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Death (and Life) of the Author

Peter Wollen: Kathy Acker

5 February 1998
... Writing about Goya’s Black Paintings in Art After Modernism , a collection of essays published in 1984 by the New Museum in downtown New York, KathyAcker 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 ...


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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... KathyAcker 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 ...

Literary Friction

Jenny Turner: Kathy Acker’s Ashes

18 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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... in some real way, the friend’s life and work belongs to them … It speaks for them because they shared a place in time.’She begins her present book, which ‘may or may not be a biography of KathyAcker’, 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 ...

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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... that day: ‘Aperitivo, I wrote 2000 words !!!’ with a photograph of the writer in sunglasses, Campari in hand, against an Italianate blue sky. Laing had been reviewing Chris Kraus’s biography of KathyAcker 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 ...
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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... sadness for families and countries left behind, sadness for a new place that didn’t want to know them and sadness for life’s shortness. The voices can be divided. The experiences of, for example, KathyAcker 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 ...

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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... KathyAcker, 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 ...

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 she calls him – in a pub on Union Street, and the two of them discuss the books he has been reading as they go. Writers under discussion include Michael Bracewell, Dick Hebdige, Lynne Tillman, KathyAcker, 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 ...
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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...  a tiny, shiny, enterprising punk magazine published in London’s Ladbroke Grove, which looks like no other and goes in for the uncomfortable and shocking – has a piece by the American writer KathyAcker 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 ...

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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... womanhood with the pliant, endlessly impressionable mind of a trusting child. Here we find another contrast with Something Leather. Part of the impetus for that novel came from a suggestion made by KathyAcker, 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 ...

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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... of Surveillance, Lucy Bengstrom, doesn’t acknowledge a difference between fiction and non-fiction in the way she stacks her bookshelves: everything is arranged alphabetically by writer, with KathyAcker 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 ...

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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... an improvised performance, discontinuous and incessantly redevised by stylised acts’. This is to read the Gothic too doctrinally through the lens of the Post-Modern, with Ann Radcliffe playing KathyAcker; 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 ...

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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... she says, is a ‘fear of failure to make clear exactly what my unconscious influences are and why I like them so much’. She throws in a translation of a piece by Robert Walser, pays tribute to KathyAcker 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 ...

Predatory Sex Aliens

Gary Indiana: Burroughs

7 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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... and global cultural homogenisation. A handful of American writers have accomplished something original with the novel form in his wake – John Hawkes, Rudolph Wurlitzer, Renata Adler, Lynne Tillman, KathyAcker, 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 ...


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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... 1752 and just reissued* (not the first gender-bending of the subject, a Madam Quixot appeared in 1678), to my own The Duchess’s Diary of 1980, Graham Greene’s Monsignor Quixote of 1982, and now KathyAcker’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 ...


Iain Sinclair

6 June 1996
... of a ‘good-looking little wop’, trading on charm, into a toothless seer. The birthday poems and mirror interrogations grew harsher and harsher. There were more stories of bad behaviour. KathyAcker remembers being dumped from a car in the middle of the night, in a Panther-controlled area of Oakland, for refusing to take part in a Corso threesome. There were scuffles outside Burroughs’s Lower ...

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