Title: Horror Panegyric
Author: Supervert, David Britton, Michael Butterworth
Subject: Lord Horror
"A poet is not an apostle; he drives out devils only by the power of the devil."
A masterpiece is like pornography: it is difficult to say what it is exactly and yet, as the Supreme Court judge once said of porn, I know it when I see it. I know that a masterpiece, like porn, excites me when I see it. I know that, like porn, it reveals something to me. I know that, like porn, it tends to avoid sentiment, which is another way of saying that it has deep connections to truth. I know that, like porn, a masterpiece can often be shocking or scandalous. I know that I not only know porn when I see it, I know the difference between good porn and bad and a masterpiece is always like good porn. And above all I know that, just as porn makes me want to fuck, a masterpiece makes me want to create. It's a stimulant, an incitement that does to the aesthetic sense what porn does to the libido.
Rimbaud excites. Dostoievski reveals. Burroughs inspires. And Lord Horror?
Lord Horror is the creation of David Britton and Michael Butterworth, founders of Savoy Books in England. Savoy has a long and colorful history that began with independent ventures bookshops, writings, underground zines by Britton and Butterworth in the late 1960s. In 1976 they joined forces to launch Savoy and nearly became William S. Burroughs' UK publisher in 1979. The ink barely dry on a contract for Cities of the Red Night, Savoy's bookshops and offices were raided for the nth time by Manchester police, perpetuating what would become two and a half decades of harassment and witch-hunting by a constabulary with clearly repressive ambitions. Savoy was forced into bankruptcy and Britton obliged to serve a term in prison for selling publications deemed "obscene" (but which were openly sold elsewhere in the country).
Determined to carry on, Britton and Butterworth resurrected Savoy by publishing an eclectic mix of books ranging from musicology to sci-fi, from a bestselling tome on KISS to works by esteemed British fantasist Michael Moorcock. They also branched out into making music and it was here, in 1986, that Lord Horror made his public debut. On a 12" single attributed to the Savoy Hitler Youth Band, Lord Horror appeared as a vocalist covering New Order's "Blue Monday." Listeners must have been perplexed: the tune was savaged; the packaging exhibited a sensibility that was transgressive, confrontational, smart; but who was this mysterious new songster?
The following year Lord Horror appeared on another 12" single, a cover of Iggy Pop's "Raw Power." After having been born as a voice on the first single, Lord Horror now appeared as a vision: the back of the sleeve featured an illustration of Lord Horror, based on work in progress, by Kris Guidio. However, less noise was made by the music than by the satirical "quotes" on the packaging, which included Prince Charles ("Only dickheads die from cocaine. The best people used it and are still using it.") and Mother Theresa ("I always give cocaine to niggers. It helps them to produce healthy babies."). The British tabloid press had a field day with these scurrilous "quotes" alone.
Clearly a writer of power was lurking in the background of this music. Or perhaps it would be more correct to say writers of power, since Lord Horror is the product of a symbiosis that begins with Britton (usually credited as the writer) and Butterworth (editor and contributor) and then extends to a family of artists (Guidio, John Coulthart), musicians (P.J. Proby et al), and motley inspirations. This authorial phalanx with Britton at its head made its literary debut in 1989 with the publication of the landmark novel Lord Horror.
Lord Horror is based on a historical personage: Lord Haw-Haw, aka William Joyce, British fascist and radio announcer. Warping him from Haw-Haw to Horror, the novel views the rabble-rouser DJ through a glass darkly. It turns out to be a double negative after Auschwitz, can you view a fascist any more darkly? that catapults the narrative in the other direction, into exuberance, extravagance, and excess. (In the novel, Hitler's penis suffers from a gigantism that seems to epitomize the over-the-topness of the book itself.) Lord Horror takes the repository of symbols bequeathed by World War II and pours it into a cauldron boiling over with pop culture. Bigots and death camps get cooked up with rock and roll, comic strips, esoterica. It's a "what if the other side had won the war" trip like you've never seen before.
Though they were blind to its literary qualities, the Manchester police could not ignore the novelty and daring of the book. Once again they raided Savoy, confiscating more than half of the book's already small print run. A court declared the book obscene, less for its sex or violence than for anti-semitic ravings put into the mouths of anti-semitic characters, and sent Britton to Strangeways Prison for four months. Though this made Lord Horror the first literary work to be suppressed in England since Hubert Selby's Last Exit to Brooklyn, advocates of free speech paid little heed to the plight of Lord Horror's creator. If this had happened ten years later, Britton would have become a cause célèbre fueled by online petitions and blogger outrage. But in 1991 there was not much of an internet, and liberals had already blown their wad on Salman Rushdie. The Satanic Verses had been easy to stump for. It pit the good enlightened West against the bad repressive East. Lord Horror, with its exaggerated depiction of British collusion, occupied a more disturbing terrain. It wasn't us versus them. It was us versus ourselves.
