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Author’s Note              000

Life Among the Destructivists: a Memoir of the 1960s      000

Appendix: The Death of Destructivism                      000

Afterword                       000

Author’s Note

One of the great difficulties in writing about Destructivism, the avant-garde art movement that briefly flourished in 1960s London, lies in the fact that not a single Destructivist work of art exists. There are no primary sources. Not a solitary Destructivist novel, poem, play, story, painting, sculpture, film, dance or piece of music was ever produced or, if produced, allowed to survive. In fact if a Destructivist work of art was to turn up today, its very existence would automatically disqualify it from being considered as genuinely Destructivist. There can in short never be a Destructivist work of art, in any accepted sense of the word ‘be’.

     When I first wrote about this curious movement in the pages of the London Review of Culture, I had no idea that my article -- reprinted here as an appendix together with the series of often entertaining responses it provoked -- would create such a stir. My aim was to rescue from art-historical oblivion a group of artists who seemed to me not without interest and with whom I had had some minor personal association in my youth. I was prepared to be challenged on points of accuracy of recollection. What I was not expecting was that the very veracity of my account would be called into question. To put it bluntly, I was accused of trying to pull a stunt. This would have been a more wounding charge if it had not been so childishly easy to refute by means of simple documentary evidence. Still, I felt that my reputation had been impugned and a response was required. Hence this rather ampler and more personal account of the events chronicled in my original article.

     I have been aided in my reconstruction of those events by a small archive of Destructivist-related materials (my ‘Destructrivia’ as I call them) that I have collected over the years. Foremost among these is a rare copy of Guy Noone’s groundbreaking 1966 essay, Death of the Audience. Noone’s essay introduced all the main ideas of Destructivism and is a key text for an understanding of the philosophical and theoretical tenets of the movement.

     In addition I possess a number of articles from contemporary sources reflecting on the Destructivist phenomenon, including one by Anthony Burgess (‘Reading as Consumerism’) that I believe has been overlooked by his bibliographers. Then there are various press cuttings relating to the more politically-motivated exploits of the London group during its latter days -- notably the series of attacks on national art treasures and art galleries in 1968-69. Finally, I include in this source list my own personal diaries for the years 1967-69, which provide a detailed first-hand account, albeit a sometimes over-earnest one, of what it felt like to be associated with the Destructivists during their brief heyday.

     Looking out over the crazy quilt of fields and pastures, green and gold, sun stipple and cloud shadow, spilling from my window, I am reminded of something Noone says in Death of the Audience. ‘The produced work of art has all the gaudy opulence of a field of rape at harvest time. The withheld work of art has all the compacted grace of a single seed that you keep in your pocket and take out from time to time and marvel at, speechless.’

RG, August 2008
Ogbourne St. David, Wiltshire

Appendix:The Death of Destructivism, by Robert Grossmith

(originally published in the London Review of Culture, February 2007)

The death last month of the conceptual artist Mark Leblanc provides an appropriate point at which to remember one of the most curious artistic movements of the late twentieth century. That movement was Destructivism and Leblanc was one of its more extreme exponents.

     He is chiefly remembered today, when he is remembered at all, for his role in the series of terrorist outrages against the art establishment that culminated in the failed arson attack on the Tate Gallery in March 1969. Leblanc was imprisoned for eight years for those offences, along with two other members of the London group. After his release he moved abroad, to Malta, where he continued to produce his ‘absential’ artworks in ever-increasing obscurity. In recent times he became almost totally reclusive, so much so that after he died his body lay undiscovered for three weeks in his empty studio, spurned even by the faithful companion of his final years, his dog Zero.

     Destructivism can be said to have been born in the late summer of 1966. In September of that year, while the rest of the country was still celebrating the triumphs of its footballing heroes, a two-day symposium was held in London on the theme of ‘Destruction in Art’. Among the participants was a young Japanese artist, Yoko Ono, representing the Fluxus group, whose other members included Joseph Beuys and John Cage. Back in 1962 that same Fluxus group had caused a public scandal in Wiesbaden, Germany when, as part of one performance, they set about extracting music from a grand piano by chopping it up. Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, another key figure in the 1966 symposium by the name of Raphael Montañez Ortiz had been experimenting with ‘destructed’ works of art. One early work, Golf (1958), is an instructional golf film that has had holes randomly inserted into it with a hole punch. Ortiz tells us that with each punch he would chant ‘Emptiness is fullness’.

