Kathy Acker Criticism - Essay

Maureen Howard (review date 9 November 1986)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Don Quixote, in Los Angeles Times Book Review, November 9, 1986, p. 6.

[In the following review, Howard offers a tempered assessment of Don Quixote.]

Kathy Acker's work is not outrageous. That is what first comes to mind reading the abortion scene that launches her new novel, Don Quixote. We have all been there—not to the bloody chamber of horrors she describes—but to the highly fabricated world of this story. Unless we have been wrapped in cotton wool or sent to the nunnery, we are fully prepared for the sexual and political extremes with which Acker purposes to alarm, amuse, and, at times, anesthetize the readers of her fiction....

(The entire section is 1287 words.)

David Van Leer (review date 4 May 1987)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Punko Panza," in New Republic, May 4, 1987, pp. 38-41.

[In the following review, Van Leer discusses the form, content, and literary intent of Don Quixote.]

It was only a matter of time before the postmodernists got around to rewriting Don Quixote. In their attack on modernism's lingering romanticism and cultural elitism, Cervantes's novel has taken on a privileged status. Perhaps as a very early novel, the work seems uncorrupted by that cultural accumulation glorified as "the literary tradition." Or as a Spanish work, it seems an alternative to the mainstream of English, French, and German literature. Or in the very quixotism of its ironic quest, it...

(The entire section is 1891 words.)

Aleka Chase (review date July 1987)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Breaking Patriarchal Myths," in New Directions for Women, Vol. 16, No. 4, July, 1987, p. 18.

[Below, Chase provides a favorable review of Don Quixote.]

Kathy Acker's Don Quixote is a witty, irreverent and pained collage that explores a woman's search for identify and sexual love, exposing patriarchal myths and institutions in the process. In this story Don Quixote is a contemporary woman, a knight whose adventures take her, as she recovers from an abortion, through landscapes of geography and psyche. In predatory, nihilistic New York and London former lovers are remembered, dogs become people of indistinct or changing gender, American history is...

(The entire section is 706 words.)

Michiko Kakutani (review date 30 December 1987)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Literal Madness, in The New York Times, December 30, 1987, p. C20.

[In the following review, Kakutani offers a tempered critical evaluation of Literal Madness.]

In such previous books as Great Expectations (1984) and Don Quixote (1986), Kathy Acker not only set out to work variations on classic literary texts, but also to subvert all of our traditional expectations concerning causality, narrative form and moral sensibility. The effect is like reading William S. Burroughs while watching an avant-garde theater group perform to the sounds of a punk band—if you happen to like that sort of thing. Characters exchange identities with...

(The entire section is 906 words.)

James R. Frakes (review date 17 January 1988)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Ooh Ooh. And Then Again, Ah Ah," in The New York Times Book Review, January 17, 1988, p. 14.

[In the following review, Frakes offers a generally unfavorable assessment of Literal Madness.]

In order to set the mood for this collection of three novels, let's begin with some key statements from My Death My Life by Pier Paolo Pasolini: "Language is more important than meaning…. Burn the schools. They teach you about good writing. That's a way of keeping you from writing what you want to." "I like this sentence cause it's stupid." "Language is making me sick." Shall we dance? The program is announced early. "I, Pier Paolo Pasolini, will solve my murder by...

(The entire section is 776 words.)

R. H. W. Dillard (review date 16 October 1988)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Lesson No. 1: Eat Your Mind," in The New York Times Book Review, October 16, 1988, pp. 9, 11.

[In the following review, Dillard offers a favorable assessment of Empire of the Senseless.]

In Kathy Acker's novel My Death My Life by Pier Paolo Pasolini, she made the suggestion that "everything in the novel exists for meaning. Like hippy acid rock. All this meaning is the evil, so I want to go back to those first English novels: Smollett, Fielding, Sterne: novels based on jokes or just that are."

Ms. Acker's new novel, Empire of the Senseless, which her publisher describes tentatively and hopefully as her "most accessible novel to...

(The entire section is 1211 words.)

Roz Kaveney (review date 19-25 May 1989)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Darkness on the Edge of the Text," in Times Literary Supplement, May 19-25, 1989, p. 536.

