After Kathy Acker

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Chris Kraus set out to write a biography of Kathy Acker, but found herself in a world she knew too well, sharing Acker's friends and lovers and having arrived to the scene just after Acker's own time. Tied to the reality of living a similar life, Kraus' biography becomes a labour of love, propped up by interviews and in depth research. This is a riveting read and a great biography of an icon.
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I had no heard of Kathy Acker and reading this book provided insight to a woman who lived a varied and alternative lifestyle for her time.
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3.5 stars. This felt like 'I Love Dick Vol. 2' rewritten from the perspective of Kathy Acker. If you like Kraus' writing style, you will like this regardless of how intrigued you are by Acker as an individual. Glittered throughout with Acker's own polarising and brashly honest prose, this creative biography helps shed some light on the 'real' Kathy Acker - in her own words, and from those who knew her intimately.
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There are times when i like to try something a little different from the genres that i usually read and often i find wondering why i haven't read such books more often.  Unfortunately for me, this wasn't such a wise choice.  It took me much longer than usual to get through this book, but i did manage to read to the end.  

My thanks to Netgalley and Chris Kraus for my copy.  This is my honest review, which i have freely given.
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very good read good characters and story sat by the pool reading this good book for a leisure and chill time  easy to read as well
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Kathy Ackers life has been interesting. It isn't boring that's for sure. I enjoy reading anything about Kathy Aker but I am unfortunately not a fan of Chris Kraus's writing. I didn't feel connected, and I felt that quite a lot of things were repeated time and time again.
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I am not much of an autobiography reader but this was very good! An enjoyable read
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I've never read any Kathy Acker and didn't know much about her, but over the years her name has popped up a few times in relation to awesome alt/feminist/queer stuff, so I thought I'd give this a read. Fascinating life - but now I'm a little scared to read Blood & Guts and I can't work out why...
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I enjoyed reading this. I knew nothing about Kathy Acker before, but now it has inspired e to find out more about her and her work.
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Before reading this book I had not heard of Kathy Acker. This book gives a good look at the art world in America and London at the end of the millennium and was very well researched and explored.
This book gave great insight into the art and literary scene in New York, San Francisco and London in the eighties and ninteties, and was very well put together. A great read for those interested in the subject, or in the art scene in general.
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Sorry, but I could not get into this book.  Time after time I found myself re-reading paragraphs as I had switched off.
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This book gave great insight into the art and literary scene in New York, San Francisco and London in the eighties and ninteties, and was very well put together. However, I'd not heard of Kathy Acker before reading this book and, based on the extracts in this biography, I won't be reading any of her books. It's probably down to my lack of intellect and knowledge, but her writing came across as the nonsensical ramblings of a neurotic woman.
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I have to admit that before reading this book, I had never heard of Kathy Acker. However, the description was enough to draw me in and I certainly don't regret reading it. The book provides a fascinating insight into the life of this author and as it does so, provides details of the literary circles in America (particularly New York) and London during the seventies, eighties and nineties.

Chris Kraus must have spent years going through the amount of material that was on offer and making sense of it all and should be commended for this effort. The author also creates a sense of affection for Acker while remaining neutral in reporting some of the disputes and varying accounts of her life (mostly provided by Acker herself!).

I would certainly recommend that any fan of Acker reads this book as an engaging and thorough description of her life and works.
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Biographies are not usually the sort of book I pick up, however I have read some of Kathy Acker's work and so thought I would take a chance on finding out more about her life. Chris Kraus has produced a fantastic and fascinating piece of work, delving deep to try and find the truth behind the woman. Hard thing to do when Kathy wasn't always the most honest person about herself. 
A controversial figure in life and death, anything about Kathy Acker makes for an interesting read and this is no exception. Chris has written a book as honest as she can make it about a woman who had a flare for the dramatic. It has been written with wit and intelligence; feels like a book that I can believe, if that makes sense. Would I recommend it? Actually, yes, I think it's a great read whether your normal choices include biographies or not.
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In After Kathy Acker (2017), Kraus is after a woman who was a professed self-mythologizer. Acker liked to play hide-and-seek, and buried herself in a room full of distorting mirrors. All Kraus disposes of to find this woman is a collage of contradictory testimonials, and Acker's own words. 

The book begins at the end, “after” Kathy Acker, at her funeral, in the midst of a group of underground artists, academics and fake healers. Kraus weaves in together Acker’s heterogenous network of colleagues, mentors and enemies, as well as her desire for fame, her refusal to accept her medical condition, and her compulsion for self-mythologizing and lying. 