     This was precisely the sort of thing that the London group, newly emerging at the time of the DIA symposium, was suspicious of. They saw themselves as quite distinct from groups such as Fluxus, a purer and more philosophical development. Someone coined the term ‘Destructivism’, by way of analogy with the DIA artists. Other names were proposed and discussed -- Inexpressionism, Mutism, Nilism -- but in the days to come it was Destructivism that proved the more snappy journalistic handle and the name stuck.

     The future direction of Destructivism was made clearer with the publication in 1966, just a few months before the DIA symposium, of Guy Noone’s breathtakingly original (and unaccountably neglected) essay, Death of the Audience. The essay appeared in a more than usually obscure literary journal with a tiny circulation but still managed to create something of a sensation. I can well remember how a copy of the journal was passed around among my first-year philosophy classmates with such enthusiasm that it was literally falling apart at the seams.

     Noone’s essay is predicated upon a very simple idea: once a work of art is fully imagined, it can only be diminished by being made actual, both because of inevitable deficiencies of technique on the part of the artist and because in the process of actualization the work becomes ‘reified’ and ‘commodified’ (Destructivist language contained more than its fair share of fashionable Marxist jargon). It is therefore the artist’s duty to destroy a work of art immediately it is created, or even better not to produce art in the first place. ‘The perfect work of art is the unexpressed one, the one that remains always silent and invisible. The perfect artist would be deaf, dumb and blind,’ as Noone put it in Death of the Audience.

     It seems beyond question that Roland Barthes, the French founder of Structuralism, drew freely on Noone’s essay when writing his own, much less radical 1968 piece, Death of the Author. Sometimes the two sound almost indistinguishable. ‘Writing is the destruction of all voices, of all points of origin.’ Is that Barthes or Noone? In fact, Barthes’ notion that the modern writer has disappeared from his text is little more than a clever critical aperçu alongside Noone’s far more sweeping programme for a literature and art, or rather a non-literature and non-art, of the future.

     The influence of Noone’s essay may have extended to other areas too. Is it too fanciful to suppose that Pete Townshend of the Who, a former London art student himself, may have chanced to read Noone’s piece? Perhaps without Destructivism we would not have had Townsend’s rock opera Tommy, about a deaf, dumb and blind artist-messiah, nor the Who’s trademark Destructivist assault on their own instruments at the end of each performance.

     Noone remains a mysterious figure about whom little of substance is known. He usually gave the year of his birth as 1928 and claimed to be half-French and half-Irish. He is reputed to have spent the early 1960s in Paris, where he apparently counted Samuel Beckett among his close friends. By the time Death of the Audience was published, he was living in London and teaching in the French department at University College.

     He would spend most evenings in the saloon bar of the Admiral Benbow in Greek Street, Soho, near where he lived, always arriving alone with a bundle of foreign-language magazines under his arm and always sitting at the same table, next to the window and away from the draughty entrance. It was at the Admiral Benbow, some time in late 1966, that he first made the acquaintance of Mark Leblanc, a young student at the Slade College of Art and member of an extreme left-wing anarchist group calling itself the CIA (Coalition for International Anarchy). The two men established an immediate rapport and engaged in long animated conversations about the future of art in post-capitalist society. Slowly over the following months a small admiring circle of students and young people -- aspiring artists, would-be writers, ‘drop-outs’ of various denominations -- began gathering around the two men, listening reverently to their discussions. My own memory of those meetings, which I began attending early in 1967, is of frequently chaotic affairs in which the level of debate would decline in direct proportion to the amount of alcohol consumed.

