Kathy Acker: Contribution as American Novelist

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      Kathy Acker (1948 - 1997) Avant-garde American novelist, enfant terrible of the subcultural postmodern scene. Acker grew up in the midst of the counterculture: in New York, mixing with the Fluxus group and underground film-makers and studying Classics at Brandeis University; then on the West Coast, where she continued her studies at the University of California at San Diego and was married to Peter Gordon (actually her second marriage) in the seventies. During this period she had various jobs, ranging from secretary to sex show performer. Often dubbed a 'punk' novelist, her early trilogy; comprising The Childlike Life of the Black Tarantula (1973), I Dreamt I Was a Nymphomaniac: Imagining (1974) and The Adult Life of Toulouse Lautrec (1975), constructs an aggressive, vulnerable, abject persona out of disparate materials: fiction, poetry, pornography, film, true lives and childhood memories. William Burroughs is a strong influence, along with Sade, Bataille, the surrealists and the nouveau romanciers.

      In the 1980s Acker divided her time between London and Paris. Great Expectations (1982), a schizophrenically cracked Bildungsroman, and Blood and Guts in HighSchool (1984), the picaresque confessions of a whore who meets up with Jean Genet, attracted mainstream attention, including charges of plagiarism and pornography: At this time she also diversified into other media, writing the screenplay for the film Variety (1983) and the libretto for an opera, The Birth of the Poet (1985). Her work isn't always hostile to narrative; Empire of the Senseless (1988) and the earlier Kathy Goes to Haiti (1978) are shaped by relatively accessible plots. Stories and fragments from her career are collected in Hannibal Lecter, My Father (1991). Acker may be viewed as a formalist exploiting the death of the author or a frighteningly compulsive seeker-afteridentity within the patriarchal symbolic. She died of cancer at the age of forty-nine.

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