Writing Course with Martin Hargreaves

Dear K (a rant/a porn/a letter to Kathy Acker)




can i call you mum? my mother. my demon. maybe dad.
i wanna call you sister and breaker, wanna call you heart body mind cunt
and i wanna call you liar i wanna call you brother. lie-sibling.
we’re sisters of the universe. of the apocalypse.

i wanna ask you why it is that i haven’t met you but you’re with me. and i wonder if it means anything to you that we’re the same, i wonder if you know.
maybe if you knew you’d find me annoying. or we’d lose count of the hours we’d spent chatting the night away over too much alcohol and cigarettes, incredibly self-aware of the conditional cliches of our subjectivity. or maybe you’d fuck me top me peg me hard like you did your assistants, or as my sex dreams tell me you did your assistants. or maybe this would remind you of your own obsessive crushes and art groupie impulses and how you’ve constantly overexposed intimate sexual details of your love and depression. maybe instead of this unreciprocated letter we could’ve had a still on-going email thread of personal erotic philosophical correspondence because actually I am also very into you. so fucking very delusionally into you. so much more into you than

and if we both knew and existed simultaneously in time and place fuck if you could see how our Ids (sorry for Freud) vibrate in the same frequency who would’ve cared about how very very your post-coital email chains read.

I fucking hate jealousy but how do I control these socialised traits when I can only hear you through words you left behind to other someone elses that weren’t me. If we’d all been alive in the same stretch of temporal context i think jealousy would’ve been the name of our intercontinental threesome, again in painful self-awareness of the geopolitics of our gangbang, our neo-colonial exchange of moist fluids that’d make this supremacist triplice even whiter.

oh my god i am so full of love for you.
oh Kathy Kat how i fucking dream about you.
I open the white door and walk in. I turn around and see you about six inches away from me. We kiss passionately. Tongues slither down throats. You push me we topple on the bed.
“Draw your curtains.”
I try to draw the curtains and fail.
I lie down next to you so our faces are only a few inches apart. We look at each other for a long time.
We reach out to each other and you move down on me.
We start doing the same things at the same time without thinking about it.
You kiss me in the lips and eyes. Your tongue sticks up my nostrils. Your hand reaches down, under my halter, and rubs my nipples.
“Do you ever come from this?” You ask.
“From what?”
“From having your titties played with?”
“Once I did.”
You bend your head, lift the halter, and place your mouth on the brown aureole. While you lick and suck this nipple, your hand rubs the other breast.
I’m so open I can’t believe it.
We take off our clothes. We’re glad to get our clothes off cause now we can touch each other all over. We lie on our sides so all of our front presses, and rub, and slip, shove against each other. We’re constantly kissing.
Your upper legs thrust down between my thighs so that you’re lying partially on top of me. I’m dying to fuck.
I’m in agony. I know this is going to be a good fuck. You rub your cock-head up and down my ass and the skin around my asshole. I know that you’re playing with me but I’m too hot to care.

I open my legs wider and thrust upward. The right part of my body rises higher than my left. You move slightly backwards so the back part of your cock rubs roughly against the skin at the back of my asshole. Then you move forward so you’re lying fully on top of me. I want to come so badly I’m thrusting and shoving and bouncing too much every which way.
We roll to our sides and my left leg bends so my knee is near your face. You’re using your hands to push me back and forth. I swing my left leg over your thigh so your cock presses against the back and left side of my asshole. We begin to fuck a little bit faster. I’m about to come.
You slip on top of me. You continue fucking at the same pace. I feel spasms run up and down your cock and at the same time I feel all my muscles relax, a force like a warm fire an exploding bomb and all the wants in the world, these three things together rise up my ass muscles and then slowly into my whole body. I shake and relax in your arms.
And although i never physically touched you i don’t think i’ll ever find a state of relaxation like the one i find in your skin. We should’ve stayed as, or should’ve been under, the same skin.

maybe you were meant to stay longer.
or maybe death is nothing but a state of transition.
maybe you’ve transitioned into me.

I was five when you died. I had just started primary school. I’d always been this really extroverted, fun, kinda clever, quick-wit type child. But when I went into primary school I couldn’t stand it. I’d literally shit myself every day by lunch time so that my parents had to come pick me up. All the other kids would make fun of me, I was the gay fat dumbo (in honour of my bigger than normal ears) with the shitty underpants. There was an oral fantasy fan-fiction going around school about how i’d fly away using my weirdly big ears as wings and everyone would have to hide under roofs like some sort of apocalypse because of the brown rain that’d drip from my wet scat-soaked briefs. Funnily enough I now think that’s a pretty cool thing I often dream about accomplishing. Call it reclaiming, empowerment or just a fairly dissident becoming.
I had only one ‘friend’, or someone who tolerated hanging out with me or vice-versa and because of that I wanted to stay home even more.
It was this boy Filipe, he was one of the popular kids, a total dickhead but the girls all liked him, in a Portuguese version of the American highschool dramas I’m still obsessed about. He would speak to me. Mostly I was there to make sure he wasn’t caught stealing, or bullying other kids, or making out with girls in hidden corners of the school.
I’d stay at the bottom of these stairs that led to an unused attic, or I’d sit in front of the closed door that’d lead to the photocopy room. He’d go in with them. I’d pretend to be paying attention to teachers coming but would just watch them kiss from below or from the keyhole.
He caught me once and called me a creep. And then another time he caught me looking at him shirtless in the locker room, called me a fag and punched me in the stomach so hard I still twenty years later can’t breathe. I remember going to bed that night. my stomach was sore, my eyes red and swollen from crying, my dick hard which it had been a couple times before but was still an unfamiliar sensation. so I just rubbed myself against the sheets. That was me starting to understand what wanking was.

After that, from one friend down to zero, I found books. And that’s when you died. Three months after I’d started school. When I wanked and found books.
it was you, wasn’t it?
You took over my body you gave me sex and you gave me books and you gave me art.
it was you, wasn’t it?
You’ve orchestrated the counter-political context in which you wanted my desire to awake.

