Kathy Acker, 1986. Photo by Robert Croma.
Some of the most brain-scramblingly brilliant clusterfucks in the English language come to us courtesy of the late novelist Kathy Acker. She was a small and potent leather-clad, post-structuralist prose-styling, sex-positive slip of a woman who, according to loving friends and resentful exes alike, moved through the world with the social delicacy of a class F5 tornado.
I bring her up partly because some retrospectives and conferences celebrating Acker’s work have started cropping up in NYC and London, but mostly because I’m having such a blast revisiting her books lately. Grove Press released Essential Acker a while back, along with some of her previously unpublished early novels: Rip-off Red, The Burning Bombing of America, and Girl Detective. It’s chewy, nourishing stuff, and her tales of rejection and redefinition are hitting me even harder the second time around.
2009 is a fresh, raw, hopeful year… the perfect time for an Acker revival! It’d be lovely to chat about her with anyone else out there familiar with her work. (I suppose I could drive over to UC Berkeley and try to ingratiate myself with a few of those scowling pomo lit profs, but I’m afeared. I’d rather gab with you guys.)
Jonathan Webster: “The most enjoyable thing about having a conversation with the gorgeous, post-punk, post-feminist, pierced and tattooed American novelist Kathy Acker, is that her answers to interview questions take on an elliptical quality. Just as in her novels, you are simultaneously thrown off balance and yet riveted, never quite knowing whether she is going to give you a straight answer or about to go off at a bizarre, but somehow connected, tangent”. (Photo by Kathy Brew.)
She was an obsession of mine as a teenager. Auntie Acker, the mentor I never had, the one who would have bought me beer and beadies and spoken to me candidly about orgasms and revolution when none of the other grown-ups took me seriously. A comics pal of mine insists that Neil Gaiman based his famed Endless character Delirium as much on Acker as he did on Tori. That would make a lot of sense, given her spaced-out, million-places-at-once style, and the giddy arc of her life story…
Photo by Steve Pyke, 1984.
She’s right up there with Anais Nin, Anne Magnuson and Dorothy Parker in terms of pussy power quotability. Here’s a passage I can’t stop thinking about lately:
“You have to be strong. Shape up. You’re a modern woman. These are the days of post-women’s liberation. Well, what are you going to do? You’ve grown up by now and you have to take care of yourself. No one’s going to help you. You’re the only one.”
She was right. She’s still right, and I think we need more Kathy Ackers. Now.
More generally speaking, I’m anxious to hear word of up-and-coming “literary terrorists” I know must be out there, under my radar. Help me, guys. Where are they? Who are they? Spill it, O lurksome lit major. Yeah, you in the back with the annotated Go Down, Moses. Who’s on your short list? Who else is following in Acker’s footsteps? In Burroughs’? In Hunter S. Thompson’s? Who is channeling the grand, unconquerable spirit of everyone’s favorite Irish panty-sniffing genius, James Joyce?
Who are the Brave New Writers? Who is grappling white-knuckled, libertine, with language? With life! Introduce me to some innovators who understand the need to marry formal, intellectual editing methods with raw, bloody intimacy…. thinkers who aren’t afraid to occasionally reinvent themselves, or, on a particularly ambitious day, the nature of verbal communication itself.
Angela Carter died tragically young of cancer, too. David Foster Wallace has skipped town early. Bret Easton Ellis seems to have gone into a curious parakeet-with-a-mirror mode (but I still love him). What’s Mark Z. Danielewski up to these days? There’s DeLillo. Pynchon. Octavia Butler. Cormac McCarthy. We’ve got Grant Morrison and the oft-mentioned Alan Moore over in comics. Who else should I know about that I very likely am oblivious of? Feed me, Seymour!
Some more Acker links:
- “Where Does She Get Off?” Hilarious interview with R.U. Sirius
- C. Carr writes about Acker’s connections with Riot Grrl
- Interview with Ellen G. Friedman
- Richard Kadrey’s eulogy for Acker at Salon