:: Article

A modern original

By Richard Marshall.

Mandy, Charlie & Mary-Jane, Stewart Home, Penny-Ante Books 2013.

As the planet crashes we have to ask: which writers are up to the job? Writers might be required to cut at the joints, write to where things are basic, are most perspicacious. Writers work on a fund of entities. Many things exist but are not fundamental. They are shadowy. The writer at the crash needs more than merely what’s true. They need what is fundamental. The realist novel was always hankering for what is true. But fundamentals aren’t about what is just true. So the realist novel falls short. But fundamentality risks being in a logical space too far away to extrapolate to what’s true. Stewart Home writes to this issue. So his project might be framed like this: can he write an anti-realist novel that gets to fundamentals without ending up in a space too far away from the logical space where extrapolating to truths can happen? I’m a Polly-Anna optimist. Of course he can. He can and he does and he has in his latest mind-bomb.

Home writes with the barmy intensity of someone cancelling superfluity. He rocks ideas from serious to gimp and back without batting an eye-lid. His fix is bold: here he junks up loose first person narration as controlled and artful as anything in Foster Wallace, say, but without the grandeur and pomp swooningly all-consuming. His unapologetic venery is done as formulaic pulp grind-house sex. S&M snuff scenes in lurid and hilarious detail that cut across the artful deposits of cultural-study tropes covering the whole performance like sand are his deft stock-in-trade. It’s all a huge, like, whelm. Because his subject is so serious the snap-fast way he cavorts through the different composts brings to readers a sense of vertigo. The writing is like water higher than the groundwater table but still, incredibly, in the ground, or like spiral formations in a whelk shell that, from such small matter, become the gracious ornaments of classical Ionic columns.

This one is a campus novel. The Groves of Academe by Mary McCarthy in 1952 might be the first of this genre, although lit critter Elaine Showalter thinks CP Snow’s The Masters gets there first, but how do you make a campus novel modern? Modernity was Poe’s issue when in America in the nineteenth century. ‘Modernity’ is a stand-in for essential, non-superfluous, fundamental. Poe’s solution was to reject importing the Sistine Chapel to Madison Square, or whatever it was. Find originality in America, not in an old continent was Poe’s self-imposed directive. Home squares up to his problem with similar seriousness. Just as Poe set himself fierce constraints on what materials were available for modernity, Home too places strict controls on what is available now.

Much of the controversiality of Home is in the ragamuffin lines he draws: no literature, no high art, no serious music, no non-revolutionary politics, no white-orientated community buzz and so on. Like Poe rejecting old Europe, Home is forging a new continent for the modern, breaking with the new context we’re in, delineating a parallax vision of hallucinatory powers. Some say there’s really no avant-garde and that we’re all underground now. But those who like to announce that tend to be university types with a book to sell, who like having the label ‘underground’ whilst still writing for the LRB and New Yorker lit pages and all those squared darlings. I read their frantic denials as dressage, prickly, ecruic and merely the steep slope of fortifications. There’s a sense of the tenesmusic in all this – they’re trying to shit out the new but ineffectually. There’s no harm done of course, except along lines of self-delusion. But Home’s anti-poobah nova-oeuvre bends this sentiment back like cutting away orange or lemon rhind. He goes back to the rooty equivalent of authorial Yggdrasil, grinding the idea into fine powder and pulverising its small vermiculation. Home is a bastard, working class lefty genius of all underground lit/art purlieus, and in the UK there are precious few of such worthies working outside any institutional base – Billy Childish is an immediate counterpart in this respect – so Home is the real deal.

