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Chris Kraus's "Sublimated and Witchy" Book on Kathy Acker


#1

In the current issue of Bookforum, David Velasco has a brilliantly sassy review of After Kathy Acker, the latest book by Chris Kraus. Velasco writes that Kraus’s book is unlike any biography you’ve ever read, insofar as the author has a tense and murky personal history with her subject that she intentionally avoids discussing. But Velasco argues that this in fact makes Kraus the perfect person to write an account of Acker’s complex and elusive life. Here’s an excerpt from Velasco review:

Although Kraus was present for Acker’s life, even inspired by her work, she is not what you would call a “partisan,” and because of this she has written the smartest, cruelest, most intimately clinical, which is to say the best, biography of Acker one could hope for. It is, perhaps, a better book than Acker herself could have written had the tables been turned—though the idea of Acker telling a story other than her own seems laughable—and so it may be that this book, like most great books, is both the perfect panegyric and revenge.

One can—many do—speculate on the exact nature of Kraus’s headspace while writing this. (Would they feel the same were it two men?) “Kraus does not clarify her personal relationship to her subject, and so the question of their relation becomes a void into which her tone rushes,” writes Josephine Livingstone in the New Republic. But it’s not exactly a secret, is it? Their “relationship,” while only glancingly entertained inside Kraus’s book—which gives details of Lotringer and Acker’s sex life without ever mentioning that Lotringer and Kraus, too, were involved—is also absolutely frontal. Your eye is directed to it, like writing on a (high school bathroom) wall:

CHRIS
KRAUS
AFTER
KATHY
ACKER

reads the book’s cover, a five-by-five tower caulked with hard velar stops. It is a proclamation and a dare, printed atop a 1998 Kaucyila Brooke photograph of the back of one of Acker’s leather jackets (DISCIPLINE ANARCHY, it reads), suspended ghoulishly from a wire coat hanger, so that it evokes, among other things, the commodifiable performativity of the self, that Mickey Mouse thing, maybe, which Acker and Kraus (and of course Kraus’s famous fixation, subcultural theorist Dick Hebdige) were into.

Image of Kathy Acker via the New Statesman.