Does Proletarian Post-Modernism exist?

One of the more interesting – and very British – sub-genres to cross the TeleRead desk lately is Proletarian Post-Modernism – in the person of South London writer Stewart Home. Interviewed at length on the UK website of Vice Magazine (heir to the much-loved, much-missed fashion and counterculture magazine i-D) under the unassuming inoffensive title “There’s Still a Bourgeoisie That Needs Smashing,” Hume defines and articulates this supposed category of modern British fiction which – unbelievably – does seem to hang together.

Note that Home doesn’t actually say “There’s Still a Bourgeoisie That Needs Smashing.” What he does say is “it’s a bourgeois ideology that needs to be smashed,” with reference to Italian left-wing philosophers who incorporated post-modernism into radical politics. But that’s Vice headline-writers for you.

You can find more details of Proletarian Post-Modernism itself on Home’s album recording of a live performance with the same title, but in his eyes, and practice, it links British far-left/anarchist/unclassifiable agitprop with experimental writing and post-modernist philosophers, as well as writers “such as Alain Robbe-Grillet and the Surrealists.” Fellow writers he classes as fellow travelers include Irvine Welsh, John King, and China Miéville – all of them visibly experimental, and political. Alan Moore might well fit into the same Titanic lifeboat.

I don’t necessarily buy into any of Home’s politics – as son of model, socialite and bohemian counter-cultural activist Julia Callan-Thompson, he hardly counts as (union) card-carrying proletarian, and describes himself as “radically inauthentic since 1962.” But he represents a full-on British radical tradition in art and politics dating back at least as far as William Blake if not William Langland that has had a hard time making itself heard in recent years over the stultifying din from certain other more mainstream novelists.

I can’t find a single thing to fault in Home’s analysis (emphasis on the anal there, guys), of Martin Amis, Will Self, and much of the supposed New Lad Chic writing of a generation of British writers now well into their later years. “They were backward, stupid, reactionary and posh. The only reason they’re hogging the field is that they all went to the same public schools and university colleges as the people in publishing. But their writing is completely boring and virtually unreadable. Amis is just a right-wing twit, more interested in his teeth than anything else.”

Stewart Home still looks infinitely better than these withering hothouse growths. His promo video for Proletarian Post-Modernism consists basically of a fetish scene with porn star Gina Snake. His tribute to the cult of Diana the Blessed Martyr, 69 Things to Do with a Dead Princess, is published by top Scottish literary house Canongate Books. He does both art and literature “but I’ve had bigger arts prizes than I have literary ones.” What more do you need to know? Isn’t that edgy and stimulating the way that writing is supposed to be?

About Paul St John Mackintosh (1568 Articles)
Paul St John Mackintosh is a British poet, writer of dark fiction, and media pro with a love of e-reading. His gadgets range from a $50 Kindle Fire to his trusty Lenovo cell phone. Paul was educated at public school and Trinity College, Cambridge, but modern technology saved him from the Hugh Grant trap. His acclaimed first poetry collection, The Golden Age, was published in 1997, and reissued on Kindle in 2013, and his second poetry collection, The Musical Box of Wonders, was published in 2011.

2 Comments on Does Proletarian Post-Modernism exist?

  1. Thanks for the thumbs up but you really shouldn’t believe everything you read in Wikipedia. The idea of my mother being ‘a socialite’ cracks me up… sure she was involved in the counterculture and knew people like Alex Trocchi and Michael X but my grandfather (her father) was a docker, and when my mother was first in London she worked as a hostess at Murray’s alongside Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies. Later she did hostess work at places like Churchill’s, she also made money as a pick-pocket (a very good one) and through cheque book fraud etc. Her modelling career was very minor and mostly took place in the year and a half she was in India. And it should go without saying one can come from any background and still have progressive politics. I’d agree my mother doesn’t fit the proletarian category very well (although my grandfather, her father, does)… like quite a few other members of our family – cat burglar Ray Jones (one of my mother’s cousins whose 1958 escape from Pentonville Prison made the front pages of British newspapers) or gangster Dinny Callaghan (one of my mother’s uncles) – the term lumpen proletarian is probably a better description.

  2. No worries, Stewart, thanks for the correction, and glad to give credit where it’s due.

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