What gets filtered-in by what gets filtered-out in Home’s process is wild stuff to blow your mind and cause sensational fuzziness whilst reading. It’s a gigantic catabolic upheaval effect with rumours of someone understanding the take-home messages, even when contradiction is involved, of Footsoldiers of the Universal Negro improvement Association (Their own Words), the mystery of Pope Joan, fears of conspiracy from George Washington to Stokely Carmichael and Joseph Welch, of genocide Israeli-style, South African style, Nazi style, Soviet style, Maoist style, Vietnam style, US state department style, of Freemasonary, hidden technologies and the Islamic destiny, of Arthur Ponsonby, of the German Guerrilla and Carlos, of the peasant revolt in 1838 Guatemala, of Jonestown (disguised in the mighty Tony White), of the visitation of alien spacemen and Gods, of caricatures of the Third Reich, of religious ghetto rules on controlling women, of Wobbly histories and worker classics, of no more lies from Africa, of the murdered Templars and news of 30 corpses every Thursday and other such frictions. This all works like writerly caryatid, those solid, firm supports that bracken and flow into forms of twisted beauty or if not that, then at least inflamed camber and arch. And how, you might wonder, can uttering a contradiction be more than just making a noise? Well, cancellation can take the form of contradiction and cancellation subtracts, has consequences and therefore is not merely noise.

Home twists into pulp bravura projections and décor a sequence of fabulous bricolaged clipjoints of Freddy Brown, Crevel, Crosby, Chandler, Doblin, the ultimate horror freak show of Philip Jose Farmer with his three Ritual pulps out in the Los Angeles smog but more so with the kind of kinesthetic virtuoso penship of Donald Goines’ Black Gangster, Black Girl Lost, Crime Partners, Cry Revenge, Daddy Cool, Death List, Dopefiend, Eldorado Red, Kenyatta’s Escape Kenyatta’s Last Hit, Never Die Alone, Street Players, Swamp Man, White Man’s Justice – Black Man’s Grief, Whoreson – and naming these is important, a version of stridulation. Because these are the moving body parts that produce the sounds, like those of crickets and locusts. It’s something familiar in Home’s texts: he gives us verse and dexter of the parts that he is moving. Like a locust, his is a plague on many houses, making scratchy sounds over our swampy non-modern culture.

This is a version of arty anaclisis. Tracks of Brion Gysin’s Back In No Time, Here to Go, Morocco Two, The Process linger in pauses and in the loose feel of the tightest stylist writing Home always parades at maximum cool. All those hookers and gays and junkies, the sex and survival direction of the cut glass autoclavular prose that Home takes as models and inspiration: Chester Himes’ The Real Cool Killers fused with Herschell G. Lewis’s Two Thousand Maniacs and Blood Feast – although Home has a more callipygian focus than mammary. Every perfomance is an apophasis of the sources, toughening up apocryphal rumours that give a strange half life to the transitional zones of the works’ peculiar jurisdiction and found empery Home has there.

Like Mohammed Mrabet, Home writes novels that presuppose the existence of worlds that run to the Rif mountains, or Meja Mwangi’s River Road in Nairobi or Flannery O’Connor’s Powderhead in Tennessee where Tarwater waits for fate. He shrives moments from Reckless Eyeballing, the Ishmael Reed story of Ian Ball, the black playwright who is ‘sex-listed’ and trying to get back into the groove by writing a militant play for women. Home makes The Freelance Pallbearers, The Last Days of Louisiana Red, Mumbo Jumbo, and Yellow Back Radio Broke-Down work in the cracks of his style and themes. Rufulu and de Sade are footnotes. Iceberg Slim sets the bar for the torture and chump change scores for folks that Home rolls out here: and when you read Pimp you get what Home is driving at when he lands his protagonist up in hell by the end.

In Pimp Slim writes: ‘He spent twenty-five years of his life in Hell. Other pimps dies in prison, or the insane asylums, or were shot down in the street. But Iceberg Slim escaped death and the drug habit to live in the square world and write… about his people and his life.’ And in The Naked Soul of Iceberg Slim we get: ‘Don’t cry for his soul because he’s Black. Though Black is pain. Black is death. Black is despair. Black is the ghetto where he wasborn. And lived. As a pimp, dope addict, brutaliser of women – and other Blacks. But he cured himself of the ghetto rot. His name is Robert Beck. Better known by his ghetto name, Iceberg Slim.’ First you dream, then you die. As Cornell Woolrich puts it, ‘get even with a woman… kill a man.’ The simple point is that these are homologues of Home’s work. They have similar structures and origins – though on a slanted hob – and not the same purpose, or at least, no full squared overlap.

