After Kathy Acker: A Biography of Chris Kraus review – a baffling life study | Biography books
VShris Kraus, who is nothing but shrewd, begins her odd and ultimately futile book about writer Kathy Acker by noting that the following “may or may not be a biography.” As the statements go, it seems infallibly (albeit somewhat predictable) postmodern: in an instant we’re on the alert, wondering what Kraus, a novelist whose fictions could be described as twisted memories , could have done with the facts of someone else’s life. . But make no mistake about it. Its function is, in reality, more prosaic than that. While most biographers consider the discovery of untruths a central part of their work, Kraus takes a different approach. As the reader will soon find out, its opening line is an exit clause. While Acker has indeed lied “all the time,” as she also claims, Kraus doesn’t necessarily see his job as dismantling these deceptions. At best, she’s too gullible. At worst, it is risky, even lazy.
She is also not clear on her relationship with Acker. Her editor, Allen Lane, says she and her subject were both friends and contemporaries. Is it true? Kraus does not enter it, although she writes a little breathlessly having seen Acker read in New York in 1980 (“with porcelain skin, dark red lips, even wider eyes with thick black makeup. , she is both of that crowd and Above “). Nevertheless, the two women were and are intimately related. Among Acker’s many lovers was Sylvere Lotringer, the cultural theorist with whom Kraus was famous for being. married (and who appears, like Dick Hebdige, the sociologist and another friend of Acker, as a character in Kraus’ controversial novel, I like cock). Kraus often quotes Lotringer, whether about her supposed experiences with Acker in sadomasochism (“Lotringer has no recollection of those BDSM sessions”) or the time she was dying (“her legs were like sticks “). But nowhere that I could find does Kraus notice that he is her ex-husband.
Kraus is clearly fascinated by Acker: no one in their right mind would spend so long in Acker-land, where German sadists can train women to orgasm on demand and vibrators are an essential writing tool, unless they are to some extent seduced by it. . But keep reading and suspicion grows that there is a strange tension between his admiration for the alternative scene that Acker was once a part of – in the early 1980s, Kraus writes, “the Lower East Side was a radiating cultural quadrant in the whole world. ”- and Acker herself. It’s not just that so many stories she tells about her are so hilarious (it’s impossible to believe Kraus didn’t know the majority of these trivia are way beyond satire). Rather, it is that she singularly fails to defend Acker the writer. “Incredibly, critics of all kinds have embraced first-person discursive fiction over the past few years as if it were a new post-Internet genre,” she writes, in what will be her best photo. to summarize the place of his subject in the world of letters. “[But] these contemporary texts owe a great deal to the candor and formal inventiveness of Acker’s work. It’s not just weak – it’s hardly even half-true.
But I am ahead of myself. Who was Kathy Acker? Born in 1944, she grew up on the Upper East Side of New York City, where she was raised by her stepfather, Albert Alexander, and her mother, Claire Weill Alexander (she never knew and apparently did never wanted to know her father, who abandoned her mother when she was pregnant, although the absent father became a theme both in her writings and perhaps also in her busy sex life). Privately trained, she attended Brandeis University, a liberal arts college in Massachusetts, where she met Bob Acker, her first husband and her first escape route. Bob, now a retired lawyer, responded “graciously” to Kraus’ emails, but apparently had little to say about Kathy, which is why he is left to imagine “ambivalence. “Of his subject to find himself” a young wife during the Peyton Square era. ”The word“ ambivalence, ”however, hardly seems to cover it.
In 1971, Acker was back in New York City where, in order to fund her writing, she was performing with her boyfriend, Len Neufeld, in a live sex show. Well, it was over the top and at least there was some creativity in the scripting (in a favorite routine she played a patient confessing her Santa Claus fantasies to her horny psychoanalyst).
Acker would come to view this job as exploitative, but that didn’t stop her from working, later, as a stripper. As a friend put it: “I have never seen Kathy work a [regular] job. Already. “It wasn’t just that she was entitled to it. The striptease was happening and the performance – the different versions of Kathy Acker – was what rocked her. She led a hectic and itinerant life, on the move. ceaselessly between the west and east coasts of America, Paris and London (where she settled, briefly, with the music journalist Charles Shaar Murray). What was she looking for? Fame, above all. One day, she would like to be known as more than the “post-punk plagiarist” – her novels, with their themes of sex and violence, are random assemblages that combine both pastiche and elements of other people’s work – but at the same time. at first it would do just fine and she made sure her look matched the description: trendy cut, leathers, muscles, tattoos (also, lip piercings).
You could say hers is about style rather than substance and you’d probably be right. Wade through Blood and guts in high school, the 1984 novel that (oh so briefly) made it – Penguin, having moved the goalposts for Morrissey, now saw fit to republish it as a modern classic – I wondered again about Acker’s reputation : so high with people like Jeanette Winterson and other groupies, so low with everyone. All I can do is line up with the non-groupies. “SUCK ME SUCK ME SUCK ME… President Carter needs THREE HOURS OF STIMULATION for ORGASM…” My God, this is terrible.
Acker died in an alternative cancer center in Mexico in 1997; after a mastectomy the year before, she turned her back on Western medicine, instead relying on alternative healers, astrologers and an antioxidant diet. “His reasoning here was not flawless,” Kraus writes dryly of Acker’s insistence that American chemotherapy was too expensive for freelance writers (in fact, she had a lot of money. , having inherited a lot from his grandmother). At this point, I thought I saw – again – the flash of Kraus’ knife. It was shocking, but somehow delicious too. But maybe I was wrong.
She ends (and what a relief when that moment arrives) with what I can only describe as a little hymn of identification to Acker. In a book full of puzzling and nauseous things, this is surely the most confusing of all. Kraus, whose own novels are pretty good, is so much the best writer, even though, this time around, her identity sometimes seems to have pushed her ego to the ground.