This is an interview i did with the arts editor of Spanish newspaper Público a month or two ago. I figured I’d let enough time pass to run it here for English readers since it was translated for publication in Spain….
Rocamora: The writer and journalist Kiko Amat says in the introduction to Memphis Underground’s Spanish edition that it is a “book of ideas” – a philosophical novel. Is it a political book? In what sense?
Home: Everything is political. The conventional bourgeois novel is conservative and is all about reproducing the ideas and subjectivities of the dominant class – that is why it is so concerned with what is euphemistically called ‘character’. And while bourgeois novels don’t reflect the world we live in, they exhibit an obsession with realism, naturalism and nineteenth-century ideas about narrative because these are the distortions and blinkers through which the ruling class wishes us to misperceive the world. Just breaking with such nonsense is political – but the way issues such as housing in London are addressed in the book is even more explicitly political.
Rocamora: The story is fragmented. In this sense, Amat invites readers to read your books as “a serial of radical and fascinating articles about all kind of concepts, cults and ideas” that interests you. Which ideas or concepts did you want to write about?
Home: Among other things I wanted to demonstrate that literature was dead – I didn’t so much want to write about this as show it! The opening of the book is a parody of the kind of mediocre writing that is currently popular in the UK, then I slam into a description of a map that is obviously inspired by the French nouveau roman. The juxtaposition was intended to be humorous but at the same time I think it illustrates very well that what passes as contemporary literature today was old-fashioned and out-dated fifty and more years ago. But I feel showing these things is more interesting and powerful than simply providing an explicit written denunciation of them.
Rocamora: And what effects do you want to evoke in reader’s mind with this kind of fragmented narration?
Home: I’m crediting the reader with intelligence and imagination, as well as giving them more freedom than they’d find in the dead literature of the ruling class. The reader can fill in gaps and the juxtapositions can be funny, beautiful or startling. Readers can take them any which way they want. While I’m not interested in realism, the fragmented style I use is in fact closer to what we experience in daily life than conventional literature. Our minds flip from one thought to another, we flick through channels on TV and move from stories about the massacres in Homs to documentaries on the sex life of rare sea species, and from that to gymnastic and cycling competitions, and on to shopping channels and chat shows. Such flipping from one thing to another can be done like a sleepwalker, or it can be done critically.
Rocamora: Aren’t you interested in making literature in a traditional way? What ‘tricks’ or ‘vices’ don’t you like in the literary tradition?
Home: This question reveals a lot about how backward literature has become. I think it unlikely you’d ask an artist why they didn’t want to paint like Goya or Velázquez. Certainly when I talk about the art work I do in galleries I’m never asked questions like this. People understand that visual art has moved on over the past few centuries. Why would I want to write like nineteenth-century novelists such as Charles Dickens or Jane Austen? Aside from the fact that I find such writing both boring and reactionary, those who still produce superannuated prose of this type are expected to behave as if they are dull and square (which since they mostly are obviously isn’t a problem for the sad sacks still writing nineteenth-century literature today). The public image of the serious writer requires that they don’t do the sort of things I like to do – such as standing on my head and reciting passages from my books when I appear in public. By way of contrast I like Goya and Velázquez but there is no point in painting like them now – they did their own period very well and we have to (un)make art for our own.
Rocamora: Another remarkable features in Memphis Underground are these long descriptions about streets and houses, in which you write as a map or (sorry for my insolence) a GPS, as well as detailed description of daily acts, like shaving or cooking scrambled eggs. What roles do this features play in your writing?
Home: I explained the map before as an invocation of the nouveau roman – when I was teenage I read through lots of modernist literature by the likes of Alain Robbe-Grillet, Claude Simon and Nathalie Sarraute. Such descriptions serve to break up the text, change it’s texture and challenge traditional notions of what it is entertaining and worth reading. It reflects the interest in the everyday that you can find in discourses as diverse as fine art and sociology. And also I find it side-splittingly funny!
Rocamora: And what role does sex play in your writing? Why are sex and pornography so present in Memphis Underground?
Home: Sex and pornography are very popular. On the internet, in films, in books, in magazines, at home and even on the street. Indeed, many of the Spanish women I’ve got to know intimately are very fond of fucking in the street – so I think it’s useful to have a lot of sex in my first novel published in Spanish, coz the Spanish women who’ll read it will know I’m not uptight and it will alert them to the fact that if they get it together with me then they’ll have a really good time! I also like to use repetition to structure my writing and sex is very repetitive – and I can dig that!
Rocamora: You wrote Memphis Underground in 2004, and in its pages we can find social references, about the British youth, pop culture, business and some 21th century’s ways of life. Do you think Memphis Underground can operate as a social reflection of your country at the present time? Are you trying to reflect your society?