Constant harassment which continued into the late 1990s from an obsessed constabulary would have quashed most publishers, but Britton and Butterworth operated under a maxim more along the Nietzschean lines of "what doesn't kill us makes us stronger." Far from folding up shop or retreating into less controversial publications, the two launched an all-out assault. Though the novel Lord Horror was effectively suppressed and remains difficult to find even today, the character Lord Horror multiplied, made appearances in different media, spawned other characters who in turn featured in their own books, comics, music. In short, the death of the book was the birth of a twisted empire, a reich of deviant imagination that neither Allied nor Axis powers would ever have recognized.
A funny thing happened, though. Savoy escalated the conflict, even won the war since it now publishes with impunity works of greater transgression than those for which it had once been raided. But the victory seems to have left Savoy in a weird place, like one of those soldiers lost in a forest and still fighting the war after it's over. Their franchise of Lord Horror productions is provocative, original, visionary, and contains at least one outright masterpiece (Motherfuckers). Young writers should be looking at it the same as they do Naked Lunch, i.e. as a work that shows them what the possibilities are in the hands of a master. Academics should be crawling all over it with their magnifying glasses trying to figure out what it means and what it says about society. Anyone interested in literature should be reading and experiencing the damn thing. A few cognoscenti are there already, snapping up the first editions of Lord Horror before everybody else catches on and prices them out of the market. But the victory celebration hasn't happened yet, and it is hard to understand why.
Though I'd been aware of Savoy for some time, the first of their tomes that I read was the novel Motherfuckers: The Auschwitz of Oz, which was the follow-up to Lord Horror. Honestly what caused me to buy the book was the subtitle, which promised a collision of blood and whimsy, horror and delight, jackboots on the yellow brick road. The "Auschwitz of Oz" reminded me a little of Marilyn Manson, a name which regardless of what you think of the man, his music, or his shock tactics nattily combines the screen queen and the cult leader, glitter and doom. It's a good name, and I thought Motherfuckers: The Auschwitz of Oz was too.
Motherfuckers' principals are Meng and Ecker, twins who had been subject to "scientific" experiments by Josef Mengele. After the war they find themselves in northern England, waiting for Lord Horror the way others wait for Godot. Ecker is rational but violent, Meng is a mutant whose huge cock and tits are nothing compared to the mutations of his mind. Not Holocaust survivors in any sense you've ever seen before, Meng and Ecker have adopted the ways of their captors the bloodlusts and hates. However, there is nothing paramilitary about them. They're not neo-Nazis or skinheads. They're more like the ultraviolent droogs of A Clockwork Orange, though it is quite possible that the droogs would not feel any affinity in return. Meng and Ecker are even further out in some post-war delirium. Auschwitz, meet Oz.
To the first chapter or two of Motherfuckers I warmed slowly. The prose was dense, the language somewhat exotic. I wondered if, as an American, I was struggling with a particularly colloquial British slang. I worried that the book might be another Trainspotting. Personally I don't enjoy the Scottish ebonics of Irvine Welsh ("The sweat wis lashing oafay Sick Boy; he wis trembling."). But then I realized that it was not a regionalism I had run into. It was something else. Feeling very self-conscious about people a melting pot of them reading over my shoulder, I stood on a New York subway scanning a chapter full of nigger jokes, and I knew that what this book offered was not a slang but a mindset, an attitude, a vision. It was like hearing rock and roll for the first time and knowing that, however much you'd enjoyed music till then, you'd just found something more intense.
At this point, I felt the shock of recognition. I knew it when I saw it. This book was a masterpiece. I was energized by its style and inventiveness. I was amazed by the sheer balls that it must have taken to write and to publish it. That's right: balls. Who, I wondered, would subject his obvious talent to being so misunderstood and maligned? Sure, there are writers who "push the envelope." But Motherfuckers does not just push the envelope. It beats at it with its fists, kicks, bites, and stabs the envelope. No matter how jaded a reader you are, no matter how much you've read your Henry Miller and Marquis de Sade, this is the book that will leave you feeling bad for the envelope. After Motherfuckers, it will never be the same again.
"This thing," I thought to myself, "out-Burroughs Burroughs." It did something I did not think possible: it carried the Boschian method of Naked Lunch to a new extreme, and it did that with exceedingly controversial subject matter. I almost didn't know what to make of it. Was this book an explosive new entry in the contemporary literary game? Or the feverish rapture of some British mind fucked up by the Blitz? In this respect it sometimes reminded me of Pink Floyd's The Wall, in which the mental heritage of World War II is a psychopathy expressed in technicolor cartoons and fascist rituals reenacted in private ways that drain out the fascism and leave shell-shocked brains wandering in the ruins. But I had categories for this: Pink Floyd was a band, The Wall an album and a film. What was Motherfuckers?
I figured it out when Herbie Schopenhauer, the philosophical Volkswagen, meets Elvis Presley in Dachau. Elvis happens to say: "The same sun that brings out the lilies brings out the snakes." [MF 142] Eureka! I knew it. There is only one place in the world where that saying appears: Ted Morgan's Literary Outlaw, a biography of William S. Burroughs. Recognizing this, I knew where the author sought inspiration, and consequently I knew where to situate Motherfuckers. My intuition had been right. The book may out-Burroughs Burroughs, but that is its domain: the same avant-garde, cultish, transgressive form of literature produced by the author of Naked Lunch. Its delirium is not demented but deliberate. Motherfuckers is a literary work of the most serious intention and the highest art.
