Home, it’s where I want to be

Nell Osborne – On Dog Perverts (independent)

Questions concerning the idea of home have been much on my mind lately. Yesterday, for example, I spent a lot of time listening to a track by a New York duo Black Marble, now relocated to LA I believe, called In Manchester. The song is a beautiful, dreamy hymn to the city where I live delivered by musicians who live somewhere quite unlike Manchester (check the song out, it’s great, there’s a tip for you). For the duration of my listening it felt like I was inhabiting their fantasy of what Manchester is like, a fantasy that I feel my actual lived experience of the city, however, somewhat disproves: Manchester just isn’t a beautiful, dreamy place. 

Sure, the song was a lovely place to be for as long as I was in it but then I started wondering how their ideas about Manchester, and the ideas of people like them, have shaped my own and to what extent the idea of home I have when I think of Manchester is my own idea or a composite I’ve spent my life, up to this point, constructing. Added to all this there’s the fact that me and my partner are currently in the middle of moving home ourselves, well, we’re either in the middle of or coming towards the end of this incredibly protracted process, it’s hard to tell where exactly we are at times, all sense of linear progression towards the fixed end of a new place to live having been lost some months back. 

So with all this in mind when I picked up Nell Osborne’s new pamphlet On Dog Perverts and read the opening piece reflecting upon repeated watches of the film Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey and some of the associated meanings of ‘coming home’ I think this pamphlet has reached me at exactly the right time, and then moments later, or maybe all this is going to prove just too close to home, and, yes, I do realise I used the word ‘home’ there . . . 

One of the things Osborne’s work seems to me to be doing is unpicking the idea, and ideas, of ‘home’, and the impacts upon us of those differing ideas. ‘Home’, in this work, is not about images of tired dogs dosing contentedly on hearths in front of roaring log-burners, no, this is more concerned with the social-property relations which lie behind the formation and circulation of such stereotypical images. Early on in the text we find: “When we are talking about the historic alliances between property ownership, marriage, romance, patriotism (and their monopoly upon ideas of protection, safety, security and shelter), we are always already talking about the strength of our investment in a certain orientation: to be homeward bound”. 

Which isn’t to give the impression that this pamphlet is a dry work of theory as it’s anything but, really . . . the sense of a singular vision of the world comes through strongly in a lot of the pieces here. One such being the section from which the pamphlet derives its title, I should say the first of the sections from which the pamphlet derives its title, the consideration of the hitherto unknown to me phenomenon of ‘dog perverts’ where we learn that the protagonist’s “collection of unauthorised dog photos saved as screensavers at work has not gone unnoticed by management”. 

The content of On Dog Perverts is made up, mainly of prose pieces, with a single poem coming towards the end. The prose pieces themselves varying from autobiographical, to explicitly political commentary, to film writing, each imbued with that already remarked upon singular vision of the world, so in other words, then, it’s hybrid literature that we’re dealing with here . . . Accordingly, the pamphlet seems to sidestep classification to a certain extent, it being impossible to nail down exactly what it is, that elusiveness being experienced, by me at least, as an important, exhilarating and very much political part of the work and all adding up to making the work very much my cup of tea indeed. It’s forebears in form being writers I’ve loved for ages such as Maggie Nelson and Chris Kraus.

And one of the most disarming movements of the book comes when it’s at its most directly historical-political in the section that begins “The CIAs behavioural science laboratory identified total nudity, sexual humiliation, and dogs as key strategies for the political exploitation of Arab cultural sensitivities” and we’re plunged back into the horror Abu Ghraib and the treatment of Iraqi prisoners by US soldiers. It’s a section which shocks because of it’s unexpectedness within the work and succeeds in pulling this period of history right back to the forefront of the reader’s consciousness, its reterritorialisation, here, forcing you to consider those horrors with fresh eyes. 

This section of the work stands out and, as such, could perhaps be considered a pivot or centre of the text, though for some reason that i can’t quite put my finger on at the same time that this section does feel like a centre there are other things going on in these pages denying that, resisting that sense of a centre. The ultimate effect being that there’s a strange, simultaneous pushing to and pulling away from the Abu Ghraib section which is, perhaps, nothing more than just an echo of how the mind and body themselves work: we want to know about things, we want to be aware and to keep them in mind but at some point we reach the limits of what we can handle and the mind and body shut down, begin to pull away . . .  

To return to that notion of a singular vision evident in these lines however, there are times in this pamphlet when Osborne’s love for dogs seems somewhat hard to distinguish from an almost Kafka-esque fear (and yes I do realise I used the word “Kafka-esque” there . . . ) that the author might have metamorphosed into a dog themselves with visions of bra’s as collars and homes as kennels. And at other times that fear becomes hard to distinguish from a kind of willing of this metamorphosis. All of which just goes to underline how wonderfully slippery and hard to get a grasp of this short pamphlet is.  

Finally, reading On Dog Perverts again, this morning, and mulling on its picking apart of the concept of ‘home’, I was led back to Lukacs’ idea of Transcendental Homelessness which Lukacs thought was characteristic of modern literature: the unmoored subject, separated from any fixed attachment to the eternal to call home, roaming free and isolated through a universe full of other similarly unattached subjects . . . The final lines of this work of Osborne’s, I feel, situate it squarely in that modern tendency identified by Lukacs: “Imagine longing for kennel, everywhere. So s/ tupid”.  It’s in all that precedes those final lines, however, that we can find reasons to hope – if we’re so inclined to look – in the face of this sense of Homelessness.

Richard Barrett

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