Posts Tagged ‘Kathy Acker’

Trouble On Triton

July 13, 2011

Okay, I think I told you this story before, but Smoot was like “Who’s your favorite author? I want to read him or her!” and I was like “Kathy Acker, who is yours? Me too!” and she was like “Samuel Delany!” and then we each bought books by the other’s favorite author and then the next time we saw each other we were both like “Well, I couldn’t get into it, so I gave up.” It was pretty good.

Anyway, I read some stuff about Delany, including a recent interview he did with the Paris Review (which said, on its cover, “SAMUEL DELANY AND WILLIAM GIBSON INTERVIEW”- or at least, that’s what I thought it said, so I thought it would be the two of them in conversation, but actually it was two separate interviews. I still haven’t read the Gibson one ’cause I kinda don’t care), and I think getting to know him a little better gave me the context I needed to get over the “I already know what I like. Nobody can recommend anything to me because I am so smart that if it was any good I would already have read it” automatic reflex in my nervous system, eg the hipster system. But I did! I got over it and I read this and I’m super stoked that I did and then I went out and bought two more of his books but I haven’t read them yet.

So Samuel Delany: the blurb goes “gay black science fiction writer whose struggle with dyslexia informs/informed the way he makes sense,” I guess. Which is interesting! I’m not gonna lie, if you’re not a woman writer but you want me to read you (unless you write total trash that somehow I can’t resist, ROBOPOCALYPSE YOU FUCK), it’s not going to hurt for you to be a person of color or a homo or to experience some other kind of oppression. And I will tell you this, Trouble on Triton reads to me as queer literature.

“Oh but Imogen you say that about everything you like: ‘check out this queer subtext!'”

Fine, whatever.

Uh

My point is that just, okay. (Here are spoilers.) It took me a long time to understand that the main character, Bron, totally sucks, and I wasn’t supposed to like him. He basically spends all of his time justifying everything he does and writing off everything everybody else does; I don’t think it’s a coincidence that as the embodiment of a lot of kinds of privilege, even in the context of heterotopia (y’know, Foucault’s concept of heterotopia. Obviously), Delany chooses to make Bron tall white and blond.

So it took me a while to get that, and also the writing is a little bit knotty and it took me a long while to figure out the rhythm of it and, like, get with it. That happened maybe a hundred and fifty or a hundred and seventy-five pages in? Right around the time that the person Bron has a desperate, all-consuming, boundary disrespecting, selfish love obsession with sends him a letter saying “here are all the ways that you are a fucking dick.” THAT was what hooked me. Bron isn’t even an antihero- just a jerk.

See how studiously I’m avoiding pronouns? In order to justify, uh, something, or prove himself right about something- it’s not super clear, or maybe it is, but all I have is the impression that it’s extremely self-serving- Bron goes in to have his sex changed. And his sexuality surgically altered. Though there were points of language that I’d quibble with, the conversation between Bron and the sex-change surgeon was pretty interesting and for the most part pretty right on, in terms of a culture where there’s no stigma to pretty much any kind of social thing; the surgeon is like “sure, y’know, whatever,” and Bron is like “I NEED YOU TO MAKE ME A GIRL IN THE BRAIN,” and the surgeon is like “well, most of the folks whose sex we change here already feel like they kind of are girls. In their brains. You don’t?” Which again points to the way that Bron is more interested in being right than pretty much anything else- I know people like that!- which sets up a pretty interesting context for this instance of transsexuality.

I mean, Bron changes sexes, without actually being trans, right? There are shades of (what reads to me as) a kind of seventies feminist, like, if culture weren’t so busted there would be no trans people, which maybe Delany was putting there and maybe he wasn’t; I mean, maybe it’s true, and my point is just that well who knows, that’s not the most productive thing even to talk about. So anyway Bron becomes a lady and it doesn’t make her any less of a jerk and then the ending- again I am spoiling this for you- is this fantastic scene of Bron aaaaalmost realizing that she is a jerk and her problem isn’t with everyone and everything else, but is instead her own bull-headed conviction that she deserves everything good in the world and the fact that she doesn’t get it is this massive cosmic injustice… but then she can’t quite get it, so she just lets it go, implying that she’s just gonna keep putting coping mechanisms in place, instead of dealing with her shit. Ha! Fuck yes! Fuck a happy ending!

Right after I finished this I got out my copy of the Passion of New Eve, by Angela Carter, which I’d been meaning to read for forever because it’s another story of a man who’s forced to become a woman even though he’s not trans. And it’s from roughly the same time period, too- and Angela Carter, also, was totally a wingnut (not to mention a phenomenal writer), so I’ve read the first sixty pages of her novel. I mean, other stuff than the gender thing happened in Trouble on Triton, but maybe predictably that was what was most interesting for me. I dunno. I’ll let you know how it goes. So far the epicness and the way settings are established, deepened and then left behind is reminding me of Carter’s The Infernal Desire Machines of Dr. Hoffman, which was a pretty awesome book. Fuck Yeah Angela Carter. Mira said it was like a long fictionmania fantasy, except written by a sadistic feminist cis woman instead of a… well, I don’t want to say anything mean.

