Kathy Acker (18 April 1947 – 30 November 1997), born Karen Alexander, was an American experimental writer widely known for her controversial works that feature extreme violence, sexuality, and fetishism.
- It's all up to you, girls. You have to be strong. These are the days of post-women's liberation. You have grown up by now and you have to take care of yourself. No one's going to help you.
- Don Quixote (1986)
- Even a woman who has the soul of a pirate, at least pirate morals, even a woman who … has constraints to heterosexual marriage, even a woman who is a freak in our society needs a home. The only characteristic freaks share is our knowledge that we don't fit in.
- Don Quixote (1986)
- The German Romantics had to destroy the same bastions we do. Logocentrism and idealism, theology, all supports of the repressive society. Property's pillars. Reason which always homogenizes and reduces, represses and unifies phenomena or actuality into what can be perceived and so controlled. The subjects, us, are now stable and socializable. Reason is always in the service of the political and economic masters. It is here that literature strikes, at this base, where the concepts and actings of order impose themselves. Literature is that which denounces and slashes apart the repressing machine at the level of the signified.
- Empire of the Senseless (1988), Elegy for the World of the Fathers, Part I, Rape by the Father, p. 12
- You create identity, you're not given identity per se. What became more interesting to me wasn't the I, it was text because it's texts that create the identity. That's how I got interested in plagiarism.
- Hannibal Lecter, My Father (1991)
- At a certain point I realized that the "I" doesn't exist. So I said to myself: If the "I" doesn't exist, I have to construct one, or maybe even more than one.
- Interview with Sylvere Lothringer (1991)
- My nutritionist read my pathology report and said, "There's only one way you can beat your cancer."
"You have to find out what caused it."
- The Gift of Disease (1996)
- I had been confused why I had gotten cancer. Three weeks later, I saw the network of causation so clearly I wondered why I wasn't more disease-riddled. My healer reminded me that if health is based on forgiveness, then I had to forgive ...
- The Gift of Disease (1996)
- Every book, remember, is dead until a reader activates it by reading. Every time that you read you are walking among the dead, and, if you are listening, you just might hear prophecies. Aeneas did. Odysseus did. Listen to Delany, a prophet.
- "On Delany the Magician", a foreword to Trouble on Triton (1996) by Samuel R. Delany, and reprinted in Acker's collection Bodies of Work (1996)
- Women need to become literary "criminals", break the literary laws and reinvent their own, because the established laws prevent women from presenting the reality of their lives.
- Bodies of Work (1996)
- We come crawling through these cracks, orphans, lobotomies; if you ask me what I want, I'll tell you. I want everything. Whole rotten world come down and break. Let me spread my legs.
- Pussy, King of the Pirates (1996)
- We don't have a clue what it is to be male or female, or if there are intermediate genders. Male and female might be fields which overlap into androgyny or different kinds of sexual desires. But because we live in a Western, patriarchal world, we have very little chance of exploring these gender possibilities.
- As quoted in "Eve Experts" at Real World Multimedia (2004)
Kathy Acker: Where does she get off?
- The students who come to my class are very closely related to all the evil girls who are very interested in their bodies and sex and pleasure. I learn a lot from them about how to have pleasure and how cool the female body is. One of my students had a piercing through her labia. And she told me about how when you ride on a motorcycle, the little bead on the ring acts like a vibrator. Her story turned me on so I did it. I got two. It was very cool.
I'm very staid compared to my students, actually. I come from a generation where you've got the PC dykes and confused heterosexuals. No one ever told me that you could walk around with a strap-on, having orgasms.
- I think writing is basically about time and rhythm. Like with jazz. You have your basic melody and then you just riff off of it. And the riffs are about timing. And about sex.
Writing for me is about my freedom. When I was a kid, my parents were like monsters to me, and the world extended from them. They were horrible. And I was this good little girl — I didn't have the guts to oppose them. They told me what to do and how to be. So the only time I could have any freedom or joy was when I was alone in my room. Writing is what I did when I was alone with no one watching me or telling me what to do. I could do whatever I wanted. So writing was really associated with body pleasure — it was the same thing. It was like the only thing I had.