Born Karen Lehman into a wealthy Jewish family, Acker grew up on New York’s Upper East Side. Her biological father abandoned her mother during pregnancy, and Kathy never met him. In 1978, her mother checked into a hotel on Christmas Eve and killed herself. From this early material of loss and neglect, Kathy would later take the main recurrent themes of her work.

She attended Brandeis University, married while still in college, and followed her husband to San Diego, where she audited creative writing classes with the poet (and first mentor) David Antin. “Go to the library and steal”, he would say to his students. She took this method to heart, and started to write using collages of other books – the technique that would later become her signature, and would almost earn her a plagiarism lawsuit in 1989. Acker herself would eventually become a collage of different identities: a post-punk icon, a bodybuilder, a scholar, a stripper, a member of the BDSM scene, an underground artist, a narcissist, a badass (and a crashing bore). “‘But then again, didn’t she do what all writers must do? Create a position from which to write?’”, argues Kraus.

In the early seventies, she divorced, moved back to New York, and started performing a live sex show at Fun City in Times Square with her lover. She rose through the underground art scene in New York, performed poetry, was taken up by big publishers, spent down her inheritance and struggled to find a university teaching position. Acker spent her life moving between London, New York, San Diego, and San Francisco, before her death at an alternative medicine hospital in Tijuana. “Do you think they’ll make a film about me?”, she asked in the last few weeks of her life. (They did)

Kraus’ account resembles a collage – in a sense, her writing here “takes after” Kathy’s own style. Kraus uses excerpts of Acker’s notebooks and diaries, letters and published books, along with interviews with her and her contemporaries. Kraus assembles an array of – often contradictory – testimonials from friends, colleagues and lovers, forming a multifaceted portrait of Acker and the avant-garde world she dwelt in. By doing so, Kraus mimics not only Acker’s style, but also her process of intermingling life and art – a process Acker imposed on her work and on herself, as a way of hardening fact into fiction, life into myth, flesh into word, and back.

Kathy mixed together fragments stolen from other books – classics, porn, comics, pulp fiction, structuralism – and extracts from her own letters and diaries, juxtaposing high and low culture, often with a mocking tone: “Dear Susan Sontag, would you please read my books and make me famous… Dear Susan Sontag, will you teach me how to speak English? For free.” Kraus highlights Acker’s main influences - Burroughs, Deleuze, Duras, Genet, Bataille - as well as her literary peers and mentors - Bernadette Mayer, Eleanor Antin. Kraus’ own juxtapositions provide not only the historical background of Acker’s books, but also detailed close readings of those books and of the way they are located in Acker’s life. 

The task of writing a biography of a woman who professed to make life into fiction (and constantly lied about herself) is a self-defeating one. We don’t need as much a biographer who uncovers the truth buried under the myth, as we need one who engages with the myth as a form of truth. We need an unreliable narrator – and one who acknowledges himself as such. And that is precisely what I found lacking in this book – it is stuck halfway between wanting to uncover a lie, and participating in a fabulation; between narrating the facts, and creating a myth about another myth; between clearing away her subject’s lies, and telling a story about the story she told herself. I got the impression the author wanted to do both at the same time; that she wasn’t clear about the position from which she was to write from; and that she knew she was doomed to fail anyway. Still, what Kraus writes of Acker could also be said of her task as a biographer: “To lie is to try. Like most fabulations, the story contains a kernel of truth, or at least of desire.” 

Kraus wrote herself out of a story she was never really absent of. As in traditional biographies, the biographer becomes a void from which the story springs, an absence around which the story organizes itself. I could not help but feel that Kraus’ moral condemnation of her subject’s self-mythologizing was turned into Acker’s defining feature. However, that condemnation disregarded an important aspect of the self-mythologizing process itself: the fact that, for Acker, it was less urgent to unveil hypocrisy than it was to create something new. For her, self-invention, as a form of world-making, was a political act. Maybe this way of framing the question was also part of her show, a deception, self-promotion, or a form of wishful thinking; maybe she was lying to herself about the meaning of her own self-invention. But this book somehow disregards the ways in which a lie unveils the world where this lie is made possible, or necessary.

The reader is made to dismantle Kraus’ deceptions about Acker’s deceptions, as if in an endless corridor of distorting mirrors. Kraus “is after” Acker, but keeps bumping into an image of herself. We could be Kathy Acker, she mentions in the end, not without a condescending tone. We could be in her shoes, we could be her inheritors, she means. I am more interested to know in which sense the act of morally condemning Acker - even if only in-between the lines - could also be taken as a form of world-building, self-invention, or plain narcissism. We could be the liars, the crashing bores, the desperate ones. And I am somehow reminded of one of Kathy’s projects, when she asks Sondheim: “How close can we get to each other? Will we become each other?”