There But For The

July 13, 2011

In an essay I wrote for Pretty Queer over here a little while ago, I accused my friend Red of hating fun, when the reality is actually that I am the one who hates fun. The thing I like best in movies is when they are kind of sadistic; I just watched this movie Insidious and except for the demon in blackface, I was like “this tale of a young man being tortured by demons just warms the cockles of my dead heart.” And the writer I always come back to, Kathy Acker, is confrontational as hell. I think it’s funny and exciting how confrontational she is, without taking away from how intense she is. It’s like a combination of bluntness and a different kind of bluntness. Even with music, most of the time when I listen to stuff other people like I’m like “why isn’t anyone shrieking.”

That might be an overstatement.

My point is just, I can’t figure out why I like Ali Smith. I mean, I know why I like her, but I have no idea where she fits into the body of stuff that I like, because her stuff is so relentlessly charming. It’s an intellectually rigorous kind of charming- she definitely confronts serious things, but it’s always in the context of puns and witticisms and, like, prose that exults in the joy of being prose, or whatever.

So like, this book was great. It didn’t have the melancholy that I remember characterizing her last novel, The Accidental, which means it doesn’t feel to me like it’s got the weight of that last one, which’ll go down as one of her major works. Did it win an award? I think it probably did. I forget. Or was nominated for one.

Anyway, I guess all I’m trying to say here is that Ali Smith is great and I really enjoy reading her and maybe somebody else can tell me why because I don’t have anything smart to say about her except the Joyce thing but honestly all you have to do is even allude to Joyce and lots of people will think you’re smart.

Gender Born, Gender Made

May 4, 2011

So today in what seems maybe to have been an act of divine providence, this book “Gender Born, Gender Made,” by a psychologist named Diane Ehrensaft fell into my lap. I don’t know why it’s in my store, a week before it comes out, just a single copy- maybe Chris ordered it, I don’t know- but I snatched it up and started reading it on my lunch break and had to stop reading it because I was starting to cry.

It’s a book about gender variant- a phrase she wants to replace with “gender creative,” which sounds kind of hippie but also you can’t argue with the way “gender variant” centers cisnormative genders/gender performances- kids, and how to be a child therapist for them without being a fucking J Mike or Ken Zucker. In the first chapter, she’s already talked about how aversion therapy doesn’t work, and how samples are skewed and controls don’t exist in the experiments Zucker & co cite, and just about how bad the science is there- and, most importantly, how if you’re doing counseling, you’re supposed to do no fucking harm, and it’s just blatantly, infuriatingly clear how much harm reparative/aversion therapy does, if you look at it from any perspective other than ‘transsexuality is unacceptable.’

I’ve always hoped that this stuff was out there in the legitimate psychological literature, but in the context of the prevalence of the ‘make your kid cry until they stop being such fuckin queers’ school of psychology, I haven’t seen it anywhere. And I’ve been in the process of figuring out how to go to school to shout down that busted-up school of psychology, figuring that I was going to have to burn down my own path to even start talking about how much harm this kind of praxis does, so seeing this in print just feels like breathing after not being able to breathe. Or some better metaphor.

So anyway it certainly might let me down and break my heart- desert me- but I just want to tell you how much I hope it doesn’t. And you know how pessimistic I am about books that aren’t written by Kathy Acker or Dennis Cooper or maybe Angela Carter- it’s hard for me to be optimistic.

Also I’m supposed to be reading this advance copy of Embassytown that Cat gave me, to review for The Green Man Review– which I’m super into, actually. It’s nice to read anti-colonial science fiction about semiotics. But I am going to be on buses for like ten hours tomorrow, and I feel like I’m gonna have to shirk my responsibility to Cat and China to read this book about trans kids (which is about other things than trans kids, obvs) first.

It’s the hard knock life, etc

Nan Goldin

March 20, 2011

So I went to New York last weekend. I went to see Godspeed You Black Emperor last Monday (M wrote about it here) but I hung out in New York Saturday night, Sunday and then early Tuesday, too.

On the bus ride in I mostly read Everything Matters by Ron Currie Jr, a book we’ll be discussing at the Total Bummer Book Club at my bookstore in April, which was pretty great actually. I like him although I think that despite the obvious “being an alcoholic is bad” current in that novel there’s also kind of a current of like strong tough don’t think about it I don’t need to work on my shit, which might just be a Maine thing. I haven’t been here that long. I mean, I don’t think it wrecks the book or makes the author a jerk or anything, it just like… actually it’s such a minor thing I don’t know why I’m talking about it instead of all the things that he did well in this book, like how effectively he crammed in so many ups and downs without making them drag on or blow by, and how the second-person sections didn’t get explained and didn’t need to but also didn’t get cloying, and how, y’know, unrelentingly bleak it was, which is something I’m always happy to endorse.

