous state pile on the pressure and never give up. He is Daedalus opposing the effete Romantic Icarus. He is a patient craftsman creeper – a diligent life and spirit fighting in an eternal Olympiad across London and its time where both life and spirit win. The book resists the lyrical. Home recognizes that state forces have a half-hearted existence in an exultant patriotic lyric nationalism. He refuses to serve the petty illusions that these ideologies seek to grant, and instead catalogues the abuses of a working sod below the radar of authoritarian official histories.

The skill is in the narrative’s uncrafted enhancements, its relentless catalogue of space and time, its arrivals and departures, inert and official abuses, and the marked absence of aesthetic values anywhere. The deadpan voice piles up what amounts to an anti-autobiography. It is a response to the public rhetoric and official lines of the state power’s dead and formal glaze. It is a language and performance of endurance. There is no personality in the voice but instead a clandestine wary gesture that repeats itself across the eternity of abuses, wary and forthright all at once like he’s putting himself out like a collage of dignified socialist scraps placed onto a void. His story is sudden, hostile and weirdly compelling. He is never on the inside realm but on the outside and is always the man on the receiving end of repeating patterns of a dismal cosmos.

Home intuits Mandelstam’s idea of history as ‘ no less than the history of the atomization of biography as a form of personal existence.’ Ray the Cat is robbed of his biography and ghosts himself another. A profound skepticism about personal identity, causation and biography nevertheless results in an aura of realism. In the place of identity causation and so forth are axioms , principles and policies which are then left to organize what is left over. In the life we’re told we recognise the invisibility of Ray as an extreme form of his anti-Icarusean anti-Romanticism. Here there is a language and a world that has been smuggled out as if from a prison. Home’s anti-autobiography carries the matter so that effect becomes earthy. Home constructs from his ghost machine a figure that occupies the reader so that it becomes a stage for our human material passions. He constructs a figural pattern, brings to us a whole historical world and within it every single character who crosses his path. This isn’t imitation of any reality but fundamentally is rather an imitation of an individual.

Home has always been a hostile force to those failing to recognize that the task is to fight back against the tyrannous. In order to achieve this his writing always threatens to pull the rug from under its own feet. The mechanisms he devises are constructed to self destruct and cancel themselves out. They are diagrams that suddenly stop and then self-erase into a blank stare.

Home has written this mechanism into a context where the class structures of Uk-ans is cheerless and aggressively patrolled by an oddly self-satisfied but increasingly threatened middle class. Alternatives to the official mythic language are hard to find and a smug reconciliation of upward mobility and fixed social hierarchy is what underwrites state violence. Print is a form of this violence. Home’s Ray the Cat becomes a complex reworking of Magwitch from Dickens’ ‘Great Expectations.’ Magwitch is of course the escaped convict who the upwardly mobile Pip helps right at the start. He is chained by a T-like leg-iron used by psychopathic Orlick to kill Mrs Gargery, a letter from Dickens’ own nightmares where print signs are symbolic of dictatorship – he calls them ‘ a procession of new horrors, called arbitrary characters; the most despotic characters I have ever known,’ and the killer blacksmith becomes a Stalin-like killer through this association. Tom Paulin in his peerless essay on Dickens’ novel makes these leaps and finds Mandelstam linking to Dickens in this:

‘He forges decrees in a line like horseshoes,
One for the groin, one for the forehead, temple, eye.

He rolls the executions on his tongue like berries.
He wishes he could hug them like big friends from home.’

The picture of the Stalin tyrant in Mandelstam’s epigram presses together Dickens and Home and Dante, for as Paulin comments, Dickens ensures ‘… the novel’s narrative voice is never more tenderly intent – never more Dantesque in its exacting gravity – than in the descriptions of prisoners about to be hanged.’ And this isn’t an extravagant leap. In Home’s version of Ray the 9 lives are the 9 circles of the Dantesque hell, circling the icy chamber of dark loneliness in which Satan is held. The damned take earth to hell with them and Home differentiates Ray’s character from all the others, where their thoughtless passions and lies contrast with his high-mindedness, dramatizing the eternity in which the crooked coppers, the greedy worthless toffs and their apologists will be lost forever.

