Amerika Online


Mark Amerika

A review of Kathy Acker's
"My Mother: Demonology"
Pantheon, 268 pages

When Kathy Acker came to Boulder this past Spring to read from what was her soon-to-be-published novel, My Mother: Demonology, the room was packed and literally flowing out the door. For the Denver metro literati who regularly attend such events, there was general agreement that this was one of the most festive, energetic gatherings seen in recent years. Any curious onlooker who has ever been to one of Acker's readings notices one stark fact that immediately presents itself: this writer's work attracts the same representative youth scene as the one we find at major alternative musical festivals like Lollapalooza.

This should come as no surprise. Just like rock bands such as Dinosaur Jr. and Porno For Pyros compose angst-driven songs that focus on an individual's struggle with economic and libidinal confusion, Acker's previous novels, from Blood and Guts In High School to Empire of The Senseless, tap into the raw nervous energy of human emotions and sexuality. Now that My Mother: Demonology has just been released, one can see Acker further ignite the flammable issue of class-struggle as it relates to the many intricate parts of our daily lives. Section headings like "Getting Rid of Bush Through Rock and Roll" open up fictional rants that rage against a society that tries to predetermine our identities for us. Through her rebellious fictional attacks, Acker shows us how the politicized discourse of the mass media invades all aspects of our lives, including our dreams, our interaction with nature and our memory of childhood.

Acker's new novel reinvestigates a number of themes that permeate her other twelve books including obsession, love, motorcycle-riding, weight-lifting, sex, AIDS, the politics of desire, the anachronistic reappearance of historical outlaws and pirates, the abuses of Presidential privilege, feminism, literary theory and pop culture. What makes this latest of narrative adventures so refreshing and signals a unique twist in Acker's own publishing history, is that her lead character, Laure, seems to have been inserted with much more of the real-life experience of Kathy Acker the contemporary writer. Acker has, for many years and many novels, appropriated (what contemporary musicians call "sampled") pieces of text from many works of the past, assembling them into a new readymade creation that she has made her own. There certainly remains a great deal of this technical "sampling" in this novel too, everything from an Aerosmith song to the writings of a relatively unknown feminist philosopher, but one gets a sense that there's much more Kathy Acker, the post-punk cult figure who's currently experiencing a boom in critical attention, playing herself out in these pages.

Toward the end of the book, in a brilliantly written section called "The Fire Sermon," the character Laure/Cathy is an American writer participating in a group book tour that takes place in Germany. TV crews want to interview her. Big German publishers invite her to huge expensive lunches. Massive parties are thrown in her honor at some of the richest homes in the region. But Laure/Cathy wants to be alone.

Being alone is the only way for her to discover herself, and yet she knows that another part of herself needs companionship, and passionate companionship at that. She is constantly dreaming up ways to meet up with current and ex-lovers. In fact, all the sections that make up My Mother: Demonology are infused with the cinematic language of dreams (sections are titled "I Dream," "The Lack of Dreams Is The Disappearance of The Heart," "The Underside of Dream," "Returning To Dreaming," and "My Dream of Returning To Cathy"). Acker performs these hypnotic word-tricks better than any other writer going, and is finding creative ways to integrate a lightly deranged comic element into her narrative's dreamy discourse. In her dream about the German reading tour, she continually departs scenes she has unknowingly entered and heads for her vehicle of escape: her rented motorcycle, whom she names Redhead.

As soon as I reach my motorcycle, or pirate ship, I'm gonna sail free...

Redhead was still standing on the cobblestones, looking more miserable than before. One rapidly disintegrating Honda Custom, little power and less front-end suspension. She made me too excited to be able to ride her.

Acker's work defies easy description as it bypasses the familiar terrain of carefully structured plot and simpleton characterization, but what emerges in its stead is a kind of writing that empowers and celebrates the creative spirit that circulates within an oppressive culture. The effect of reading a book like My Mother: Demonology is that it seems to have been written by someone who lives an exile's life within her own country. Acker's talent, similar to writers like Jean Genet and Juan Goytisolo, is to display an ironic humor so searing and mordantly erotic, that one feels as though this sort of "gutting" of present-day commercial reality is absolutely crucial to the survival of dissonant art.

Wedged between the uncertain jumble of thoughts that arise on account of Laure/Cathy's emotional anxieties and her primal need to feed her weight-trained body the fruits of passionate experience, there remains within the pages of this book an innovative exploration into the philosophical unknown. In a culture so dominated by the mainstream discourse of televisual media, it is refreshing to encounter the likes of a Kathy Acker who has once again, perhaps more powerfully than ever, unearthed the hidden and suppressed images that live deep in the subconscious streams of our collective imagination.