This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen
In 1993 the American Jewish Year Book, which chronicles anti-semitic events around the world, noted that in Britain "racist literature continued to cause concern." Discriminatory publications included The Holohoax by "Simon Weaselstool," an Examination of Anti-Gentilism, and an edition of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. In addition "Lord Horror by David Brent [sic], published by Savoy Books and based on the life of British World War II traitor William Joyce ('Lord Haw-Haw'), was banned under the Obscene Publications Act, though no reason was given." No reason was given because the book was railroaded, banned not by a jury but by a judge pause on that: there was no recourse to "community standards," just the subjective assessment of one man who was unable to see the difference between being and satirizing hate speech. (This was particularly ironic since anti-gay rhetoric by the Chief Constable of Manchester had been transposed into the book, replacing gay with Jew in other words, transforming real hate speech into satire.)
Other books, such as Phillip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle (1962) and Norman Spinrad's The Iron Dream (1972), had utilized the "what if Hitler had won?" premise without causing much controversy. Postwar pulps regularly eroticized the Holocaust, using Nazis and Jewesses never did the starving inhabitants of death camps look more buxom than on the lurid covers of pulp fiction as stand-ins for sadists and masochists. These failed to ruffle feathers partly because the "politically correct" mindset dominant at the time of Lord Horror's publication had yet to prevail, and partly because the works themselves were clear about their moral positions. Spinrad appended a fake scholarly analysis to his tome to ensure that his intentions would not be misunderstood. And no one considered the pulps anti-semitic because it was obvious what their game was: to beat the censors, S&M bodice rippers posed as historical novels about the war.
Savoy has occupied a more ambiguous terrain. Unlike Dick or Spinrad, sci-fi writers who confined Nazis to a book or two, Britton and Butterworth have pursued their theme with a probably disturbing intensity that can be quantitatively measured in the sheer volume of Lord Horror productions. What's more, they do not tack a moral to the end of their tales. This is not to say that there are no morals but rather that there are no easy answers, seals of approval, rubber stamps, calmatives ("don't worry, it's just fiction, the jackboots won't hurt you"). Their work is not ideological, like a hate tract, but is rather a deliberate collision of seemingly incompatible ideologies: death camp + dream factory = ? Satire, hyperbole, and reductio ad absurdum work to energize, anger, inspire, offend, but the one thing they do not do to readers is pacify. And why should anyone be pacified by Nazis, even fictional ones?
Potentially the most anti-semitic passage in Lord Horror depicts the protagonist literally ingesting a Jew. The description, which carries on for several pages, also happens to be the most brilliant and farcical moment in the book. After swallowing half the Jew whole Lord Horror
heaved himself onto his feet. He propped himself unsteadily against the wall, wreathed in steam, with the two bent legs of the Jew brazenly dangling from his mouth. He raised his hands to the pain in his head, clasped it, stared up at the big moon. When the white orb tossed down light, the loose legs swung and crossed one over the other as though the old Jew inside had seated himself casually in a roomy armchair. [LH 160]
Anti-semitism? Or Surrealism? The appeal here is not to haters of Jews but to lovers of art. It is a Max Ernst image with echoes ranging from Goya (Saturn Devouring His Children) to Dali (Autumn Cannibalism). The burlesque is completed by Lord Horror's revelation that "his body could literally accommodate thousands of Jews. He had struck on the perfect Final Solution he could eat and digest the Jews of the world!" [LH 161] Jonathan Swift had argued in A Modest Proposal that the solution to famine was to eat the children of the poor. Here the solution to ethnic "degeneracy" is to eat the degenerate. Plainly this is the type of epiphany that occurs not when you want to resurrect Nazism but when you transplant Auschwitz to Oz.
As if its anti-anti-semitism weren't obvious enough, the novel continually undermines its own protagonist's hatreds: "Lord Horror's avowed anti-semitism was a cartoon, a burlesque, a technicolour replica of Hitler's own Jewish stance... Horror was just a brushstroke in a tapestry without substance, his actions far too Grand Guignol theatrical to be truly convincing." [LH 37] Impressed by Mengele's (imagined) experiments "grafting white limbs onto black bodies," Lord Horror tries "duplicating Mengele's achievements... by tacking gentile anatomical characteristics onto Jews." [LH 90] Such copycat behavior is expressly condemned by the book itself: "Hitler had lain in the wound in the heart of mankind, not just in the wounds in the hearts of the Jews. He had become a token reminder to the world that the seeds of its immolation lay in blindly inherited behavior." [LH 188]
It is difficult to fathom how this, particularly when compared to genuine hate speech, could be mistaken for anti-semitism. Still, let's presume the worst. Acknowledge that Savoy must have some sense that hate is the new outré. It used to be that you couldn't say fuck without causing matrons to overturn their teacups. Nowadays it's nigger, kike, paki. (Interestingly, though, the word kike does not appear in Motherfuckers, currently the only one of the three novels whose text is searchable at Amazon.) Certainly Savoy is aware that its subject matter is inflammatory. Britton and Butterworth relish their ability to scandalize, épater le bourgeois. They are guilty of this much. But does that make their work dangerous?
