Chris Kraus, Pic: Reynaldo Rivera
A sold-out affair at Bloomsbury’s prestigious London Review bookshop, Kraus’ ode to the late, great Acker was welcomed to the shelf by Juliet Jacques (author of Trans: a memoir) and the novel’s author Chris Kraus (author also of I Love Dick, Aliens and Anorexia). The atmosphere was cosy, punters nursing obligatory wine glasses in a sea of literary spectacles and polished brogues. After Kathy Acker is what Kraus champions as a “career biography” written posthumously with limited narration.
Kraus marks Acker’s death as “radicalising”, having moved in similar artistic circles herself during New York’s wild 70s/80s. She speaks of her access to Acker’s diaries shortly after her death and the question of when and whether to write the biography. “If you wait 20 years it’s all very elegiac” she asserts, striving for a “revisionist history of 80s New York”. Their stories and circles are undoubtedly similar; sleeping with the same people (Sylvère Lotringer), going to the same parties, breathing the same air. Whilst Kraus marks the scene as “snobby” and “air-clad”, Acker’s work is also tinged with this sentiment of claustrophobia and Kraus reads a short extract from her “Politics”; exploring Acker’s relationship with writing, pornographic work, sexual politics and familial estrangement.
She speaks also of Acker’s “self-serving white lies” which she employed throughout her career to “give her the legitimacy that she deserved”. This invites a discussion of writing and the self (“a biography is a hologram composed of fragments”) as well as Kraus admitting that contrary to critical knowledge, she had not been personally acquainted with Acker. Kraus speaks reverently of Great Expectations and the short story’s artful meshing of grieving and the writing process though is keen to mark the gendered assumptions of women who write about women that “anything short of hating or liking will be seen as envy”.
Further to this, Jacques draws attention to Acker’s experiments with CD-ROMs as a result of being ex-communicated from literary circles after falling out of critical fashion in the mid-80s and the conversation touches on Acker’s foray into theatre with plays such as Desire. Both Kraus and Acker’s New York is filthy, sexually liberated and self-masturbatory and the evening’s discussion siphons into the ouroboros-y of the art scene and spoken word nights in which Acker (“the chamber writer of Downtown New York”) would rattle off the names and shames of former flames to an audience of friends; “feeding the scene back into itself”.
Kraus’ immortalisation of Acker is humbly motivated and driven by the desire to write the true Acker back into the subject space, rather than purely an object of scandal and sex, untimely taken. I purchased myself a copy, quietly squirming at the price, quietly asking Chris Kraus to sign it then promptly faded away, rosy-cheeked, on the 171 in a cloud of free wine and biblio-bliss.
Words, Ellie Potts
More from senior Literary and Creative editor Ellie and her biblio-musings @eldpotts