:: Article

I Like Big Butts and I Cannot Lie


By 3:AM Staff Writer.

Memphis Underground is less a novel than a third assumption of principle regarding alternative compositional possibilities; it recalls the wise sage who muttered into his cups: ‘the debtor rejects the third member of any set’ whilst counting credit card fines on an abacus of restricted intelligence.

The Ship of Theseus, Dion and Theon and Liumpl and Goliath all do the same, where we are asked to wonder on the whole and its parts and endure the possibility that the whole is not made up of the parts, nor vice versa. Home proposes the first move in the game by requiring the memory, at the very least, of the gambit: a novel is made out of its parts and doesn’t exist as it either portions itself out or sits all in one piece, alive and unassailably one. Here Home sits and grins, laying down the trap like a Gaza boy with Aspect Booty. (This outing is perhaps most impressive in his J-Lo backside obsession recall. It’s something that proves the lie to the gasp that Home is less a writer than a collocated wind-up. To summarise the defeat of our inevitable lapse; everything that matters here is encapsulated in the ‘mysterious’ data of the disappearance of her bottom.

We can begin to ask the questions and let the ground-teeth work on the other mysteries as more a background noise than amputational double-tonguing. Is his enviable way with the ass of J-Lo and policewomen’s uniforms a suggestion that he is playing fast and loose with the possibility of arbitrary undetached parts? So we might argue that Home denies the existence of anything but the orgasm and bring to dutiful conclusion that everything else is merely the cargo in a strong-box of non-existent, complex things. Hence the novel becomes an artificial, inauthentic complexity of deadness that runs up against van Inwagen’s argument of credibility deficit and incoherence overdraft. In this whole is the argument that less is more taken to the n-th degree. ‘Man’ trumps ‘body-part’, and Home secures a footing in the restless catalogues of ontological well-being whilst at the same time noting that ‘Home’ equals ‘talking mouth’, him with a gob on him, and so spins off into a disappearance up its own fundament. The game, as they say, is afoot. And afoot is a body part. And body parts are trumped by the whole, which is man, so nothng will come of it. And in the next breath, we sigh slowly the narrow eyed thought: ‘sexist implications running through everything running amok here…’ Thus does Home run out from any glib package.

‘Running from Beckett and Trocchi’ spools Home, laying down a Trail of sunrise to sunset we must take with our bread-dolls and tea, he certainly plays to the notion of ‘the nouveau roman as a kind of anti-writing with its autistic descriptions of furniture, rooms, the play of light through bottles and glasses… a purely technical exercise…real anti-writing… interesting effects…’ and we return so that the ‘… end result is an ineffective way of communicating factual information…[which]…thus focuses on the act of declaration, rather than the material conveyed.’ Here then is confirmation of the suspicion that Home is less a voice than that gob. He is not the earnest type though; he is not going around correcting single mothers of the propensity to deck the halls with prams, indeed he can see that TV cannot be attacked as a symbolic dead-end of cultural inauthenticity without undermining its particular usefulness as an avatar of ‘taking a break’ for the weary foot-soldiers of wimmin looking after their kids whilst the men are out on the piss. Home is the gob without the bully attached. Home goes the whole way with the incoherence of direct criticism and sees the harm in coherence as well as incoherence. It is the same with the whole debacle of pedicure. It is the same with Kant’s sleepy sympathy with the empiricists which Home puts down to incontinence.

Back to the central idea – an idea that Home would treat as being as redundant as the horse-drawn cab to a Nantucket trawler man or the calculated ratio of bad-faith to tax brackets – the idea of the impossibility of anything living being made up of parts. The feral existence of anything is caught therefore in the act of making spittle noises jump to a certain trombone nectar at the edge of Home’s skinny mouth. The mouth, if it is to be anything, has to be the whole job or nothing.

In this Home goes further than even making an exception for this and might even be the nihilist looking to trash the whole idiomatic notion of the whole existing through an over concentration of the repeated norm. The novel itself never existed, nor its parts, nor clouds, men or Stewart Home. Breaking up is so hard to do, and Home as Parmenides and Zeno makes the trio collapse into a redundancy of one which then, like Dali’s virgin, is annihilated through auto-sodomy into the beautiful absence of J-Lo’s ass.