I would have preferred a biography more obviously tormented by those questions. How close can you get? Have you become each other?
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Unless you know who Kathy Acker was and like her writing I would recommend you stay away from this.
I found it very heavy going and was really disappointed as I like reading / learning about different people.
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"...she consistently sought situations that would result in disruptive intensity for all parties involved. (...) Yet, like the rest of her writing and her life, her vulnerability was highly strategic. Pursuing a charged state of grace, Acker knew, in some sense, exactly what she was doing. To pretend otherwise is to discount the crazed courage and breadth of her work."

Kathy Acker was the first woman who not only deliberately set out to become an icon of the avantgarde literary scene, she actually succeeded in securing a place for herself next to her heroes William S. Burroughs and Jean Genet. This biography by Chris Kraus is incredibly well-researched and large parts are intricate attempts to interpret Acker's texts in the light of the author's personal experiences and convictions. And not only did Kraus investigate Acker's adventures from today's standpoint, she was herself part of the scene she describes, and her ex-husband Sylvère Lotringer (who features in her roman à clef I Love Dick) even had a three-year affair with Acker before he met Kraus. 

Despite this close personal connection (which is not explicitly discussed in the book), Kraus is rather successful in walking the line between keeping her distance and empathizing with her protagonist. Known to be intense and volatile, Acker was often a challenging character to keep up with, even for her family and friends. Throughout her career (and frequently in her private life), Acker pursued a concept of radical subjectivity. She created her own myth, "a position from which to write", as Kraus puts it: "(...) the lies weren't literal lies, but more a system of magical thought" and "(...) the greatest strength and weakness in all of Acker's writing lies in its exclusion of all viepoints except for that of the narrator."

One of her most important topics which is present in all of her writing is the female body and female sexuality: "She came to believe that sexuality formed the essence of selfhood, and she wrote about this over and over again." Sex with men and women, her work in a live sex show and in porn, BDSM, tattoos, piercings, PID infections, abortions etc. - unsurprisingly, much of her work did not fail to shock, and her classic Blood and Guts in High School was even banned in West Germany for being pornographic (it's not banned anymore though). 

Acker's style was deeply influenced by Burroughs cut-up technique, a literary counterpart to Jackson Pollock's drip paintings, and the technique of textual appropriation, meaning that she used other literary texts, intersected them with her own writing or overwrote and shifted them in elaborate pastiches. For those Germans out there: When Helene Hegemann was involved in a huge plagiarism scandal some years ago concerning her novel Axolotl Roadkill (English translation available), she said that her model had been Kathy Acker. 

Acker's reason for working with appropriations still sounds fiercely postmodern: "I write by using other written texts, rather than by expressing ´reality´, which is what most novelists do. Our reality now, which occurs so much through the media, is other texts."

Kraus' research is impressive, her literary interpretations sound very convincing, but after reading the book, Acker still seems to be an enigma - which might not be Kraus' fault, but an accurate depiction of a fragmented, often contradictory character. 

Kathy Acker died twenty years ago at age 50 from breast cancer.
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Oh, this was really tricky. I really wanted to love this book, I was interested in Kathy Acker, I had heard about her over the years and thought her cool and edgy. I chose this book from Netgalley when I was in a reading slump and thought I'd try something a bit different and I often choose a celebrity biography when I'm in that space, for a bit of fun. I've been trying to get this book read for ages, and I keep putting it aside and then trying again. This book made me feel really sad. Kathy Acker would have been a person who really irritated me if I'd known her. She was obviously very interesting and clever and outrageous, but her lack of care for the people around her, she seemed to alienate and dismiss anybody who challenged her would have made me angry. I just really felt that she was tortured and that people who act out like she did (and admittedly I only read half the book due to frustration with her) bring trouble upon themselves. Overall my enjoyment of the book was coloured by the way I felt about Kathy. If you were someone who loved Kathy, I'm sure this would be a great read.

I also had some problems with the structure of the book, the flicking around from place to place and time period to time period frustrated me.
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I don’t tend to read biographies, however I’m quite certain their not intended to be read a a series of facts. This was Dull, Kathy may have had a interesting life yet this wasn’t a good portrayal of her. I got little sense of her as a person.
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