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This is the most complex, cryptic, intellectual book I've ever read.
No kidding, guys, it really drove me up the wall. Thank God it's very short (128 pages), because I had to read it three times in a row to even start gathering my thoughts.
Even Calasso's works are vanilla in comparison with this cultural and emotional tour de force: a hypertext riddle, a Chinese box, in short a literary challenge that utterly defeated and captivated me.
It's not only a book about books: it's a book about the way literature allows us to define and restage our traumas by providing us with any sort of Doppelgänger. Literature as a door, a thresholdor rather a tunnel through the overlapping strata of consciousness that progressively accumulate in any human biography.
This is indeed an autobiography; but this is Kathy Acker too. Things can't be that simple when it comes to the greatest female pomo novelist, praised by William Burroughs as one of his few heirs.
What she does here is an impressive work of de(con)struction of the self by means of literary characters impersonating all her existential dramatis personæ: all throughout the novel (actually a bewildering, mesmerising prosepoetry pastiche) revisited classics and avantgarde works give shape to the author's memories and images of herself as a child, young girl, married woman, stripper, artist, lover; desperate, ecstatic, successful, derelict; tore apart by inner conflicts and desires that fuelled her creativity as a writer as well as a woman. By continuously switching identity and genre, the author becomes the epitome of the Unreliable Narrator of postmodern fiction.
Neither a novel nor a memoir then; in her own words, this book is to be deciphered as "a psychic map of the present, therefore: the future."
Yes, deciphered. Because the net of literary references is so intricate that only by googling, racking my brains, testing my poor knowledge and rereading the text over and over I managed not to get lost in it. In fact this is possibly the best example of Kathy Acker's wellknown technique, a unicum in which stream of consciousness, Burroughs' cutups and deliberate plagiarism are inextricably entangled.
After her mother's suicide, the author
"...started to experience a frame. Within this frame time was totally circular because I was being returned to my childhood traumas totally terrifying now because now these traumas are totally real: there is no buffer of memory."
Traumas and memory. That's what Acker's work is about.
The first part of her tale, aptly titled 'Plagiarism', is a mix of fractured recollections and excerpts from Pierre Guyotat's Eden, Eden, Edenone of the few books that really left me gaping. Hard to discern between reality and fantasy when Dickens' Great Expectations
(hence the title), Proust's 'Recherche', grotesque parodies of 80s sitcoms, Jean Genet's dreamlike eroticism leak through the author's childhood memories, a time in which she experienced ambivalent feelings of love/hate for her mother and the lack of a father (born in a wealthy Jewish family, the child was deprived of the father figure from the very beginning: the man left long before Kathy's birth). Both factors influenced the young girl's perception of human nature and relationships, not to mention of her own place in that emotionally dry (when not overtly hostile) environment:
"I have the image obsession I'm scum", as she herself sums it upsee also her first and probably toughest novel, Blood and Guts in High School. And:
" She realizes that she is at the same time a little girl absolutely pure nothing wrong just what she wants, and this unnameable dirt this thing. This is not a possible situation. This identity doesn't exist."
Besides her two failed marriages, all her relationships with both male and female partners are struggles between opposites, in the couple's dynamics as well as in her own mind and soul. In fact the sentimental and sexual dimensions of Acker's life converge in her experience as a stripper/whore/model, during which her physical and psychological masochism, rape fantasies, Freudian obsessions, recurrent nightmares are almost exorcised by the sordid reality she lives in.
Quite fittingly, she also plunders Pauline Réage's Histoire d'O suivi de Retour à Roissy: erotic slavery, prostitution, voluntary suspension of thought and will as a means to be loved by her men are perfectly embodied by the charming Ô and her baroque masochism.
Once again, any attempt to discern between biography and symbolic imagery is utterly pointless.
Part Two, 'The Beginnings of Romance', is even more emotionally charged. In these pages Kathy analyses the passive part she's always willing to play in her love affairs, either by submitting to psychological violence or acting as a catalyst for her men's mental issues. Here's what she says about none other than Jackson Pollock:
"I not only understood, I understood and adored. I would be the pillow he would kick the warm breast he could cry into open up to let all that infinite unstoppable mainly unbearable pain be alive I would not snap back I would be his allowed of exhibited pain so he could keep going. That's why he loved me."
