Writing “Blood and Guts In High School” — Excerpt From “After Kathy Acker”

by Chris Kraus (from After Kathy Acker: A Literary Biography

I first became aware of Kathy Acker when excerpts from Blood and Guts in High School appeared in the Canadian avant-garde magazine Impulse in the late 1970s. It was the first fictional work I’d read that was able to do what punk rock was doing. Everything around it seemed dull by comparison.

Years later, I got to meet Acker at a MONDO 2000 event and we would quickly become close friends and (briefly… twice) lovers. 

Now we have Chris Kraus’s After Kathy Acker. It’s a well-researched bio that revolves around her creative work… with enough discursive style to achieve some degree of Acker-ness. 

below then… an excerpt from Blood and Guts in High School

R.U. Sirius

*****

Until she sat down to compose the manuscript at the end of 1978, Acker never conceived Blood and Guts in High School as a continuous, stand-alone book. Neither a serial project nor a “big novel,” the book was composed from an assortment of fragments and outtakes written and saved since she moved to Solana Beach with Peter Gordon in 1973 and began writing prose. The intricate pictograph dream maps she drew while she was writing The Childlike Life appear for the first time in Blood and Guts, preceding some fairy tales she’d composed but not used in Toulouse #4.

Teen gangs like the Scorpions had been on her mind since becoming involved with the downtown scene when she moved back to New York. In a 1974 letter to Ron Silliman, she gleefully wrote, I’m becoming a rock & roll lyricist, and copied her new “poem” for him:

NO MORE PARENTS NO MORE SCHOOL

NO MORE SOCIETY’S DIRTY RULES

SPREAD MY LEGS I’M SO POOR I WANT TO DIE

According to Judith Doyle, Acker saw punk as “this schoolyard nasty-girl desire thing.” Composed in the wake the hyper-narrative Kathy Goes to Haiti, Blood and Guts proposes a more aggressive and upbeat, less tragic form of rebellion than the schoolgirl conspiracies that unfold in The Childlike Life, drawn from her years at the Lenox School and the writings of Violette Leduc.

The Persian Poems — her ingenious, maybe real, maybe fake translation of such phrases as Janey is an expensive child/But cheap and see my cunt! into Farsi that form the middle part of Blood and Guts — was initially published in Sylvere Lotringer’s 1978 Schizo-Culture issue of the magazine Semiotext(e). The Persian Poems appeared again in 1980 as an artist’s book illustrated by Robert Kushner that was also funded and produced by him as “Bozeau of London Press.”

Early in 1978 Acker confronted, for the first time, the possibility that she might have cancer. Discovering a breast lump, she underwent a biopsy that turned out benign. Fear and dread of the disease course through the second half of Blood and Guts in High School: [In] my life politics don’t disappear but take place in my body, she writes in the section following The Persian Poems. And further on:

Having cancer is like having a baby. If you’re a woman and you can’t have a baby ‘cause you’re starving poor or ‘cause no man wants anything to do with you or ‘cause you’re lonely and miserable and frightened and totally insane, you might as well get cancer. You can feel your lump, and you nurse, knowing I will always get bigger. It eats you, and, gradually, you learn, as all good mothers learn, to love yourself.

By now she and Gordon no longer lived, or expected to live, as a traditional couple. Best friends and roommates, they had established completely separate lives. Still, that year they got married on a freezing February afternoon at City Hall. As Gordon recalls, the marriage was wholly Acker’s idea. There was no reception, party, or other acknowledgment of the event.

To Gordon, “Our marriage] was always kind of a mystery to me . . . I still wonder about it. Perhaps it was because . . . mortality had raised its head and perhaps there was a re-evaluation of the importance of the relationship.” A more crass viewpoint would be that it was for insurance reasons. But even though he’d signed up for insurance, Gordon’s employer neglected to pay for the policy, and they were stuck with the hospital bill.