I am nothing more than your pseudonym. A puppet.
Your hands your legs your limbs your tongue control my body. You open my sphincter and stick your tongue into me. I want to tell you you’re hurting me, but I don’t because I’m scared I’ll hurt your feelings and you’ll stop sucking me.
I try to relax to you and open myself up to you.
“If Kathy likes to suck, I don’t have to worry about making myself come as soon as possible. I must taste terrible because of the dysentery.”
I feel your tongue move up the the extra-sensitive spot where my prostate starts. Your tonguing hurts and makes me feel good. The hurt increases the pleasure. The hurt disappears.
I feel the beginning of the rising that always comes when I relax. I’m amazed that the rising’s beginning so fast. All of my asshole begins to tingle. The trick is your asshole membrane has to get more and more sensitive but not so fast that you tense up cause the more you relax the more you feel. You want to feel everything.
You touch my prostate with your tongue and my prostate swells. The tinging increases strength and speed. Then you blow on my asshole so I feel almost nothing. Instantaneously I want you to touch me even harder. By the time your tongue returns to my ass, my ass feels like a three inch long raw desirous nerve.
“Follow Kathy’s tongue, follow Kathy’s tongue. Don’t let the feeling carry you away. Don’t go too fast.”
The vibrations move around my spine like a snake. Are what you’re doing. As the vibrations run up and down, they grow fiercer and sharper so at the extreme there are these peaks of fire, tiny explosions everywhere, and nothing. My asshole is silent, ready, nothing. Your tongue is the explosions, the fires, the desire. The explosions the fires the desire come faster and harder they become simultaneous and infinite. Your tongue draws me out of myself, makes me quiver, and puts me back, slightly changed, into myself.
“Oh my god,” I say. I’m in love with you.
You rise up and stick your cock in me. As soon as you move back and forth about three times, I come. I spread my legs as wide as possible. I feel like I’m ready for anything. You continue moving your cock slowly back and forth in my asshole. My ass is sensitive to feel your cock. I can feel every inch of that cock it’s going into me. You pull out of me so that your cock-head is lying in my ass crack. You press and rub the upper ridge of your cock back and forth past the tight asshole. I can’t come again because your cock isn’t in me. I’m desperate. I begin to flex my perineum muscles. Soft. Tight. Around and around. Soft. Tight. You stick your cock back in me and begin to fuck me good and hard. I come again. I keep on tensing my cremaster muscles.
you’re moving inside my skin you’ve always been moving inside my skin and that makes me so happy.
you are the blood flow that rushes to my cock to give me an erection.
you are my hard cock.
maybe that’s what I, or we, are meant to be doing here.
feminizing our dick desire. or de-dickcizing people’s dildo cravings.
we are here to destroy the myth and the connection between dick and dildo, between dick and men.
my hard cock is a woman.
our dildos are non-binary technobiopolitical humanoids.
our existence shines in the edge between the artificial phallus and the biological dildos.
and you look at me with a cigarette hanging from the right side of your lips and we’re not even touching but I feel the tingling and we recognise that your cigarette is also a dildo and we both know where that dildo will be penetrating later on.

we don’t need men and their dick-exploitations. we need post-masculine dildo explorations. we reclaim penetration. we reclaim dick, reclaim dildos. i love dildo.
dear dildo, is it hypocritical that i still fuck and get fucked by men?
If you were here we’d pen stalky letters to Preciado and would become the post-human Chris Kraus the world doesn’t know it needs.
oh god, Target.. Come with me to Rosi Bardotti’s summer school in Utrecht this Summer. Have you been to Utrecht? To the Netherlands? I’m scared as I think I’m still hooked on my ex and our co-dependent connection and he lives there so you know how we are, you know what will probably happen and I’m gonna spiral back down to a hole.
But Kat, If you keep fucking me everything everything will be alright. right?

it feels ever so less romantic to type you some half-arsed letter using notes on a fucking smartphone while sitting in the middle seat of a crowded Ryanair plane than when you write your texts. let’s ignore the problematics of this nostalgia for a past before we’d lost control over globalised capitalism.
let’s forget how nostalgia is twisted to erase the power of our current voice.
i wish our times merged.
did you know we both write always in bed? well, apart from when Ryanair early flights become sleepy comforts.

i am so full of love for you. fuck.
i wanna call you tornado, i wanna call you tempest, wave, rock and guts.
i wanna call you eagle. pussy. bender,stretcher,fleece,maid,nomad.
i wanna call you virgin. i wanna call you sex. i wanna call you blood.

Eurydice i’m not a stalker and i’m not a copy cat, i promise.
it was never my intention to break in the way you did, it was never my intention to lie as you did, to move as you did, to write as you did. or a much poorer version of as you wrote.
you were somehow in me even before i read about you or read you.
you were the writing i needed to find to gain strength to call myself a poet.

and in my head we hang out daily. we stroll down the streets of islington as if you were still here. i feel like i could’ve made you enjoy London. maybe because I hope you could’ve made me enjoy it too.
and we sit in hampstead heath and I listen to you gossiping about Burroughs and how fucking bored and angry we are of his big male ego and masc writing and woman hatred. maybe I’d like him more if I had met him and could’ve shouted at him like I do at all the basic white cis-gays at the glory or the rvt. maybe you could’ve made me enjoy him as a writer because, although you were terrible at compartmentalising, you were surprisingly good at filtering the little good things out of fucked up shit.

and we go to the mixed ponds and swim but then it’s disgusting so we never go back.
we start going to the men’s or to the women’s cause it’s nicer.
and people try to stop us but then i wear your breasts or you wear my cock and we morph bodies and they’re so confused looking at us and their mouths open and close like they are trying to say something but they just leave in gender non-conforming speechlessness.

and we laugh and jump in the water.

and we go out in New York City, you show me the places where you walk, and see art, go out. You show me your city, the city of the moments you weren’t in bed writing, another thing I couldn’t know unless through you. And I see you happy and full of energy and hopeful. I see the flat where you lived with Len and where you started seeing Dan and you look at me and you tell me I’m a thousand times a better fuck than any of them. I see your light and you recognise it in me.