- KA: I've been going to this rolfer. I don't know why I'm doing it. It's like: "You will get rid of all your childhood traumas if you only go through this pain." Fuck childhood. People always say you do all these things because of your childhood. I'm sorry, but what really gets me off is the idea that you can just travel, and traveling is just like having an endless orgasm. You just go and go and go.
RUS: In that state, you lose your individual identity — and therefore your childhood. But the rolfer is trying to drag you back into accepting your singular identity.
KA: Yeah. He's telling me, "Your agenda is ..." and I'm saying, "My agenda? I don't have an agenda and I'm not sure who I am. Who am I?" He keeps on saying, "You know what you want." And I say, "I don't know what I want."
RUS: If he succeeds in dragging you into a singular "I," that's the death of Kathy Acker the writer.
KA: Yeah, it sure is. But I don't think he'll succeed. He doesn't have a fuckin' chance. I'm just trying to fuck him. If he won't fuck, we're not going anywhere. He can't make me into this singular "I." I told him, "You gotta consider the pleasure principle — namely my pleasure." He didn't like that.
RUS: I always say, divide the word "therapist" between the "e" and the "r."
KA: Yeah. The rapist. Because they're taking all your childhood wonderment and reducing it to childhood trauma. He gives me these long lectures about how he's not enlightened and he wants to be an animal. Can you imagine long lectures about wanting to be an animal? What a fuckin' bozo!
RUS: When I was in college, all of the poetry teachers worshipped Robert Bly, so I had my fill of that shit.
KA: I told him about my piercings and he said, "Oh, you're a wild woman." Then I asked him if he wanted to see my piercings. He wouldn't do it.
- A friend told me that there are these clean and sober dykes that have piercings every couple months just to get high. It's about learning about my body. I didn't know my body could do this. It's not exactly pleasure. It's more like vision. I didn't know the body is such a visionary factory.
Basically we grew up not wanting to know that we had bodies. And it's not as if these piercings are in that deep — it's just on the surface. So if that little thing can do so much, who knows what else we can experience?
- Bataille is associated with the surrealists. Basically the idea is that democracy doesn't work. Communism doesn't work. All these fucking models aren't working. We've got to find some new models — a model of what society should look like.
We don't know what humans are like. And the ground is not economics; it's not like people do everything they do for economic reasons. You've got to look at the imagination; you've got to look at sex. We have no way of describing these things using the language we have. So a group was formed around Bataille to try to figure out what it means to be human — what society should look like.
Humans have to live in a society — they can't just survive as individuals. That's not a viable condition. You know, everyone's always talking about trauma and pain and how this society isn't working, that we shouldn't have racism and sexism, but we never talk in positive terms — like what would joy be, what it would be like to have a totally great existence. Bataille and his followers looked for models for people to have totally great existences. … Well, they looked at tribal models and how they dealt with sexual stuff and sacrifice and property — the joys that aren't based on economic accumulation and the workaday world, but based on giving it all up — not having that specific, controlling, imprisoning "I." He wasn't a Freudian. He was much more interested in the tribal model where everything is on the surface and you deal with sexual stuff the same way you deal with economic stuff and social stuff.
- I'm starting to worry about self-censorship — that I might be internalizing some shit. I might be writing what people expect me to write, writing from that place where I might be ruled by economic considerations. To overcome that, I started working with my dreams, because I'm not so censored when I use dream material. And I'm working at trying to find a kind of language where I won't be so easily modulated by expectation. I'm looking for what might be called a body language. One thing I do is stick a vibrator up my cunt and start writing — writing from the point of orgasm and losing control of the language and seeing what that's like.
Blood and Guts in High School (1978)
- For 2.000 years, you've had the nerve to tell women who we are. We use your words; we eat your food. Every way we get money has to be a crime. We are plagiarists, liars and criminals.