[In the following review, Kaveney assesses Young Lust.]

It is impossible to read in a way that is not implicitly political; but the methods of Kathy Acker's fictions aim to make possible radical readings, avoiding the closed and the directive, the authoritarian gestures that would seem paradoxical in texts that celebrate the aspiration to freedom and variety. The novellas included in Young Lust are early work; in them Acker feints at a number of styles without definitely opting for any one. Kathy Goes to Haiti is both an exercise in genre pornography and a...

(The entire section is 564 words.)

Douglas Shields Dix (essay date Fall 1989)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Kathy Acker's Don Quixote: Nomad Writing," in Review of Contemporary Fiction, Vol. 9, No. 3, Fall, 1989, pp. 56-62.

[In the following essay, Dix examines nomadism, revolutionary subversion, and the possibility of personal affirmation and social transformation as portrayed by Acker in Don Quixote.]

"This is the time to escape."

"The sexual is the political realm."

By loving another person, she would right every manner of political, social, and individual wrong: she would put herself in those situations so perilous the glory of her name would resound.


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Ellen G. Friedman (essay date Fall 1989)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "'Now Eat Your Mind': An Introduction to the Works of Kathy Acker," in Review of Contemporary Fiction, Vol. 9, No. 3, Fall, 1989, pp. 37-49.

[In the following essay, Friedman provides an overview of the intellectual, cultural, and literary contexts in which Acker's fiction, according to Friedman, is "designed to be jaws steadily devouring—often to readers' horror and certainly to their discomfort (which is part of the strategy)—the mindset, if not the mind of Western culture."]


—Kathy Acker, Empire of the...

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Naomi Jacobs (essay date Fall 1989)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Kathy Acker and the Plagiarized Self," in Review of Contemporary Fiction, Vol. 9, No. 3, Fall, 1989, pp. 50-5.

[In the following essay, Jacobs examines Acker's postmodern experimentation with authorial identity and literary history.]

Postmodernist fiction differs from its modernist precedents less in specific narrative techniques (such as the "nodality" and "paratactics" which David Hayman identifies in writers from Joyce to Sollers) than in the theoretical perspectives from which it employs such techniques. With varying degrees of rigor, American postmodernists have drawn upon post-structuralist theories of language and identity both as the basis for...

(The entire section is 2317 words.)

Robert Siegle (essay date 1989)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Kathy Acker: The Blood and Guts of Guerrilla Warfare," in Suburban Ambush: Downtown Writing and the Fiction of Insurgency, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989, pp. 47-123.

[In the following excerpt, Siegle offers an overview of Acker's literary significance and a critical reading of Don Quixote.]

"Reading Kathy Acker is like reading the subway walls." "If my mother saw what I was reading, she'd die." "I never thought I was a prude until I opened this book. I was reading it outside between classes and I found myself holding the book half-closed so the people sitting around me wouldn't see the illustrations." "My roommates couldn't believe I was reading...

(The entire section is 6096 words.)

Martina Sciolino (essay date April 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Kathy Acker and the Postmodern Subject of Feminism," in College English, Vol. 52, No. 4, April, 1990, pp. 437-45.

[In the following essay, Sciolino examines Acker's hybrid synthesis of poststructural theory, postmodern fiction, and feminist discourse.]

By conflating her own lover's discourse with seemingly mutually exclusive productions such as canonical literature and pornography, by using performative prose to launch political and aesthetic diatribes, Kathy Acker's narrative methods are exemplary for postmodern feminism. Materially didactic in its decompositions, any fiction by Acker engages a poststructural skepticism regarding the constative efficacy of...

(The entire section is 3276 words.)

Stephen Schiff (review date 22 June 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Rimbaud and Verlaine, Together Again," in The New York Times Book Review, June 22, 1990, p. 11.

[In the following review, Schiff provides a generally unfavorable assessment of In Memoriam to Identity.]

The characters in Kathy Acker's nine novels are far less intriguing than the character on some of them—on the book jackets, that is. There one finds Kathy Acker glaring provocatively into the camera, her hair platinum and butch-cut, her lips poised somewhere between a pout and a slurp, her underwear exposed and with it her mighty bi, tri and quadriceps, festooned with snarly tattoos.