     If 1969 was to be Destructivism’s annus horribilis, 1967 was its annus mirabilis. This was the time of the dream-ins and the drug-outs, the Nothing-Happenings and the Non-Events, the plays without an audience, the audience without a play. It is easy today to mock the seriousness with which we all took ourselves back then. Yet at the time how daring and subversive it all seemed, how provocative, how radical. It seemed to those of us who were associated with the movement that it was now possible to literally think the unthinkable, that anything was permitted. As the Situationists put it at around the same time, ‘Be Realistic -- Demand the Impossible!’

     Of course, the evidence for some of these performances is highly conjectural. For example I never met anyone who claimed to have been personally involved with the supposedly legendary concert in June 1967 when a full orchestra and choir is reputed to have gathered at an otherwise empty Royal Festival Hall and imagined Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony by reading the music together. Nor can I vouch for the validity of the claims regarding a production of The Tempest in which the cast apparently sat on a bare stage and visualized the performance they might have given.

     One Non-Event that I can corroborate, because I was involved in organizing it, was the famous ‘Noh Play’ at the Camden Roundhouse in December 1967. An evening of Japanese Noh theatre was promised, the event was advertised on billboards and flyers, tickets were distributed free outside West End theatres. Once the audience was assembled on the night, it was simply abandoned. Nobody knows how they reacted because nobody was there to see it.

     On the one hand, this illustrates one of the less endearing aspects of Destructivism, its sometimes juvenile urge to épater les bourgeois. But on the other hand, it was intended to make a serious point: namely that an audience presupposes the existence of an author, but not vice versa. Without the artist’s contribution an audience is just a crowd of people in a room. But the artist is entirely self-sufficient, s/he requires nothing extra to complete him/herself. Whether this subtle symbolic message was appreciated by the people left standing in the rain at the Roundhouse that night is of course another matter.

     Like all cults and sects, Destructivism had an inflated sense of its own importance and little sense of its own absurdity. At the Admiral Benbow we would boast about how few books we had read and how ill-acquainted we were with the Great Tradition as a way of perversely emphasizing how uncontaminated were our literary sensibilities. I recall one individual who claimed rather implausibly that he had never read or seen a single Shakespeare play and was therefore burdened with the more onerous but far more rewarding responsibility of inventing the entire canon for himself.

     One of the conversations recorded in my diary, for Sept. 16 1967, is about music. For amusement’s sake, I reproduce it here verbatim (N. = Noone, L. = Leblanc):

L. argued that a society that genuinely appreciated music would ban all musical recordings and performances. That way people would have to produce their own music, not be mere consumers. ‘The only piece of music that should be allowed to survive is John Cage’s 4’ 33”, which should be played continuously in supermarkets, lifts and railway stations.’ N. replied that not even Cage’s ‘metred silence’ should be allowed, as it still forced the audience to listen to the silence. ‘Did you know that it’s arranged in 3 movements? 3 movements for God’s sake!' 

Among the more bizarre aspects of the group was a proclivity among certain members for constantly changing their names or giving themselves aliases. It seemed to be conceived as a way of destroying and reinventing one’s identity but in practice it could be very confusing. I remember one woman passing from April Fool to May Queen to June Bug in successive months. Another young couple, who seemed inseparable, used to masquerade under the name of famous partnerships: Huntley and Palmer, Bryant and May, Sooty and Sweep.

     By the spring of 1968, change was in the air. In fact violence was in the air, what with the recent assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy and the events taking place across the Channel. Inspired by those events, Leblanc began advocating an organized campaign of terrorist violence against the art establishment. Again the Destructivist logic was impeccable: if the audience really is irrelevant to the creative process, if the artist himself -- which is potentially all of us -- is his own and his only audience, then there is no need for art galleries, libraries, opera houses, concert halls, theatres. In fact, all such institutional art does is to stifle the creative spirit, to intimidate by example and to enslave. As Leblanc was fond of saying, ‘If art didn’t exist we would be free to invent it.’