- I am as closed-up and fucked-up as everybody else. I am hell. The world is hell. "No, it isn't", I scream, but I know it is. Hell. Hell. Hell. Hell. Help. Help me. Help me. Love me.
- Teach me how to talk to you. WANT. Is my wanting you so bad, wanting your cock so bad, wanting the feel of your lips on my lips just me being selfish and egoistic? Teach me a new language.
- Love goes away when your mind goes away and then you're someone else.
- Heart disease syphilis pregnancy
All you creeps on the street get away from me
- IF THERE IS A GOD, GOD IS DISJUNCTION AND MADNESS.
- All the people around Hester hate her and despise her and think she's a total freak. The kid's beyond human law and human consideration. How do you feel about yourself when every human being you hear and see and smell every day of your being thinks you're worse than garbage? Your conception of who you are has always, at least partially, depended on how the people around you behaved towards you... You don't know. How can you know anything? How can you know anything? You begin to go crazy.
- Every day a sharp tool, a powerful destroyer, is necessary to cut away dullness, lobotomy, buzzing, belief in human beings, stagnancy, images, and accumulation. As soon as we stop believing in human beings, rather know we are dogs and trees, we'll start to be happy.
- Let me put it another way. Most people are what they sense and if all you see day after day is a mat on a floor that belongs to the rats and four walls with tiny piles of plaster at the bottom, and all you eat is starch, and all you hear is continuous music, you smell garbage and piss which drips through the walls continually, and all the people you know live like you, it's not horrible, it's just... Who they are.
Quotes about Acker
- Acker gives her work the power to mirror the reader's soul.
- I got an e-mail from somebody one day saying, “I understand you’re a friend of Kathy Acker’s. She’s currently dying in a hospital in Mexico.”
I immediately e-mailed the UK and said, “She’s dying in a hospital in Mexico,” and a mutual friend of mine and Charlie’s, a guy named Igor, said, “She’s not dying, she’s just got flu, I checked around. She’s in San Francisco with flu, she’s just being a drama queen.” So I wrote back to the guy who said she’s dying and said I’m told she’s the flu in San Francisco, and they wrote back, “She’s really dying.”
I phoned her in the hospital in Mexico. We chatted a while. She was very weak. It was good. This week has been a particularly rough one on me because my friend John M. Ford the writer died completely unexpectedly. And it’s everybody who knew him and loved him is completely devastated, and one reason we’re devastated is he was sending us e-mails the day before and his heart went or his kidneys went in the night and he was gone. With Kathy I never had that. I’ve always missed her, but I got to phone up and say good-bye. That was good. That sort of somehow made it copable. Then she was gone, and she died in room 101. As Alan Moore said, “There’s nothing that woman can’t turn into a literary reference.”
- She calls herself Acker. And Acker is this person I hang with sometimes. What's cool is that we can talk about anything and nobody gets uptight (though she does decide that I'm a sexist pig sometimes). Some have called her the next generation's Burroughs.
- R.U. Sirius, in "Kathy Acker: Where does she get off?" io # 2 (9 December 1997)
- "Kathy Acker" interview by Mark Magill, BOMB 6 (Summer 1983)
- Kathy Acker interviews William S. Burroughs at the October Gallery, London (1988) Part 1 Part 2 · Part 3
- A conversation with Kathy Acker by Ellen G. Friedman, in The Review of Contemporary Fiction (Fall 1989), Volume 9.3
- Acker interview with the Spice Girls, originally in The Guardian (3 May 1997)
- Interview in io magazine: the digital magazine of literary culture #2 (December 1997)
- Who's Afraid of Kathy Acker? (2008) A documentary by Barbara Caspar, at Women Make Movies
- "Writing as Magic in London in Its Summer: Iain Sinclair and the Crafting of Place" by Kathy Acker, in Vertigo Vol. 4, Issue 3 (Summer 2009)
- Kathy Acker recordings at UbuWeb Sound
- Kathy Acker recordings at PennSound
- Works by or about Kathy Acker in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
- "Kathy Acker Papers, 1972–1997 and undated", at Duke University