SLOW DEATH BY STEWART HOME. High Risk Books, New York 1996. ISBN 1- 85242-519-9.
In between shagging his doctor and liberating his girlfriend from the Socialist Workers Party, skinhead Johnny Aggro takes on the art establishment. As the poseurs of the art world rush to produce ever more creative piles of crap in the name of art, Johnny revels in the chaos of comic violence and sleazy sex.
Hilarious mix of art world satire and plagiarism of antique English porn and street punk fiction. Home realises that the leading characteristic of pulp fiction is repetition, and he just perfects the method, with highly amusing results. The book is populated with fictional versions of some of Home's own 'real-world' avant garde provocations, although with Home one is never sure what is original and what is a copy; what is 'real' and what is fiction. Ken Wark
'A dreary, noisy novel that recounts with visceral over enthusiasm the adventures of a gang of British skinheads in conflict with a sex-starved woman doctor, a London art star, and one another, as they explore the vicissitudes of Art and Resistance (sic)' in a foulmouthed frontal assault on the avant-garde art scene. Its contempt for bourgeois values produces some agreeable inventions (Neoism, the Semiotic Liberation Front, and the Journal of Immaterial Art constitute decent throwaway gags at least), but its blood- and-sperm-soaked narrative and its characters' continual entreaties for oral sex are muted, though scarcely redeemed, by what might in another context be called elegant variation ('liquid genetics', indeed). This is the kind of book that gives mindless violence and sexual degradation a bad name.' Kirkus Reviews
'Relentlessly cliched and driven by a slippery sense of humour, Home's deliberately bad writing does for the novel form what Viz does for the comic strip.' Times Literary Supplement
Slow Death was put out as part of the short lived Serpent's Tail North American imprint High Risk. It was felt Home's 'transgressive fiction' fitted better with the North American authors on that list than the British writers on the Serpent's Tail UK list. Home was signed up by legendary New York editor Ira Silverberg, who'd been closely associated with writers like William Burroughs and Kathy Acker.
INTRODUCTION TO THE FRENCH EDITION OF SLOW DEATH
Shortly before his death Roland Barthes complained that in a good many of the doctoral theses he was directing, ideology was denounced with a discourse that was itself ideological. Barthes understated his case, academia has always (re)produced dominant ideologies, and one does not have to call to mind the spectres of Martin Heidegger or Paul de Man to bring this banality into focus. Despite endless hot air about 'absolute' relativism, there are fortunately very few 'scholars' prepared to defend all political, theoretical and social discourses as being of equal worth. Today, it is a cliche to state that 'textual' critiques of the 'novel' are ideological. Thus while the meanings of texts are not fixed, those who make a particular reading of a 'work' have to live with the consequences the reading they choose to make. Likewise, saying that all positions are not equal does not necessarily entail a defence of 'canonical literature'. Indeed, I explicitly reject nineteenth-century notions of 'literary depth' and 'characterisation'.
My 'novel' Slow Death, and a number of my other 'works', feature 'characters' who adhere to the fashions of the skinhead youth cult. English reviewers often experience difficulty in distinguishing a 'novelist' from the fictional 'characters' that populate his or her books. I am often asked if I am a skinhead. If someone in their mid-thirties who makes their living as a writer is likely to adhere to a youth cult, then yes, I am a skinhead. If someone who drinks Laphroaig Islay Single Malt Scotch is likely to adhere to a youth cult, then yes, I am a skinhead. If someone who enjoys reading Marx and Hegel is likely to adhere to a youth cult, then yes, I am a skinhead. What I can state without equivocation is that as someone who views himself as middle-aged, I can see no reason why I would want to identify with youth culture.
As is well known, skinhead-style can be traced back through both the English mod and the Jamaican rude boy cultures of the sixties. Until at least the mid-seventies, all skinheads danced to ska, reggae and soul music. However, despite being conjured up by the promiscuous forces of multicultural becoming, skinheads have at times been associated with both racism and fascism. During the eighties, members of groups like Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice regularly denounced bald-headed bigots for both their nazism and their consumption of 'hairy' heavy metal music. While a small minority of skinheads joined Leninist organisations such as Red Action, the vast majority had little interest or involvement in politics of any kind.
With the growth of raves and the subsequent explosion of techno music, skinhead culture isn't of much interest to the 'average' British teenager of the nineteen-nineties. Instead, the skinhead look has been appropriated by gay men. If you want to see a large gathering of skinheads in London today, your best bet is to go to a gay club. In the UK, the popular perception of skinheads has undergone a series of very distinct developments, and these days the look tends to be associated with the gay subculture. Since this book, like everything else, is a self-conscious construction, there was no overarching need to chronicle the gay skinhead scene. The notions I utilise - which include 'skinheads', 'pornographic sex' and 'avant-gardism' - should not be viewed as arbitrary but as self-contained signs. Everything done with these signs immediately effects what they are supposed to represent. When all is said and done, nothing remains but an immense web of reading and writing, folding, unfolding and refolding indefinitely.
Books & Writing