McKenzie Wark on Tue, 16 Dec 1997 00:58:16 +0100 (MET)

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<nettime> Goodbye Kathy Acker

Goodbye Kathy Acker
McKenzie Wark

Kathy Acker believed in freedom, and she believed 
that writing was the closest thing to a space in which 
one could be free, but free only at the price of the 
dissolution of every aspect of the self that wasn't 
compatible with this pure, open space of creation.

Kathy was a perennial outsider. She always took 
steps to distance herself from capture -- by 
compromise, by half measures, by bad faith. Which 
is to say, she was an artist.

I watched her at work once. She mesmerised me 
with the meticulous slowness with which she 
printed each neat letter in her absolutely distinctive 
handwriting. She had access to parts of the mind 
where language flows without the censorship of 

Escape from the functionaries of language -- that is 
how she understood the literature of the avant 
garde. She was familiar with all of the great avant 
garde work, in English and French, from Rimbaud to 
Burroughs. One day she will be recognised as a 
marvellous addition to the escape routes pioneered 
by Duras and Blanchot and Bataille. Her writing 
didn't owe much to Woolf or Stein, but like them, 
she wrote as a woman, inventing what that might be 
as she went along. 

Being Kathy Acker was, I suspect, not an easy thing. 
Like Burroughs, she discovered that when you set 
writing free, you become even more aware of every 
little subtle fascism at work in the world. Like 
Burroughs, she was a visionary writer. Her books 
always describe the nightmare to come. But they also 
chart the escape routes out of the nightmare.

I spent some time with Kathy, in Sydney and New 
York and London and San Francisco. Like most of 
the people I've met who hung around with her, I 
learned a lot from the experience. The very fact that 
she existed gave people courage -- with her absolute 
refusal to play the bourgeois idea of the 'writer'. 

But while Kathy could be couragous, she could also 
be vulnerable. Always also a wide-eyed child, 
fascinated by the flicker of identity and its other, 
captivated by the body and its senses, willing to pass 
through pain in order to know what is beyond its 
limits. She died as she lived, outside the norm. Still 
refusing to acquiese to the idea that things must be as 
they are. 

Kathy drew me one of her maps once, so I will 
always know where to find her. But all of her books 
are maps too. Maps to unknown pleasures.

[ABC Radio National in Australia asked me for a 
short obituary, and with very little time, this is what 
I wrote, on the back of an envelope. It was broadcast 
on 5th December. Others will have more to say about 
her life and work. I just wanted to circulate this note 
as the mark, the scar perhaps, of my personal sense 
of loss.]

----- End of forwarded message from McKenzie Wark -----

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