Kathy Acker Reading The Body 1991 (MONDO 2000 Issue #4)

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.

Larry McCaffery

Read more “Kathy Acker Reading The Body 1991 (MONDO 2000 Issue #4)”

Timothy Leary’s Great-ish Escape

An interview with Steven L. Davis, co-author of The Most Dangerous Man in America: Timothy Leary, Richard Nixon and the Hunt for the Fugitive King of LSD.

On September 13, 1970, Timothy Leary escaped from a low security California prison by pulling himself on a high wire over a 12 foot chain linked fence topped with barbed wire. He was ferreted underground by the radical Weather Underground who helped him escape America. He ended up in Algeria with an exiled chapter of the Black Panther Party lead by Eldridge Cleaver.

All MONDO readers probably know this, but I thought I’d set the scene a bit.

While I was a participant in the late 1960s counterculture — to the extent that a high school student in a smallish town could be — I wasn’t particularly obsessed with Leary. I enjoyed reading his occasional piece in the underground press, but Abbie Hoffman was more my thing. Until the escape. After that, I developed a lifelong interest in his action adventure episode and how it impacted on his philosophical ideas.

That’s why I was excited to learn of the publication of The Most Dangerous Man in America: Timothy Leary, Richard Nixon and the Hunt for the Fugitive King of LSD  by Bill Minutaglio and Steve Davis.  The book doesn’t disappoint. The narrative is in present tense and fast forward. It’s a ripping yarn that bounces back and forth between Leary’s life on the lam and President Richard Nixon’s own personal delirium as he copes with the Vietnam war, extreme rebellion in the streets of America and his own obsession with capturing Leary. 

For those MONDO readers, who have followed Leary’s philosophical musings over the years, this period is kind of the last phase of Tim’s cosmic hippieishness. He comes across as deep into  mysticism; consulting the i Ching and the Tarot for strategic decisions and so forth. In some ways, his intellectual credibility would rely on things he wrote before this time and after it. And yet, I think he gained a lot, in terms of sophistication and insight from the experience, that showed up in his later writing.

I interviewed Steve Davis about the book via email

R.U. Sirius

Timothy and Rosemary Leary in disguise, leaving “Amerika”

R.U. There are a number of things that are illuminated for Leary fanatics (as many Mondo readers are) by your book. One of them is the degree to which many of the ultra-radicals of that crazy period in the early 1970s were not really Tim’s friends. Particularly the lawyer, Michael Kennedy. What can you tell us about this “alliance”?

Steve Davis: Well, you can see this alliance of “dope and dynamite,” as Michael Kennedy enjoyed calling it, play out throughout the book. In some sense both Tim and the radical left were using each other for their own purposes. For Tim, of course, the revolutionary outlaws provided the means for his escape from prison – something he wanted desperately. But then of course once he climbed over the prison fence he entered a blind maze of new prisons – and as you say, these people did not have Timothy Leary’s best interests in mind, from the Weather Undeground demanding his rhetorical fealty to their vision of a violent revolution to Eldridge Cleaver and the Black Panthers demanding that Tim renounce LSD and join them in calling for Death to the Fascists. On and on it went. Tim had to keep shape-shifting to save his own skin. He basically became a pawn of both the far left and the far right (Nixon and his cronies) during this era – and of course when everything ended and he looked back on it, he realized that the law-and-order struggles between the far left and the far right were two sides of the same coin. I think the experience made him suspicious of any alliance after that. Hell, it would do the same to any of us! Read more “Timothy Leary’s Great-ish Escape”

Richard Stallman : Last of The True Hackers? (MONDO 2000 flashback 1989)

When Richard Stallman first arrived at the MIT Artificial Intelligence Lab there were no officially sanctioned users of the equipment, no passwords, no security, no special privileges. Stallman liked it that way. But the retrenchment that was the 70s hit the MIT lab a few years after Stallman’s arrival. Passwords were assigned to Officially Sanctioned Users. So Stallman broke the computer’s encryption code and was able to get to the protected file that held people’s passwords. Stallman started sending people messages which would appear on the screen when they logged onto the system: “I see your password is (such and such). I suggest that you switch to the password ‘carriage return.’ It’s much easier to type, and also it stands up to the principle that there should be no passwords.”

Stallman is the inventor of the original, much-imitated EMACS editor. He also worked on the Lisp operating system and has worked extensively on compilers, editors, debuggers, command interpreters and the Incompatible Timesharing System. His current project is GNU “What’s GNU? GNU’s Not Unix. It’s a complete Unixcompatible software system that’s being written to give away free to everyone who can use it.”

R.U. Sirius



MONDO 2000:
We are talking to the last of the hackers.

RICHARD STALLMAN: My name is Richard Stallman, my rank is general nuisance, my cereal is frosted flakes. The term hackers was invented by Steve Levy. According to him, the true hackers were the ones at universities in the mid 60’s and into the early 70’s —they were working on large computers. Then the hardware hackers who designed the personal computers in the 70’s —they’re second generation. The third generation is the game hackers of the late 70’s and 80’s. So when he calls me last of the true hackers he means the last of that generation, the last person carrying on the attitudes and spirit of that generation.

M2: Would you agree that you’re the last holdout from that generation in terms of staying true to the hacker’s ethic ?

RS: It’s certainly true that a lot of them sold out. I don’t know if there actually is a hacker’s ethic as such but there sure was an MIT Artificial Intelligence Lab ethic. This was that bureaucracy should not be allowed to get in the way of doing anything useful. Rules did not matter —results mattered. Rules, in the form of computer security or locks on doors, were held in total, absolute disrespect. We would be proud of how quickly we would sweep away whatever little piece of bureaucracy was getting in the way, how little time it forced you to waste. Anyone who dared to lock a terminal in his office, say because he was a professor and thought he was more important than other people, would likely find his door left open the next morning. I would just climb over the ceiling or under the floor, move the terminal out, or leave the door open with a note saying what a big inconvenience it is to have to go under the floor . . . “so please do not inconvenience people by locking the door any longer.” Even now, there is a big wrench at the AI lab which is entitled “the 7th floor master key” to be used in case anyone dares to lock up one of the more fancy terminals.


The original hackers didn’t break security just to be naughty.

M2: So the ethic, to some extent, lives on. Would you say it permeates the computer industry, or a large portion of it ?

RS: The basic desire is widespread. But most people just think, “Boy, this company is stupid. They pay me a lot of money and then arrange for me to waste a lot of my time. Aren’t they silly? Well, it is their money.” So they’re bought and no longer have the morale to say, “Shit —I am not going to put up with this bureaucracy.”

The term hacker has come to be associated exclusively with breaking security. That isn’t what it is at all, but hackers were willing to state their total contempt for security people, because security was one form of bureaucracy.

First generation hackers would break security because it was in the way of doing something useful. Now a lot of kids do it ’cause it’s naughty. Though it is true that showing that you can break security that’s said to be unbreakable is a nice hack, the original hackers did not break security just to be naughty. We broke security if somebody had locked up a tool that you needed to use.

M2: A lot of kids who break security think of it as a challenge to get into a system.

RS: They’re caught up in playing a game where they and a system administrator are trying to show who’s more powerful. Which is a waste of time, and that’s the exact opposite of the original hackers’ intention. What happens is a system administrator puts in more security measures, and then the security breaker tries to beat those. It’s a waste of time and energy. A tedious, sick game.

System administrators don’t realize that by playing the game they keep it going. Most security measures don’t provide security. They simply raise the level of sophistication at which the game is played. The game gets in the way of people trying to do any work. Read more “Richard Stallman : Last of The True Hackers? (MONDO 2000 flashback 1989)”