Kathy Acker Interviewed by Larry McCaffery
When Kathy Acker smiles, her face shifts 2000 years in time, from Periclean austere to postmodern punk.
Embedded in one of her front teeth is a jagged chunk of bronze.
She is her own text, her own gallery. She’s a body builder in more than the usual way: her muscles animate spectacular tattoos. She has seized control over the sign-systems through which people “read” her.
You may also read her books. In Empire of the Senseless (1988) she systematically kills the patriarchal father, tries (but eventually fails) to imagine a society freed from Oedipal considerations and all taboos, and introduces a file of outcast myths—cyberpunk, modern primitive, pirate, motorcycle gang—to explore control over one’s life and the use of signs to create the meaning of that life. In Memoriam to Identity (1990) inhabits literary and historical materials—the work of Rimbaud and his relationship with Verlaine, Heian court writing, Faulkner—to present a contemporary version of the myth of romance.
During her expatriate years Acker became a major figure in postmodern and feminist fiction. Her novels (with spectacular Robert Mapplethorpe photographs on their covers) were attacked from right and left. Some feminists were made queasy by Acker’s depictions of emotional and sexual masochism, her obsession with obscenity. Some loathed her analyses of political and cultural repression; others, her takes on 1960’s Hippie utopianism. After a dicey decade in London, Acker moved back to the states, specifically San Francisco, where she teaches writing at the Art Institute.
Past mistress of the cunning juxtaposition and the Fine Art of Appropriation, her writing betrays a multitrack outlaw intellect. And she doesn’t shrink from mining outlaw “low culture” genres like SF, pornography, and detective fiction. The net effect of her work is not merely to deconstruct, but to decondition.
Acker is passionate and articulate, energetic and authoritative. Laughter and self-irony punctuated her rapid-fire presentations delivered in a heavy New York Jewish accent.