Perhaps the only way to avoid answering this question subjectively, as did the magistrate who banned Lord Horror, is to look at books whose potential for danger has actually been translated into action. In 1995, for example, Timothy McVeigh cited The Turner Diaries which is freely sold in England and America as an inspiration for the Oklahoma City bombing that killed 168 people. In 1999, David Copeland committed nail-bomb attacks against London blacks. According to a news account, "Copeland told police that he was inspired as so many right-wing American terrorists have been by The Turner Diaries, a race war novel by William Pierce, head of America's neo-Nazi National Alliance." The Turner Diaries is not just dangerous in principle. It has a rap sheet showing that it has been dangerous in practice.
By this criterion, Savoy's Lord Horror franchise encompassing more than a decade of novels, graphic novels, comics, records and CDs is no more dangerous than The Little Prince. It is not lauded on skinhead discussion boards or promoted on neo-Nazi web sites. The only acts of violence it has inspired are the ones that have been committed against it. Or perhaps, in some strange and insidious way, Lord Horror has committed violence on British authorities by bringing out their own worst traits, even latent propensities for the blackshirt. The authorities might not like to acknowledge these little clusters of fascism in their own hearts, but what else do you call book-burners?
There are all sorts of moral codes at play in the Lord Horror novels, and there is even the odd maudlin moment: "Nobody knows how it feels to put a child into the ground. Unaccustomed tears would come to Ecker. Every monster imagined by mankind had died and was reborn a hundred times more terrifying in the concentration camps of Bergen-Belsen and Dachau." [MF 65] But fragments of morality do not make a book moral. "Dangerous" books are often justified by claiming that they possess some latent or even superior morality. Simone de Beauvoir used this tactic in Must We Burn Sade? William Burroughs has been almost forcibly moralized by his supporters, as in publisher John Calder's obituary: "Like Swift, [Burroughs] was a moralist torn between horror and gloat."
This may not be entirely untrue, and no doubt the same could be said of Savoy's productions. For example, Motherfuckers makes the point that it is not the vanguardist who holds nothing sacred. It is the businessman.
Fifty years on, Horror had confided to Ecker, Auschwitz would be a recognisable brand name, a mythic character as well-known as Sherlock Holmes or Tarzan. A fortune awaited the author who could bring "Mr Auschwitz" to life... In a hundred years, Auschwitz would form its own genre and become the most successfully marketed product in the history of the world, a name as well-known globally as Coca Cola. [MF 69]
But emphasizing the rectitude of these books seems disingenuous. The importance of Sade is to have mapped out a terrain of sexuality beyond good and evil. The importance of Burroughs lies not in his morality a mind-your-own-business ethos typical of certain classes of American but in his art (his vivid language, black humor, routines, cut-ups). So too with the Lord Horror novels. You can read them like the Gospel, if you want, and draw out the lessons. But that's not really the point. These are not moral books. They're good books.
This disjunction between ethics and aesthetics plays an important role in the novels themselves. What may well scandalize some readers especially the ones in judicial robes is not the absence of moralizing but the presence of aestheticizing. Here is Lord Horror describing the death throes of a man he has just stabbed:
Language is truly poetic only in so far as it is used musically, plastically or, only when it is filled with scintillating colour... Dying in my arms, Lord Boothby exhibited a similar trait; the purist 'visible speech' of Tone-Eurhythmy. How disappointing no sound engineer was there to record his declamation. What came from him were the last soul-qualities of the Human Being giving expression both audibly through speech and visibly through Eurhythmy music translated into movement slippery and ethereal. Boothby was not dancing in any real sense of the word but rather paying respects with movement as he prepared to journey from this world. [BBM 82]
He expresses no revulsion at the deed, no self-doubt about the need to kill, no fear of recrimination by society. It's murder considered as a fine art. Moral valuations are replaced by aesthetic ones. Hitler, far from being a failed painter, "has become the most successful artist of all time, certainly the most studied." [LH 20] The insight is weirdly true, if you think about it, but it also has the effect of portraying atrocities as artistic triumphs.
These aesthetic valuations extend past the fine arts. Lord Horror's "perfect Final Solution" to eat the world's Jewry is given a new form in Baptised in the Blood of Millions. In an astonishing image that recurs throughout the book, flaming Jews are hurled like missiles through the sky only to explode on impact in sweets candies, chocolates, parfaits. It is no longer a quirk of Lord Horror to want to eat Jews, for Jews have become very edible.
