A PERSONAL TESTIMONY
The world seems on fire at the moment, a character who responded directly to this yesterday, dedicated to speaking in tonques, profound and abstract was Kathy Acker. Born in New York City, Acker was raised by her jewish mother and stepfather.( Her mother sadly committed suicide when Acker was thirty) )
She went to University at Brandeis and the University of California, San Diego.A brilliant mind , her underlying passion was diversity. She developed a thirst for writing, in her own explosive, idiosyncratic style, not belonging to any rigid school, but borrowing liberally and loosely wherever she could, as we all should, she owed a particular debt to the work of William S. Burroughs.
I remember when I first encountered her words in the mid 1980s, they were like doorways to another reality, unafraid to shoot bullets into my heart, and I was glad. She mapped a world that I had yet to explore but offered me immediate possibilities. Hers was a world of direct engagement shattering the comforts of my illusionment. Towards the intimite , the deeply personal, and all its brutal engagements, she bought me delight.
I came a little late for punk and its shenanigans but she gave me a thirst and a connectedness to that way of life and to the beats and other exhilerators. Living at the time in a largely conservative world she offered me sanctuary and a gateway to another place, a land of no borders and places of free imagination. Comfort I found was not a necessity, rules could, and should be broken. Amidst pessimistic times her words grabbed me and gave me hope, opening my eyes to another truth, one that rejected conformity, general hypocrisy and bullshit.Though I am capable of a least two of the aformentioned!!
A writer of numerous explosive books all worth a look (theirs a link at bottom if you would like some lists), always bold and experimental.
She had her demons, addictions,physical and emotional, but her passions seemed to drive her on, finding unswaying belief in words great adventures. Nothing was to be left to the margins, their was magic in her world, truth, it was up to us to find them wherever it lay. There is nothing in the world more uncomfortable than for us to forget possiblities, otherwise humanity might as well be like a worthless scrap of dust lying hopeless on a dung-heap of despair . Possibly!!
I believe Spirit and creativity is on increase, that to me is good news. Kathy Acker seemed to care about this, and the word in it, how we use our language , how we abuse it and what our language costructs and deconstructs in the collapsing world of an unfolding virtual reality. Her views could be shocking, brutal, not everyones cup of tea, she challenged us, taking risks , daring to be as provocative as she could, testing us with her subversive wit and intellect. Searching , following freedom , in all its uncensored glory.
Sadly she succombed to cancer at only 50, having found some sort of fame in the 1980's but she left her words, alive , burning on the pages. A brave voice lost to soon. My kind of Angel. I still hear her screams in the thunder sometimes, the world needs rage, words that leap of the page and grab us by the throat, that challenge the status quo. Hey w'ere all fucking different. That's what she taught me anyway. She was also a mighty fine polemisist, I leave you with an extract from one of her finest, still relevant,and very pertinent in these days of wikileaks and media manipulation. We need more explosive tirades like hers, aimed at pulling down all the garbage that society holds dear. Anyway that's my belief, hey ho. enjoy
The Task 0f the Writer
This is what I want to talk about: a time out of joint. The name of the collection of essays from which I've borrowed, which I've used, these bits of Arendt's writing are from Men in Dark Times.
For many of us, these are dark times. Are they harder or easier than the times in which and about which Hannah Arendt wrote?
A useless question.
Certainly these times are hard, if not for us, then for our friends. If not for our friends, then look at the streets, the homeless, the ghettoes, incurable diseases, the persistent if not increasing presence of racism, homophobia, of prejudice heaped upon prejudice and hatred upon hatred, worse, fear upon fear. We are aware that we know both and, perhaps, are both victim and victimizer. For historically we have and still do participate in so manyof the ownershipin this world.
We can throw away history, our history, as we seem to be trying to throw way education for all but the rich. But if we do throw history away, if we do not accept historical thinking, what kind of civilization are we negotiating? What kind of culture? IOf we throw history away, we are depriving ourselves of potentialities, potentialities for actions. Models and paradidms for actions. Potentiality is kin, and I an talking politically, kin to the imagination.