Home is various and combining. He is cunning and freed-up. He imbricates his materials so the pulp noir effects strangely half-supervene with scratchier stuff. Harlequin romances and soap opera TV as spectacle for wimmin’s desire, Googie coffee shop angularity and that whole cachet, striptease artists, satirists and priestesses, Stag movies up to the 1970s, TV Babylon, hard core frenzies, number stations and the simple post Tibetan traditions of death and dying, mod yogis and balance-sheet suicides, Zen monks and haiku poets blended with the orgone sodomy and pirate traditions that all get spruced up into a kind of hustings theatre, these are the ground of his sortilage.

The modern original is not to demur at the unrefined or false or nutty, so silver dental fillings, for example, are in this new light ‘the toxic time bomb of our time’, practical guides to bladder control, new guinea tapeworms, cephalopagi, eugenics, illness, weather, foreskin restoration, giants and dwarfs, alchemy, living with low-level radiation, placebo effects, menstruation, the drunken universe of Persian poetry, parapsychology, MDMA, voodoo, and the raucous imbrue of Eliphas Levi: “Mankind has created a host of phantastic masks; people talk of ‘going to heaven’, ‘passing over’, and so on; banners flaunted from pasteboard towers of baseless theories. One instinctively flinches from remembering one’s last, as one does from imagining one’s next, death. The point of view of the initiate helps one immensely. …As soon as one has passed this Pons Asinorum, the practice becomes much easier. It is much less trouble to reach the life before the last; familiarity with death breeds contempt for it…” Home is gravid with all this, starting back with John Dee and his Hieroglyphic Monad, his The Rosie Crucian Secrets and the Eighteen Enochian Calls received by Dee and Edward Kelly that were later used by Aleister Crowley whilst in the Algerian desert with poet Victor Neuburg. Crippled Black Phoenix’s ‘444’ makes sense of this. Shakespeare’s ‘Rape of Lucrece’ of 1593 makes sense of this. Henry V and the inkling of the good side of evil makes sense of this: Tarquin as the other side of Venus, the suddenly priapic Adonis refulgent and rising. In the film Kelly’s Heroes there’s a snap quote ‘say something righteous and hopeful for a change,’ that’s followed by ‘crap.’ This is a cultural durance done as speed-distempered ecdysiast. It’s a scream.

The issue is about the space we must work in if we clear out the forbidden stuff – the high cultural motherload that for Home obfusticates and blocks – to make modern originality. This is at one with the project field of J.G. Ballard – though Home rates Ballard only as a mediocre travel writer – whose forensic anthropology, post-mortem illustrations, practical manuals in sex forensics, trauma surgery glissades and such like were targeting original futures as modern and finding the geography in these pathophysiological scenarios, alongside the hypermaniacal mayhem architecture of shopping centres, tower blocks, and automobile geometries, linking up with the cinema of Cronenberg and the homo-luden psycho-lit of Burroughs. More in favour with Home is Bret Easton Ellis who he concedes is a writer, though nowhere near his own level of gongerism.

And there’s also the male fantasy interrogation that Home adeptly runs. The seminal two volumes of Klaus Theweleitvolume one dealing with images of women in the collective unconsciousness of fascist warriors, visions reflecting fear and hate ‘culminating in a series of liquid metaphors – red tide, lava, mud – that threaten to engulf the male ego’ and volume two where the male self-image ‘becomes a mechanism for eluding the dreaded liquid and the ‘feminine‘ emotions associated with it. Armored, organized by mental and physical procedures like the military drill, the male body is transformed into a ‘man of steel.’’ Theweleit discovered over 250 freikorps novels and memoirs of the 1920s. Barbara Ehrenreich in the forward of volume one writes: ‘The fascist is not doing something else but doing what he wants to do. When he throws a granade at a working class couple who are making love on the grass, he is not taking a symbolic stand against the institution of heterosexuality. When he penetrates a female adversary with a bullet or bayonet, he is not dreaming of rape. What he wants is what he gets.’ Home has recently begun to write about looking at contemporary male diaries and jottings from Afghan war zones. Home is identifying possibilities of sensibilities and is seeking the voices and dreams of the men untouched by the window of culture.