Keats' poem 'The Eve of St. Agnes' is the counterpoint to the narration of an important transition in her troubled life, just before she moves in with an artist (her second husband?): from now on she finds herself dealing with an entirely new burden of competition, incompatibility, erotic desire and sentimental idiosyncrasy. La Fayette's La Princesse de Cléves is the literary alter ego she now identifies with.
By the way, Acker's thoughts about art and creativityanother recurrent subject in her workare strikingly deep, and show a good deal of sensitivity with regards to the part an artist is supposed to play in modern society. The description of the Seattle artistic élite is just hilarious:
"Since the American culture allows only the material to be real, those who want to do art unless they transfer their art into nonart i.e. the making of commodities, can't earn money and stay alive. Almost every living artist who keeps on doing art has family money or at least one helpful sex partner. There're few artists whose work this society desires, for the country needs sone international propaganda (and there's nothing as harmless to a materialist as formalist experimentation)".
Well, no doubt our narrator did find her way despite all her insecurities:
"I'm going to tell you something. The author of the work you are now reading is a scared little shit. She's frightened, forget what her life's like, scared out of her wits, she doesn't believe what she believes..."
And it's Melville who speaks on her behalf about the pathos of the artistic adventure.
In the last part, 'The End', the main literary reference she picks is the Latin poet Propertius and his 'Cynthia' . Thus Acker dissects the dichotomy between love and sex, affection and sensuality, feelings and passion: the womankeen on hedonism, materialism, eroticism, a prostitute and a narcissistic individualand the poetsocially committed intellectual craving devotion and faithfulnessengage in a love dialogue that soon turns into a verbal assault, in which all the repressed conflicts of the author's soul burst out in a final declaration of intent.
As usual, no answers... or rather, too many answers at the same time. Because all we know for sure is that
"We shall define sexuality as that which can't be satisfied and therefore as that which transforms the person."
No plot, fragmented narration, narrative planes twisting and overlapping, shameless plagiarism, unconventional syntax, experimental language... explicit contents and imagery.
The apotheosis of postmodern metafiction, a masterful example of antinovel, a chaotic cluster of philosophical musings and digressions, a monument to literary plagiarism as a weapon to destroy and rebuild literature.
All this in 128 pages.
Yes, Ladies and Gents... only 128 pages.
Good grief, I'd give both my kidneys to an organ trafficker to have half her genius.
I confess: whenever I meet someone like Kathy Acker, I fall hard and fast. Tormented, talented, educated, sexually ambivalent, brilliant, mentally unstable, full of contradictions... the sort of person I should avoid like the plague, because they tend to awake some dormant aspects of my personality that really should stay where they belong. And it invariably ends badlyfor me, that is.
Like it or not, one's nature always prevails over rationality. That's why I just can't stay away from Acker and her violent, poetic, cathartic writing.
Once I get trapped in a cobweb, I just can't wait to be eaten up by the spider.
Well, it's okay for me.
"We don't ever have to be ashamed of feelings of tears, for feelings are the rain upon the earth's blinding dust: our own hard egotistic hearts."
Hi, Kathy. A kiss, wherever you are now.
"We will meet in the place where there is no darkness." I've been reading Kathy Acker in roughly chronological order, so I've had the pleasure of essentially seeing her honing her craft and develop her singular collage techniques. I'd rather expected to find her plots becoming a little more conventionally coherent in the process, but I'm pleased to report that though this is easily my favorite Acker yet, it's actually more broken up and disorienting than the last I'd read, it still feels more cohesive and gripping as a reading experience. I could "get lost in the story" which doesn't usually happen with Acker, though she's always very interesting.
Similar themes as usual heredesire, gender and identity, the dislocation between sex and love, art and creativity, social unrest, feminism, pornthis time framed in bits of unknown wartime horrors, the Story of O, and the tribulations of artists on both coasts. It works in smart and unexpected ways. Reason why I DNF'd after 11 pages:
"The soldiers wake up stand up again tuck in their canvas shirttails suck in cheeks stained by tears dried by the steam from hot train rails rub their sex against the tires, the trucks go down into a dry ford mow down a few rosebushes, the sap mixes with disemboweled teenagers' blood on their knives' metal, the soldiers' nailed boots cut down uproot nursery plants,..."
