Memes Are For Tricksters: The Biology of Disinformation

by R.U. Sirius

An interview with Douglas Rushkoff, David Pescovitz & Jake Dunagan

Back in 1990, when MONDO 2000 magazine promised Screaming Memes on its cover, it was more or less a secret argot winking at our technohip Mondoid readers. I mean, sure there was that Dawkins book in which he invented the concept, but it seemed to be a bunch of playful, subversive freaks who were using them to blow open some heads (and maybe sell a few magazines). 

We’ve come a long way baby. Now, the world appears to be defined by memetic warfare and the damage done is real world crisis and horror.

A recent paper by Douglas Rushkoff, David Pescovitz and Jake Dunagan written for the Institute for the Future titled The Biology of Disinformation: memes, media viruses and cultural inoculation describes the contemporary condition and suggests ways to combat this bad operation mindfuck.  

Read The Biology of Disinformation

David Pescovitz and Jake Dunagan are both research directors at Institute for the Future and Rushkoff is a research fellow.  MONDOids are, of course, familiar with Pescovitz as one of the founding members of Boing Boing and Rushkoff as the author of many books including the highly relevant Media Virus, from 1994.

We chatted using Slack…

thanks to Satori D for his assistance and participation

R.U. Sirius: In a sense, you’re offering a different model than the one most of us usually think in, as regards memetics. Instead of fighting bad memes with good, or their memes with ours, are you suggesting that we look at memes themselves as viruses attacking us? Is that right?

Douglas Rushkoff: Yeah, that’s the simplest way of looking at it. That’s why I called memes in media “media viruses.” Even if they end up forcing important ideas into the cultural conversation, and even if they ultimately lead to good things, they do infect us from the outside. They attack our weak code, and continue to replicate until we repair it, or until we come to recognize the “shell” of the virus itself.

I think what makes our analysis unique, compared with a lot of what’s out there, is that we’re not proposing yet another technosolutionist fix. Mark Zuckerberg wants to fight fake news with artificial intelligence. Great. He’s already over his head in a media environment he doesn’t understand. He doesn’t know why his platform has led to so many unintended effects. So what’s his solution? Build yet another technology he understands even less to solve the problem with yet another black box.

Even those with the best intentions see all this as a technological problem, when it’s really more a cultural or biological one. The difference in our approach is that we still have faith in the human organism and human society to rise to the occasion and increase their resiliency. So we’re writing for people, not tech companies.

David Pescovitz 

David Pescovitz: I’m also interested in how our networked media environment has evolved to allow this nastiness to occur and, in fact, reward it. During the early days of Twitter and Facebook it was exciting that people were using the platforms to share ideas and “find the others.” But I was also annoyed and later alarmed by the rise in narcissism, emphasis on “personal brands,” and mob mentality. Maybe those people were always like that and social media just amplified those traits. Either way, to me it quickly felt like antisocial media.

Since then, it’s become increasingly clear that the only real way to fix our social media experiences is by fixing ourselves. This is true when it comes to how we interact with other people online but also our own vulnerability to propaganda, disinformation, and coercion. Of course reconnecting with our own humanity is much harder than just giving in to the algorithmically addictive dopamine rush of another retweet or “like.”

Jake Dunagan: There was an old Zuck who swallowed a virus, I don’t know why he swallowed the virus. He swallowed AI to fight the virus…

I was struck by the psychologist Dannagal Young’s point that we quoted in the article: “blaming readers for spreading fake news from a cognitive perspective …somewhat equivalent to blaming a baby for soiling itself. They can’t help it. ”

 

Jake Dunagan

This is what Doug is calling our weak code, our vulnerabilities we’ve inherited from evolution and extended by culture. Humor, satire, memes, are exploiting our cognitive weaknesses, and lowering our defenses. I’ve always loved the Mad Magazine, SNL, and Yes Men ways of showing us how the messages we’re hearing are full of shit. Read more “Memes Are For Tricksters: The Biology of Disinformation”

“All medias are propagandic” — Of Bowie, Mishima, Memewar: Jamie Curcio Interviewed

 

by R.U. Sirius

artwork by Jamie Curcio

Jamie Curcio is a brilliant artist and cultural theorist or something like that… but even, thankfully, harder to pin down.  

In any case, he is one hell of a writer and thinker, mixing together all kinds of favorite MONDOid memes — the ups and downs of post-whatever philosophies, the over-the-edges of avant cultural works, media narratives and quasi-apocalyptic hysterias and — perhaps most charmingly — he is obsessed with David Bowie.

