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Death (and Life) of the Author

Peter Wollen: Kathy Acker, 5 February 1998

... After Modernism , a collection of essays published in 1984 by the New Museum in downtown New York, Kathy Acker wrote: ‘The only reaction against an unbearable society is equally unbearable nonsense.’ She once said she didn’t expect anyone to read any of her books all the way through from beginning to end: ‘even in Empire of the Senseless , which ...


Gary Indiana: Nymphomania, antic incest and metaphysical torment, 14 December 2006

Lust for Life: On the Writings of Kathy Acker 
edited by Amy Scholder, Carla Harryman and Avital Ronell.
Verso, 120 pp., £10.99, May 2006, 9781844670666
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... Kathy Acker wrote 13 novels and published one collection of essays before her death from cancer, aged 53, in 1997. Born in New York, she began writing when she returned there in the early 1970s after studying at Brandeis and the University of California, San Diego, a brief marriage, and spells working as a stripper, a bakery clerk and in several other eccentric jobs ...

Literary Friction

Jenny Turner: Kathy Acker’s Ashes, 19 October 2017

After Kathy AckerA Literary Biography 
by Chris Kraus.
Allen Lane, 352 pp., £20, August 2017, 978 1 63590 006 4
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... shared a place in time.’She begins her present book, which ‘may or may not be a biography of Kathy Acker’, by evoking the circles that gathered around her subject’s ashes in the weeks after her death from metastatic breast cancer in an alternative medicine clinic in Tijuana in November 1997. Seventeen people arrived at the house of the poet Bob ...

She wore Isabel Marant

Joanna Biggs: Literary London, 2 August 2018

by Olivia Laing.
Picador, 140 pp., £12.99, June 2018, 978 1 5098 9283 9
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... in hand, against an Italianate blue sky. Laing had been reviewing Chris Kraus’s biography of Kathy Acker for the Guardian; she had been holidaying in Val d’Orcia with her newish husband, Ian Patterson, the Cambridge academic and poet who was Jenny Diski’s husband until her death in April 2016; she was tweeting about Sam Shepard and Brexit and ...

Longing for Croydon

Luke Jennings, 7 February 1991

Them: Voices from the Immigrant Community in Contemporary Britain 
by Jonathon Green.
Secker, 421 pp., £16.99, October 1990, 0 436 20005 8
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The Golden Thread: Asian Experiences of Post-Raj Britain 
by Zerbanoo Gifford.
Pandora, 236 pp., £17.99, October 1990, 0 04 440605 3
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... and sadness for life’s shortness. The voices can be divided. The experiences of, for example, Kathy Acker or Michael Ignatieff are very different from those of the men and women who arrived in Britain from Africa and Asia. Of these, some had a start in their new lives, some had none. By and large, the blacker and poorer they were, the worse time they ...

Antinomian Chic

Danny Karlin, 2 June 1988

Blasted Allegories: An Anthology of Writings by Contemporary Artists 
edited by Brian Wallis.
New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York/MIT Press, 431 pp., £13.50, January 1988, 9780262231282
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Empire of the Senseless 
by Kathy Acker.
Picador, 227 pp., £10.95, May 1988, 0 330 30192 6
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The Western Lands 
by William Burroughs.
Picador, 258 pp., £10.95, March 1988, 0 330 29805 4
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... Kathy Acker, wild and woolly avatar of William Burroughs, is also one of the Blasted Allegorists, contemporary American artists whose self-important and talent-free doodles about Life, the Universe and Everything are hyped by Brian Wallis in his Introduction, a piece of writing conceivably worse than the pieces it introduces: For the writers in this book, these critical forms, such as interviews, monologues, jokes, dream narratives and parables, oppose the imposed narrative structure, the unquestioned hierarchy of characters, and the easy closure of much conventional – or even modernist – literature ...

Aberdeen rocks

Jenny Turner: Stewart Home, 9 May 2002

69 Things to Do with a Dead Princess 
by Stewart Home.
Canongate, 182 pp., £9.99, March 2002, 9781841951829
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... as they go. Writers under discussion include Michael Bracewell, Dick Hebdige, Lynne Tillman, Kathy Acker, Jean Baudrillard, Paul Johnson, W.G. Sebald. The eateries and supermarkets of Aberdeen are visited, and rendered, as far as I can see, entirely accurately. (I come from Aberdeen, which is how I’d know.) Ditto the hills walked and the stone ...

