Defiant Pose, by Stewart Home
Editor’s Note: This review contains NSFW material.
Mary Louise Pratt introduced the definition of what she referred to as “contact zones” into the study of the critical theories of literature. Contact zones are the spaces where two or more cultures “meet, clash, and grapple with each other, often in contexts of highly asymmetrical relations of power”. The literature produced in such spaces can push boundaries and destabilize comfort zones like no other kind, because it exists as racial ideological confrontation in text form. It challenges for the sake of challenging, often co-opting symbols and idols of the cultures creating the contact zone in order to mold images and ideas that can be beatific, horrifying, or both. Defiant Pose by Stewart Home is such a piece of literature. It is a visceral, transgressive, surrealist exploration of culture and counter-culture, one that subverts everything it comes into contact with, even itself, and one that pins the reader’s eyes open.
Defiant Pose revolves around the character of Terry Blake, an English skinhead anarchist who relentlessly presses on in the pursuit of ideological disruption and sexual gratification. To be clear, the use of skinhead here refers to the original definition, that of people motivated by an attachment to the working class and a general disgust with bourgeois and hippie culture, often associated with the punk scene and anarchism. It does not refer to the Neo-Nazi cultures that have borrowed aesthetics from the skinheads. Terry is an idealized avatar of this original skinhead culture, from his tireless dedication to his cause to his vast knowledge of competing ideologies to his almost supernatural sexual prowess. He is dominant in almost all things, able to out argue, out fuck, and outwit practically any obstacle in his path. As the novel lays out its story, it reads less like a fictionalized account of rebellion and more like a counter-culture wet dream.
Love juice boiled through his prick like workers pouring out of a factory after a mass meeting has decided on a strike
And this is entirely intentional. The novel is absurd, rife with coincidences and red herrings of meaning, leaving the reader as energized and frustrated as Terry is in the rare moments where he is denied sexual release. The effects of this are fascinating. Defiant Pose simultaneously serves as both glorification and critique of this style of counter-culture, aggressively exposing itself and its subjects to the reader, to shock and satirize. The novel is consistently pornographic, describing sexual encounters in detail and yet never losing the absurdist, surrealist nature in such descriptions, flaunting its sexuality in the same manner an action movie might pseudo-worship violence. The work is completely unconcerned with accessibility for those who are unwilling to shore up their sensibilities and consider why these depictions may carry commentary in and of themselves.
This forced intimacy is very much the product of contact zones. Heterosexuality, homosexuality, and bisexuality are all utilized to show how they are zones on a non-linear spectrum, rather than wholly identifiable and separate concepts. Anarchism, nihilism, fascism, communism, and capitalism are all at war (quite literally, eventually) with one another, and each is gutted to reveal the hypocrisy and inconsistency of its inner workings. There are consistent appropriations by these allegedly distinct entities or schools of thought, ranging from a Neo-Nazi who is caught having homosexual intercourse with individuals of ethnic minorities to a police officer whose public image is against racism but who instigates riots and hate crimes in a convoluted plot to better protect his community. In particular, the Union Jack is used again and again, specifically with the intent of co-opting what it represents. Terry wears it as a pattern for his underwear, and the coalition he engineers wears it as they go into battle.
Hundreds of soul brothers had donned Union Jack t-shirts in a move they knew would put the fear of God into the partisans of the League of Racial Loyalists. Imagine the confusion of the average fascist once he was confronted by a multiracial army clad in what the bigots believed was their own triumphal flag!
There is a dissonant pride in both Terry and the mob at their success of pillaging the symbol to wear it over what they consider important to them. For the mob, the Union Jack now protects their bodies like the crosses that medieval crusaders would paint on their hauberks and shields. For Terry, the Union Jack cradles his penis and stares his sexual partners in the face any time his pants are removed.
Defiant Pose is a novel that has attracted and will attract a wash of criticism. Accusations of racism, sexism, and moral depravity have been levied against it and, to be absolutely clear, all three of those things are abundantly present in this novel. But those accusations are also missing the point. These elements are tools used to make social critique and commentary. The text is a kind of mimetic, fun-house mirror, intentionally distorting and objectifying but still ultimately showing a glaring reflection of a society with deep-seeded, otherwise ignored flaws. When Joyce Grant, Terry’s girlfriend and the only person that he concedes occasional sexual dominance to, willingly engages in orgies or pisses in Terry’s mouth, she is owning her own sexuality. When Brian Smith, a racist nationalist who cannot reconcile his fears and his closeted homosexuality, tries to “valiantly” inspire his tribe into battle, he is violently reminded that his perspective and actions have consequences. This fun-house effect continues even unto the end of the story, which I will not spoil here, because while the novel is twenty-five years old, I would argue not enough people have read it. The ending is completely unexpected and yet somehow wholly appropriate as a capstone for the text, both absurd and enjoyably frustrating. In light of the recent “Brexit” vote and the rise of Donald Trump and the “alt-right” in the United States, I find myself glad that Defiant Pose is screaming its perspective into the saturated air and forcing us to come to terms with that which we would normally shun.
Defiant Pose is available now from Penny-Ante Editions.