A special Jew was flying our way... From our bed we watched him coming over the rooftops and through the dusky twilight, flames chopping his path, clouds of hot yellow piss engulfing him, little showers of Ovaltine tablets peppering his flight. I wanted to eat him... He surrounded me with his chocolate breath and persona of boiling caramel. Again I was assailed with the aromas of the sweets of my youth: Tangerine Bouncers, Raspberry Times, Radiance Toffee, Lemon Squirts, Fairy Whispers and so many more with wistful names and fanciful delicacies that teased the memories of days long gone by. I ate that Jew, my first, amongst a flurry of chocolate and boilin' blood. [BBM 96]
Again slaughter is unaccompanied by revulsion, remorse, or reflection. It is now a matter of tastiness.
However, if this gourmand's attitude to ethnic cleansing is not "politically correct," it most certainly is historically correct. Nazi culture was not only brutal but aesthetic: Hitler loved the Greeks, Albert Speer erected his "cathedral of light," and a few million murders did not seem too high a price for a blond and blue-eyed future. At the conclusion of his essay "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction," Walter Benjamin wrote the most famous denunciation of this Nazi dilettantism: "'Fiat ars pereat mundus,' says Fascism... [Mankind's] self-alienation has reached such a degree that it can experience its own destruction as an aesthetic pleasure of the first order. This is the situation of politics which Fascism is rendering aesthetic."
Rather than condemn the aestheticization of violence from the standpoint of the victim or the man of conscience, Savoy takes the opposite tack: the Lord Horror books repeat the ploy, substituting artistic evaluations where moral ones might seem more appropriate. And while they do this they turn up the volume, carry the tactic to new extremes, attain satire via hyperbole and excess. It's like someone saying to you, "How would you like a punch in the kisser?" And you respond, "I'd love that." You don't really mean that you want to be punched. To the contrary, your sarcasm negates the threat, implies that the pain it promises is no pain at all. So too with Savoy. Fascism says, "Fiat arts, pereat mundus: let there be art no matter how much of the world gets fucked as a result." And Savoy says, "I'd love that." But you'd have to be a rube or a judge to think that that's what they really mean.
The Boschian Method in Literature
Far from condemning the work, as the judiciary would have it, the provocativeness of the Lord Horror franchise attests to its power and importance. Isn't that what great works do not just pose questions about morality and art, which even inferior works can do, but pose those questions in a way that renews and reinvigorates them? Adorno's famous proclamation that "to write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric" was meant to show why, in his words, it had become "impossible to write poetry today." But Savoy approaches it from the other direction: the strategy is not to refrain but to write in a deliberately barbaric way.
But what does barbaric mean in this context? Certainly it does not mean artless. To the contrary, it implies a particular sort of art-making that extends all the way back to Hieronymous Bosch. In The Job, William Burroughs himself compared his work to the Dutch painter: "the respectable person doesn't see what's going on in Bosch at all. They don't realize that things are going on there that are precisely what I described in Naked Lunch." However, Boschian in this case is not a mere synonym for gruesome or monstrous. A very few works of literature attain something more than that, something more rigorous, a grotesquerie not just of content but of form: a Boschian method. Paradoxical insofar as it causes form to give the appearance of formlessness and order the impression of chaos, the method remains precise in its techniques:
In the Boschian method, time no longer flows in a straight line. It no longer has an arrow pointing in a single direction. "A work of fiction that would do justice to the Holocaust must take as its first principle the shattering of chronology." [MF 86] As though to emphasize the fact, Meng kicks a popular book on the topic: "His boot upturned a copy of 'A Brief History of Time,' in which a flowery message of wheelchair love had been inscribed to him by Stephen Hawking." [MF 246] Chronology gives way to simultaneity, overlap, anachronism. "Synchronicity was at work. They had heard from the car just last week. Herbie telephoned to say that he was studying philosophy under Deleuze, at the École Normale Supérieure, and would be home soon." [MF 246]
Corollary: history loses its coordinate points and therefore its constancy. The fashion model was born in 1970, and yet a "Naomi Campbell look-alike" is assaulted in Bergen-Belsen by "fifteen teeth-flashing Jews." [MF 187] The argot of one era is spoken by characters in another: in Baptised in the Blood of Millions, Lord Horror speaks a stilted form of old-fashioned English, as though a chevalier's tongue had been affixed to the fascist's brain. "Past" events mutate as they encounter agents of the future on the plane of the present. In a single episode, Lord Horror tussles with Wittgenstein and then Sylvia Plath. When could such a meeting occur? Only in an ahistorical interval, a time "out of joint" as Hamlet says.
Corollary: cause and effect are sundered. The anteriority of cause is lost in the simultaneity of time, so that in the Boschian universe causes can take place after their effects and effects can precede their causes. Even more radically, effects can occur without cause and causes can produce no effects. After being stabbed and coated in fire, Lord Horror realizes that "on inspection no flesh had been removed from my body, no fire lingered on my skin, and I stood whole and untouched. I can give no explanation for the mystery of how I came to be purged of my wound, except to say I was then living in strange times." [BBM 120] Strange times: this is the individual experience of Boschian temporality, in which the knife leaves no gash and the cause no effect.
