Acker, Kathy

(1947–1997)
   Postmodern writer Kathy Acker once referred to the Beats as “the first breath of fresh air in [her] life,” and she stated repeatedly that William S. Burroughs was her strongest influence. One of her most famous novels is Blood and Guts in HiGH scHool. She was a product of the poetry and art worlds but wanted to write fiction. Burroughs became her model of a conceptualist fiction writer. A self-described literary terrorist, Acker used plagiarism (or piracy, as she liked to say) as a formal strategy and attempted to use literary forms, especially the novel, as stages for textual performance art.
   She was born Kathy Alexander and grew up surrounded by privilege in New York City. Her father deserted her mother before she was born, so the “father” to whom she refers in her work was her stepfather. She attended exclusive schools in uptown Manhattan and as a young teenager began to sneak away downtown to the bohemian East Village. At age 13 she met gregory corso, who was a neighbor of her then-boyfriend, filmmaker P. Adams Sitney. Some 20 years later, she would invite Corso to visit a writing course that she was teaching at The San Francisco Art Institute, a course in which the students had refused to read books that she assigned because they said all books were passé. None of the students knew who Corso was, nor did they know about the Beats. As Acker told it, “Gregory, in typical Gregory fashion, unzipped his pants while reciting his ‘poesia’ and played with a toy gun. From then on, all the students read poetry. Gregory lived for two months with the most beautiful girl in the class.”
   In 1964 Acker was a student at Brandeis University and attended a reading by allen ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky. She recalled that they performed dressed in towels and that during the evening she “learned more about poetry than [she] had in years of top-level academic training.” At Brandeis she met her first husband, Robert Acker, who was a student of Herbert Marcuse. (She would later marry and divorce the composer Peter Gordon.) The Ackers followed Marcuse to the University of California, San Diego, where Kathy was a graduate student in literature and also tutored students in Greek and Latin. It was there that she also met two of her most important mentors, David and Eleanor Antin.
   Kathy divorced Robert and returned to New York, supporting herself by working in a live (simulated) sex show, as her family had withdrawn financial support. She returned to San Diego briefly and at some point worked as a stripper and had a role in at least one porn film. She also wrote under the pseudonym The Black Tarantula, going so far as to be listed under that name in the Manhattan telephone directory.
   She lived in New York City during the 1970s and was part of the downtown art and literary scenes, as well as the burgeoning punk movement. One of her memories from about 1976 was her appropriately punkish tribute-by-heckling of Ginsberg when he made an appearance at CBGB. Years later, she explained:
   [We] had spontaneously attacked and praised Allen Ginsberg. Attacked him for being established, established in a society which we despised, and for bringing something as boring as real poetry into our territory of nihilism, formlessness, and anarchic joy. We revered him because he, and the rest of the Beats, were our grandparents. . . . The Beats had understood what it is to feel, therefore, to be a deformity in a normal (right-wing) world. . . . Ginsberg’s joy, like our joy, had the sharpness, the nausea, of all that comes from pain, from suffering. During this post-San Diego period, Acker discovered Burroughs; his cut-up technique became crucial to her development as a writer. In 1989 she told Sylvére Lotringer that she had “used The Third Mind [by Burroughs] as experiments to teach [herself] how to write.” Acker was anachronising Burroughs’s and Brion Gysin’s book because the time frame in which she claimed to have been using it was the late 1960s and early 1970s. The Third Mind was not published until 1978; however, segments of what eventually composed it were published through small presses between 1960 and 1973, so she likely read early pieces. She also possibly had access to the manuscript. Some of Acker’s very early works bear the unmistakable mark of The Third Mind (for example, see Acker’s “Politics” and diary pieces eventually published in 2002 as The Burning Bombing of America). Acker sliced texts with abandon, disrupting logic and merging images and ideas at the sentence and word levels.
   Most comparisons of Burroughs and Acker tend to focus on their experimentation becoming their technique and vice versa; the usefulness of the cut-up to demonstrate literary deviance; and their critiques of established systems that brainwash people so that they become instruments of the control machine that language represents. Burroughs’s influence is not as obvious in Acker’s later writing but is arguably there on politically and socially important levels because she seems to have gendered Burroughs’s theories about the relationship among power, language, and politics. The various personae she projected through her writing, her performances, and her very body reveal increasingly sophisticated and subtle applications of the cut-up technique. The concept became instrumental not only in her attempts to find a language of the body but also in her overall automythographical project as she disassembled layers of patriarchal “myth” which are the result of and, in turn, continue to dictate and underlie the controlling Logos that both she and Burroughs wished to disassemble. Burroughs’s “reality studio” was her patriarchal language.
   Acker lived in England throughout most of the 1980s and returned to New York City and San Francisco in the early 1990s, continuing to write, teach, and publish until November 1997 when she died in an alternative treatment center in Mexico from complications of metastasized cancer. She was buried at sea—a fitting tribute to a pirate.
 Bibliography
■ Acker, Kathy. “Allen Ginsberg: A Personal Portrait.” “Magazine Articles” folder. Box 4. Kathy Acker Papers.
■ Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library. Duke University.
■ ———. “Politics.” In Hannibal Lecter, My Father, edited by Sylvère Lotringer. Semiotext(e) Native Agents Series, 25–35. New York: Semiotext(e). 1991.
■ ———. The Burning Bombing of America. In Rip-Off Red, Girl Detective and The Burning Bombing of America. New York: Grove Press, 2002.
■ Burroughs, William S., and Brion Gysin. The Third Mind. New York: Viking Press, 1978.
■ Friedman, Ellen G. “A Conversation with Kathy Acker.” The Review of Contemporary Fiction. 9:3 (Fall 1989). 12–22.
■ Lotringer, Sylvère. “Devoured by Myths.” In Hannibal Lecter, My Father, edited by Sylvère Lotringer. Semiotext(e) Native Agents Series, 1–24. New York: Semiotext(e), 1991.
   Bebe Barefoot