Home comes again and again in the book, not as reinvention but sometimes as merely a concentration of composition that relies on nothing external. The movement of the mouth is the existence of nothing more than the movement of the mouth, a gob of spittle noise that centres its bark round twin places, cod-London and codder-Scotland, that returns us to the early days of the auto-destruct button of the novels’ garrulous Finnegan’s Wake et al, and leaves us occupying the exact space of wherever it was that the exact space plied its trade. In short, we have a novelist’s mouth, upper and lower lip and teeth and tongue doing the biz which is a kind of oral amputation of aught else but the frenzy of making it up. In this there is the art of the blag to decompose the mysteries of the mereological essentialism. We might put it better by asking the simple question: does he swallow?

To answer the conundrum is hardly what is required, however. Home is playing with a whole symphonic nest of riddles. His artist-in-residence is a false identity cut adrift in a whole hornets nest of ambiguous fake corpses. Auto-sexual death haunts the fringes of the manic story where Tory MP’s and Lady Di mix it with the crafted prose of repeat and fire assault Home constructs at the start. The assembly is a heinous joke that moves swiftly through a blatant trajectory of deliberately heavy-handed satirical mouth-wash to raise the possibility of our own frail grasp on anything. The wired-in tug at the liberal conscience makes mince-meat of any argument that seeks to justify human poverty.

Unhappiness and shite living can never be rendered acceptable, neither by religious ginger nor quaffed art, his central target. Home knows that most of his readers and audiences are not religious but are arty. So he addresses them, like the extra terrestrial needs to work out who to address when they come a-calling. It reminds us of the likelihood that ET arrived years ago but left their calling cards with the ants and cut us out of the loop. Which is just another way of saying that the book gets to draw lines where there are cup cakes. It’s as fiendish as that.

There’s a less manic tone to this book than his early stuff, as if to compensate for the devilish sharpness. It has more reassemblies instead. We have to brace ourselves for its surprises. The great surprise is that it is the human mouth that can be surprising. It can perform better than anyone ever gave it credit for. This seems to be the great discovery of Home. The voice can do more than it was maybe initially designed for. It performs well. It’s not bad at calibrating stuff better than was supposed. Artists are inflated into the notion that they can craft something that works better than the ordinary voices. There is a need for artists to interpret, nay, maybe even make, the world again for us. This has been a banality of the Romantic spiel. Yet Home opens a mouth reared on the strangeness of the ordinary and interrupts this assumption with a special realisation of undersigned, uncrafted strengths.

Get this though; Home is perhaps the most crafted writer around. Long gone is the idiotic notion that he is a yob writer, some sort of skin-head nutter with a stolen laptop rammed into your dented skull. He is as careful to astound us with the contingency of the identity as propounded by the mouth at the end of the head as anyone with a head on them is. The open mouth, as has been remarked before, is a leaner necessity than the cash-driven culture of the literati in flight, even when rattled down through the inevitable click of the keyboard. His welcome dismissal of the dismal state of the dominant trends in what counts as our culture industry – Bono and Rushdie are welcome to each other – is breezily carried on by the disinherited mouth chewing on its sure-footed noise like the Sophist lawyer plying his trade to the brute gorgeousness of technological auto-erotica.

J-Lo actually is the answer to so much in the book. Her backside has not, actually, disappeared but is merely moving so fast that it is beyond looking. It is caught, as is this whole text, in the Zeno idea of the seeming impossibility of movement. We can ask, how does her bottom move across the room if to move half-way across it must first move half-way of half way, and to move that distance half way of that half way also? And so on, ad infinitum. This is the energy (one of the many energies) sourcing Homes book. His joke is that of this paradox. His character is both moving from London to Scotland and back again whist at the same time acknowledging the impossibility of so doing via Finland, Germany and the USA. The narrative is therefore a strangeness, a complete mystery of influences and confluences, one river flooding back and forth or several rivers all merging – which again raises the question as to whether there is the possibility of any river, or co-identity, or splintered, multi-verse identities or just one huge blindingly obvious mistake at the heart of the assumptions that led to anyone believing in rivers, parts, movement, Scotland, Home or London in the very first place.