Books include Narrative Machines: Modern Myth, Revolution and Propaganda, Party At The World’s End (Fallen Cycle, Volume One) and the upcoming Masks: Bowie and Artists of Artifice, which is in progress.

I interviewed Curcio mainly about Narrative Machines and the upcoming Bowie book.  

R.U. SIRIUS: Your book Narrative Machines provides a discourse about the distorting effects of a sort of mediated hall of mirrors and decentering of identity. This sort of thing has been active for a very long time, even before the internet made its growth “exponential.”  From whence comes the recognition that the contingency of our narratives is more useful to the “right” than the “left”… if true?

Also, there was a ‘90s idea that a sufficiently advanced technology would sort-of blow through the rupturing aspect of it all — that the dissipating structures would eventually cohere as a higher evolutionary order.  Is there any use for that sort of hopeful perspective today?

JAMIE CURCIO: Pessimism and realism have a complicated relationship. That’s one of the things I was trying to come to terms with in working on Narrative Machines. So let me say, if being pessimistic is going to shut people down, then I’m not going to say it’s a virtue.  

But it’s also hard to really take an account of the problems on the horizon for our civilization, and our collective inability or unwillingness to deal with it, and not recognize how blinding optimism about the “revelatory power of the new” can be. Accelerationists often forget just how dumb the perpetual rush toward the new can be.

People can read that statement in a Right or a Left way — they’ll differ in terms of looking for a solution, or in what “our civilization” means. Everyone seems to think the barbarians are at the gates, whether it’s the Fascists and Russian oligarchs, or the immigrants and cultural Marxists brainwashing the children. It’s clear which I think is more absurd, but in either case, it’s a war of myth. We can joke about memewar, but I think we need to recognize the ways that it isn’t a joke, or at least, the way that it’s a continuation of propagandist methods that are hardly new.

There’s a kind of messianism and eschatology that runs through both the “Right” and “Left,” the idea that a political ideology itself can fix anything. Robert Anton Wilson wrote about this plenty. I think he was ahead of the curve in many ways, for all that it’s worth. And he was adamant about remaining optimistic.

To me, the silver lining is that if the analogy of the effect on culture the printing press had, and now with the internet, then there’s reason to believe the end isn’t nigh in that regard. Things are looking dark, but if we’re talking about bot armies and the Russian use of postmodern methods in their propaganda — all is not lost. It just emphasizes the importance of studying “useless” things like philosophy and art.

On the other hand, the way that unfettered capitalism is likely to consume the planet, or at least its habitability for a great number of species including, ultimately, ourselves… that’s another story. For all we know, that ship has already sailed. The only way out, if there is one, is through. We’re committed to carry the experiments of the past into the future — just look at how the problems and solutions of a century ago continue to get resurrected. Fascism, Communism, Liberalism. The three ideologies that arose from the ashes of WW 1.

I should add, I happen to think compassion should guide our actions toward others as much as we can manage, and much Right wing ideology seems a veneer for various forms of cruelty, and I believe cruelty should be reserved for art. So my sympathies tend to run Left, but that’s different from an ideological commitment.

RUS: You take on the statistical based optimism that seems to be well-loved particularly by neoliberal sorts like Pinker. The idea is that statistics show us that human beings are improving their lot in life and becoming more well-behaved.  Can you explicate your view a bit?

JC: I was taken by John Grey’s argument on this subject in The Soul of the Marionette, and so while I didn’t just reproduce it, I would say it helped me put a pre-existing line of thought in order. In short, I investigate the Progressive certainty that everything is improving all the time is very much based both on our selective interpretation of the facts, and our situation in terms of a particular narrative we have constructed about our place in history. There have been undeniable benefits per capita in the past 100 years regarding the marriage of technology and capitalism. Will that read the same in 100 years? I’m not so sure.

RUS: I think underlying the technotopian hope of the late 20th Century was the idea that this mostly white and American eruption at the end of the 20th century could use tech to deliver an awesomely improving world and you could elide the blowback from centuries of colonialism and racism. It’s not an entirely bad idea… to avoid conflict.

JC: It definitely tends to overlook the role of inertia in a culture, or of a true reckoning with the past, why that keeps repeating itself through us. Time may be accumulative but the behavior of complex systems is generally not linear.

