Monday, October 01, 2007

Kathy Acker, Great Expectations

Truth be told, the jury's still out on this one ...

Recently, one of the folks on Pynchon-L mentioned the works of Acker (whom I had never heard of) and said that fans of Pynchon would like her work. After searching a bit at the local bookstores, I was able to special order a copy of Great Expectations, which the lister recommended was a good book to start with.

Part surrealistic cut-up method a la William S. Burroughs; part plagiarized text which draws heavily from Dickens's Great Expectations, The Story of O, Keats poetry, and a wild assortment of other traditional and contemporary works; part confessional memoir of a punk-ethos author; part compellingly poetic but obscenity-charged erotica -- Acker's work is not a "novel" in the conventional sense. Told through a PoMo collection of fragmented narratives that weave together other literary works with Acker's own reflections on (among other things) her mother's suicide, I found myself likening the reading experience to that of Burroughs's Naked Lunch with a touch of Gertrude Stein's experimental punctuation and sentence structures. And while many passages might have been shocking back when the work was published in 1983, I found much of the obscenity quaintly reminiscent of the Beats.

But what I thought most compelling here was the plagiarism, apparently a "technique" that Acker was known for -- lifting passages almost verbatim from a wide variety of texts and somehow weaving them together with her own narrative to create an entirely new work of art -- sort of the literary equivalent to "sampling." And since sampling music gained popularity in the Eighties through such bands as 2 Live Crew and Big Audio Dynamite (anyone remember those bands? LOL!), it would make sense that her compositional method ran concurrent with underground (and emerging mainstream) music at the time.

I'm not entirely convinced that a fan of Pynchon will enjoy the writing of Kathy Acker ... but I would be willing to check out one or two other novels by her to see if there is depth and breadth to her narrative technique. Other novels by Acker can be found here.

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