Yet J-Lo’s bottom is still there as it moves out of the room, and yet as she approaches the door it is just that she is moving infinitely faster than she was at the beginning. Here we solve the apparent disappearance of her butt. Here we solve the momentum of the mouth. It is as we approach its disappearance, or rather, as we approach the disappearance of the novel, of the narrative , as we begin to be burdened by the same anxieties that Michael Bracewell and Iain Sinclair bring to Home as he contemplates the unreality of London, which was once a part of him but if there is no such thing than he too disappears, unless he can, of course, deny his reliance upon the sum of parts making up his whole, we recognise that the disappearance is a matter of getting up to speed with things moving out of sight they get to move so fast.

Yet Home denies his whole as well as the parts, as we noted earlier. The mouth is the ultimate hole, a clearer guide to the murky business in hand that the mystifications offered by Bill Burroughs, who always liked to inseminate this literary biz through the bum-hole instead. In the light of Home, what Burroughs did was mere fancy, lightweight mouth-wash for the mentally arranged and the cash-astute. Home calls a spade a spade and thus gets down to the dirty business of checking out racism, sexism and all of that strong malt, knowing that the Euro-centric, male and white transformations of anything he’s likely to do when he puts up in the perfected capitalist commodity market obliges him to talk hard and one-sidedly whilst copping Pharoah Sanders’ ‘Pharaoh’s First’ out on the ESP label.

But there is more here than J-Lo’s arse, or rather, the arse of J-Lo is itself more than merely the drool of the bad-boy’s underpants. Home uses the name-check as another way of raising Cain and questioning the whole scam. The familiar psychogeographical turn of detailing places and journeys are spliced in with the names of writers and film-makers who all carry with them the, no doubt partial, identity of the whole. J-Lo’s ass raises the evil spectre of how far Bill Drummond, Paul Tickell and Tony White, for example, are constitutive parts of her bottom. The mystery that is raised by the spectre of that particular feast is part of the fun of the book. It is as each particle is encouraged into shape and sight, and then allowed to either settle in as essential background or else returns into terra obscura, that the momentum of the mouth’s work continues at its various paces.

There is thus a fabulous space opening up in this book, one which is composed out of each mini-story carried by the names, as gorgeous and erotic as the J-Lo double-buttock. At one point Home catches himself in an infinite mirror image whilst working through some notes in prep for a lecture he is about to give, and just as the two mirrors causing this infinite spectacle produces a glimpse of everlasting, never-ending spectations and speculation, so too is it that through reflecting back to himself the voices and events of these other names, Home anchors himself to some mouth, somewhere, some how, in a long techtonic gob slam of endless confabulation.

Yet of course, it would be a spurious short-cut and obfuscation to try and theorise the book. Home has his familiar sex and perve routines, his blow-up ventriloquist doll scenarios to lay aside all hope of a final nail. Given that everything is fluid and unfixed, there is no chance of a theory so long as theory is understood as defining itself in terms solid and fixed. Stability is the anxiety of the pressing moment. Home and the fictional narrative that displaces him throughout this book is forever moving and yet getting, so it seems, nowhere. Yet to write this suggests that the actions of others are just further instruments of fate. To lay such a heavy duty onto Home is maybe to offer a sacrifice to what has already gone too far.

Do moments have rules? Is Home challenging Aristotle, who thought retrospective prayer useless? Perhaps not prayer, but some sort of backwash through retrospective regret? There is hardly regret here. The question, ‘Is the future fixed?’ becomes here the dirtier question, ‘Or is the past?’ There are tough stories exposed that Home wants us to know about because in order for the book Memphis Underground to be written there had to be certain things that happened before during and after that could only be arranged as they were once the book itself existed. The book cleverly plays with the nature of fate and time, using different drafts of the text to interface with the reader and challenge the notion that even the text itself can be stabilised. The journeys taken and the characters he meets are all part of defining the relationship of the book Memphis Underground with its writing and with its possibility of ever being written.