Andante Capriccioso

Karl Miller, 20 February 1986

The Adventures of Don Quixote de la Mancha 
by Miguel de Cervantes, translated by Tobias Smollett.
Deutsch, 846 pp., £15, January 1986, 0 233 97840 2
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... no other and goes in for the uncomfortable and shocking – has a piece by the American writer Kathy Acker which is entitled ‘Don Quixote’. This is part of a forthcoming novel. For Acker, Don Quixote is a woman, and the novel begins, in the Fred, with these words: When she was finally crazy because she was ...

Gray’s Elegy

Jonathan Coe, 8 October 1992

Poor Things 
by Alasdair Gray.
Bloomsbury, 317 pp., £14.99, September 1992, 0 7475 1246 9
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... contrast with Something Leather. Part of the impetus for that novel came from a suggestion made by Kathy Acker, who asked Gray if he had ever written a story with a woman as the main character. He answered: ‘No, that was impossible because I could not imagine how a woman felt when alone.’ This was a brave and candid admission. It acknowledged an ...

Your life depends on it

Thomas Jones: Jonathan Raban, 19 October 2006

by Jonathan Raban.
Picador, 327 pp., £16.99, September 2006, 0 330 41338 4
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... in the way she stacks her bookshelves: everything is arranged alphabetically by writer, with Kathy Acker slotted in next to Dr Atkins’ Diet Revolution. Lucy’s 11-year-old daughter, Alida, disapproves of this ‘promiscuous mingling’. ‘Alida was hungry for realism. Most of her favourite books were non-fiction, like Anne Frank’s diary ...

Allergic to Depths

Terry Eagleton: Gothic, 18 March 1999

Gothic: Four Hundred Years of Excess, Horror, Evil and Ruin 
by Richard Davenport-Hines.
Fourth Estate, 438 pp., £20, December 1998, 1 85702 498 2
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... to read the Gothic too doctrinally through the lens of the Post-Modern, with Ann Radcliffe playing Kathy Acker; but the analogy is suggestive. Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto is convincingly read here as high camp. But there are important differences, too. Gothic represents a ruined or fractured realism, excessive because its desire carries it ...

Your hat sucks

Gill Partington: UbuWeb, 1 April 2021

Duchamp Is My Lawyer: The Polemics, Pragmatics and Poetics of UbuWeb 
by Kenneth Goldsmith.
Columbia, 328 pp., £20, July 2020, 978 0 231 18695 7
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... and the weighty, are given equal prominence.UbuWeb is a compendious resource of everything from Kathy Acker to Frank Zappa, but has no systematic collection policy, being steered only by the instincts, enthusiasms and seemingly boundless energy of Goldsmith, a poet and lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania, who founded it in 1996 (he is also a ...

Predatory Sex Aliens

Gary Indiana: Burroughs, 8 May 2014

Call Me Burroughs: A Life 
by Barry Miles.
Twelve, 718 pp., £17, January 2014, 978 1 4555 1195 2
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... with the novel form in his wake – John Hawkes, Rudolph Wurlitzer, Renata Adler, Lynne Tillman, Kathy Acker, Bret Easton Ellis and Tao Lin come to mind – but innovative narrative fiction has enjoyed far greater support from publishers and readers in Europe. The bulk of published American fiction consists of cookie-cutter, middle-class ‘problem ...

Agent Bait

Christopher Tayler: Nell Zink, 2 March 2017

by Nell Zink.
Fourth Estate, 288 pp., £14.99, October 2016, 978 0 00 817917 5
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Private Novelist 
by Nell Zink.
Ecco, 336 pp., $15.99, October 2016, 978 0 06 245830 8
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... I like them so much’. She throws in a translation of a piece by Robert Walser, pays tribute to Kathy Acker and boasts of not having read or even seen a single book by Raymond Carver. Tristram Shandy and The Pickwick Papers are said to be better than the complete works of Faulkner and Burroughs, and there are many discussions of George Eliot. At the ...


Robin Chapman, 18 September 1986

Don Quixote 
by E.C. Riley.
Allen and Unwin, 224 pp., £18, February 1986, 0 04 800009 4
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Don Quixote – which was a dream 
by Kathy Acker.
Paladin, 207 pp., £2.95, April 1986, 0 586 08554 8
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... to my own The Duchess’s Diary of 1980, Graham Greene’s Monsignor Quixote of 1982, and now Kathy Acker’s Don Quixote – which was a dream. The 18th century seized on the work as a model for developing the English novel, with Smollett and Fielding particularly indebted to Cervantes. The Romantic movement, especially in Germany, inevitably ...

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