Just as time loses its stages, space loses its divisions. Herbie considers how "in the physics of Galileo and Newton, both space and time are 'deconsecrated' no place or time is more significant than any other." [MF 165] In the stead of center and periphery, there is overlap and profusion. Boschian space fills up with a chaotic abundance of objects and events. Seemingly at random, an elephant appears in the middle of a conversation between Herbie and Mr. Toad: "Oojah the Forgetful Elephant strolled by on his hind legs. Magic imps fluttered around his waving trunk. With his wand he tapped a fallen corpse, which immediately wriggled over and buried itself like a great white centipede in the earth. Members of the 'Wilfredian League of Gugnuncs' followed Oojah at a distance, theorising discreetly." [MF 162] It's not merely an interruption of the conversation but an overloading of the space, a profusion an elephant, imps, a cadaver, an entire society of "gugnuncs" undermining what would normally be the centrality of the characters in the dialogue.
Corollary: motion loses its efficacy. On one hand, when space loses its divisions, characters are able to go from one place to another without motion. After a jaunt in New Orleans looking for Lord Horror, Meng and Ecker suddenly find themselves back in Manchester without having utilized any means of getting there. [MF 127] On the other hand, there are pointless motions, movements that lack any particular destination. Meng and Ecker ride in Herbie the philosophical Volkswagen to Bergen-Belsen, where nothing occurs and there is no reason to go. It's more like a Sunday drive, motion for the sake of motion. Or in the second chapter of Motherfuckers Meng goes for a walk whose purpose seems less to arrive at his destination than to assault random strangers.
Corollary: gravity loses its inescapability. Herbie learns to fly: "The Konzentrationslagers had not only given him the gift of speech but, lately, levitation had come to his body parts. Truly the suffering of others carried its own rewards."  Or to look at it another way, if space loses its divisions, then it also loses its vectors. There is no more up or down, and Herbie can levitate just as easily as he can locomote.
Just as time loses its stages and space loses its divisions, life loses its phyla. On one hand, there are personifications, things becoming human such as Hitler's gigantic penis, or Herbie the Volkswagen who has the most recognizably human characteristics in Motherfuckers. On the other hand, there are depersonifications, humans becoming animals and things. Meng is the "Half-Man" and enjoys sex with dogs, crustaceans, and insects. Sylvia Plath becomes a spider shades of Kafka's "Metamorphosis" and Wittgenstein a monster:
And then Wittgenstein revealed his myriad cunts to me... His broad back presented itself naked, and the movement of skin, which before had moved in ripples, now became chaotic. Whirlpools of mottled flesh surrounded that which I had no difficulty in recognising as vaginas, dozens of which grew in profusion down and across Wittgenstein's back, protected by a small army of tentacles each a foot long, fist-thick and green-hued, and which were dotted, red-tipped like waving palm trees, around those watery oases. [BBM 112]
Corollary: characters mutate. Just as bodies undergo astonishing metamorphoses, so too do characters undergo transformations from one publication to the next. In Motherfuckers, La Squab is a disgusting black dwarf whom Meng fucks in Auschwitz. In the Lord Horror comics, she becomes Meng's daughter, a sassy Lolita who makes sarcastic comments about her father's bestial behavior and offers snarky literary judgements about contemporary writers. The Lord Horror of the first book both is and isn't the same Lord Horror who appears in Baptised in the Blood of Millions. It's a Boschian universe: logic and character development need not apply.
Corollary: behaviors lose their norms. Or rather, norms are represented not as injunctions but as worst-case scenarios. The Boschian author does not say "Don't kill," he shows killing. Anti-semitism, ethnic cleansing, genocide, hate these are the most hideous traits of fascism? Rather than condemn them, Lord Horror exhibits them in a way that does not conceal their barbarity:
Ecker, in the driving seat, leaned out of the window and inserted the barrel of an automatic down the mouth of one of the Jews. "Behold!" he cried. "Essau my brother is a hairy man, and I am a smooth man!" He jerked the gun upwards and pulled the trigger. The top of the Jew's head smashed into a street lamp fifteen feet above, and hung there, stuck like an eerily-lit, many-legged, red-backed spider. [LH 61]
Just as time loses its stages, space its divisions, and life its phyla, art loses its conventions. No particular style governs the Lord Horror novels, except perhaps a transgressive style whose imperative is to break its own rules. Divisions between media implode, as the Lord Horror mythos spreads from novel to comic to record album. Genres are like shit thrown at a wall: Lord Horror begins with a gambit borrowed from George Orwell's Burmese Days, mashes together literature, philosophy, jokes, art criticism, nursery rhymes, cartoons, and then ends with echoes of F.T. Marinetti "Tropical heaven, let us kill the moonlight" invoking the Futurist manifesto "Let's Murder the Moonshine." [LH 192]
The progress of a narrative is subordinate to the multiplication of microevents. The periphery challenges the center. The parts threaten to take precedence over the whole. In its lawlessness and excess, the Boschian method in literature recalls the 19th century concept of "decadence" in literature. In The Case of Wagner Nietzsche had written: "What is the sign of every literary decadence?... The word becomes sovereign and leaps out of the sentence, the sentence reaches out and obscures the meaning of the page, the page gains life at the expense of the whole the whole is no longer a whole." However, for Nietzsche decadent was a pejorative term. For Savoy, it is something else. Decadent, corrupt, savage if it is barbaric to write poetry after Auschwitz, then after Auschwitz Savoy will write barbaric poetry.