 

RUS:  You deal in Narrative Machines with questions of revolution… and how it doesn’t tend to deliver on its hopes.  Looking at the Arab Spring, would you say that any movement now just accelerates confusion. There’s no interregnum of hope?

The broader question about revolution usually not improving things… does this leave us with neoliberalism with its economic domination, total surveillance and constant war… or nationalism?  

JC: I use the Arab Spring as an example. What struck me about it was how clearly it supports the idea of “revolution” as very literal — going around and around, forever. There is a sense of Frazier’s Golden Bough here, each King deposed by the King who will one day be deposed. Though that’s a bit reductive, it is hard to find examples of revolution going well for “the people” long term. It’s generally good for some people, and not others. To the extent that revolutions are a power play, they just reshuffle the cards. There’s a lot in Marxist thought about getting beyond that problem… which we definitely haven’t see play out in reality. The day of the revolution is one thing, but there’s always the day after. But that doesn’t necessarily mean everything is hopeless — we still affect one another, things do actually change.

But my ultimate focus in that book isn’t political, even though it deals so much in political ideological terms. It’s all a backhanded argument for an art movement, really… Read more ““All medias are propagandic” — Of Bowie, Mishima, Memewar: Jamie Curcio Interviewed”

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)”

What Is The Sound of a Billion Knees Jerking?

phreakin’ the phone 1972

 

Lyrical cycle by R.U. Sirius with a few actual songs and videos attached

Hey Hey We’re The Punkees (with apologies to The Monkees)

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by 4Chan
Dragging themselves to the living room couch at dawn in search of an angry tweet

With your knickers in a twist
Or your panties in a bunch
William Burroughs shot his wife
Then wrote The Naked Lunch
With your panties in the closet
And your knickers in a whirl
Coming all undone cause
Dr. Who is now a girl

With your panties in a bunch
Or your knickers in a twist
I think you’re gonna punch me
As I eat my naked lunchee
Pan African mixed cuisine
Cooked up by a honky queen
Please fill out your requisition
For the latest inquisition

Hey hey we’re the punkies
People say we’re not The Ramones
We’re the 4th generation
Some say we’re conformist drones
We’re just trying to be friendly
Come and watch us tweet all day
We’re the young generation
You better watch what you say

What I Learned

A tantric master is telling me how to live
Release no jism – Just find your rhythm

A hindu guru is telling me how to die
Try not to try – It’s another high

A politician is telling me where to stand
Take no prisoners – Fuck the pensioners

A porn star Barbie is sending me her link
She isn’t there – But I don’t care

A jolly nerd is telling me what to do
Upload my brain – You’ll feel no pain

A country singer is telling me where it’s at
Let love come to you – then hit it back

I Politician

recorded by Party Dogs (1982)

Listen to I Politician

I’ve got a little think tank
I call it home
I ain’t too highly paid though
Just flesh and bone
I’ll put a little thingie out
On video cassette
And hope the Minister of Propaganda
Don’t get too upset

Still it all comes though
The United Matrix of America
Pagan rhythms out of Africa
Pagan shipments out of Kathmandu
From the Aztecs to the Ming
Genetic carnival on wings

We’ve got a little freak show
We call it “The Hunchback Squeaks”
And then I politician
I get on up and I speaks
“I got a lotta rage” he cries
“And lots of irony”
You’re baboons in a cage” he lies
“I’m going to set you free”

Still it all comes though
The United Matrix of America
Pagan rhythms out of Africa
Pagan shipments out of Kathmandu
From the Aztecs to the Ming
Genetic carnival on wings

Gotta get back to L.A. now
Got a media jones
Talking with the network boys
and taking out more loans
I get 3 minutes on NBC
Attack the ruling class
I’ve got 4 friends at NASA now
If I have to move my ass

Still it all comes though
The United Matrix of America
Pagan rhythms out of Africa
Pagan shipments out of Kathmandu
From the Aztecs to the Ming
Genetic carnival on wings

Avant God

I want an avant god
Loving perversity
Unlimited diversity

Optimized for my iPod
Totally portable
Sometimes snortable

Gendered or not
Maybe subject to rot
Why not?