Oh Eurydice, we dance. As soon as we get to the dance floor, our arms slide against each other’s bodies. We kiss and our tongues enter each other’s mouths. We remain this way for several minutes. Hot spasms are shooting up and down my spine. I’m scared because I feel so turned on. I move my face down and to the side so that my face sleeps in the hollow of your chest under your head and in from your armpit. Your muscled arms hold me tightly enough that I feel protected. We alternately kiss and dance with my head under your head. We, as far as we know, are the only people left in the bar. We keep on dancing.
“Let’s go” You tell me.
We walk by the high white pension wall. Across the street, the ocean. We sit down on the grass and begin to kiss.
“What do you want to do?” You ask.
“What do y’mean, ‘what do I want to do’?”
“What do you want to do?” You smile. I kiss you.
“Well, what do you want to do?” I bury my head to the side in your lap and giggle. “For God’s sake Kathy you know what . . .” I can’t finish my statement.
“I want you to be sure”
“Good god I am sure.” We kiss for a while.
“Look at that couple over there,” you say. “They’re really in love. They’re quarrelling. Oh brother. Once two people who are really in love start quarrelling, they can’t turn back. Their love’s starting to end.”
“That isn’t always true. I think for love to last you have to learn to survive the quarrels. I mean it’s possible to survive the quarrels, but you have to be real smart and know how to compromise. I don’t know. I’ve never had any love that lasted.”
“I know. Once two people start quarrelling, that’s it. There’s no way they can patch it up. Things just keep getting worse and worse.”

and maybe it’s problematic that i’m constantly in awe or hiding in the shadows or holding the hands of powerful and daring women. I don’t do it to surpass them and not to bring them down but just to be next to them somehow, just in order to feel safe and to feel valid.
and i guess if you were here today you would probably have a better word to describe your gender or you’d refuse as you kinda did to describe it at all.

and still you were such a woman.
and i owe it so much to women for showing me i don’t need to be a man.
i’m too good to be a man but not strong enough to consider myself a woman.
this is sort of kinda as much of a letter as i can write you but it will be on going.
we will always be on going.

I get up to the bathroom. You hear me piss.
“Come here.”
You walk into the bathroom and see me sitting in the toilet.
“Sit on me.”
You sit down slowly, your back facing me. My cock slides up your asshole. My hands grabbing your tits. You wonder if I’m still going to the bathroom.
“Shit and piss,” you think to yourself, “Fuck and suck what and not.”
Everything’s everything else. You’re crouching behind the window, watching the grey cat stalk someone you can’t see.
“Let’s go to bed,” I say. I take your hand and lead you to the bed. Lay you back down on the bed.
“This bed makes too much noise.”
“It’s just a lousy bed.”
“Let’s move it away from the wall.”
“Do I have to get up?”
“No.” You pull the bed away from the wall so the wood headboard doesn’t bang against the wall and lie down.
My head is in your cunt. I stick my tongue in your cunt and lick. Then I raise my head. My dark brown beard hairs are rubbing the lighter brown wet cunt hairs. My beard hairs are partly white from sucking you. You moan.
“Now do you like my beard?” I ask.
“I’ve always liked your beard.”
“But now you see why my beard’s so special.”
“Oh shit.” your heat’s rising. You’re about to come again. I don’t want you to come again from my tongue. I rise over you and stick my cock into your cunt. You don’t exactly know what’s happening. We fuck and then stop fuck and then stop fuck and then stop. We’re actually fucking slowly and in a steady rhythm. Your cunt is so sore that you come whenever my cock is inside you. Yet we’re fucking slowly enough that you’re not becoming hysterical. Fucking is not fucking and not fucking is fucking. No one can tell who’s coming and who’s not coming. No one knows and forgets anything.

We know and remember everyone.

it’s incredible how it feels to live alone and free with you. Not as a couple, but as a two.
i’ve always lived in dialogue with other people that exist inside myself. sometimes i gave them names. they were always memories – false or real – but what does that false means when they are so real in me?
i have deaths in my head that my body still mourns. i guess that’s how it feels to live under a constant state of violence. i make up deaths so that my crying is acceptable but actually we’re just all nonconsensually fucked.

i’m glad I can give you a name now. I’m glad you’re not an unnamed voice inside me anymore. i’m glad you existed in this reality, or in some reality.
i wish our realities could’ve crossed.
but thanks for existing – i’ll do your best to make me exist too.

We look at each other. Our lips meet. We stick our cock into our overfucked cunt. we come. We feel every inch of our cock spasm back and fourth as clearly as we see the white ceiling above us. Our orgasm makes us hot.
We stop fucking. Our cock is hard again. We wet our finger and stick it into our ass. Our finger moves around easily. We slosh some saliva on the asshole and ease our cock into our ass. We don’t feel any pain at all. We’re moving our cock back and forth rapidly. We’re coming like a maniac. All of our ass and intestine muscles are shaking.
“Oh oh oh,” we cry. We stop coming. We’re still shaking away. We feel a little pain. We both come again.

My Kathy Kat, Target, Erica Jong, Janey Smith, Rip-Off Red, Gold Lamé, Silver Lamé, Pussy, Karen Alexander, Black Tarantula, My Eurydice, Kathy fucking Acker…
i know there’s a place somewhere, anywhere, where we can co-exist
where we can be together where we can hang we can hug where we can fuck.
i promise you i’m gonna make of my life a journey to find it.

