Biography’s an imprecise art, autobiography even more so. What, then, to make of a biography of postmodernist icon Kathy Acker, a writer who made her name by redefining aggressive oversharing?
A step backwards, before proceeding: who is Kathy Acker? Kathy Acker is/was: a punk poet, postmodernism’s female Burroughs, aggressively sex positive, a bisexual experimentalist, a tattooed biker provocateur, one of the major hubs of the 1980s New York art scene and an icon for generations of young feminists and rebels. In short, the sort of person who, when described or when self-describing, becomes a myth, something hard to grasp onto.
So let’s try again, starting from why, exactly, I’m reading this book. I discovered Kathy Acker in college, a chance meeting while browsing either the internet or the stacks of my library, possibly both, and, on a bit of a whim and the need to keep myself well-informed of involvements in the literary world, picked up Blood and Guts in High School. I found her work theoretically fascinating if less enjoyable to read, and Kathy herself just as fascinating if not more so. She was a rock star, really, the type of person you can’t help but describe as magnetic, friends with everyone from Alan Moore to William Burroughs to Neil Gaiman, for whom she served as the inspiration for Sandman’s Delirium. A quick skip through Wikipedia or Google images shows her in a buzzcut and leather, a sharp-cheeked girl with nonetheless a softness around the edges. It’s easy to admire Kathy Acker, even if you don’t necessarily appreciate the scribbled genitalia she featured in her books.
Chris Kraus’s biography, tantalizingly named After Kathy Acker, was the kind of book aimed straight at me. With the mix of biography and literary overview it promised, it seemed perfect for me, an Acker neophyte with nonetheless a tendency to overuse the word “postmodern” and a fascination about people far more punk than I am. I might not have necessarily gotten Acker’s work, but I respected it and what she was trying to do.
Plus, I’m always up for gossip.