From the limbo of his early youth Ray the Cat witnesses the lust, gluttony, greed, anger, heresy, violence, fraud and final treachery like the pilgrim poet Dante. The generous morality of Ray, his Robin Hood axiomatic principle to rob from the rich and give to the poor mirrors Dante’s sense of the justice of the Divine Will. Throughout the journey of Dante he is surrounded by writhing and solitary figures of contemptible and seedy offensiveness. When Ray uses violence it is carefully presented as a brief intensification of punishments that are deserved and righteous according to the policy and principles adopted at the very start. Home has Ray hold a grudge in the form of an overshadowing realization of the enormity of the stakes in play and the contrast between Ray’s actions and attitudes and those of his would-be oppressors is vivid. There are moments in hell when Dante’s wrath is provoked but kept under control. Similarly with Ray, his anger is controlled and just. In Hell God is Wrath and Vengeance and Dante learns to understand that in this context they are attributes of Divine Justice. Home is clear that the context of Ray’s life is a Hellish place and so his secularized version of anger and revenge amongst the cruel and exploitative toffs is to be understood as similarly just.

The narrative is constantly expanding from its base to celebrate the wasted potential of the common workers who are made fodder for the prisons and are ‘all formally doomed.’ Gray’s Elegy of wasted potential shimmers like a phantom communication gleaming softly throughout all Ray’s life. The rejection of pursuing worldly advantage – money and rank over solidarity with fellow workers – is how the text shines light on the darkness, ignorance and self-conceit of his enemies and also couches threatening energies: ‘ My theft from this dirt-bag was payback time and an opportunity to let the rich know what the working class thought of them. It was a reminder that, when they were driving down the street in their Bentleys, we were always there; when they were drinking Pimm’s on their yachts, we’d be there watching. I wanted them to understand that all the wealth they had was stolen from us, and that one day those whose sweat had made everything worthwhile in this world would take back what rightly belonged to them.’

The lack of psychological depth gives the book its almost medieval flavour and again pushes us back to revist Dantesque exchanges. Thomas M Greene reminds us that Virgil comments that his soul both is and isn’t his living self and that therefore whether he is a person or not is indeterminate – ‘ No, not a man; I was once a man’ he says (‘Non omo, omo gia fui’) and there is a gappy nature to his self as he explains that he lived at a time of false Gods and had once been a poet, neither of which were now the case. In this early exchange with Dante Virgil considers that he has in some sense survived his own greatness even though it is a greatness made shadowy by his religious blindness. Dante takes him to be a living presence and power. Greene says that both are true and that ‘throughout the first two canticles… [e]ach … contain its own particular tension between retrospective vision and the continuing identity of the old earthly self.’

This tension is also constructed in Home’s book where a lifetime on earth is figured and patterned in a highly wrought aura of realism that eats itself up, so we simultaneously understand it as an affect of the ghost machine mechanisms he is employing. Home skillfully crafts an existence that resists what strikes a reader as the petrification of his enemies, their incapacity to transform themselves, their inability to open themselves to conversation and speranza – hope. Ray throughout is a symbol of a ‘universal alternative’, to use a suggestive phrase from Greene. ‘He comes to represent the self within each man which can escape this dark wood about us, the self which can turn and change.’ Volgeva – to change – has a moral significance in Dante where it captures the idea of someone who turns away and then returns to straight way. Here ‘… redemption depends on his ability to turn, to turn himself before being turned in heaven… a disposition to renew the self without denying the self.’

Heaven in Home is an occult historicist Marxism where a randy working class grace sets all wrongs to right and overcomes the tyrannous ways of our toff rulers.

Richard Marshall is still biding his time.

Buy his book here to keep him biding!

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Saturday, November 29th, 2014.