Weekly Wire
Tucson Weekly Media Mix

By James DiGiovanna

DECEMBER 15, 1997:  REMEMBERING ACKER: The lack of noise surrounding Kathy Acker's death from cancer last Tuesday, November 30, seems surprising, considering almost all of her more than a dozen books are still in print. Still, it was the habit of the American media to miss out on Acker's meaning. Although a native New Yorker, she received much of her attention in England, where she was a mainstay on just the kind of entertainment one is not apt to find stateside: literary talk shows.

Acker may have been hard for Americans to swallow because of her failure to be simple, even when her writing tried to sound stupid. Pastiching together literary classics, and rewriting them in the voice of a disturbed 12-year-old, Acker's novels were never easy reads. Characters changed identity, changed gender, even species, and sometimes all meaning was lost as a text switched to several pages of grammatically incorrect Persian. But perhaps the greatest difficulty for her U.S. followers was that she was a woman writer in a male tradition (she self-consciously identified with the Beats), one who was so far out of the McKinnonite fold that she wasn't even the enemy: She was unidentifiable. Looking as dykey as possible, Acker was an unreconstructed heterosexual who sang "all I want is a taste of your lips, boy."

Her massive body, produced by years of weightlifting, didn't look female, subjugated or victimized. Yet she once arranged to be whipped in front of one of the classes she taught at San Francisco State, and she espoused the pleasures of being spanked in such a cold and matter-of-fact manner that it was hard to derive any further meaning from her masochism: She just liked it.

Well before the idea became trite enough for MTV, Acker considered her body and its manipulations a part of her art. Before terms like "the body" become so common that academic conferences were arranged around them, Acker's novels looked into the possibilities of identifying with and re-writing our flesh. "This is what...my partner," begins Acker's Empire of the Senseless, "part robot and part black, told me was her childhood." Being part robot and part black was one way of remaking a body; cancer was another. Her most popular novel, the teen-diary Blood and Guts in High School, tells the story of a girl, kidnapped by slavers, who attains immortality by becoming one with her tumors, allowing herself to die and reappear all over the world. "Many other Janeys were born, and these Janeys covered the earth." Acker chose to die of her own cancer without the painful and sickening treatments that could have prolonged her life.

In a world that looks to become, at least officially, increasingly innocent and understandable, we can only hope that the debauched confusion Acker's work sought to create still has a chance to be born in many places, and someday cover the earth.

BETTER THAN DOOM: The average lifespan for an American citizen is rapidly approaching 80 years, so just what are you going to do to fill up all the time until you die? We suggest going to http://www.stairwell.com/stare/play.htm, where you can attempt to beat a computer opponent in the game of stare-down. Forget Kasparov vs. Deep Blue, this is the real battleground for the soul of humanity: If you blink before computer-generated cutie "Sally" does, humankind's reign as masters of this planet will come to an end. Please, for the love of god, don't attempt this unless you are strong of will and bored to distraction.

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