Love Love,
Andre x

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The materiality of words – an un-manifesto

Words come easily. Flow. Words flow and dip and swim and swing. Words dance in the air cold air air currents on wings they fly out like a swallow in a Russian proverb. Words disguise words hide in the currents, words hide in language. Words and language become conflated; are not the same.

What happens to words when we share them? We mark the words to our steps to our breath to our heartbeats; our breath and our bodies take on the words, are the shape of the words. We speak in shared footsteps, we speak and we do not understand what we are saying even when we have met the words before. We take the words that once belonged to other mouths. We take them and we let them inhabit our mouths, travel down and settle in guts. We spit them, sing them, whisper.

Use these words to tell, to teach, to bind. Use them anyway we want, they still hold their own meaning and keep it hidden. Take a word, take a phrase, hear it said, repeat it, roll each sound around your teeth and across your tongue. Take the words and try them out like a three year old building a first vocabulary. Listen as they change and take on new meanings.

But these are the words that are spoken, read out loud, sung. And these, these are the words that are written once as they flow from my unedited thoughts to my hand to the pen to the page. And which stage of this process is the writing, the act of writing or is it all a moment a section of thought an unexpurgated free fall that has no context other than to land in symbols on a white page and become a system – part of a system – that is learned, given and received. What if a character enters this set of symbols – a protagonist or antagonist, an actor in the pattern of the signs and sines and symbols – are they absent receiver, the present do-er, distant. Are they the flow or in the flow? What if the actor is Austin, telling me to read it again, telling me not How To Do Things With Words but How Words Do Things To Me?

What if it is Acker telling me I read her wrong, placed too much imagined meaning on what were only other people’s words, repurposed. What if there is no materiality other than this borrowed pen and the blank page. And the coffee cup drained of coffee and my notes of all the words we’ve read and talked about so far. And what if I am the character and this isn’t a story and my character is struggling to understand because this language only looks like their own language and it becomes increasingly opaque as it is written (and typed up and rewritten*) and sometimes the only reason for the action of writing the words is to fill the blank page  [end of handwritten page 4]

[coda] and when it is written and if it is typed then it is no longer about the blank page and the actuality of it, the material ink on the page becomes the original act, (the art?) and the transcription, the rewritten, this is the re-action, the next action, the changing meaning, the version, the punctuation, the reading back for sense and spelling, the edit (but not the final edit) **

* the words in parentheses do not exist in the original, are inserted only in the online version
** this final paragraph first materialised in the revised version in Page

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Kathy Acker

An Interview with Kathy Acker
by Larry McCaffery
Source: Mississippi Review, Vol. 20, No. 1/2, 1991

During the somnolent, repressive 1980’s decade of Reagan/Bush/Helms/Bennett, Kathy Acker established herself as one of postmodernism’s boldest and most original fiction innovators (and one of its most controversial as well). Her major works during this period included her “rewrites” of classical Western novels (Great Expectations [1983] and Don Quixote [1986]), as well as several other novels that pastiched a broader variety of prior literary works: Blood and Guts in High School (1984), a combination of Acker’s own drawings and “dream maps” with plagiarized sections of Genet, Deleuze and Guattari, obscure pornography, and radical feminist criticism which produces a grotesque “coming of age novel” quite unlike any other; Empire of the Senseless (1988), a book which clearly displayed Acker’s movement away from “deconstructive” methods towards a more positive “constructive” literary approach, and which includes striking interventions into William Gibson’s “cyberpunk” classic, Neuromancer; and her most personal and passionate novel to date, In Memoriam to Identity (1990), which appropriated materials ranging from ancient Japanese fictions to Rimbaud and Faulkner as a means of re-exploring the myth of romance.

The following interview was conducted April 12, 1990, at Acker’s Greenwich Village apartment (she has since moved to San Francisco,where she teaches writing part-time at the San Francisco Art Museum). Acker had returned to settle in the U.S. after spending nearly a decade living in London. Acker had arrived in London having gained some recognition within the outer fringes of America’s literary avant-garde on the basis of having published a series of radically experimental texts with small presses during the 1970s (these works included : The Childlike Life of the Black Tarantula, by the Black Tarantula [1973]; I Dreamt I Became a Nymphomaniac!: Imagining [1974]; The Adult Life of Toulouse Lautrec, by Henri Toulouse Lautrec [1975-76]; and Kathy Goes to Haiti [1978]). As perhaps the most visible “weird American artist” in London, Acker soon was having her novels published (with spectacular Robert Mapplethorpe photographs on their covers) by major commercial houses (Picador in England, Grove in the U.S.). Controversy inevitably followed, as Acker was attacked not only by the predictable sources of conservative opinion but by feminists, many of whom felt uncomfortable with Acker’s unabashed depictions of emotional and sexual masochism, her obscenity, and her on-going devastating portrayal not only of political and cultural repression but of many of the utopian ideals usually associated with 1960’s liberalism and hippie-dom.

Larry McCaffery: You first of all took up residence in England permanently in the early ’80s, and you just recently returned to the United States. You’ve said somewhere that money was one of the
main reasons you went to England in the first place (that is, you couldn’t make a living here in the U.S.). Was money the main reason that you came back?

Kathy Acker: I didn’t come back to the States for financial reasons. I was making a very good living in England. My decision to come back here was based on several reasons, some of which are so personal that I don’t really know what the truth is about them. But the more true are certainly personal and not practical reasons. I had a bad summer. It was a personal crisis. A long, two-year relationship I had with someone broke up and I found myself sitting around England waiting for it to happen again. Finally I decided that six months of sitting around waiting was enough. I had to do something to get myself out of the muck, and coming back here seemed like an obvious first step.

