"I, I, I, I, I, I, I, Kathy Acker": Celebrating One of the Most Influential Figures in the Punk Movement

"I, I, I, I, I, I, I, Kathy Acker": Celebrating One of the Most Influential Figures in the Punk Movement

Recent years have shown a sharp interest in Acker's life and legacy, inspiring a stronger wave of feminism / a katz via Shutterstock

 

More than 20 years after her death, American writer Kathy Acker's influence remains alive in the literary world. She was known for her works that were a mix of pop culture, radical feminism, punk rock, and experimental literature. Since these subjects have only become more relevant in the modern world, it comes as no surprise that her name still lingers in the industry, making her one of the most enduring and influential figures in the punk movement. 

Acker remains a largely underground literary figure. Her writing would truly get under one's skin as she approached highly-charged topics such as women's rights, abortion, sexuality, and democracy. Although she was extremely criticized for her writings that brimmed with violence and graphic sexual content, her thoughts about issues of power as well as her deep knowledge of American literature helped her rise to fame.

Some of the first books Acker was able to publish in the late 1970s were "Childlike Life of the Black Tarantula," "Adult Life of Toulouse," and "Bodies of Work: Essays." Throughout her lifetime, she wrote about politics, state control, and the ills of capitalism, among other things. Recent years have shown a sharp interest in Acker's life and legacy, inspiring a stronger wave of feminism. Museums and exhibitions around the world have also been featuring the writer, helping make her known even after her death. 

The most recent one would be the exhibition hosted by the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in London. Launched in May, the show is the first exhibition in the United Kingdom for the American writer. It brings together excerpts from her writings alongside works by other artists and writers. It will be displayed until August 4. 

Kathy Acker: Life and Career

Born on April 18, 1947, Acker was an American experimental novelist, essayist, playwright, postmodernist, and sex-positive feminist writer. Her mother's pregnancy was unplanned, thus, she was abandoned by her father. Her relationship with her mother had been fraught with anxiety and hostility because she felt unwanted and unloved. However, this didn't hinder her from getting an education. 

According to the Britannica, Acker went to Brandeis University and the University of California to study Classics. During that time, she became interested in writing novels and met many people who influenced her work. Some of the early jobs she took ranged from clerical work to performing in pornographic films. It was not until the late 1970s and early 1980s that the writer was associated with the New York punk movement. The punk aesthetic she learned heavily influenced her literary style. 

The books she wrote during that time were considered postmodern although the term "postmodernism" wasn't popular. In those writings, she combined biographical elements, violence, power, and sex. Her novels also showed her fascination with tattoos. Her works were often compared with other writer's novels like Jean Genet and William S. Burroughs. As Acker once said, “I broke rules… what is said to me most often is that people felt freed by my writing to do what they want to do, rather than what they are told to do.”

Although Acker was an avid bodybuilder and motorcycle enthusiast, her physical health didn't guarantee her a long life. In April 1996, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Instead of undergoing conventional cancer treatment, she opted for alternative medical help. However, this just left her physically mutilated and emotionally debilitated. Acker died the following year. 

"I, I, I, I, I, I, I, Kathy Acker" Exhibition

Launched last May 1, the exhibition entitled "I, I, I, I, I, I, I, Kathy Acker" celebrates the legendary writer whose life and career helped in shaping the literary world. According to an article by It's Nice That, it features the works of several writers and artists, examining Acker as “a still-unfolding cultural force, focusing on the uniquely diverse and disruptive character of the author’s work and persona.” It illuminates the complexities within her spoken, written, and performed works. 

The exhibition was created to be “structured around text fragments from eight of Acker’s key novels." Some of the artists in the exhibition that show the influence of the American writer's controversial and confrontational body of work include Every Ocean Hughes, Bhanu Kapil, Sidsel Meineche Hansen, Johanna Hedva, Reba Maybury, and more. The show also showcases the video and audio documentation of Acker’s performative appearances in different media and cultural contexts. 

Acker was known for her works that were a mix of pop culture, radical feminism, punk rock, and experimental literature / Maksimilian via Shutterstock

 

According to an article by Sleek Magazine, one of the works that are exhibited retells Greek myths as a way to understand contemporary issues, from taboo and desire to kinship and citizenship. Another important aspect of her body of work is how she discussed capitalism, terrorism, populism, and state control and surveillance in her novels. 

The exhibition also shows how Acker hated identity politics. She once described it as "very dangerous" and "repulsive." “I think that you have to be really careful that when you are asserting identity you are only asserting in a certain time and place and that you don’t make it an absolute,” she said.