     And so began a period of nine hectic months in which Destructivism finally lived up to its name. Some of the pranks it engaged in were fairly harmless in themselves: a campaign of ‘disruptions’ of West End plays and concerts, in which Destructivist stooges planted among the audience would begin barracking the performers or each other, or faking a heart attack, or letting off fireworks. Then there were the book-burnings. Group members would go from door to door collecting unwanted books on behalf of a bogus Third World charity, then build a large bonfire and torch the lot of them. These activities attracted less public attention than one might have supposed. Perhaps it’s a sign of the changing times. Things we merely shook our heads at with a baffled sigh back then would not be tolerated now.

     At the end of the summer the campaign was stepped up a gear. Leblanc and two other hardliners, a film student calling himself Bo-Bo Belinsky and an itinerant folk singer known as Moth, formed a revolutionary cell of their own and drew up a plan of attack. They decided to concentrate their efforts on individual works of art in the form of famous paintings from the big public galleries. Their primary targets were English works -- Turners, Constables, Gainsboroughs and the like -- but works by painters of other nationalities were not exempt.

     The attacks were carefully planned. They would go to the gallery at the quietest time of the day and wait until they were alone in front of the targeted picture. Often they would work in pairs, with one of them distracting the attendant while the other pounced. Leblanc had designed a kind of handle-less water pistol that could be filled with a dilute solution of sulphuric acid and strapped onto the wrist. The device was triggered by a spring-loaded mechanism so that, by extending one’s arm and clenching one’s fist, a jet of acid could be delivered to a distance of several yards. The whole operation took a matter of seconds and its results were unlikely to be discovered until after the perpetrator had left the building. Sometimes, if the opportunity presented itself, paintings would be gouged with a rusty razor blade instead.

     I have it on good authority that the vast majority of these attacks went unreported by the galleries, who were terrified of the scandal they would invite if it became known that they had allowed many of the nation’s best-loved paintings to be damaged beyond repair. This same source informed me that altogether around thirty or forty paintings were hit in 1968-69, of which around twenty-five (including such favourites as Constable’s Haywain and Millais’ Ophelia) had to be permanently removed and replaced by copies.

     It is hard to know how much of this to believe. Reliable information at the time was scarce, not least because the Admiral Benbow group had effectively split in two, with the hardliners decamping first to the public bar next door and then to another pub entirely, the Cat and Canary in Wardour Street. It was there that Leblanc and the others plotted the arson attack on the Tate. Whether the attack had any hope of succeeding is another matter, as burning down a major public building is an altogether different proposition from the sort of hit-and-run tactics the cell had hitherto employed. By all accounts they were becoming more reckless too, sending anonymous letters to the press in which they drew attention to their exploits. In the event the arson attack was a fiasco. Leblanc and his confederates were caught red-handed trying to scale a wall at the rear of the Tate with a suitcase full of homemade incendiary devices and an extendable ladder.

     Although none of us realized it at the time, this was the end of Destructivism. Soon afterwards the group entered a period of crisis and terminal decline. Noone, isolated now within a group that was becoming ever more fragmented and factional, stopped attending Destructivist meetings. Rumours circulated that he had renounced Destructivism and was about to publish a massive, thousand-page novel. Two months later he was dead, having broken his neck after apparently falling down the stairs of his Gerrard Street home while drunk, though such was the atmosphere of paranoia within the group that there was no shortage of conspiracy theories and whispers of foul play. The finger of suspicion fell on most of the remaining members of the group and lingered particularly on the couple now operating under the names Bonnie and Clyde. Nothing could be proved, however, and the official verdict was accidental death. The manuscript of Noone’s rumoured novel was never found. Was that because it never existed? Or was it stolen and destroyed?

     Without its two star performers the Admiral Benbow group rapidly fell apart. The dominant mood became one of rancour and recrimination. Bonnie and Clyde (who by this time were Pinky and Perky, I think) argued that the correct Destructivist response to all that had happened would be to willingly self-destruct, to commit artistic suicide. In fact they proposed that those of us who remained in the group should set about systematically destroying all evidence that the group ever existed. If questioned, we should deny all knowledge of Destructivism or, failing that, reply with false information that would hopelessly cloud the truth.