If we don't throw history away, if we think historically, what do we do about the hardships, the sufferings that we both experience and cause? Hannah Arendt suggests that the meaning of a "committed act," that is her phrase, is revealed only when the action itself has come to an end and become a story susceptible to narration. That is "insofar as any mastery of the past is possible," thus, insofar as any mastery of suffering is possible, " it consists in relating what has happened."When Arendt talks about story, about narration and narrative, she is not talking about language as it moves from one point to another point. She is talking about meaning as it reveals itself and so is co-equivalent to language.
Arendt knows that writing, narration, does not end suffering: writing masters nothing. Narration, writing does something else. It restores meaning to a world which hardship and suffering have revealed as chaotic and senseless.
But what if times are really hard? So hard that the very existence of witing , which bestows humanity, is in danger? The loss, not of art, but of community, the loss of history and of writing as the ground of history- that loss in this world is a kind of death.
If we look at the litrary industry today, writing is in trouble. Very few writers who spend most of their time writing and those who wasnt to spend most of their time writing, can make a living by doing what they do most of the time and by what they love to do most. Those who can and do support themselves writing do so, on the whole, by virtue of something called copyright . Copyright's existence, I believe, is based on the following assumption or sentences: An author is the only person who has written her or his own work; an author owns her or his own work.Now in the first sentence - an author is the only person who has written his or her own work - the assumed definition of identity isquestionable. For instance, I do not write out of nothing, or from nothing, for I must write with the help of other texts, be these texts written ones, those of memory, tose of dream, etc. In the second sentence, an author owns her or his own work, the verb to own must be questioned.In other words, a writers we depend economically on copyright, its existence, because we are living and working, whether we like it or not, in a bourgeois-industrialist, in a capitalist society, a society based on ownership. One needs to own in order to survive, in fact, in order to be.
Our society, however, is in the process of, or has already changed into, a postindustrial ex-national economiv beast. I hope that I am saying this correctly. As economic grounds change, so do all others. Both language and communications and the place of language and of communication in our socirty are rapidly changing.
For instance: I teach writing courses at the San Francisco Art Institute. Each year, fewer and fewer of my students read books. I don't mean that they don't read. They do, though they might not admit it. They read magazines, 'zines, they go to art performances, to spoken word events; they eagerly participate in such events; they buy CDs in which rock stars and poets perform. More and more students and, I might add, my friends, and myself are using the Internet as a location where we can place our work. For the momentt, the Net is a free zone... for those who can afford or access the necessary equipment. Whether it will remain free or whether our government will be able to enact strict controls, or whether various multinational corporations will be able to turn the Net into a cross between TV media land and a shopping mall, an elephantine version of America Online, this no one knows. Certainly, there are those who think that the Net cannot be controlled. Now, I have no ideas whether or not it will be, that is, whether or not it can be. But either way, there is one thing I suspect. I suspect that copyright as we know define it will become a thing of the past.
I have taken a long-winded route to make one simple point, something that I think most writers now know: if it is at this historical moment difficult for a writer to make a living by depending on copyright, in the future it may prove impossible for all but the very, very few.
It is not the case that the Net is providing an alternative method of book publishing and distribution. Not at the moment, as the technology stands. No one is going to download a wholebook, for it's far easier to run to the nearest bookstore. The eexistence of the Net is threatening the literary industry in another way: my students, people who work, which means that they work more than eight hours a day and have little time to read, many, many of the people in this society are preferring to engage in writing and in writerly activities outside the realms of books. And so to a large extent, outside the realm of copyright, as copyright now exists.These are indeed hard times.
If we get rid of copyright as it now exists , do we have to throw writing away?In order to answer this question, I think it's necessary to try to see clearly, to see the society in which we're living. I should say societies, for sometimes the only entities that make our societies single seem to be McDonald's hamburgers and Madonna. We need to see how we as writers fit into our societies as and while these societies are changing. How can we, as Hannah Arendt says, even in worlds that seem to have become inhuman, remain obligated to these worlds? Obligated , for being writers, our job is to hear and put together narrations and so to give meaning even to what seems to be or is inhuman.