Bonded labour, early and forced marriage, slavery by descent, trafficking, child sex labour is easier to see from the vantage of Home’s original modernity than other spaces. What confuses some critics is how Home continually refuses to write to this vicious, serious reality in anything but his trademark style. Like recent doubts about the ace Tarantino movie Django Unchained, which also deals with toxic realities of slavery and women abuse in a pure auteur trademark style, Home refuses to change the subject and refine out his own writerly original space by mere dint of his content. After all, to do that would be to admit that his approach was less than able to cope. There’s no comfort zone in this: the refined understanding between the reader and the writer has to be on the grounds of the compleat style of Home if the novel is to be anything. In a great piece on the new Tarantino masterwork, Nicholas Rombes writes: ‘Django is not a movie with “villains.” Instead, the movie itself is villainous.’ Well that’s good, and I’m nicking it to paraphrase thus: Home’s novel is not about devils, but is itself devilish. At the start I said what he’s out to do is go further than just be real; he’s out to be fundamental. So what if it’s on the cusp all the time?

Of course, it’s a masterpiece. Throughout there’s a process of shedding the scales of his insides in an act of hilarious, up-beat and hay-making desquamation. The names dropped are the pieces of wood pulp that he turns into the paper, the fine particles that end up as the final word. And if ‘Zombie Sex Freaks’ doesn’t curl your hair some, then a) you need to check your pulse and b) go away. Home’s writing is the sexiest around. The films referenced guide expectations. I Spit On Your Grave, Mulholland Drive and Night Of The Living Dead kick it all off. Zombie Flesh Eaters comes up next and is favourably compared with Murnau’s Nosferatu and has a better shark scene than Jaws, the fish being ‘a real shark filmed with a real stuntman in a water tank in Rome. Presumably the shark had been fed a lot of doped meat before the stuntman jumped in the water with it, but even so, seeing the zombie swimming about with the shark and knowing the shark is real, is something else’.

After that we check Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The Beyond, City of the Living Dead, Oasis of the Dead – a classic southern European Nazi zombie flick, Zombie Lake – and this is all by the third page. The campus acronym is CUNT and is importantly institutional like a military base is to zombie king Romero but better ‘for the purpose of slicing away a cross-section of the population who might stand for the whole of society, since the gender mix is more even and any exploitation movie worthy of the name must necessarily feature as much scantily clad female eye candy as possible.’ Homage to Jess Franco is the dream at the start. A montage of art posters, critical comments on the weights room, a creep voice lounging in the campus eyeing-up the eye-candy and registering disappointment gives us a chapter one of enormous satisfaction, like a surface decoration using foil cutouts.

Chapter two riffs on the petrified shit of early US TV’s Beverley Hillbillies with a softspot for the performing animals, and the more recent TV reality show The Osbournes. Working class Ozzy Osbourne and his contribution to popular culture is name-checked in terms of a stand-off: ‘Paranoid’ vs ‘Iron Man.’ The band Genesis is trashed in an act of snippy debouche. Peter Gabriel is said to have given the band a little grit but after he left Phil Collins took over and the whole thing became unbearable is the judgement that ends the affray. A recurring dream of Jonathan King, the convicted pedophile who produced Genesis’s first album, molesting the kiddie Phil Collins at Charterhouse where the band members boarded is a highlight. There’s a figure ghosted into view by the end of the chapter as an almost throwaway depth charge: the doppleganger of great artists. Seventies feminist artist Mary Kelly and her namesake, the final victim of Jack the Ripper, is sampled. There’s a sense of a focus being annealed in all this, as though some glass is being tempered and we’re finding weird fundamental principles in its strange, funny deadpan.