     These were the last desperate days of a movement in its death throes. Destructivism’s time was over, all that remained was to bury the corpse. By the end of 1969 the Admiral Benbow meetings had ceased completely, most of the participants having left college, got jobs, grown up, moved on. Destructivism was already beginning to seem like last summer’s fashion. Within another year or two it would be little more than a hazy Sixties’ dream.

     What are we to make of Destructivism forty years on? Does it merit anything more than a brief footnote in the history of modern culture? Did it have any real influence on anything? People have sometimes cited Destructivism as a factor in the development of the literary-critical discipline of  Deconstruction, referring for example to Derrida’s concept of ‘erasure’ -- the idea that all writing cancels itself out in the process of being written. Others, notably pop impresario Malcolm McLaren, have pointed to the possible influence of Destructivism on the punk movement of the 1970s: after all, what is Sid Vicious’ homicidal rendition of ‘My Way’ in The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle but a perfect dramatic reenactment of the ‘death of the audience’?

     Equally problematic is the role played by Destructivism, if any, in the recent revival of interest in conceptual and performance art in Britain. On the face of it, the influence seems clear. Yet few of today’s conceptual or performance artists ever refer explicitly to Destructivism, or even seem to be aware that it existed. It is perhaps only in genuinely subversive stunts like the K Foundation’s burning of a million pounds in cash in 1994 that one catches an authentic whiff of the Destructivist legacy. That same outfit, in an earlier incarnation as the pop group KLF, deleted their entire back catalogue when they retired and burned all remaining merchandise. ‘Abandon All Art Now,’ goes one of the K Foundation’s slogans.

     John Lennon’s attitude to Destructivism seems to have been more complicated than it might first appear. It has been suggested that ‘Nowhere Man’ was a veiled attack on Guy Noone and what Lennon saw as the negativism of the death-of-the-audience philosophy: ‘He’s a real nowhere man / Sitting in his nowhere land / Making all his nowhere plans for nobody.’ However, since the song was recorded in October 1965, nearly a year before the publication of Death of the Audience, such a conjecture must remain unlikely.

     What is certain – and this I can vouch for because I was personally present – is that one of John and Yoko’s first public appearances together was at the Admiral Benbow in May 1968, when they spent an entire evening in heated debate with Noone and Leblanc. Yoko’s attitude to Destructivism had evidently undergone something of a change since her Fluxus days and they were both outspoken in their opposition to the movement. Unfortunately my diary records only two small details from that evening. Leblanc drew attention to Yoko’s surname, playing with its linguistic possibilities and renaming her ‘Miss Zero Negative’. And Lennon and Noone had the following exchange:

     Lennon: Why d’you wanna destroy, man? Isn’t it better to create?

    Noone: We do create. We create in order to destroy.

     Lennon: But why destroy in the first place, man?

     Noone: We destroy in order to create.

     The meeting clearly left its mark on Lennon, as witnessed days later by the composition of ‘Revolution': But when you talk about destruction/ Don’t you know that you can count me out.

     In fact, in the original version of the song (‘Revolution 1’) included on the White Album, Lennon interjects an ‘in’ after the words ‘count me out’. Quizzed about this during an American TV interview, he explained the interjection as a token of the provisional nature of his views. ‘Today I’m against it, yeah. But who knows, in the future I might not be.’

     Now, with the death of Mark Leblanc, it might be imagined that this finally closes the book on Destructivism. But who can say? It’s the sort of creed, one suspects, that can lay dormant for long periods and breed in unexpected places. Maybe Mark Chapman, Lennon’s killer, was a closet Destructivist. It’s not as crazy as it sounds. After all, Lennon was shot just as he was making his comeback with his first artistic output for years. And who was Chapman’s favourite writer? Why, J.D. Salinger, who famously quit writing for a public audience in 1965 in order to compose for an audience of one. 

from the London Review of Culture, March 2007:

Dear Sir,

I am writing in response to an article in last month’s issue, ‘The Death of Destructivism,’ by Robert Grossmith. Am I alone in never having heard of these avant-garde British artists of the 1960s? I’ve asked around among several well-informed friends and colleagues and drawn a complete blank. I am of course familiar with artists such as the Fluxus group, whom Mr Grossmith also refers to. But this so-called London group is another matter entirely. Who is this Guy Noone and where and when exactly was his ‘unaccountably neglected’ essay Death of the Audience published? Frankly I am inclined to doubt whether Noone or his essay ever existed. I know people say that if you can remember the ‘60s you weren’t there; but I was there and I can remember them.