And before you ask: no that was NOT the end of the sentence (another 9 or so lines), no I do NOT understand what is going on and no I did NOT forget the punctuation, there IS NONE. The personal interiorization of the practice of humiliation is called humility.
This is Jon typing. Jon has been reading. All day. Mortality has reaped recklessly as of late. Right now two people Jon loves are ill in a real bad way. Jon muses and frets. He reads. Jon loved this book despite it being Wrong. He'd love to quote and paste and rantandriff about LIFE. But he won't. Jon listens to Marcin Wasilewski and Morrissey. Jon can't turn off his brain. Jon wallows and wonders. He'd love to read more Acker, but not just yet. Great Expectations FilmAlloCin Great Expectations Est Un Film Ralis Par Julian Jarrold Avec Ioan Gruffudd, Justine Waddell Synopsis Le Jeune Pip Est Amen Devenir Un Forgeron Mais, Dtestant La Suie Et La Fume, IlGreat Expectations Broch Charles Dickens AchatGreat Expectations, Charles Dickens, Penguin Group Des Milliers De Livres Avec La Livraison Chez Vous Enjour Ou En Magasin Avec % De Rduction Ou Tlchargez La Version EBook Great Expectations WikipediaDe Grandes Esprances FilmAlloCin Synopsis Et Dtails L Histoire De Pip, Apprenti Forgeron, Qui Reoit D Un Bienfaiteur Anonyme Une Importante Fortune Pip Attribue Cette Gnrosit Miss Havisham, Trange Vieille Dame Recluse Great ExpectationsIMDb Great Expectations Is One Of My Favorite Novels And I Have Seen Every Screen Adaptation To Date None Has Madeimpact On Me Than The David Lean Version I Was So Looking Forward To Mike Newell S Version Which Seemed To Have The Perfect Casting I Was Though Quite Disappointed Granted That It Is Very Difficult To Tell This Story In A Couple Of Hours Of Screen Time, But That Is No Excuse For Making A I have a soft spot for this one, I believe the first Kathy Acker novel I ever read. (I read a short text she'd written for an art anthology called, humorously, Just Another Asshole where her work stood out so much I sought out her novels.) Overall Great Expectations isn't as epic as the later, longer novels but it is probably her most personal work and very characteristic of her style of appropriation. I think I've already said it in reviews of her later novels, but Acker has this interesting technique of appropriating other texts, of beginning with characters, motifs, and even direct quotations of other authors and yet being one of the most easily recognizably individual authors of all time. there's no mistaking an Acker. You recognize her "voice" so easily and quickly. Yet, as she says, it's writing that's "all fake (copied from other writing) so you should go away and not read it."
Linguistic paradox, therefore, marks her work. As does experimentation. Which is more evident in Great Expectations. Here, too, experimentation at the linguistic and syntactic levelwhich is not nearly as evident in the later novels as it is in this one. (I saw one review that quoted a runon, conglomerate sentence as the reason the reviewer failed to read beyond a few pages. My condolences.) As a writer more naturally prone to experimentation at the linguistic, rather than the greater formal level, that's probably what excited me most about Great Expectations when I first read it back in the mid1980's. Lately, rereading all of her novels from the last backward to the first, I've been struck more by the terse brevity of most of her sentences and marveling at the effects she gets by the juxtapositions of different statementssome stolen, some metanarrative, some contradictory, and many very personal. In her fine biography of Acker, Chris Krause mentioned that Acker often cannibalized her personal journals so that explains the personal.
The personal traumas of her mother's death and her own agonizing about sex and love and various boyfriends and partners works well here within a frame of Dickens's bildungsroman (the story of the sentimental education of a young man) and Sextus Propertius's romantic difficulties.
PS This is a good place to begin if you've never read Ackershort, indicative, brillianteven if it's not her best. ’We shall define sexuality as that which can’t be satisfied and therefore as that which transforms the person.’ I would like to give it more stars. Groundbreaking work should get all the encouragement one can give, but I just didn't understand it. Fortunately, in a way, I didn't expect to like the book and I was not disappointed. I was pleased to discover several shorter passages that did move me.