From Death Camp to Existentialism
There are an infinite number of topics a writer could write about. How does he get stuck on any given one? For Savoy in general and David Britton in particular, Lord Horror is a sort of Zarathustra a figurehead, a spokesman, an alter ego, a lightning rod. He is the epicenter of an imaginary universe similar in scope to the Cthulhu Mythos of H.P. Lovecraft. But why does this Horror mythos stick in the writer's brain? Why Lord Horror? It is a question that Baptised in the Blood of Millions even poses itself. An epigraph asserts that
I have taken the liberty of putting my name to this book, although even a cursory reading will clearly reveal the hand and mind of Lord Horror in the text. I cannot account for this. I alone sat for long hours writing this mephitic tale of misplaced braggadocio. [BBM 13]
You get the sense that there is a wavering line between the author and his creation. Lord Horror is not a simple projection but rather a form of possession: "As Horror, I narrowed my eyes, letting the murk spread in my soul." [BBM 201] It puts an existential twist to the relationship. The question is not how the character stands in for the author, but how the author withstands the character.
Britton has been shy about personal publicity perhaps an understandable result of having been to prison twice for obscenity. The only picture of him that has appeared in a Savoy publication shows a young man in the 1960s affecting a rock star glamdom. He grew up in industrial Manchester, the son of a Christian mother and Jewish father. This fact is either trivial meaning that his half-Jewish parentage has no bearing whatsoever on the Horror world in his head or it's so deeply Oedipal that you hate even to pursue the thought. Suffice to say that this is probably an interesting line of inquiry for the writer's intimates, and everybody else will have to content themselves with descriptions of Britton as congenial, inspired, generous, polymathic, fun, a "xenophobic Lautréamont from Manchester" as artist Kris Guidio once called him.
Britton's earliest publications were not texts but images. He contributed illustrations to weird independent zines, eventually joining Butterworth as art director at a venture they called WordWorks. At what point did his artistic output become a literary one? Emerging from his first stint in prison in a self-described fury, Britton took over a novel that Butterworth had been writing called Das Neue Leben. He seemed to do to it what Old Shatterhand, Hitler's creature penis, does to a rare volume of Schopenhauer in Lord Horror inundate it, flood it with his manic imagination. The literary result was the first novel in the series, and the ironic result was that Britton was sent back to prison. Once there, he must have said to himself: "They think that's obscene? These fuckers don't even know the beginning of obscene. This is obscene." He spewed out Motherfuckers, and from there the character and the mythos took on a life of their own.
That's the ontogenesis of the character, but it doesn't really explain the nagging question. Why Lord Horror? Why did this vision take hold of Britton's imagination and effectively possess that of his collaborators as well? Probably there are a dozen answers ranging from the psychological to the inscrutable (do any of us really know why we do the things we do?). Perhaps the only answer derivable from the novels themselves is not personal but philosophical. For example, Lord Horror excerpts a passage from The World as Will and Representation:
This world, this scene of tormented and agonised beings, who can only continue to exist by devouring each other; in which every ravenous beast is the living grave of thousands of others, and its self-maintenance is a chain of painful deaths; in which the capacity for feeling pain increases with knowledge, and therefore reaches its highest degree in man. [LH 187]
In the original text, from the chapter "On the Vanity and Suffering of Life," Schopenhauer goes on to mock anyone who would "apply the system of optimism" to this world or who would agree with Leibniz that this is "the best of all possible worlds." To the contrary, "whoever is honest will scarcely be disposed to set up hallelujahs."
Hunger, pain, death, cannibalism is this not precisely the world of Lord Horror? If there is a philosophical underpinning to the Boschian method in literature, it may well be the pessimism of Schopenhauer. Lord Horror is not an oddity of Britton's imagination or a mass psychosis shared by his collaborators but an excrescence of the world itself when viewed from an essentially Schopenhauerian vantage point. "For whence did Dante get the material for his hell," Schopenhauer had asked, "if not from this actual world of ours?" So too with Lord Horror. The novels are less an alternate universe than an extrapolated one. When Lord Horror eats a Jew, it is to demonstrate that existence as such is a food chain in which every organism is the "living grave of thousands of others."
Of course, to be pessimistic is not necessarily to be mournful or resigned. Montaigne described how two philosophers looked askance at the world, but one chose to laugh at it while the other wept.