     Mark Leblanc certainly did exist -- this is one fact I don’t dispute. He was a student at the Slade in 1967 when I myself was teaching there. Later, when he was arrested for his part in the arson attack on the Tate, I followed the case closely in the press and never once recall hearing the word Destructivism mentioned. Anarchist, anti-establishment, counter-culture, certainly. Destructivist? No.

     Is Mr Grossmith seriously suggesting that such a seminal cultural movement of the 1960s somehow managed to pass me and all my colleagues by? If we are to give his account any credence at all, I really think he should name his sources. 

Professor A.L. Burke, RA, Brighton

from the London Review of Culture, April 2007:

Dear Sir,

I was more than a little taken aback to read Professor Burke’s letter in LRC 12, 6, responding to my article in LRC 12, 5, ‘The Death of Destructivism’. I had thought that the London Destructivists were, if not well-known exactly, then at least not entirely unheard-of. Evidently I was wrong. In Prof. Burke’s defence (though quite why I should defend him I’m not sure), I would point out that Destructivism was of course an underground movement, one of many such movements at the time, so it is hardly surprising that news of its activities should have failed to penetrate the rather dusty portals of the Slade. As for Mark Leblanc failing to own up to his involvement with hardcore Destructivism -- well, to adapt a famous line from earlier in the ‘60s, he wouldn’t, would he?

     That leaves the question of sources. I'm disappointed that none of Prof. Burke’s friends have heard of Guy Noone. I can state for the record that Noone’s essay Death of the Audience appeared in the Summer 1966 issue of an experimental literary journal calling itself Gali-Gali. The issue was optimistically numbered Vol. 1, No. 1, but as far as I can ascertain there never was a No. 2. I am happy to photocopy Noone’s essay for Prof. Burke -- and indeed for any other reader who wishes to acquaint themselves with it -- provided of course they enclose a small remittance to cover the necessary expenses. As for other sources, do my own diaries qualify? Three thick A4 notepads, one each for the years 1967-69, recording the details of my frequent visits to Destructivist meetings at the Admiral Benbow. Or does Prof. Burke think I forged these too?

Robert Grossmith, Ogbourne St. David, Wiltshire

from the London Review of Culture, May 2007:

Dear Sir,

Mr Grossmith (‘The Death of Destructivism,’ Feb) protests too much. I did not accuse him of forging his own diaries. I am merely suggesting that perhaps he is having a bit of fun with us. I am enclosing under separate cover a cheque for £5, which I trust the good folk at LRC will forward to Mr Grossmith and which I hope will cover the cost of photocopying and posting to me a copy of Guy Noone’s putative essay, Death of the Audience. I look forward with great anticipation to reading this neglected critical masterpiece.

Prof. Alan Burke, Brighton

from the London Review of Culture, May 2007:

Dear Sir,

I have followed the recent correspondence regarding Robert Grossmith’s ‘The Death of Destructivism’ (Feb issue) with considerable interest, not least because I happen to be related on my mother’s side to the critic and writer Guy Noone (1936-69), about whom much of the controversy appears to revolve. In recent years I have made some minor attempt at researching my uncle’s life in connection with my doctoral thesis on experimental British writing of the 1960s. I can confirm that Noone’s essay Death of the Audience -- dated by Mr Grossmith to 1966 -- does indeed exist but that it was actually written and published in the year of my uncle’s death, 1969.