Obviously the rules which govern the dress and conduct of the terrorists don't apply to her. (48)
You put all thoughts away. Thoughts can be present in those hiatuses when you're not a machine moving to survive. (48)
Selfreflective consciousness is narrational. (58)
My emotional limbs stuck out as if they were broken and unfixable. (58)
I had to keep the joy growing to blot out my consciousness of what was happening to me. Sensuous beauty is its own perfect excuse, for it brings itself into existence. (73)
I hate the inside of my mind. (74)
In Paris policemen wearing blue triangular hats walk past buildings smaller them themselves and murderers look like each other and wear black. The ornamentation of Venice is precise a fairytale. The Roman streets lie sunlit, though there's is no sun, where rooms, above, wander into room after room so that inside is outside though it isn't. (7475)
SARAH (to the waiter): Uh ... Uh I, I ... don't want anything. I'm not really very happy. Thank you. (92)
Portrait In Red
Red everywhere. Red up the river, where it flows among the green pines and old mining camps; red down the river, where it rolls defiled among the tiers of the shipping and the dock pollutions of a goingtobegreat (and goingtobedirtier) city. Red on the rain marshes, red on Queen Anne Hill. Red creeping into each of the abandoned cabooses; red creeping over the halftornaway train tracks and lying on each weed; red climbed over the hackedup docks into the commercial steel ships. Red in each longshoreman's eyes when he returns home and slaps his wife around red at the end of the cigarette butt red in the dynamite red of the fire. Red of the eyelid and nose flesh of the bums walking down First Avenue past the more monetarily successful artist. Red the colors of the condos they're building over the bodies of old people who now have nowhere to live. Red the artist's hand not from paint but from striking his lover's face out of repressed fear. (9495)
Criminalities, which are understandable, mix with religious practices, for people have to do anything to satisfy that which can no longer be satisfied (107)
I am only an obsession. Don't talk to me otherwise. Don't know me. Do you think I exist?
Watch out. Madness is a reality, not a perversion. (119)
No doubt the late Ms. Acker would abhor the whole notion of a star rating system, probably regarding it as the byproduct of the capitalist patriarchy's emphasis on hierarchical order. This order, Acker and other postmodern punk feminists would argue, is a necessary precondition for perpetuating the hegemony of man (specifically, the white, heterosexual, socially dominant, predatory male). And so, a seemingly lukewarm 3star rating coming from me, a white heterosexual male, would seem to validate this notion.
But really, I see this more as a coin flip, for the novel rapidly vacillates between intentional impenetrability/unreadability (one star) and devastatingly acute feminist critique (five stars). Just as Schrodinger's cat ( a popular reference point for postmodernists) is simultaneously alive and dead until the observer detects a cat that is either alive or dead, so too does this patchwork of plagiarized texts, explicit pornographic passages, juxtapositions of historical figures, and realistic psychological observations forever exist in a flux between conventional narrative insight and deconstructed playfulness which, if nothing else represents "action" which "breaks through deadness".
What balances the emotionally detached experimentalism of long stretches of the novel are equal doses of genuine pathos arising from surprisingly straightforward depictions of kitchen sink domestic realism. Consider this bit of dialogue from one of the several trapped, victimized female characters: "But I want him to love me. He's never going to give me what I want, but I'll still f*** him." Lines such as these, in direct, devastating fashion, capture the dilemma of many (most?) women navigating the minefield of love and marriage. In this regard, the middle section, detailing the tenuous relationship between Clifford and Sarah, is a triumph of feminine psychological insight and render this uncompromising novel worth reading even for the skittish and unadventurous. This is one of Acker's lushest books, but one of her most caustic books as well. One could argue that all her books are simultaneously sadistic and masochistic...this one being no exception in that regard...the Dickens title and parody refer more to the expectations artists hold for the artistic life, and she brutally dissects all this with the eye of an economist...she equates the economies that thrive in art with the basest forms of prostitution....but the language is richly baroque and the images are exquisitely tooled...I think comparisons with Cellini would be pretty apt...both the gold and silversmithing of her masterfully tooled pictures of desire and the totally amoral lifestyle....