Six months later they separated permanently. Gordon moved out of the apartment, into his East Sixth Street studio. They’d been together since 1972. Even though she’d been actively seeking a more — to her mind — suitable romantic partner for the past several years, Acker was devastated. The pain of their separation defines the comedic exchanges between “Janey” and “Father” in the opening of Blood and Guts in High School.

In Scene One, Janey’s father — like Peter Gordon — has started casually dating a girl and discovered that he likes her. Janey: You’re going to leave me . . . Father (dumbfounded, but not denying it): Sally and I just slept together for the first time. How can I know anything? Janey (in amazement. She didn’t believe what she was saying was true. It was only out of petulance): You ARE going to leave me. Oh no. No. That can’t be. Father (also stunned): I never thought I was going to leave you. I was just fucking . . . A series of tormented relationship conversations ensues:

Janey (searching for a conversation subject that doesn’t touch upon their breaking up): What’s Sally like?

Father: I don’t know. (As if he’s talking about someone he’s so close to he can’t see the characteristics.) We’re really very compatible. We like the same things.

She’s very serious; that’s what she’s like. She’s an intellectual.

Janey (showing no emotion): Oh. What does she do?

Father: She’s hasn’t decided yet. She’s just trying to find herself. She’s into music; she writes; she does a little of everything.

Janey (trying to be helpful): It always takes awhile.

Father: She’s trying to find out everything . . .

Janey: Are you going to want to live with me again?

Father: I don’t know right now. I’m really enjoying the emotional distance . . .

Janey: When do you think you’ll know if you ever want to live with me again?

Father: Oh, Janey. You’ve got to lighten up. Things just got too entangled. Everything between us is still too entangled for me to be with you.

Janey: I see. That means no . . .

Father: Right now I just really like opening my door to this apartment and walking into my own space. I’m going to be here through September and then I’ll see what my plans are. I don’t think you should bank on anything . . .

“We were basically living separate lives” Gordon recalls. Kathy had her own life and I had my own life, with Kathy in it. The relationship was not going to change, and I was now marked as a married man. I realized I had to get out..

The exchanges between Janey and her father comprise the first scenes of the book, but they were clearly the last to be composed. It could be that the disturbance of her final separation from Gordon prompted Acker to arrange this collection of outtakes and unpublished writings into a disjunctive but emotionally continuous work. Read more “Writing “Blood and Guts In High School” — Excerpt From “After Kathy Acker””

(Excerpt) Kill All Normies: Online Culture Wars From 4Chan And Tumblr To Trump And The Alt-Right

by Angela Nagle, Selections by R.U. Sirius

 

Weighing in at only 129 short pages, Kill All Normies: Online Culture Wars From 4Chan and Tumblr to Trump And The Alt-Right  (KAL) is the book to read this year. Everyone who — like most MONDO enthusiasts — have been steeped in counterculture values and attitudes needs to wrestle with its complicating vision. While it’s not a pretty picture, it’s a peculiarly fun read — excessive behaviors do tend to keep us fascinated.

While the so-called “alt-right” is the main target of this books’ critique/expose, the excesses of the culture-obsessed left are also sharply assessed. KAL spreads its blame around for the ugliness currently extant online as it spills with increasing vigor into the physical political realm.

Most interestingly, for MONDO readers, KAL takes on transgression, libertinism and other tropes of hip culture and, more or less, concludes that we are not doing the right thing.

Here I present the parts of the book I underlined. They may be a little out of context, but most of you will get the point.

Thanks to Zero Books and Angela Nagle for allowing us to run these excerpts. The subheads are ours.

