:: Article

Obscenity is Whatever Gives a Judge an Erection

By Charlotte Young.


Semina book launch, 14 June 2010:
Stewart Home, Jarett Kobek and Katrina Palmer

Last Monday saw the launch of the third set of books in the Semina series, published by Book Works. The authors of books five, six and seven respectively are Katrina Palmer, Jarett Kobek and Stewart Home (also commissioning editor).

The event was held at Café Oto in Dalston, East London. The postal invite consisted of a page ripped from Home’s book Blood Rites of the Bourgeoisie and promised ‘Readings, Screenings and Northern Soul’, the latter being provided by DJ Andy Cummings.

The 9-book Semina series is named after and in homage to Wallace Berman’s 9 loose-leaf mail art publications of the same name. Having attended all three launches for the books so far, it seemed that this was the one for which the title for the project seemed most rigorously stuck to, if you’ll excuse the imagery. Indeed, the content of the books has grown more seminal throughout the course of the series. For example, the second set — books three and four — by Mark Waugh and Jana Leo were both unnerving and explicit in very contrasting ways. Rape New York is Leo’s first-hand account of rape — occurring in her own home — and the subsequent arrest and trial of the perpetrator. The book highlights the oft overlooked social problems in the poorer areas of New York, the lack of security in low rent apartments, and the subsequent increase of vulnerability of its inhabitants. Waugh’s fiction Bubble Entendre conceives the discovery of a new drug in the form of bubblegum that induces nymphomania in its users, who then literally fuck themselves to death.

Monday saw Semina’s most ejaculatory releases so far.

Stewart Home, MC for the night, introduced writers Jarett Kobek and Katrina Palmer who both read excerpts from their respective contributions to the series. Kobek’s HOE #999: Decennial Appreciation and Celebratory Analysis is written in three interweaved texts: those from his involvement with HOE (Hogs of Entropy), a web-based group dealing in the authorship of absurdist textfiles; documents regarding the development of the book, ‘Epistles and Documentary History’; and a critical essay by Kobek on HOE.

Kobek read against a stream of live footage from a computer screen with the user cycling through social networking site — and I use the term loosely — Chatroulette. For those not acquainted with the site, Charoulette ‘pairs random strangers together…for a webcam based chat’. If you aren’t interested in the person that has been put in front of you, click ‘next’ and you get paired up with another stranger. The website has quickly gained notoriety for the very high percentage of its users (one in ten, and largely male) committing ‘lewd acts’. With this as the background to Kobek’s reading, I found myself being fairly distracted, as I imagine did most of the audience. But this made for a compelling effect. A sentence regarding HOE’s influence on hip-hop would be forcibly juxtaposed with the sudden appearance of a stranger’s naked torso and semi-erect penis, or a bewildered looking face, or an empty room. It brought to mind the way Bret Easton Ellis weaves subliminal soundtracks into his novels, with mindless 80s Yuppie pop providing the background for the sinister, violent (but also mindless) foreground action, albeit inverted. Here the ‘action’ was in the background, looming over the narrative — and the narrator — in front.

Katrina Palmer’s reading consisted mostly of a description of a sex scene from The Dark Object between characters Carol E and Z, the implication being that ‘Z’ is in fact Slavoj Žižek, ‘the Elvis of Cultural Theory’, albeit a fictionalized version. Palmer read slowly, which as first seemed an attempt at reading seductively, trying to make the scene sound ‘sexy’, but it soon became monotonous and unerotic. My boyfriend and I quietly joked that all it needed was for a Geordie voice to have announced that it was 8.13pm in the Big Brother House, the implied boredom of Palmer’s characters having the desired impact. In much the same way that Home is infamous for his graphic, yet cold, repetitious descriptions of sex between his characters, Palmer’s characters’ interplay has a similar function. Sex is a functional banality that happens in between the rest of the narrative.

For The Blood Rites of the Bourgeoisie, Home has taken as the book’s template the unending barrage of spam emails he receives on a daily basis, but has inserted the names of female artists, both alive and dead, in the appropriate places.

Home didn’t read from Blood Rites, but instead recited a few ‘key’ one-liners from the back section of the book headed ‘An Index of Abandoned Material’, a list of subverted spam email subject headings. These range from the graphic (‘Helen Chadwick is Wet and Horny! Don’t Disappoint Her! Get a Bigger Cock Today!’), and the sinister (‘Let Christine Borland Choose Between A Rock and A Hard DICK!’, recalling the ‘ultraviolence’ and gang rapes performed by Alex and his Droogs in A Clockwork Orange), to the hilarious, and my personal favourite:

‘Click Here to Find Out What Barbara Hepworth REALLY Wants!’

Gavin Everall, co-editor of the series rounded up the talks by thanking the authors and the enigmatic (and possibly fictional) Maree Gold who inadvertently provided extra publicity for Home’s book, at no extra cost. A self-confessed ‘militant’ feminist, ‘she’ has recently appeared on Facebook and Twitter, campaigning against the publication of Home’s ‘obscene’ book (on her Facebook page, she states that Home’s book is ‘explicitly pornographic, aggressive and obscene, deeply misogynistic’, but not, bizarrely, those of Kobek or Palmer, whose books also contain ‘explicit’ material), and even started petition calling for Home’s arrest and for his book to be banned. She was, alas, apparently not in attendance to receive this recognition.

Pornography, conceptually at least, is no longer truly shocking in the way that is should be: for its content. There are adverts for it on thousands of mainstream websites and it is propagated daily by national newspapers i.e. The Sun. Louis Theroux has successfully added it to one of the ‘eccentricities’ of his journalistic endeavors. Pornography and ‘explicit’ material is now primarily unsettling in its sheer ubiquity, the ease with which it can be accessed and the implication that can have for the more vulnerable of society, mainly children. These three books deal with, partly, and perhaps only subconsciously, with the ever-increasing automation and omnipresence of sex in contemporary society, and how this is now a norm of modern living, not an aberration.

When I was a student I worked part-time at the local branch (if that’s the correct use of the noun) of Ann Summers. This was about 8 years ago. Ann Summers then was considered, in the eyes of the law, as part of the porn industry. It was my job to spend all day in the tiny back room, putting kinky underwear on hangers and putting price stickers on a wide variety of dildos and vibrators. For the first weekend I was completely excited to be working somewhere so dangerously controversial (being 21 at the time). After a week the ‘shock’ factor wore off completely. Nothing surprised me: not the stock, nor the strange inquiries from customers (now some of those were shocking), nor the alarmingly genteel names of the products. Black Prince, £12.99, click click click. Pocket Rocket, £7.99, click click click click click. Double Trouble, £19.99, click click…

And now, where I once thought, on seeing the full range of adult delights stocked by my former employees: “Bloody hell, that’s a bit much” or “Crikey, where does that go?” my reaction is usually “100% viscose? That’s going to itch.”

And so, with the books launched, the crowd spilled out onto the street to smoke, drink and talk small. But soon the catchy bassline of ‘I Don’t Want to Discuss it’ by Little Richard lured them back in again…

DJ Andy Cummings took to the decks for the rest of the evening, spinning crowd-pleasing Northern Soul dance floor classics, providing some much needed physical relief.


“I used to work in the porn industry!” she ejaculated


Charlotte Young is an artist, writer and comedian. She has recently co-written a book with acclaimed artist and musician Billy Childish, which is published by the L-13 Light Industrial Workshop. In 2008 she received the Owen Rowley Award for Art (£600) but did not invest this money wisely and is now receiving benefits.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010.