I prefer the first humor, not because it is pleasanter to laugh than to weep, but because it expresses more contempt and is more condemnatory of us than the other. I do not think we can ever be despised as much as we deserve. Wailing and commiseration imply some valuation of the object bewailed; what we mock at we consider worthless. [Montaigne, "Of Democritus and Heraclitus," Essays]
Can there be any doubt that this is Savoy's position as well? Theirs is a dark vision made bearable by a black humor. When Old Shatterhand ejaculates a "golden honey" full of bees on a rare volume of Schopenhauer, it is their way of saying that the preferable response to pessimism is an inappropriate one.
Call for Action
In a famous essay from the 1930s, "The Author as Producer," Walter Benjamin called for the writer to control the "means of production." Savoy has followed this call in a way Benjamin might never have envisioned. Using the pseudonym Robert France, Savoy submitted the first Lord Horror manuscript to every major British publisher. Needless to say, it was rejected by every major British publisher, and as a consequence Savoy took control of the means of production. Sometimes acting with collaborators, a "third mind" of Savoy irregulars, Britton and Butterworth have created and published every item in the Lord Horror franchise: novels, comics, anthologies, records, CDs.
There are distinct advantages to owning the means of production. Benjamin thought that this was how the writer could participate in class struggle. That may be true, and it is worth noting that Britton himself often aligns Lord Horror with the values of Manchester's working class: Horror's hates are theirs, his music is theirs, etc. But from an aesthetic standpoint, the primary benefit of being both author and producer is simply control. The final product is a true representation of the author's vision. No editor has tinkered with the words. No cover designer has slapped an ugly, misleading cover on the words. No marketing director has issued press releases "Greatest romance since Gone with the Wind!" that will bias the reception of the words. For better or worse, the author as producer presents himself sincere and naked to the world, like Allen Ginsberg taking off his clothes at a poetry reading.
However, it's a Faustian pact. Aesthetic advantages are balanced by disadvantages of a mostly practical nature. It's very expensive to print a book. A romance publisher can run off half a million paperbacks, but an individual is going to be strapped to pay for a thousand. And once you've printed it, you have to store it, market it, sell it, fulfill orders, shlep to the post office, keep records, fill out tax forms all when you really should be doing what a writer is supposed to do: write. And when you add to the disadvantages the sort of legal harassment that Savoy has suffered, it's amazing that Britton and Butterworth have persevered at all.
As a result of these practical difficulties, Lord Horror is not as well known as he should be. Savoy has done relatively small print runs of the books. No publisher has had the vision or, more likely, the courage to purchase the rights to publish them in America. You can buy Motherfuckers at Amazon, but the two other novels are rare and expensive. The comics have also become collectibles. The smart young people who would most enjoy the works probably can't afford them, or don't know enough about them to sell an old iPod and turn the funds into a copy of the Reverbstorm comic.
It is time for that to change. This is a call for action. If you're interested in transgressive literature, buy a copy of Motherfuckers before Amazon sells out. Watch eBay for Lord Horror a copy recently sold for about $150 and Baptised in the Blood of Millions. If your interests extend to comics and graphic novels, buy the various Lord Horror comics. If you're into music, try the Savoy Wars CD. Better yet, if you're a publisher or if you want to be the next Barney Rossett (the legendary founder of Grove Press, publisher of Henry Miller, Samuel Beckett, William Burroughs, et al), contact Savoy to inquire about American rights to the books. Publish them all in a nicely designed line of paperbacks, so that they look as well as they deserve but aren't too expensive for the college set.
Do you have a web site, blog, or zine? Know a literary agent? Have a platform of any sort that you can use to get the word out? Tell 'em about Lord Horror. Is the natural complement to the author as producer not the reader as distributor?
I wish I could convince you how significant I think these books are, particularly Motherfuckers. You can do a clinical trial to show the efficacy of a drug, but it's no simple matter to demonstrate that a book belongs in the canon or, failing that, to show that a particular book is something you really need to read. I can tell you there are half a dozen literary works that, in a lifetime of reading, have blown my mind: Arthur Rimbaud's poetry, William Burroughs' Naked Lunch, Samuel Beckett's trilogy (Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnameable), Michael Herr's Dispatches, and now David Britton's Motherfuckers. There are other books I love and admire, but these are the ones that raised reading to a new level. I can remember encountering them the same way others remember losing their virginity or smoking pot for the first time. They weren't just books, they were experiences.
But really you need to have the experience yourself. A masterpiece is like pornography, and if you pick up a copy of Motherfuckers I think you'll know it when you see it.
Horror Panegyric is Supervert's appraisal of the three Lord Horror novels by Savoy Books' David Britton and Michael Butterworth. In March 2008 Savoy published Horror Panegyric in a limited edition hardcover containing Supervert's essay and excerpts from the novels. Design and cover illustration by John Coulthart.
- Table of Contents
- Horror Panegyric «
- The Frogmen
(Lord Horror, 1989)
- The Auschwitz of Oz
- The Afreet of Dachau
- Our Lord of Fuck-Off Confronts Angels
(Baptised in the Blood of Millions, 2000)
- Lord Horror Timeline
- Where to Buy Savoy Books
- Reviews of Horror Panegyric