Kathy Acker and The Viewing Room

By | 1 February 2019

Her library ended up at the University of Cologne. I spent a day there with them. Daniel Schulz, who has diligently cataloged them, showed me how to use the catalog on the computer and left me alone with them. I copied down notes she had left in them. In the back of one of her two copies of Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, I found she had written this: ‘Every time you dream I am fucking you, you are building a ci the city.’

We sat at the table and drank wine. Kathy was a red drinker but she opened white as she remembered that is what I like. I had the gut feeling that we would never see each other again. The show had maybe put us into that mood, the way it had staged both the life and the death of an artist. It went past the point where most things end. It got me thinking about my own life posthumously even though as far as I knew my health was fine. Kathy knew she was not fine. This night at least she seemed to accept that death could be fairly close.

The one thing I remember us talking about is whether anyone would care about her writing when she was gone. I imagined her own books slotted into the alphabetical sequence that threaded through her bookshelves. Right near the front – not many slot in before ‘Acker.’ I pointed out that most of her books were in print which was already a good sign. I improvised some lit-crit about the trajectory of avant-garde writing, as a series of careening but cumulative experiments, rolling, rising, roiling, and the way she had subsumed past experiments into her wake and made new ones. I don’t know how convincing I was. I told Kathy she would be remembered, but the crucial question was not so much whether she would be remembered as by whom.

I hadn’t counted on the internet keeping her interview with The Spice Girls permanently in circulation, but overall I think I was right, and that the answer I gave, while paltry, was sincere. She would find an enduring readership, but one that would not be driven by her media persona, nor be literary in the established sense. She would be treasured for a different kind of reading and writing, which maybe wouldn’t be like her writing at all but would need her to have existed in order to exist. She would help make a place for us.

Leslie Dick: ‘I remember sitting with her on a sofa at a party and looking into her face, with its harsh make-up and amazing punk hair, peroxide blonde with brown burn marks on it as if it had been seared with a branding iron, and recognising this spectacle as a mask she peered out from behind, or within, oddly like a little girl. Kathy Acker’s readings, her self-presentation through clothes, hair, exposure of skin, tattoos, etc., her presence on the covers of her books, all worked explicitly to place her body as an obstacle, a threat and promise, mediating between reader and text.’1

Kathy and I embraced for one last time, in the doorway to her flat. I wandered off into the night. It was too late to catch the tube back to my hotel, so I wandered about, a little anxious as I did not know where I was, but expecting to find a cab or minicab or a bus route, somewhere. I remember now that this is when I found the canal and the narrow-boats, bumping in the slurping water. The boats and Kathy are together in memory and so their places are too.

  1. Leslie Dick, ‘Seventeen Paragraphs on Kathy Acker, in Amy Scholder et al eds, Lust for Life: On the Writings of Kathy Acker, Verso, New York, 2006, p. 112.
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