Kathy Acker (née Karen Lehmann; April 18, 1947 – November 30, 1997) was an American experimental novelist, punk poet, playwright, essayist, postmodernist and sex-positive feminist writer. She was strongly influenced by the Black Mountain School, William S. Burroughs, David Antin, French critical theory, philosophy and pornography.
I went back and reviewed my previous entries on Kathy Acker in this weblog and surprisingly, most of my writing on the subject must have been lost in an earlier edition of my opinionated rants (probably in the bit bucket at Apple). So here is a quick introduction to Acker and her art. The quotation above is from Wikipedia (you might want to go there for a deeper discussion of the author).
I first read Kathy Acker in the mid-1990’s. I don’t have a clear recollection but I suspect she was still alive at the time. I know that Pussy, King of Pirates was on the shelf in the local Barnes and Noble. Reading Acker was tough but I persevered through the years. The internet allowed me to order most of her published works. I remember one took twelve weeks to get to me and the postage was four times the price of the volume (it came from South Africa). At first Acker’s writing reminded me of a perverse amalgam of automatic writing and the cut-up works of William S. Burroughs (Acker possible used her teeth to cut up here pages of prose?).
You read enough by an author that doesn’t follow the rules and you begin to understand the why and wherefore behind the prose.
Nowadays there are several good academic studies of Acker’s work: I even new of a graduate student doing her thesis in Acker when my daughter was studying 19th Century French Literature at the same university. If I was younger and chock-a-block with vim, vigor, and better eyesight, I might go back and study those secondary resources, but for now, the one thing about Acker that most fascinated me was her use of plagiarism as a tool of fiction. (no, Wayne Booth must have missed that one). But stop and think: let’s use Cervantes as the basis of a novel but to make it more interesting let’s make the woeful knight a woman, and a radical feminist at that.
These really no easy way to analyze Kathy Acker’s work without sounding too academic. As troublesome as Acker often is, the best way to absorb her mystique is to read and reread her work. Here is the bibliography from Wikipedia:
Childlike Life of the Black Tarantula By the Black Tarantula (1973)
I Dreamt I Was a Nymphomaniac: Imagining (1974)
Adult Life of Toulouse Lautrec (1978)
Kathy Goes To Haiti (1978)
N.Y.C. in 1979 (1981)
Great Expectations (1983)
Algeria : A Series of Invocations Because Nothing Else Works (1984)
Blood and Guts in High School (1984)
Don Quixote: Which Was a Dream (1986)
Literal Madness: Three Novels (Reprinted 1987)
My Death My Life by Pier Paolo Pasolini
Wordplays 5 : An Anthology of New American Drama (1987)
Empire of the Senseless (1988)
In Memoriam to Identity (1990)
Hannibal Lecter, My Father (1991)
My Mother: Demonology (1994)
The Stabbing Hand – guest appearance on alternate mix of song by Oxbow included on reissues of album Let Me Be a Woman (1995)
Pussycat Fever (1995)
Dust. Essays (1995)
Pussy, King of the Pirates (1996)
Bodies of Work : Essays (1997)
Portrait of an Eye: Three Novels (Reprinted 1998)
Redoing Childhood (2000) spoken word CD, KRS 349.
Rip-Off Red, Girl Detective (pub. 2002 from manuscript of 1973)
Maybe if we’re truly blessed, some publisher will, in fact, re-release all of Kathy Acker’s published works … and any unpublished ones they find, too. Readers looking for out-of-print Acker books should be aware that many volues are collections and which works are in the collections varies by country, as does the published title.
From: WHO’S AFRAID OF KATHY ACKER
documentary by Barbara Caspar, 84 min., A/D, 2007