Home: I think you end up reflecting the time you live in whether you want to or not. People writing traditional literature reflect the fact that too many people are living in the past albeit without necessarily knowing this…. I want to consciously reflect the times I live in and right now – I want to show up what’s wrong with this world and the direction we need to move in to make positive change. One thing we need to do is put an end to nation states. I find the very existence of England and the United Kingdom utterly ridiculous and am keen to do away with all nation states in the very near future.
Rocamora: From nothern soul to urban tribes, in what ways are you interested in pop culture?
Home: I think it’s important to understand pop culture historically – so my interest goes back to things like true crime writing of 400 and more years ago, people like the sixteenth-century English writer Robert Greene. When you look at pop culture and so called ‘high’ culture then you can see that they interpenetrate and mediate each other – one would not exist without the other. So while I prefer popular culture to high culture I want to abolish them both and create a new communist culture without hierarchies.
Rocamora: Why do we still distinguish between high culture and pop culture?
Home: Because we live in an alienated capitalist society that creates false divisions…. proletarian revolution will necessarily be an overflowing of all such canalisation.
Rocamora: You wrote Memphis Underground with first person voice. How biographical is it? In general, how much of real experience is there in your literature?
Home: My sex life is very toned down in my books, but in general I’m not just drawing on my own experiences but on everything I’ve seen or heard, it’s based on the experiences of people I know as much as my own. Truth is a slippery construct but in fiction we can approach truth more closely than through documentary writing. Memphis Underground is, of course, completely biographical because it is an accurate record of the keys I hit on my computer as I was writing it. This is a new type of autobiography, one stripped of all romantic and personal content.
Rocamora: Why do you interviewed yourself as a part Memphis Underground?
Home: I’ve long promoted myself as ‘an ego-maniac on a world historical scale’ and any ego-maniac worthy of the name would want to interview themselves way more than anyone else. I thought it would be funny to do this too. Although actually the interview is a mash up – a series of questions I put to someone I interviewed for a magazine cut against the answers I gave to an interview for a completely different publication.
Rocamora: Do you believe in some kind of global conspiracy or maybe it’s only a trick, a game, as narrator? I think, in this sense, in this kind of writing and that of authors like Pynchon (who uses magical elements in his stories) the reader is being invited to “play” with the veracity of the story.
Home: I don’t think there is any kind of global conspiracy but the idea that there is can be used in fiction to point up the absurdity of this idea. People who get seriously involved in conspiracy theory and who believe they can uncover ‘the truth’ end up crazy (if they weren’t already mad when they set out on this path). When I write fiction about conspiracy theory I want to show it is useless. There is no need to uncover hidden truths about who controls the world – our oppression under capitalist social relations isn’t hidden, and conspiracy theories are a distraction from the ways in which we can remake society.
Rocamora: Which authors do you like?
Home: There are many but Lynne Tillman, Kenneth Goldsmith, Barry Graham, Bridget Penney and Darius James, would be a few contemporary names among those that write fiction in English.
Rocamora: “Nostalgia is the future”, says the main character near the beginning of the book. Do you think cultural industries are exploiting consumers’ nostalgia to survive in 21th century?
Home: Nostalgia is not a good thing because it is conservative – there is no golden age in the past, we have a world to win. The main character is fictional, he is therefore able to express opinions with which I’d disagree. That’s one of the things I like about fiction, it allows you to explore a broad range of subject positions.
Rocamora: Sorry if it is a personal question: how is a day in your life, from when you wake up until you go to bed?
Home: Every day is different. Some days I get up and go to the gym, others I start writing or working on gallery stuff after eating breakfast. My meal times vary every day too. Tonight I was at the pub with three friends who work for different London publishers, the night before I went to a poetry reading, the night before that I stayed in. That said, most days I spend an hour or two walking the streets so that I can meet some hot Spanish girls. It isn’t difficult as there are a lot of Spanish girls in London. One of the more curious Spanish women I met recently works professionally as a porn actress under the name Snake Girl. She has a snake tattoo on her body and is what as known as a fetish model and actress. I was just standing outside a pub in Soho when I got introduced to her. However, while there are lots of hot Spanish girls in London, there are even more in Spain, which is why I always enjoy visiting cities like Barcelona. My days are varied and I have to travel quite a lot – for example I went to New York three times over the last four months, and many other places too. And it’s as easy to meet hot Spanish girls in New York as it is in London! But when I’m not meeting hot Spanish girls I’m mostly eating, writing, drinking or working out in the gym.
And while you’re at it don’t forget to check – www.stewarthomesociety.org – you know it makes (no) sense!