The other reason was that my own publisher let me know that they were taking one of my books off the market because they had been informed there was some chance that Harold Robbins might
sue me over some material I’d appropriated. Anyway, it was a horrendous experience that completely disrupted my life. I couldn’t even answer my phone for three weeks, so I just had to get out of the country for a while. I was also feeling very threatened as a writer. I kept thinking to myself, Look, this is a minor, piddling little incident really – it’s about a book I wrote twenty years ago about something Robbins wrote thirty years ago. But what if I was ever seriously attacked while I was living in England? Because despite all the bullshit going on right now here in the States about censorship and the N.E.A. and so on, this country is still very anarchic – there’s a Bill of Rights, and artistic communities support their own. That’s not true in England at all. There is no Bill of Rights, and communities do not support their own, at all. So what if I was in this country and anything seriously political ever happened to me? I could see how vulnerable I’d be to that sort of thing. I’d be screwed. So from a personal and practical standpoint, it was time to get out. So I did.

LM: You’ve said of the situation you had originally found in England that you were accepted as a writer, whereas you had not been here in the United States. What was the source of that acceptance? Were you the token “accepted” strange person there, or is there a stronger tradition of acceptance of the avant-garde?

KA: There’s no tradition like that in England at all! It was more that, yes, I was the token caged animal. It’s quite accurate to say that I was “accepted” there in that I was famous. Yeah, I was very well known, I could easily make a living. It was as if I had a little sign around me that said “Strange American.” So I was the one who explained strange America to the British. Which they loved and hated. They have a real double relationship to America. It being a colony. [Laughs.] Overall, I’d say I was probably as accepted as an American can become over there without marrying into it. Which is to say about five percent acceptance.

LM: Is there really no tradition of avant-garde acceptance in England?

KA: There’s no acceptance of the avant-garde there because the avant-garde doesn’t exist there. You have to keep in mind that everything in England runs along class lines. That country never had a revolution, really. Sure, they had the Magna Charta, but that didn’t produce a real change in the class structure. What makes it better for writers there is simply that England is more of a literary society, so that if you’re a writer, it’s easier to make a living than it is over here. So you have straight writers, who have mainly a social realist or naturalist narrative bent – you know, with cause and effect, the thing Barthes talks about in Writing Degree Zero. Balzac and so on. Then you have the writers who are slightly disjunctive in terms of not following that cause and effect business. Writers like Jeanette Winterson can more easily make a living in England than writers here. You don’t have to be Tama Janowitz to earn a living in England. But if you are very avant-garde in England there just isn’t any place for you at all unless you have a university teaching job. If you really look carefully, they don’t have any radical novelists except for J.G. Ballard, and until the success of Empire of the Sun, even Ballard existed on the edge of the British writing world, except for the science fiction publishing world, which is where he made his money – and he made very little of that until Empire of the Sun. The other radical writers you find over there are Scots – and they’re starving. Oh, I guess Alasdair Gray and James Kelman are doing okay, but they certainly aren’t English.

LM: One of the defining features of postmodernism seems to be the breakdown of the distinctions between “high” and “low”art this willingness by “serious artists” to incorporate materials from pop culture, genre-forms and so on. Clearly this applies to your work, which has been improvising with and otherwise appropriating materials from several of these despised genres you mentioned – SF, pornography, detective fiction, and so on-all along.

Could you describe what features in these forms interest you in terms of your own work? Let’s take a form like detective fiction, which at first glance seems more epistemological than political in its orientation. What might draw you to the form, then?

KA: First off, let me go backward for a moment. I was appropriating this kind of materials prior to the use of this word “postmodernism,” so I don’t think that my interest in this sort of thing in any way has to do with my awareness of what was happening in the “postmodern movement” as such. I can’t trace exactly when the use of this started, but it was already there in the very beginning of my work, back in the late ’60s and early ’70s. In terms of detective writing specifically, the last time I appropriated a detective novel was at the beginning of Pasolini. The detective format seemed appropriate in the first section of the book because I wanted to try and solve his murder (basically I wanted the first section of the book to be about his death and the second part to be about his life). I was very interested in that whole media circus that surrounded his murder and the way what really happened had been covered up at the trial. It was a very epistemological notion-this idea of trying to find out who did something, how, and why by writing this Agatha Christie version of Pasolini’s murder. Of course it didn’t work out the way I planned. I didn’t want a political way of solving the murder, so I chose three categories that seemed appropriate – sex, language and violence – and then let myself just go off in whatever direction I wanted to with each one. And once I really got into those categories, I found that I wasn’t interested so much in solving his murder (that was impossible no matter what categories you chose because everything was so completely covered up) but in his life and his work.

LM: I found it interesting, though, that there you were appropriating Agatha Christie, who was very much a “classical detective writer” rather than someone like Dashiell Hammett, who had a very different take on detective fiction’s epistemology-and what that form could be used for generally.

KA: Right, Hammett’s work wouldn’t have been suitable for what I was doing there. And in fact I never really had much interest in Agatha Christie beyond the fact that I found the epistemological orientation of her work appealing and useful in that instance. As a writer and in terms of what he was saying about the
culture, I’m much more interested in Hammett. I’ve never appropriated him, but if I did, my interest would be quite different, be cause Hammett gets politics, and a certain view of American culture generally, into his works in a way that Christie never does. Chandler does this, too. It’s very interesting with Chandler because all this comes through in his novels mainly through this style rather than content per se. Because the style is so radical and calls attention to itself, the reader winds up getting this vivid take on American culture that is based on mannerisms like his use of adjectives. So he’ll write something like, “She unzippered her teeth,” and you get a whole view of an environment.

LM: You’ve been doing more things with science fiction recently – Empire of the Senseless, for example, uses a variety of SF motifs generally and appropriates materials out of William Gibson specifically. Do you like SF generally or was it specifically cyberpunk that appealed to you?

KA: In the case of Empire,my interest in SF specifically had to do with having read Neuromancer,which excited me enough that I actually wrote Gibson a fan letter (which I never do). By the time I was working on Empire I had already worked through several different traditional genres, and I was wanting to move into present genres-and expand my muscles in a way. Do I like science fiction? Sometimes, sometimes not. I do like cyberpunk, especially Gibson.