The avant god is as real
As the knees on which they kneel
Try to keep it on an even keel
The kind of god you have to steal

The avant god is false
The kind of god you must report
The kind of god that misses court
The kind of god you know you want

I want an avant god
Loving perversity
Unlimited diversity

Speed and Weed

recorded by R.U. Sirius & Phriendz

watch video of Speed and Weed

How I wish I could still do speed and weed
Paranoid listening to Let it Bleed
Long letters to J.G. Ballard and Chuck Manson
Kidnapped my shadow and held it for ransom

How I wish I could still do speed and weed
Wide awake watching the cops retreat
Twin Peaks repeats with a bunch of crazy chicks
Midnight the Castro for some real alt dot kicks

How I wish I could still do speed and weed
Be so sharp when I have to go on TV
Head back home kick it with some china white
Growing older man — it just ain’t right

How I wish I could still do speed and weed
Growing older man — it just ain’t right

Surfin’ Weatherman (w. apologies to the Beach Boys, The Rivieras and Bob Dylan)

You don’t need a weatherman to know we’re toast
Shit’s getting Biblical from coast to coast
I’m moving’ to Ohio where the chicks are groovy
Surfin’ with Mike Love we’re gonna make it a movie

And they’ll be surfing in Boston
And in the ruins of Pompei
Deep in the deserts of Kashmir
L.A. has gone cra-cra
They’ll all be grabbing their children
And all their property too
Tell everybody they’re surfing
And everything is cool

You don’t need a weatherman to know we’re toast
Everybodys freakin’ from coast to coast
Going’ back to California where the chicks are pissed
They’ll kneel before my virtue when I raise my fist

And they’ll be shooting deniers
And oil CEOs
And all Republican Senators
And every Fox News host
They’ll all be grabbing their children
And all their property too
Tell everybody they’re surfing
And everything is cool

Be My Valerie Solanas

by Creosote Cowboy

Listen to Be My Valerie Solanas 

Offer her a lollipop
Offer her some gum
Offer her most anything
Don’t offer her my gun
Offer her de Beauvoir
Or offer her de Sade
Keep your shit together man
Fall to your knees and pray

If you’ll be my Valerie Solanas
I will be your Robespierre
Nothing can come between us
‘cept that thing underneath your hair
We have so much in common
Let’s get off on a tear
Bring it down Kill the clowns
We’re such a lovely pair

Offer her a role in porn
Offer her revolt
Offer her most anything
Offer her your scorn
Offer her some Tribe 8
Or offer her Genet
Keep your shit together man
Fall to your knees and pray

If you’ll be my Valerie Solanas
I will be your Robespierre
Nothing can come between us
‘cept that thing underneath your hair
We have so much in common
Let’s get off on a tear
Bring it down Kill the clowns
We’re such a lovely pair

I Wanna Be Your Radio

recorded by MONDO Vanilli (1992, partly written in 1980)

Listen to I Wanna Be Your Radio

I wanna steal your radio
Sacrifice your fingers to an electric fence
I torture you in future tense staccato
And come back home and rest in bed all day

I’ve got techniques for ecstasy
Keeping them under the hat stand
Let’s whip ’em out
And see if anything fits on your head

I wanna steal your radio
Capture you on a hard disc drive
Save you and make a million copies
Give one to each of my friends

I inverted the very color of being
But you — you weren’t there

I wanna be your radio
Sire wire fire and inspire you (cyber cyber)
Flick the switch that renders you insane
Come back home and rest in bed all day (cyber cyber)

I wanted to be Salvador Dali
I wanted to be dead and unreasonable
Let’s grieve in concentric circles
To make the night release your brain

I wanna be your radio
Now I wanna be your radio

INsufficiently
CELebrated

Vectors for viral infection
All fighting at the intersection
The excluded occluded white flight
The transitive under-the-knife fight

The Dj is staying up all night
The Brit is here shouting Crikey
Look what’s coming down the pike
Looks a bit like a 4th Reich

European Union Uber Alles
Versus the white mans angry phallus
Prez declares war from Caesar’s Palace
Drink false data from his magical chalice

I’m INsufficiently CELebrated
I look bloody old but I’m underrated
The simple girl you loved has gone complicated
I’m sending mixed signals and I’m way frustrated
yeah

The elegant art thief takes his time
The critic believes he’s a friend of mine
A place to unwind while under duress
Some dude who told me he wasn’t impressed
Right, I live just to impress you man
I’m only doing something I can
Look in the mirror if you’re so inclined
Mister you ain’t no friend of mine

I’m INsufficiently CELebrated
I look bloody old but I’m underrated
The simple girl you loved has gone complicated
I’m sending mixed signals and I’m way frustrated
Yeah