Cannibal Holocaust and why white is not necessarily right plus the question of Eurocentric exploitation, its relation to Scream, Scary Movie, The Blair Witch Project and the issue of quality, i.e. what is a good film, smoke up. And objectivity by the way. And the classic BBC soap Eastenders. Then the issue of identity and names. Mandy and Mary-Jane, his wife, double up unrecognised. After a long interlude involving identity swapping, scamming and infidelity in the head, we get to Jonathan Cauotte’s Tarnation. It was a film about Cauotte and his mother which was compelling until he got older and too self-aware to give anything away he didn’t want to. The Lucy Show episode with ventriloquist Paul Winchell where Lucy has to pretend to be the dummy because Winchell forgets his dummy introduces explicitly the whole ventrilo-quest, Coleridgean trope that Home has excavated before, both in his own performances as well as in his novel 69 Things to Do With a Dead Princess. Charlie the narrator, who was/is John, comments: ‘Trash TV could be pretty classy in the sixties, and this particular episode of The Lucy Show is a prime example of just such a junk epiphany.’ This acts as an aperient for what’s to come.

Carrie and Mean Streets are dismissed for Hi Mom by Brian De Palma, a follow-up to Greetings which features porno loops and black radical theatre troupe members torturing whites. Body Double is the film featuring Deborah Sheldon being ‘perforated by an electric drill.’ In case the reference to American Psycho is missed – perhaps sidetracked by Driller Killer – the Bret Easton Ellis book is referenced and then dismissed for copping out. Home comments :‘The description of the sex with the hookers is the lengthiest and most detailed erotic passage up to that point, and you’re already a couple of hundred pages into the story. All well and good, so we have the threesome nicely described with plenty of cunt licking, but then what happens? Ellis just throws away the beatings. His narrator Bateman says the girls left the apartment bleeding, injured and well paid after he’d flogged them with a sharpened coat-hanger. The beatings aren’t described, it’s like the author is flinching and can’t provide us with credible details about the flesh being lacerated. It undermines the entire book.’

The Belle de Jour business is brought up. Stewart Home has a walk on part, as does Bill Drummond, albeit as people mentioned in a discussion. Which in turn leads into the theme of disappearences, pagan Gods, Paradise Lost, and the fastest way to hell, which by the by is via the Metropolitan Line.

Premature elevations of style and tempo are there to drain bits from the reading. The trobairitz is the feminine form of the troubadour. Their voices are distinctive in their choice and mixing of different personae. They all call attention to what might happen when the silent lady of the troubadours begins to speak for herself within the conventionalized world of the troubadour lyric. So says M.T. Bruckner. I say Home is working in that spirit, seeking out a modern originality that can find fundamentals by making silent components speak in the conventionalised world of, in this case, the contemporary campus novel.

Slapping restrictions on what is permitted, he has been working on bringing in playful demonstrations of the vast scope of his less conventional materials. There’s a philosophically sophisticated position that we encounter in him that keeps the serious playfulness always disorientating and uncomfortable, even as the book is pleasingly readable and fast. All the refereces treat the subject matter as a way of working contours into the novel’s logical space. We read two-dimensional countour maps. We can read the depth into it by seeing where the contour lines are drawn closest to each other, so that where we cross the greatest number of contour lines quickest, that’s where the landscape is rising. So too with Home: where the content is bunched together that’s where things are changing and is what we’re talking about.

And once we have the subject matter sorted out like that then we can ask whether we can extrapolate from this content to some kind of fundamental truth. Now the philosopher Hume raised a puzzle about extrapoltation in his famous puzzle of induction. Just because the sun has always risen in the past, how can we be sure it will tomorrow is that issue. In other words, how can we know that unobserved parts of reality continue in the same patterns as observed parts?