Encyclopedia of Beat Literature. . 2014.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Acker, Kathy — ▪ American author born April 18, 1948, New York, New York, U.S. died Nov. 30, 1997, Tijuana, Mex.       American novelist whose writing style and subject matter reflect the so called punk sensibility that emerged in the 1970s.       Acker studied …   Universalium

  • Kathy Acker — Infobox Writer name = Kathy Acker birthname = Karen Alexander birthdate = birth date|1947|4|18|df=y birthplace = New York City, New York, United States deathdate = death date and age|1997|11|30|1947|4|18|df=y deathplace = Tijuana, Mexico… …   Wikipedia

  • Kathy Acker — Pour les articles homonymes, voir Acker. Kathy Acker, née le 18 avril 1947 à Manhattan (New York City) et morte le 30 novembre 1997 à Tijuana (Mexique), est une poète, romancière, essayiste et écrivain américaine, féministe… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Kathy Acker — (* 18. April 1947 in New York City; † 30. November 1997 in Tijuana, Mexiko) war eine US amerikanische Schriftstellerin. Ihr erstes literarisches Werk hieß Black Tarantula. Unter diesem Pseudonym trat Kathy Acker zuweilen auch auf. Sie begeisterte …   Deutsch Wikipedia

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  • Kathy — ist ein weiblicher Vorname (Kurzform von Katharina). Bekannte Namensträgerinnen Kathy Acker (1947–1997), US amerikanische Schriftstellerin Kathy Baker (* 1950), US amerikanische Schauspielerin Kathy Bates (* 1948), US amerikanische Schauspielerin …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Acker — is a surname from German or Old English, meaning field . It is related to the word acre , and is the root of the surname Ackerman. People with the surname Acker: *Alex Acker (born 1983), American basketball player *Amy Acker (born 1976), American …   Wikipedia

  • Kathy Rinaldi Stunkel — Kathy Rinaldi Pour les articles homonymes, voir Rinaldi. Kathy Rinaldi (épouse Stunkel) …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Kathy May-Fritz — Kathy May Pour les articles homonymes, voir May et Fritz. Kathy May (ép. Teacher, Paben, Fritz) …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Kathy May Fritz — Kathy May Pour les articles homonymes, voir May et Fritz. Kathy May (ép. Teacher, Paben, Fritz) …   Wikipédia en Français

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