The fragility of the reading that takes place by anyone reading the book is then routed through these encounters. Some of them are haunting and moving; his quiet passages about the late critic Elizabeth Young are touching and roomy, in that they give the reader time to expand into a mood of contemplation and reflection that is often denied by the brisk pace and comic slap-stick of other sections of the work. And though he has frequently called Salman Rushdie mediocre as a writer he has a rather moving, sympathetic testimony to what he notes is a rarity, the mediocre author who suffers for his art. Though constantly alert to the romantic allure of the lachrymose and the self-pitying, Home describes rather well an encounter which reveals compassion that reaches beyond mere art. It is about being a mouth rather than a voice and these are rather brilliant moments in a brilliant novel that encapsulates what Home is trying to reward us with. These are encounters with something that needs nothing but a mouth. Untheorised people.

J-Lo’s bottom is either Salman Rushdie or not. Stewart Home is J-Lo’s bottom or Salman Rushdie. J-Lo’s bottom is just a question of common-sense falling apart on the conundrum of the medieval theory of propositions, whereby to say ‘J-Lo’s bottom has disappeared but I can’t believe it’ is impossible. Memphis Underground is the impossibility of the book Memphis Underground, written out and analysed by its author who may or may not be Stewart Home. It is a proposition that cannot be simultaneously stated and believed. It refutes itself rather like the liar paradox that says ‘ This sentence is a lie.’ As we all must remind ourselves, J-Lo’s bottom has a mystery attached to it.

As Home sneakily shows us in the Laddism interview section, he is aware that there is nothing but trouble in trying to be as clear as Cicero without the troubling superstructures of a Church. Flies brought the Black Death and the Black Death killed off the scholars of this set of paradoxes. There are no flies on Home. As the endlessly inventive philosopher Roy Sorenson puts it, ‘Inventors put paradoxes into practice. Horseless carriage and wireless telephone were oxymorons before they became terms of commonplace artefacts.’ Yet he also notes that to do so there must be a subtraction. In order that they become something other than a puzzle some essential feature must be eradicated, just as Pascal subtracted thought from subtraction. Home is not inventing for the sake of creating a commonplace artefact however. Memphis Underground is the substantial physical formulation of the paradoxical nature of a kind of spirit, a written book, typed on a computer in order to free itself of composition and realise the open mouth at the end of the human body in relationship to an already existing social community.

This aspect of Home’s work can be lost by too heavy a reliance upon theory. Home operates in the flesh with an ever-expanding band of friends and fellow-travellers. He is less concerned about audiences and readerships than in ensuring that he makes sense in this group. Or rather, he enjoys developing a community and defining the relationships in it as a community. Home is working as always against the familiar outsider romanticism of the ‘artist as genius’ idea that prevails all over the place. In this he associates himself with the Afro-Celtic and Afro-American music innovators ‘ …since this musical culture emerged from a specific community and what was important about it – at least initially – were the social relations formed in and through its practice and development.’

This introduces a second theme to Home’s book, which is that of the convivialist. Home in person is talkative and friendly, listens and chats away for hours without losing the threads of his intricate passions. He is very well read but better than that he is extremely well talked. He performs many of his narratives from memory rather than paper-stock, and engages audiences with that blabbing gob of his as a direct route from the texts he creates. In this respect, then, Memphis Underground is a road, one which leads us to him and him to us. There is the pleasure of the lecture theatre, the salon, the coffee house, the pub, the meeting house, the seminar, the confessional conglomeration, of people bouncing ideas, thoughts, jokes, chit chat and all the rest that a mouth can do in the sheer verve and gusto of the work.

Naturally all this causes the question to be asked whether it was Stewart Home or Tony Cheam or John Johnson or Bela Lugosi who really rode the line between Minnesota and Memphis via the plastic doll Cleo and Highway 61 via Burroughs’ home town St Louis and Finland in the East, Dylan and Prince in the North. His characters are so much distant copies of a talker copying her/him-self. There are constant resemblances, received one from each other, multipliers of the same noise. The intellectual excitement requires some physical excitement to support our literary culture’s failure, and not a little to allay the ferment of the spirits attendant on success. If there is any tendency to dissipation beyond this it is owing to the prejudices entertained against Home, to that cant of criticism that is just a slur, a half-witted jest against this prankster who keeps them out of his secret. He is the prose termination of such a critics’ careers whereby theirs is the provincial envy of Home’s adventurous modesty. Home continues to mix it yet he remains a kind of old secret. This is a very funny and clever book and Home talks a great game. At the end is but ad nauseam.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Saturday, September 8th, 2007.