LM: As you said, you began writing your books back in the ’70s, before the term “postmodernism” was popular. But obviously even your very earliest works seem to contain features that later on would be called postmodernism-so how do you now situate yourself within this area?

KA: I suppose the term “postmodemism” has been useful for me personally because now people have a label they can use when they talk about my work. But I certainly had no idea what the term meant when I started out writing, and I’m still not sure I understand it today. When I started out, I didn’t know about the work of Foucault, or – what would be more important to me – Deleuze and Guattari. I knew I wanted to plagiarize, but I didn’t have a clear theoretical justification for what I was doing or why. So I just started finding these different texts and putting them together. The first book I kind of wrote seriously (that is, the first one I’d even want to talk about) would be Tarantula. At that point I was really fascinated by schizophrenia, and I think I took the model of the centralized “I”-and I don’t think I would’ve even used the word “centralized” in those days. I was reading R. D. Laing and David Cooper, and what I was trying to do in Tarantula was to see if, rather than trying to integrate the “I”, if you could dis-integrate it and find a more comfortable way of being. The question that was on my mind was, “‘What was this ‘I’?”And I was more concerned with the “I” of the text than the “I” of me. I wasn’t interested in autobiography or in diary writing, but in what the textual “I” looked like. So what I did was set a real autobiography next to fake autobiography-that is, I took some biography and made it into an autobiography. I took what I figured out “I”wasn’t, which was a murderess. Figuring that out wasn’t as simple as it sounds, because it’s hard to tell what you aren’t or haven’t got if you just list qualities. But I knew I wasn’t a murderess because I hadn’t murdered anybody. So just at the beginning of the whole process I placed the fake autobiography of murderesses next to a lot of quotation marks – the real autobiography- to see what would happen. And then, not to make not a long story but a lot of writing short, after working some of these ideas through in several books, I found I wasn’t so interested in that anymore. What was much more interesting was the actual text itself. It was right about that point when I started Great Expectations.

LM: That sounds a little like what William Burroughs was doing with the cut-up form. Was he one of the sources for the kind of experimentation you were doing?

KA: Burroughs has been a major influence in my work – in fact, he was probably my first major influence. When I was starting out, I was coming out of a poetry world, the Black Mountain School. People like Charles Olsen, Jerry Rothenberg, and David Antin were my teachers. Burroughs was important to me early because I wanted to write fiction and not poetry, and Burroughs was about the only model around at that point as far as a prose writer who was interested in what I was – which was in writing essentially non-narrative prose. Actually the main impulses in my work early on were actually coming from outside literature altogether.
For instance, I was very influenced by Bob Ashley’s music, and the way I would have spoken about what I was trying to do at that time was to talk about trying to make a text that was an “environment” rather than a centralized, meaningful narrative. I guess what I wanted was to have a narrative that was a kind of “de-narrative.” If there is such a word. You see, there was no way I had of talking about it, really,until the punk movement came along and I met Sylvere Lotringer. That was about 1976. Sylvere introduced me to the work of Felix Guattari, Giles Deleuze, and (somewhat) Foucault. Those were the main ones for me. Derrida was never as important.And I never took to Baudrillard’s work. But it was only then that I began to find a language for what I was doing. Especially the ideas of decentralization, and different notions of sexuality, and of the relation of sexuality to language and politics. And all that. Then when I read Kristeva’s Powers of Horror that was another step, but that had nothing to do with Sylvere. And that is when I wrote Pasolini. So does all this have to do with postmodernism? I’m not sure.

LM: Were these experiments expressing your intuitive sense that personal identity (either your own or that of others) is unfixed?Those early books like Tarantula and I Dreamed I Was a Nymphomaniac seem like they’re using some of this semiotic slippage of textual transformations to literalize the notion that identity is unfixed, or to question the whole concept of stable female and masculine identity

KA: At the time I was writing the books back then, I would say those kinds of issues weren’t consciously involved in what I was doing. Understanding how they might apply to what I had been doing, and how I can explore them differently in other ways, was one of the things that made my discovery of Deleuze and Guattari and the others so useful. All I can say is that back then (and I’m very aware that in talking about what was now, I’m applying a theory to a past act) I honestly did not understand why I was doing what I was doing. I knew I was very angry. I knew I didn’t want any centralized meaning. Even though I have great respect for Robert Creeley and that range of work, I hated it because it was so male, and I didn’t want that. My way to escape that male, centralized meaning was to keep my interest in writing as purely conceptual as I could. So I wasn’t interested in “saying” anything in my work. The only thing I could use my works to say is “I don’t want to say things!” I couldn’t say anything beyond that. I didn’t give a damn if one character was another or not – I couldn’t even remember who my characters were! And I couldn’t understand why anyone would read me. I honestly thought I was writing the most unreadable stuff around. And then when I read this stuff that Sylvere turned me on to, I suddenly had a theory for what I was doing. Even more importantly, it was a theory that made sense to me because it wasn’t just abstract theoretical garbage. It was grounded very much in the political and social world I saw around me. It explained my own anger, which was very much an anger
against the centralization of the Phallus, to put it in academic terms. And now that I understood what I was doing, I could start using some of this stuff more consciously, with a greater degree of control and precision about what I was doing. So by the time of Empire of the Senseless I could even plan things! Whereas before I never even wanted to touch anything that was rational, because I thought that that would intrude on what was going on.

LM: Your use of appropriation seems to change just about the time of Great Expectations.Was there a conscious shift in the way you began to use your materials?

KA: Appropriation is not a literary strategy I’ve chosen to manipulate what’s happening in my books in certain ways. The truth is I have always used appropriation in my works because I literally can’t write any other way. When I was in my teens I grew up with some of the Black Mountain poets who were always giving lectures to writers to the effect that, “when you find your own voice, then you’re a poet.” The problem was, I couldn’t find my own voice. I didn’t have a voice as far as I could tell. So I began to do what I had to do if I wanted to write, and that was appropriate, imitate, and find whatever ways I could to work with and improvise off of other texts.When I was in high school I was imitating Shakespeare. It’s been that way ever since. What it comes down to is that I don’t like the idea of originality.