Home is writing with the confidence that we are able to make sense of what he’s doing and that the principles of selection needed to do this are available. And surely he’s right. Just because he’s way out from where literature is, there’s no actual difficulty in understanding what he’s doing. There’s no real doubt that we can do this. But we can always ask how we do this. Why does Home’s stuff work? How does he manage to extend the logical space of the novel? Well, judgements about whether we can or can’t vary – and it accounts for the different camps that form around reception of Home’s work. Optimists like me think it makes sense by way of saying that it’s not about what Home doesn’t do but the deliberate errors he does make. Pessimists deny that any of that makes sense. They say Home is in the position of saying that there are essential things that make a novel a novel and then saying that his novel is just like that except without those things.

Well, there’s pressure on both these positions. But I’ve been laying out some of the elements. Once we foreground them for the sake of just understanding what’s going on I say it all makes sense. And also I am saying that this is not just a novel but a great one. Perhaps I might be pushed to say that this has the appearance of a novel added to whatever it is (writing, imagine) when we read it in a certain way. But it is definately great.

This is a heady brew. It has the power of a long, intellectual digression combined with foxy pulp served as anti-literary mudra. And perhaps ritualised dance does serve up a good analogy. The attempt to find the fundamental to make sense of the contemporary, in terms of an originality I’ve labelled Modern (following Poe) is squared in the last explosive paragraph worthy of Mark Manning at his most mental: ‘Those the Gods wish to destroy, they first make mad. I am mad for Life. Mad for Kicks. Mad for Death. Everything. Everything. The urge to destroy is also a creative urge. We must reach out and embrace the Absolute. My Words shall burn through every last defence of this decadent society. My actions shall live on to inspire future generations. I’ll do more damage than a nuclear weapon, I’m about to blow up your mind. Lindisfarm, Holy Island, is only the start. Soon there will be suicide bombers in every sleepy English village pub. On the streets of Aldburgh in Suffolk and the quays of Lerwick in Shetland. It is time for the many, too many, the butchered and botched to Die, so that through Death I might Live. With a bomb on my back I’ll tear this decadent society apart.’

Lars Iyer always illuminates. He recently drew attention to some interesting contrasts. He first discussed Andrew Gallix‘s distinction between two kinds of belatedness. One kind he says is ‘the belatedness already present in Don Quixote: the novel as a ‘fallen form'”. The other is a belatedness ‘with respect to a total work of art – like Mallarmé’s conception of The Book.’ This latter belatedness is the territory of a type of vanguardism that sought to link art to politics. These vanguards thought that art might change the world in some way, might ‘make something happen’ as Burroughs puts it somewhere. For Iyer the conditions for such vanguardism have disappeared. ‘History is over, and so too, is a certain dream of what literature could be… We expect less of life, and less of literature,’ he says.

But then Iyer says that we are left in a state of either mourning or melancholy. This is the contrast I’m interested in. It’s a Freudian contrast, whereby ‘mourning’ is something that can be worked through. Iyer claims that ‘Modernism mourned can be absorbed into whatever the period is in which we now live.’ But melancholy can’t. Melancholy ‘continues indefinitely.’ This is the attitude Iyer strikes towards Modernism. It’s a fascinating insight. But what interests me is how it oddly connects with yet another contrast. Agnes Callard contrasts sadness with anger. She argues that sadness can be worked through. The sadness felt by spilling milk can be rectified by mopping it up. Such rectification is often poignant.

But she argues that anger is eternal. Anger is a reaction to realising that something is awry. For anger to be rational it ‘must be underwritten by truth and proportional to justification and seriousness’ and meeting these conditions is sufficient for someone to be as angry as they are. The reasons for being angry are unaffected by reasons we have for not staying angry. Therefore anger is eternal. The reasons remain and therefore the justification for anger remains regardless of whether we ‘let it go’ for reasons of self preservation, socialbility and so on. Being distracted merely prevents a person from being enraged, but doesn’t impact on the reasons for being angry. Callard sees Achilles’ anger and refusal to leave his tent as being the only rational thing he could have done in circumstances where the percieved awryness rightly generated an eternal rage.