So anyway yeah I went to the Strand, where I used to work, as soon as I’d gotten into the city, eaten a slice of pizza, dropped some zines off at Bluestockings, picked up a 22 oz Corona and drunk it at that Indian Restaurant on the top left at 1st and 6th in Manhattan, with all the chili lights and mirrors, where it’s somebody’s birthday every twenty minutes so you always hear the Bollywood birthday song. I don’t think I bought anything the first time I went to the Strand, I just looked around for Kathy Acker books (someone clearly had beaten me to them, or else she is even further out of fashion than I’d grown used to; she is either very cool or not at all cool right now, which reinforces the fact that I am a hipster dickbag) and left ’cause my backpack was really heavy. I woke up the next morning, gorged myself at Kate’s on Avenue B, then walked back to the Strand and got the Dennis Cooper book I talked about in my last post and a tiny square book of Nan Goldin’s photographs by Guido Costa, boringly titled Nan Goldin.

It was great though! I mean, kind of great. Actually I read the whole thing on the bus ride home and was into it but now that I’m thinking about it it wasn’t what I wanted it to be. I mean, what I like about Nan Goldin is mostly that her pictures preserve a history of trans women that never really sees much light- that’s occluded by history, if you want to be a herb about it- and because she was a cis woman with access to a means of production trans women generally haven’t (which is a simplification; it’s a point but it’s not the whole story) there are so many of her pictures (example) she’s taken that show, y ‘know, a history of my people that I haven’t been able to find anywhere else. So I guess what I wanted from this book was for Guido Costa to be like “this person in this picture’s name is this, and she lived here, and her life was like this, and she dated this person, ate this, hung out here, wrote this, read this, performed or didn’t perform,” y’know. So it couldn’t have been what I wanted it to be. It was still nice to learn more about Nan Goldin though.

Also there were first US editions of Barthes’ second book of mythologies and the Fashion System just sitting there in the philosophy section but I managed not to buy them because the thirty-five dollars or whatever they would have cost had to go toward a taco truck, vegan Asian fusion food on Bedford Avenue, vegan Dim Sum at the bottom of Mott Street, more pizza, some noodles in Chinatown while I waited for the bus, and food to eat on the bus. I WISH I HAD THEM THOUGH. Even though your possessions end up owning you maaaaaaan anyway then I went to vegan dim sum in Chinatown with Tom and Julie.

Trouble On Triton

March 20, 2011

I have a friend who is cool. When I lived in Oakland and she did too she told me that I should read Samuel Delany. Well, we talked about books for a little while a couple times, and I was like “I just discovered China Mieville-” this was like six months ago, before I’d read much of anything he’d written- and she was the one who told me to read Iron Council first, and that Perdido Street Station is a total bummer. But she was like “Oh, Stone Gods was like Jeanette Winterson had heard of science fiction novels but never actually read one, so she decided to write one.”

I was like “oh BAM I kinda liked that book okay though” and she was like “yeah science fiction is kind of my shit” and I was like “oh okay I don’t really know much about science fiction except for what Mordicai tells me, and he lives hecka far away from me now! Tell me what I should know about science fiction!”

She was like “Okay duuuuuude Samuel Delany” and I was like “Oh, okay, I’ve got a copy of that enormous doorstop Dhalgren somebody sold to the store and I bought it ’cause I don’t remember why” and she was like “uh, okay, you could read that one, but it’s kind of a bad first one.”

I was like “okay” and we decided to have a two-person book group and then I moved to Portland Maine and she moved back to Philadelphia even though we’re both from New Jersey. But didn’t know each other when we lived in New Jersey. Also we’re both really tall.

Then she came to visit a friend who was living in my house in Portland for January of this year and they hung out a lot and we talked about books for a minute one time (she has an Ursula LeGuin-themed band project) and one night I came home from work after kind of a stupid day and they were watching Love, Actually and I was like “omfg are you guys watching Love, Actually” and they were like “we’re trying to get to know you better!” because I have a Love, Actually tattoo.

Which is true.

Anyway then when my tall friend left she left me a cute note like ‘let’s have a book club and maybe make out sometime’ and I was like ‘ok’ and she was like “Since you have such an enormous, indestructible metaphysical boner for Kathy Acker what Kathy Acker book should I read since I’ve never read her” and I was like “I dunno, probably one of the eighties ones where she was appropriating other people’s titles, like Great Expectations of Don Quixote. Probably Don Quixote ’cause I was just flipping through it looking for band names for the RPM challenge album I’m never going to finish and I thought ‘Kiss Your Mother the Raven’ was pretty good but Alex didn’t BUT if you’re going to read a Kathy Acker novel I want to know which Samuel Delany novel I should read because I know he’s your favorite and you told me the story about how he wears the same wrestling shirt to every literary event.”

And she was like “Ok Trouble on Triton” and I was like, “Great,” and I ordered it, and it just came into the book store, and KATHY ACKER WROTE THE GODDAM INTRODUCTION TO THIS EDITION LIKE A YEAR BEFORE SHE DIED (FOR YOUR SINS). Which just seems like a pretty sweet coincidence, you know?

Here is what I wrote on twitter for Valentine’s Day (it’s a modified Acker quote; guess which part I added):

Literature is that
which denounces and slashes apart
the repressing machine
at the level of the signified,
VALENTINE