LM: What’s the reason for this inability to write in your own voice?

KA: The honest answer has to do with my personality, and even my sexuality.What I recognize now is that I am passive. Deeply, deeply passive. So the quality of making or creation in me that comes out-whatever it is in me has to do with making-is based on a reactive rather than an active principle. I don’t see a blank page when I’m writing. Ever. Or when I do nothing happens. I can’t even write people letters. I’ve never applied for a grant. The blank page is like an invitation to paralysis for me, not to creative activity.

LM: What reasons did you have for choosing the framing texts that you were deconstructing in those two novels, Great Expectations and Don Quixote. For example, with Don Quixote, did you start out thinking you wanted to take this great text, Don Quixote, the myth of the romantic hero whose blindness is gradually revealed, or –

KA: No, once I got started with the book I kept with it for certain specific reasons, but Don Quixote was chosen by random. That was the book I had taken with me to the hospital when I was about to have an abortion. In fact, the first scene in Don Quixote is exactly what I wrote prior to the abortion. I couldn’t think while I was waiting, so I just started copying Don Quixote. It was my version of a Sherrie Levine painting, where you copy something with no theoretical justification behind what you’re doing. I keep being asked if I chose Don Quixote out of any kind of feminist perspective, but that wasn’t really it. There were some places in the book where I wound up dealing with feminist issues – like there’s one part where I was trying to deal with Andrea Dworkin’s view that men are basically totally evil and responsible for all the shit that’s ever existed in the world; and after I got into the middle of it, I began to see that the book was, in a way, about appropriating male texts and about trying to find your voice as a woman (I deal with that a lot in the second part of the book). But it really started out with my fascination with Levine’s notion of seeing what happens when you copy something for no reason.

LM: Was the same thing true with Great Expectations?

KA: Not exactly, because I had read the book before and what I wanted to do was destroy this book I had always absolutely loved. But I worked on the book for essentially the same reason in that, as with Don Quixote, I was fascinated with the book. I’m sure there were a whole range of reasons why I chose Great Expectations,but these weren’t things I was accessing at the time. To my mind, now, the book is about my mother’s suicide, but I didn’t know when I started writing it that it would be about my mother’s suicide – or
if I did, that knowledge was buried somewhere deep inside me, within my emotions.

LM: Clearly your works are written in away that must be consciously designed to shock. Do you write shocking works because the world is shocking, or is shock more of an aesthetic effect that you affect because you think it is valuable in and of itself?

KA: I don’t think I’ve ever written with the idea of shocking anyone, except really minorly. It took me a long time to even have an audience in mind and I’d still say I write mainly for myself and maybe my friends. Shock is definitely always there in my books in the sense of trying to break through the reader’s habits and perceptual blinders. But you can do that better by the breaking of taboos, or through transgressions – which both in form and in content run through my work endlessly. I don’t think that’s the same thing as shock (though shock might accompany this when you break taboos). After all, the people in our culture positively
live off shock in our media, we feed on it, but this doesn’t seem to have any positive effects in the sense of helping people to break perceptual habits.

LM: Let me list several authors that I recently taught in a course that finished by looking at your work: Sade, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Lautremont, Jary, the surrealists and dadaists, Bataille, Artaud, Genet, Burroughs, Patti Smith. Was I right in putting you in that literary line of descent? And if so, what would you say you share
with these authors?

KA: There’s also no doubt that I place myself in that lineage. I very much hope I do enough significant work that I can someday be seen as belonging to that lineage. If someone tries to place me in another lineage, they are mistaken. One thing we all share is a perspective that is deeply sexual, a perspective which insists upon the connections between power and sexuality. Their work is also finally always about seeing, and there is certainly a view of excess as being not what reality is but what you want to see reality as. Seeing is almost reality itself. And that particular way of seeing has to do with excess. Most of these guys believed that you can’t see properly unless you have gone over the limit. There’s also the use of language that is not social realist, that is very involved with areas of the mind which are not rational. It’s almost like we all have the same favorite color. And that color would be black.

LM: Your books always return to the site of the body in all kinds of ways: as a source of power, as a center of struggle for power, as the place we finally exist in (as opposed to our thoughts). Why are you so interested in the body, as opposed to whatever else you might be exploring in your work?

KA: The Western attitude towards the body in the twentieth century has to do with the fact that when reality (or the meanings associated with reality) is up for grabs – which is one of the central problems ever since the end of the nineteenth century – then the body becomes the only thing you can return to. You can talk about sexuality as a social phenomenon, so that it’s up for grabs; and you can talk about any intellectual thought and it will be “up for grabs” in the sense that anything can mean anything else and hence be completely perverted. You get to Baudrillard’s black hole. But when you get to something called the actual act of sexuality, or that actual act of disease, there is a kind of undeniable materiality which isn’t up for grabs. It’s in the body finally which we can’t be touched by all our skepticism and ambiguous systems of belief. The body is the only place where any basis for real values exists anymore. Something like Mishima’s Sun and Steel is fascinating because he returns again and again to the body.

LM: You mentioned that you’ve been interested in Japanese texts recently  -and I notice that you appropriate materials from an ancient Japanese novel in your new book, In Memoriam to Identity. What’s drawn you to Japanese works?

KA: Mishima, for one thing. Mishima was the only writer I knew who was working in body building. And then because the Japanese are so interested in this very controlled use of myth and image. For instance, the way Kawabata will seem to have a narrative but what he’s really doing is using that structure to develop a specific image or myth. His “House of the Sleeping Beauties” really fascinates me. In a lot of works you end up not knowing what’s happened from a narrative standpoint (the narrative is there, but it doesn’t quite make sense). But he’s managed to produce a definite emotion. You know what the textures and environment are, but you can’t really say what the plot was even though you seem to have read all the causally related stuff. This seems very mysterious to me because there’s nothing avant-garde in Kawabata’s work that you can point to. But it’s absolutely brilliant and mysterious.