I think Home writes from a state of anger rather than melancholy. He thinks that there is something awry about the world and is enraged. His rage is a moral emotion and it sets a very different tone to his work from those who feel melancholy. Home has always been an uncomfortable writer because of this. It is rooted in this idea that it is responsive to unchangeable awry facts, wheras sadness is responsiveness to changeable awry facts. Melancholy seems to adopt the tone of sadness rather than anger, even though Freud and Iyer claim it is actually like anger, a response to unchangeable awry facts. It is as if Home is uncomfortable with the proximity of melancholia to sadness and wants to make a much clearer, starker borderline. Perhaps the worry is that melancholic literature gains too much traction from its proximity to artful literary sadness, requiring a parodic knowingness that always threatens to become what it is supposedly parodying. When Iyer writes of Bolaño he makes this very point. ‘Bolaño is not one of the literary Last Men,’ he writes. ‘History hasn’t quite ended for him.’

This is not an issue for Home and his eternal anger. He is not foregrounding the ‘grotesquery of this parody’ as Iyer suggests Bolaño is. His strategy has been to replace this melancholia that inevitably ‘blossoms into a kind of promise’ with a Callardian eternal anger. He changes the terms of the relationship between high art and writing and in so doing changes the terms of the debate around the impossibility of literature. He shreds the usual reference points, the legacies of a grand Modernism, and rather like Blake did, relocates to a different neighbourhood altogether. The eternal anger is a right and rational response to unchangeable facts about the world. Bankers might be imprisoned for thieving from the poor (fat chance) but what they did remains an unchangeable fact, and therefore a reason for eternal anger.

Home agrees with Callard that we need to avoid mixing the conditions for anger with what we’re angry about. That’s the point of all the lists. Assemble reference points affordable to those more likely to be found rummaging around in a Blockbusters closing-down sale than the BFI bookshop, and then it starts to be easier to understand where the anger of Achilles grows. From where Home’s writing, history hasn’t ended, and there’s plenty to do, but one thing we ought to do – morally ought to do – is notice the awry facts. Claiming that anger is better than melancholia might be a bit programmatic, but there’s something to it. And even if a moral imperative strangely hangs about unfashionably in all this, for the moral imperative that justifies the eternal anger is justice, Home’s anger goes further than merely senses injustice; it recognises that no matter what happens next, the awry facts of the world past can never be changed.

Home wants readers to notice injustice. To understand characters he organises information so that it moves inwards, rather than outwards from the agent to the world. The result is a kind of caustic, unforgiving humour. Sometimes you feel there’s a self-destructive edge to the writing, a sense of a self-consuming rage that boils up through all the violence and sex, the deft formalism and poised disrepute, and that it might crash, though it never does. Melancholia is gentler. It has a moodiness, a kind of ambient generosity that often inflects a darkening humour into almost wistfulness. Iyer’s own novels are dazzling examples of this. Home’s writing, in contrast, has the violent strum of a Punch and Judy booth. Callard writes: ‘When we direct our anger at something what we do is feel out the moral law; we sense its gradient.’ The gradient in Home’s pitch is steep. This is writing at world’s end. His laughter is at the abyss.

An orrery is a mechanical model of the universe. Home has written a diagrammatical orrery for his notion of original modernity. Once you get the background scene the whole machine cranks up added dimensions. I have tried to suggest some of these and tried to indicate that the fundamentals can be extrapolated. There’s a lot more in the book that I haven’t mentioned but I particularly got a kick from the toile-like sprachgefuhl of the whole performance. He extends into the world and writes so we might notice what is unchangeably awry. Sometimes Home reads his work whilst doing a hand-stand. Other times he speaks through a ventriloquist puppet. Most of the time, though, he recites his work from memory.

Richard Marshall is still biding his time.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Friday, February 15th, 2013.