Writing about Goya's Black Paintings in Art After Modernism , a collection of essays published in 1984 by the New Museum in downtown New York, Kathy Acker wrote: 'The only reaction against an unbearable society is equally unbearable nonsense.' She once said she didn't expect anyone to read any of her books all the way through from beginning to end: 'even in Empire of the Senseless , which is the most narrative book, you could read pretty much anywhere.' In other words, you could make your own montage, you could appropriate and re-order, just as Kathy Acker had appropriated and re-ordered the writing of others - Harold Robbins or Cervantes or Ian Fleming or Propertius. Recently, on the radio, Leslie Dick remarked that Kathy Acker's writing was an extension of her reading, that her plagiarism was a way of reading, or rereading, appropriating and customising what she read, writing herself, so to speak, into the fabric of the original text. Acker used to read her own texts too, each one eight times, re-drafting it after each reading: once for meaning, once for beauty, once for sound, once to the mirror to see how it looked, once for rhythm, once for structure, and so on. Writing and reading became as confused and mixed up as sense and nonsense, male and female, self and other, the sexual and the political. Writing about Caravaggio's David with the Head of Goliath , Kathy Acker commented on its nihilism, as she saw it: 'The sexual is the political realm. There is no engagement.'
LRB 5 February 1998 | PDF Download