LM: You mentioned punk earlier.Why was it important to you?

KA: Punk was very important to me because it combined a lot of impulses I had already been drawn to. I missed out on it in England, but from what I’ve been told punk over there was very much a youth thing, and was very political – a response to how fucked up the whole political scene was over there, “No Future,” and all
that. Over here I don’t think punk was a political movement – like a New America Movement. It was produced by a certain generation of artists – the artists right below Laurie Anderson and Vito Acconci – who were very fed up, for a lot of reasons. They were basically a bunch of middle class people who suddenly were finding themselves broke and living in a system that disgusted them. They didn’t like hippies, they couldn’t talk about poverty, and they didn’t like the fact that their audience was upper-middle-class white art gallery audience. They were angry and they wanted to find a way to express that anger in their work – and they wanted
to find something that would make people notice them because they also felt that they weren’t getting enough attention. And be cause a lot of them were interested in doing anything to get out of that system, they started forming bands because that seemed a way to finally get attention and because there were a lot of possibilities there. A lot of different things all came together. And it was pretty intense when it did.

LM: Even though your work deals with sex a lot, its effect rarely seems erotic to me. Are you, in fact, interested in turning your readers on?

KA: You never know what might turn some people on, but mostly I can’t see how people would get aroused by the sex I’m describing in my books. Certainly titillation isn’t what I’ve been after except maybe in a few early ones like Tarantula and Toulouse. It’s not that I write erotic or pornographic materials (although I have, obviously, within specific sections of my books), but that my general view is erotic or sexual. I think I share this very deeply with that lineage of writers I said I feel I’m working out of – Genet, Sade, Rimbaud, Bataille, those sorts of writers. I agree with what a friend of mine, Simon Watney, said: that there are those people
who think that it’s sexuality that deeply disturbs their identity whatever it is you call “identity”. I know there are some feminists who think you can choose your sexuality, and that you should be politically correct in your choice of sexuality. But I don’t agree at all. That’s one of the rare theoretical opinions that I have. So since I’m very much interested in this whole issue of identity – and in both the textual and personal aspects of it – sexuality has naturally appeared a lot in all my books. I’ve also had a constant concern with sex and power, and how they join and reinforce each other. As a woman but also just as a person looking around at the way
things operate, it’s hard for me not to be concerned with that; it’s almost an obsession. And, then, to be honest, I think my own sexuality probably colors my books very deeply, both in content and in structure.

LM: You’ve performed in live sex shows on 42nd Street during the early ’70s – and you’ve said your involvement in that was the beginning of your political awareness . . .

KA: It was the beginning of a lot of awarenesses. I’m sure this is partly where I began to see the sexual orientation of things like identity and power, because I was seeing how sexuality really colors the world. The sex shows we did were fake but even so, doing them suddenly put me in such a different social class than any body else. Being in that kind of world made me see things so differently. For instance, I could see that politics were what was involved in separating me from the St.Mark’s crowd-class (be cause they were basically upper middle class, while 42nd St wasn’t) and sexism. All this stuff that the hippie crowd were totally denying at the time. And working in a sex show is very much about sex and power, and so you begin to see these connections literally being acted out around you every day in ways you don’t think about when you grow up not having to think of them.

LM: I want to ask some questions about your ambiguous role in feminism. You are obviously not advocating any kind of radical lesbian, exclusionary, visionary approach (favored by some feminists) in your last few books? Why not?

KA: Because it’s the hippie line, and the hippie line hasn’t worked. To my mind anything that is separatist is going to have the same problems the hippies had. You can’t separate yourself from society at large. The milk man still has to deliver the milk [laughs].Or whatever. It just doesn’t work. Either the whole thing changes or nothing changes. Which doesn’t mean you can’t change things slowly, or on a person-to-person basis-that’s what I was suggesting at the end of Empire of the Senseless. But a model based on separatism just doesn’t work. I didn’t think the ’60s generally worked. And basically I see lesbian separatism as being part of the ’60s. I also don’t feel comfortable with the simplistic descriptions you get from a lot of radical lesbians about what a human being is – say, the ideal of someone free from jealousy, free from all the bad stuff. And I certainly don’t find the general dislike of power, which you find among some feminists, as being at all satisfying.

LM: Certainly your work has come in for a lot of criticism by feminists who don’t like what they take to be your “pessimism” your portrayal of female victimization and masochism (that weird way that your characters almost enjoy their victimization, or have a schizophrenic response to it, fighting it but getting off on it).

KA: You’re right that what really gives them a problem about my work is what they take to be my masochism. But frankly, I feel that this business about positive role models is just as stupid. If you’re arguing that the society is sexist, why do you want to argue that everything is happy? And why do you want to insist on having these strong, wonderful, terrific women? [Laughs.] That implies there’s no reason to have this violent struggle. That’s cuckoo.

LM: You say somewhere that “My father is not my real father” the implication being that the basic problem women have isn’t necessarily with men, per se. That the “real father” isn’t necessarily the awful, power-wielding tyrant who keeps fucking over (and fucking) your women characters. It’s an anti-essentialist view that, again, I suspect gets you into trouble with some feminists . . .

KA: That’s true. I don’t think the problem is with men. Take Cixous’s argument against Kristeva, with Cixous saying that our problems all have their source in genital difference – so the fact that men have cocks is what makes them evil. This being so, the only thing to do is escape from men. She’s a separatist. And Dworkin’s position is the same sort of thing. Then you have Kristeva’s argument that the real problem has to do with the role models. That makes a lot more sense to me. This may not be a politically correct thing to say but I like men. I don’t have any problems with guys. But I have lots of problems with society.

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