The pose is manifestly defiant; it hints at the sort of...

(The entire section is 907 words.)

Tom Clark (review date 12 August 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Homage to the Great Punks of Our European Heritage," in Los Angeles Times Book Review, August 12, 1990, pp. 1, 8.

[Below, Clark reviews In Memoriam to Identity.]

In previous books like Don Quixote and Great Expectations, Kathy Acker has patented an audacious, irreverent, provocatively highhanded method of recycling classic literary texts in a manner variously reminiscent of Dadaist and surrealist procedures, Burroughsian cut-up and the "appropriation" tactics currently in vogue in the visual arts.

Effecting an arresting tacit critique by wrenching original works out of context and re-scaling them to purposes quite distinct from...

(The entire section is 861 words.)

Kate Braverman (review date 22 March 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "An Exercise in Public Drowning," in Los Angeles Times Book Review, March 22, 1992, p. 8.

[In the following review, Braverman offers an unfavorable assessment of Portrait of an Eye.]

Kathy Acker has achieved cult status in the small-press world, presumably for the graphic sexual content of her fictions and the nasty bad-girl attitude that fuels them. She is, fundamentally, an experimental minimalist. This collection consists of three mini-"novels" (two of them are fewer than 100 pages) which were previously self-published in the early and mid-70s. And one wonders at the wisdom of bringing forth such raw and marginal early efforts.


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Greg Lewis Peters (essay date 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Dominance and Subversion: The Horizontal Sublime and Erotic Empowerment in the Works of Kathy Acker," in State of the Fantastic: Studies in the Theory and Practice of Fantastic Literature and Film, edited by Nicholas Ruddick, Greenwood Press, 1992, pp. 149-56.

[In the following essay, Peters explores the narrative techniques and language of dominance and submission employed by Acker to subvert patriarchal hierarchies and conventional notions of sexual identity.]

Cosmo Landesman, in his (unfavorable) 1984 review of Kathy Acker's novel Blood and Guts in High School, describes her writing as having "the gothic perversity of Lautremont [sic] mixed...

(The entire section is 3149 words.)

Ellen G. Friedman (review date Spring 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of My Mother: Demonology, in Review of Contemporary Fiction, Vol. 14, No. 1, Spring, 1994, pp. 213-4.

[Below, Friedman offers a favorable review of My Mother: Demonology.]

The themes in Kathy Acker's newest book will not surprise followers of her delirious prose. Schizophrenic juxtaposition again organizes her text. A section entitled "Rape by Dad" begins: "In the following paragraphs I would like to try to highlight various recollections from my childhood. My parents were nevertheless very kind. They never beat me." These sentences are followed by the father's rape of the narrator. Also many of the obsessions that are the signature of her texts...

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Rod Phillips (essay date Spring 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Purloined Letters: The Scarlet Letter in Kathy Acker's Blood and Guts in High School," in Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction, Vol. 35, No. 3, Spring, 1994, pp. 173-80.

[In the following essay, Phillips explores the significance of Acker's allusions to Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter in Blood and Guts in High School.]

In the years since critics first took notice of Kathy Acker, considerable comment has been made on her use of other writers' language and plot lines in her fiction—and rightfully so. Acker has taken literary "borrowing" to its most bizarre extreme. Large portions of her books are undisguised reworkings of...

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Alev Adil (review date 14 November 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Breaking to Build," in Times Literary Supplement, November 14, 1997, p. 24.

[In the following review, Adil offers favorable assessments of Eurydice in the Underworld and Bodies of Work.]

To observe that Kathy Acker's writing refuses to seduce is not to denigrate her work. There is method in her madness; her hysteria is an aesthetic strategy. Her fiction is difficult, driven by an ethical fervour that denies us the pleasures of naturalism and narrative. The reader is so often shouted at that it is easy to become deaf to the sophistication and technical virtuosity with which Acker composes her symphonies of screams. The simultaneous publication of her...

(The entire section is 1093 words.)