New Reality Records – 9th January 2023

Edward S. Robinson

Literature was the original rock ‘n’ roll. Throughout history, writers have not only been at the cutting edge of culture, but they also invented the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle centuries before the concept of rock ‘n’ roll came to be.

Latterly, literature has become ‘establishment’, entrenched in a certain model based on agents and publishers and increasingly concerned with margins and the trappings of capitalism at the expense of placing art in the public domain.

Stewart Home has never been establishment, and never will be, which is precisely why his latest novel failed to land a deal with any publisher. Now, the establishment will likely scoff and say that no publisher would take it because it’s not what they were looking for, or it’s too niche, or it’s too risky or too risqué. But back in the 80s and 90s, those were all reasons why publishers would take on a title. Others may say, while looking down their noses, that it’s simply trash and therefore of no interest because it’s crap, but that argument doesn’t wash when major publishing houses put out shit like 50 Shades and continue to squander gallons of ink on populist toss like Dan Brown and Stephen Leather and while amateur ‘erotica’ is all the rage online. After all, the mainstream has a habit of observing emerging trends and then seeking to monetise them. Moreover, in the 80s and 90s, Home published a slew of books through anarchist publisher AK Press and the then-edgy Serpent’s Tail with his trashy politicised pulp rips on Richard Allen. He found a home with Scottish imprint Canongate for his audacious ‘Diana’ novel 69 Things to Do with a Dead Princess, before Virgin published Tainted Love in 2005. So it certainly isn’t that he hasn’t a well-established publishing record, or that potential controversy has been an obstacle to publication in the past, meaning that what we’re seeing the publishing industry narrowing its horizons while focusing on broadening margins.

For all that, Home has always existed beyond the milieu of the conventional, emerging from the avant-garde art scene and xeroxed zine culture of the 80, and so it stands to reason that he would reject publishing convention and find a record label to publish Art School Orgy. The fact that it’s a fictionalised biography of sorts of a living artist, namely David Hockney, is perhaps one reason most publishers shied away from the book in a culture that’s evermore litigious, although there’s never any question that this, like many of Home’s previous works, is anything other than a huge, audacious exercise in taking the piss.

Home’s style has long been hard to pigeonhole, as it varies from book to book: while his earlier works were perversely trashy and bluntly anti-literary, he’s proven over the course of his now-lengthy career, to be remarkably adaptable: The Assault On Culture was overtly and quite explicitly academic, while Tainted Love, Down and Out in Shoreditch and Hoxton, and She’s My Witch all showcased a measured narrative form, and while the last of these three employed classic Home methods of repetition, much of the purpose seemed to be to grind the reader down with a text whereby very little happens, over and over again. But then, Home has long been an author who revels in the anti-climax. Equally, though, he is a master of the climax, and there are many of those in Art School Orgy, the pages splashed all over with vintage Home phrases referencing liquid genetics and hand jobs and a lengthy speech on anal sex.

In fact, so many elements common to Home’s oeuvre are present here, demonstrating his knack for recycling and willingness to continue to work a theme long beyond the point of exhaustion.

The lengthy extracts or even complete texts quoted within the text – including an exhaustive catalogue of methods for cock and ball torture, or CBT, which reads like an endless catalogue of kinks like Sade’s 120 Days of Sodom – are quintessential Home, and while none of these (fictitious) tomes conjure quite the awe of works like the seminal ‘Christ, Marx, and Satan United in Struggle’, they still bring a certain gravitas to the riotous spunkfest that is the main body of the text. As for the main body of the text, well: if Home initially traded parodically in sex and violence, Art School Orgy stitches it all together in a tale of sexual violence, and if previous works dropped in dirt every few pages to push the story along, on this outing, it’s fair to say that the dirt is the entire point of the story, and he stuffs page after page with perversion.

The dialogue is magnificently stilted and as corny and unconvincing as the best of his earlier works, too, but then again, E. L. James made her fortune pedalling worse dialogue minus the irony, and even worse sex scenes, too. And in its juxtaposition of more middlebrow fiction with the cheapest, smuttiest pulp, Art School Orgy occupies similar space to Come Before Christ and Murder Love. At times, the awkward stylistic crunches are frustrating, but this is classic Home: a wind-up merchant par excellence, his aim is to create works which are frustrating, and on many levels.

In the (throbbing) vein of Blood Rights of The Bourgeoise, the chapter titles are pithy phrases designed to shock (‘An Explosion of Spunk’; ‘Egyptian Mummy Porn’; ‘Desperate for Cock, Hungry for Fame’… and so on). You’d think after this length (and girth) of time, audiences would be numb to the tactic, and yet… no. ‘The Tip of David Hockney’s Waxed Manhood Lit Up Like Christmas Tree’ and ‘A Bottle of Bell’s Up the Backside is Rough Sex Heaven’ aren’t chapter titles one expects in a novel, literary or otherwise, and even the likes of James, for all the salacity of the Fifty Shades books, presents as infinitely more coy. There are no ‘inner goddesses’ in Art School Orgy, just endless depictions of throbbing gristle and wads of hot spunk. There’s nothing subtle about Home’s writing: there doesn’t have to be, and ultimately, that’s the point. With Art School Orgy, Home highlights just how conservative literature – even supposedly low-brow, populist kink fiction – really is. And when you consider the context, despite the supposed proliferation of perversion since the advent of the internet and the debate over the way shows like Game of Thrones has beamed rape And incest into living rooms across the globe, we live in dangerously conservative times, where ‘free the nipple’ is actually a thing. This was not the case in the 60s, when nipples simply were free, and by 1967, seven years after Hockney’s coming out as gay, homosexuality was finally decriminalised in Britain.

This is, one suspects, a key motive behind Home’s text; not to paint Hockney as an indefatigable BDSM fuckmachine – which it has to be said, seems the primary thrust – but to make the point that consensual Sadomasochism is the choice of those involved, and the fact that it was outlawed at the time the book is set is, well, as perverse as the acts depicted.

Repeatedly referring to Hockney as ‘our rapscallion’ every few pages becomes annoying and predictable within the first thirty pages, but Home has the stamina and the audacity to keep it going for the duration of the book’s two-hundred-and-ninety pages. Of course, he’d sight Bergson and the theory that repetition is the basis of humour, and I can’t deny that I’m chuckling while squirming uncomfortably – but not nearly as uncomfortably as the protagonist, who is subjected to page upon page of the most excruciating tortures imaginable. There is absolutely no let-up during Art School Orgy, and for this, it’s Home’s most outlandish and challenging novel to date. It makes you feel all kinds of discomfort all at once.

This is very much the response reading Home tends to elicit. You can’t help but laugh, but equally feel incredibly uncomfortable, for a range of reasons, not least of all a nerve-jangling sense that everything about this writing goes against what you’re taught literature should be. But first and foremost, it’s a rollocking read, because however hard Home pushes a point or sells an agenda, he never loses sight of the idea that a good book entertains. And Art School Orgy is a proper romp.

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Art School Orgy is available to order via New Reality Records’ Bandcamp.

Comments
  1. David Hockney says:

    This tells the truth about my time at the RCA. Don’t believe those who claim I was lonely and when I wasn’t painting I was mostly on my own looking at copies of Male Physique Magazine! Great review too!

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