Seeking the goal that’s unattainable
Our lips are sealed and unnamable
The girl who was named after the madness
Was waiting ‘til everyone dull had vanished
But they lingered around and it was absurd
Biding their time while minting new words
Everything passionate started to freeze
Decided to bring the whole world to its knees

She’s INsufficiently CELebrated
She look bloody young but she’s underrated
The simple girl you loved has gone complicated
She’s sending mixed signals and she’s way frustrated
Yeah

Punters Fighting Punters (with apologies to Harry Nilsson)

Punters fighting punters
Owners sailing yachts
You can jump into the fire
You can suck a million cocks
You can smash a million statues
You can run and jump and spit
You can chant a billion slogan
And it won’t amount to shit

We can jump into the fakir
We can make each other horny
We can scream inside a man cave
We can try to make the kids rave
You can beat another wage slave
You can beat another wage slave
You can beat another wage slave
But you’ll never be free whoa whoa

 

Read more “What Is The Sound of a Billion Knees Jerking?”

High Tech High Life: William Gibson & Timothy Leary in Conversation (1989)

The story of Timothy Leary’s conversation with William Gibson is here.  This is most of the text as it was published in the first edition of MONDO 2000 magazine

TIMOTHY LEARY: If you could put Neuromancer into one sentence, how would you describe it?

WILLIAM GIBSON: What’s most important to me is that it’s about the present. It’s not really about an imagined future. It’s a way of trying to come to terms with the awe and terror inspired in me by the world in which we live. I’m anxious to know what they’ll make of it in Japan.

TRAPPED

WG: Oh, god. I’m starting to feel like Edgar Rice Burroughs or something. I mean, how did Edgar Rice Burroughs finally come to feel about Tarzan in his own heart, you know? He got real tired of it. Wound up living in Tarzana, California.

TL: You’ll end up living in a space colony called Neuromancer.

WG: That would be OK. I don’t think we’re going to have this kind of future. I think this book is so much nicer than what seems to be happening. I mean, this would be a cool place to visit. I wouldn’t mind going there.

TL: Where?

WG: To the Sprawl, to that future.

TL: Go up the well?

WG: Yeah. Go up the well and all of that. A lot of people think this is a bleak book but I think it’s optimistic.

TL: I do, too.

WG: I think it’s actually gonna be more boring. I think some kind of Falwellian future would probably be my idea of the worst thing that could happen.

TL: Yeah. That was a wonderful scene where you have those Christians who were gonna mug those girls in the subway.

WG: It’s not clear whether they’re going to mug them or just try to force some horrible pamphlet on them or something. Personally, I have a real phobia about guys like that coming up to me on the street . . .

TL: That’s a powerful scene! And you describe the girls as like hoofed animals wearing high heels.

WG: Yeah. The office girls of the Sprawl.

TL: Yeah, and they’re wearing vaginas, and — Oh, God! That’s a powerful scene.

WG: I like the idea of that subway. That’s the state-of- the-art subway. It goes from Atlanta to Boston, real fast. Read more “High Tech High Life: William Gibson & Timothy Leary in Conversation (1989)”

The Cyberpunk Issue — Pull Quotes from MONDO 2000 Issue #1 (1989)

A cyberspace experience might be a simulation of an entirely imaginary world as long as the space is physically lawful and self-consistent. Autodesk

 

Bush doesn’t want us to know whether he’s telling the truth of lying, but he wants us to be sure he’s not stoned while doing it. Robert Anton Wilson

 

McLuhan seemed to be giving permission for youth culture, rock & roll, and post-print libidinal tactility to finally, mercifully dismantle linear stuffed-shirt Western Civilization. Terence McKenna

 

Gibson has produced nothing less than the underlying myth, the core legend, of the next stage of human evolution. Timothy Leary

His females are shaman ladies, sophisticated wizards, playful, humorous, hip diviners. Timothy Leary

 

Burroughs found 50’s science fiction and used it like a rusty can opener on society’s jugular. William Gibson

McLuhan’s revenge. Media monsters . . . the worst street gang you ever ran into were, at the same time, intense conceptual artists William Gibson Read more “The Cyberpunk Issue — Pull Quotes from MONDO 2000 Issue #1 (1989)”

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””

William S. Burroughs in High Frontiers 1987 About Mind Technologies

In 1987, Faustin Bray conducted an interview with William S. Burroughs by phone, mostly using questions suggested by Terence McKenna and R.U. Sirius. Below is the opening exchange, about mind technologies. Read more “William S. Burroughs in High Frontiers 1987 About Mind Technologies”