     There is a good reason for the misunderstanding. Noone’s essay does, as Mr Grossmith observes, bear striking similarities to Roland Barthes’ Death of the Author, published in 1968. But that is because Noone’s essay was intended as a parodic reply to, and rebuttal of, Barthes, whom Noone had met (and liked) in Paris in the early Sixties. Death of the Audience was not meant to be taken seriously. It was a joke, a reductio ad absurdum of Barthes’ argument. It was part of the joke that the essay should be published in a journal -- conceived as a one-off and consisting entirely of literary parodies, pastiches, burlesques and spoofs -- that purported to have been published three years earlier. The final ‘9’ in the ‘1969’ on the front cover was simply inverted to turn it into a ‘6’. 

Clara Hare, Hove

PS. Mr Grossmith is correct in giving the title of the journal as Gali-Gali. The name apparently derives from the Yiddish gali-gali man, meaning a conjuror or trickster.

from the London Review of Culture, June 2007:

Dear Sir,

If one of us is hoaxing, I suspect it is Ms. Hare (LRC, last month). It is sheer fantasy to suppose that Death of the Audience was published in 1969. If that is the case, how could I possibly have read it, along with half of my philosophy classmates, early in 1967? In fact I suspect that Ms. Hare and a previous correspondent Prof. Burke (whose names alone are enough to make one suspicious) may not be quite what they seem. It strikes me that a more plausible explanation might be that they are trying to deliberately mislead and misinform us, this being a classic Destructivist ruse. I even wonder whether they may not have shared some unhappy personal involvement with the movement in the past which has prompted their attempt to distort the historical record in this way.

Robert Grossmith, Ogbourne St. David, Wiltshire

from the London Review of Culture, July 2007:

Dear Sir,

I have never revealed this to anyone before but my stepmother’s sister-in-law was a cousin of a friend of the son of the woman who used to clean Guy Noone’s flat (‘The Death of Destructivism,’ whenever) and in 1969, shortly before Noone died, she rescued a massive multi-volume manuscript from his wastepaper basket, which has now, by a remarkable series of coincidences, found its way into my hands. I’m thinking of publishing it on the Web at www.youvebinad.com. 

Very sincerely,

Joseph Soap, Clapham

Editor: I think it’s time we drew a halt to this discussion of all things Destructivist, which is in danger of becoming trivial. No more letters on the subject, please.


A week or two after completing this memoir, I travelled up to London to discuss a few editorial matters with my publishers, Lewis & Clark, who are specialists in the art history market. The meeting took longer than anticipated and instead of catching a late train back to Wiltshire as intended, I decided to stay overnight with friends and return the following morning. It was a calamitous -- or, depending on how you look at it, a life-saving – decision. Because when I arrived back at the tiny, almost non-existent village where I live, I found my seventeenth-century thatched cottage reduced to a smoking roofless ruin.

     Everything was destroyed, including my priceless (to me) archive of Destructrivia, together with my computer, my back-up discs and all my notes for the present book. The official explanation given me by the fire brigade involved a combination of high winds and a faulty boiler. Personally I have my doubts about this theory. I am wondering instead whether it was a mistake to have announced in the pages of the LRC that I owned so much documentary material, including diaries, relating to the Destructivist story.

     Fortunately the manuscript of this memoir did not perish in the blaze, having been safely emailed to my publishers a week before. Perhaps there is a fitting irony in all this. Life, or fate, or sometimes the Destructivists themselves, seem to have done everything they can to write Destructivism out of history. This modest account of its brief moment in the sun may be all that now remains.

RG, September 2008, Holiday Inn, Swindon

(Handwritten note accompanying the ms.)

Dear Robert,

Rather embarrassing this, but I'm afraid I'll have to ask you to send us another copy of the ms. We had a major data crash here last week and lost the main body of your text, which was waiting to be downloaded. I'm just praying that you have another copy – i.e. disk or hard copy. You do, don't you? They weren't all destroyed in the fire? I'm enclosing the first proofs for the rest of the book on the assumption that the answer to this question is no (i.e. yes, you do have another copy).

     I do apologise for this uncharacteristic lapse on our part. What rotten luck you're having!


Bill Lewis

About the author

The only Robert Grossmith we can find was a character in a ghost story by Ambrose Bierce.