The Technotopian Connection

The culture of 4chan, Anonymous etc., in the pre-gamergate days of Occupy and Anonymous could have gone another way. Long before this ‘geeks vs feminists’ battle, the libertarian left had its own pro-hacker, pro-computer geek, Internet-centric political tradition, which some in the early Anonymous milieu obviously drew influence from. Hakim Bey’s idea of the temporary autonomous zone was based on what he called ‘pirate utopias’ and he argued that the attempt to form a permanent culture or politics inevitably deteriorates into a structured system that stifles individual creativity. His language and ideas influenced anarchism and later, online cultures that advocated illegal downloading, anonymity, hacking and experiments like bitcoin. Echoes of John Perry Barlow’s manifesto ‘A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace’ can be seen in this earlier period of Anon culture and in analyses that reflect a more radical horizontalist politics, like Gabriella Coleman’s work. Barlow was one of the founders of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, anarchist hackers and defenders of an Internet free of state intervention, capitalist control and monopolizing of the online world. In a similar style to the rhetoric of 4chan and Anonymous (‘we are legion’), it warned: Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the home of Mind. On behalf of the future I ask you of the past to leave us alone. You are not welcome among us. You have no sovereignty where we gather.

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Just a few years ago the left-cyberutopians claimed that ‘the disgust had become a network’ and that establishment old media could no longer control politics, that the new public sphere was going to be based on leaderless user-generated social media. This network has indeed arrived, but it has helped to take the right, not the left, to power. Those on the left who fetishized the spontaneous leaderless Internet-centric network, declaring all other forms of doing politics old hat, failed to realize that the leaderless form actually told us little about the philosophical, moral or conceptual content of the movements involved. Into the vacuum of ‘leaderlessness’ almost anything could appear. Read more “(Excerpt) Kill All Normies: Online Culture Wars From 4Chan And Tumblr To Trump And The Alt-Right”

KLF at the Brit Awards Show 1992 — Machine gunning the audience (and a Dead Sheep)

negotiations had broken down following their plans to fill a stage with angels and Zulus and arrive on the back of elephants.

An Excerpt from KLF: CHAOS MAGIC MUSIC MONEY by John Higgs

 

 

With hindsight, it was Jonathan King that killed the KLF. His fatal blow was an innocent-sounding comment. His words may not have split the group immediately, because Cauty and Drummond had too much momentum to stop straight away. But it was only a matter of time, as the implications of what he had said could not be ignored for long. The KLF staggered on for another three months, too stunned to realize that they were already dead.

It was February 1992 and the KLF had just won the ‘Best Band’ award at the Brit Awards. Jonathan King was the producer of the awards show, and he had been asked what he thought of the KLF’s live performance at the show. “I enjoyed it”, he said.

He enjoyed it. There was nothing else for it. It had to end.

King is a music producer, TV presenter and a recording artist who has sold over 40 million records under various pseudonyms, most of them novelty singles. As he busied himself backstage at the Hammersmith Odeon organizing the 1992 Brits Awards, he was forty eight years old and dressed in a garish shell suit and a baseball cap with ‘KING’ stamped in metal across the front. In the coming decade he was named ‘Man of the Year’ by the BPI, praised by Tony Blair and convicted of multiple sexual offences on underage boys, so in many ways Jonathan King could be said to personify the music industry. King’s acceptance had, on a symbolic level, signified the music industry claiming Drummond and Cauty for itself.

Drummond and Cauty’s problem with the music industry wasn’t the usual adolescent anti-authoritarian posturing that is so common among musicians. It was the result of bitter experience. By that point Cauty and Drummond had twenty-five years’ experience in the industry between them, from running record labels to producing, working in A&R, being in unsuccessful bands and being pop stars. They knew what the music industry did to people, and they also knew what it had done to them. But by then they also knew how much they had been formed by it. It had shaped their lives and left them feeling corrupted, but it was also an integral part of who they were.

It’s still surprising that they were asked to provide the opening performance for that year’s Brit Awards show. They had been asked to appear the previous year, but negotiations had broken down following their plans to fill a stage with angels and Zulus and arrive on the back of elephants. The deal breaker, with hindsight, was probably their plan to chain-saw the legs off one of the elephants. The elephant, they said, represented the music industry. The organizers understandably walked away at this point, but they should have realized then that they were not dealing with stable individuals. Read more “KLF at the Brit Awards Show 1992 — Machine gunning the audience (and a Dead Sheep)”