Where Does She Get Off?

Interview by R.U. Sirius
Photo illustration by Ian Stahl

Kathy Acker photo She calls herself Acker. And Acker is this person I hang with sometimes. What's cool is that we can talk about anything and nobody gets uptight (though she does decide that I'm a sexist pig sometimes). Some have called her the next generation's Burroughs.

Kathy Acker is a novelist. I first read her interior staccato noise in a Canadian Dadaist magazine sometime in the late 1970s. I thought, "Here's the next generation's Burroughs." Or something like that. She uses appropriation, multiple points-of-ego, multiple points-in-time, honest and violent libidinal obsessions, deconstructionist discourse and revolutionary disgust to great advantage. Her books include Blood and Guts in High School, Empire of the Senseless, In Memoriam to Identity and most recently, My Mother: Demonology.

She lives in San Francisco and teaches at the San Francisco Art Institute.

Kathy Acker: So this is like a serious interview ...

R.U. Sirius: Yeah, this is a literary magazine, only cooler. I was reading In Memoriam to Identity -- that part about a woman who's encouraged by a professor to poison somebody ...

KA: Don Quixote?

RUS: Uh ...

KA: I don't remember. I write it to get it out of me. I don't write it to remember it.

RUS: OK. Enough about books. Let's talk about the wild girls. Are they on your mind?

KA: (laughs) The students who come to my class are very closely related to all the evil girls who are very interested in their bodies and sex and pleasure. I learn a lot from them about how to have pleasure and how cool the female body is. One of my students had a piercing through her labia. And she told me about how when you ride on a motorcycle, the little bead on the ring acts like a vibrator. Her story turned me on so I did it. I got two. It was very cool.
I'm very staid compared to my students, actually. I come from a generation where you've got the PC dykes and confused heterosexuals. No one ever told me that you could walk around with a strap-on, having orgasms.

RUS: That's one of the things I find interesting about your writing. You seem to write from the point of orgasm -- but you stretch it out. It's the kind of interior dialogue you might have during extreme arousal. How do you do that?

KA: Well, I think writing is basically about time and rhythm. Like with jazz. You have your basic melody and then you just riff off of it. And the riffs are about timing. And about sex.
Writing for me is about my freedom. When I was a kid, my parents were like monsters to me, and the world extended from them. They were horrible. And I was this good little girl -- I didn't have the guts to oppose them. They told me what to do and how to be. So the only time I could have any freedom or joy was when I was alone in my room. Writing is what I did when I was alone with no one watching me or telling me what to do. I could do whatever I wanted. So writing was really associated with body pleasure -- it was the same thing. It was like the only thing I had.


KA: I've been going to this rolfer. I don't know why I'm doing it. It's like: "You will get rid of all your childhood traumas if you only go through this pain." Fuck childhood. People always say you do all these things because of your childhood. I'm sorry, but what really gets me off is the idea that you can just travel, and traveling is just like having an endless orgasm. You just go and go and go.

RUS: In that state, you lose your individual identity -- and therefore your childhood. But the rolfer is trying to drag you back into accepting your singular identity.

KA: Yeah. He's telling me, "Your agenda is ..." and I'm saying, "My agenda? I don't have an agenda and I'm not sure who I am. Who am I?" He keeps on saying, "You know what you want." And I say, "I don't know what I want."

RUS: If he succeeds in dragging you into a singular "I," that's the death of Kathy Acker the writer.

KA: Yeah, it sure is. But I don't think he'll succeed. He doesn't have a fuckin' chance. I'm just trying to fuck him. If he won't fuck, we're not going anywhere. He can't make me into this singular "I." I told him, "You gotta consider the pleasure principle -- namely my pleasure." He didn't like that.

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