How can I, as a writer, be of use to and in my societies? That is the question that underlies the one of copyright.
I think that it is hard to understand that writing is in our society because writing has become so entangled with the literary industry. Entangled to the point that there no longer seems to be any difference between the two. For instance, if a writer is not big business, she or he is not a good, that is finally, not a publishable writer.
Let me paraphrase and so repeat Hannah Arendt's question: To what extent do we remain obligated to aworld even when our presence is no longere desired in that world? Are we, as writers obligated to the literary industry and to the society behind that industry? Here is Hannah Arendt's answer : " Flight from the world in dark times of impotence can always be justified as long as reality is not ignored." Flight does not mean abandonment.
As it now stands,the literary industry depends upon copyright. But not literature. Euipides, for instance, wrote his version of Electra while "Soplhocle's "copyright" was still active. Not to mention Skakespeare's, Marlowes, and Ford's use of each other's texts. My worries with copyright, however are not so academic. My worries concern the increasing marginalization of writers and of their writing in this society.Whenever writers are considered marginal to a society,something is deeply wrong with the relations between writing and the society. For to write should be to write the world and, simultaneously, to engage in the world. But the literary industry as it noe exists seems to be obfuscating relations between this society's writers and this society.
Once more we need to see what writing is. We need to step away from all the business. We need to step to the personal. This is what I mean by Flight. Business has become too heavy, too dominant. We need to remember friends, that we write deeply out of friendship, that we write to friends. We need to regain some of the energy, as writers and as readers, that people have on the Internet when for the first time they e-mail, when they discover that they can write anything, even to a sranger, even the most personal of matters. When they discover that strangers can communicate to each other.
The bestowing of meaning and, thus, the making of the world, the word as world: this is what writing is about.
In our society, the excitement, the energy, and the power is no longer located in writing, that is, in the writing world. The excitement is found in film, as in PulpFiction, or in the TV of David Lynch. Perhaps we should ask why the writing industry, in terms of the overall culture, is emasculated. (I should say, e-femin-ated.)
Back to Hannah Arendt's words. You see, my lazy mind never goes anywhere: it only returns. Writing, as defined by the literary industry, is all about individuals. I own my writing; thatis copyright. "Power arises," Arendt writes, "only where people act together, not where people grow stronger as individuals."
To write is to do other than announce oneself as an enclosed individual. Even the most narcissist of texts, say Nabokov's Lolita,reaches out to, in Lolita's case grabs at, its reader. To write is to write another. Not for another,as if one could take away that other's otherness, but to another.To write, as Gertrude Stein and Maurice Blanchot both have said, is to write to a stranger, to a friend. As we go forward, say on the Net, perhaps we are also going back, and I am not a great believer in linear models of time, to times when literature and economics met each other in the region of friendship. "The ancients," comments Arendt, "thought friends indispenable to human life, indeed that a life without friends was not really worth living."
Friendship is always a political act, for it unites citizens into a polis, a (political) community. And it is this friendship that the existence of copyright (as it is now defined) has obfuscated.
The loss of friendship, the giving over of friendship to business based on individualism, has caused loss of energy in the literary world. Think, for a moment, with how much more energy one does something for a lover or for a close friend when one acts only in the service of
In his remarkable essay about the writings of his friend Georges Bataille, Maurice Blanchot opposes two kinds of relationships, that of friendship and that of totaitarianism. Both Blanchot and Bataille lived through Nazism and Stalinism. A totaitarian relationship, Blanchot states, is one in which the subject denies the otherness, therefore the very existence of the other person. the person to whom he or she is talking. Thus, the totalitarian relationship is built upon individualism as closure. Individualism as the closing down of energy, of meaning. Wheras, when I talk to my friend, when I write to her, I am writing to someone whose otherness I aceept. It is the difference betwenn me and my friend that allows meaning; meaning begins in this difference. And it is meaning, the meaningfulness of the world, that is cosciousness. You see, I am finally talking about my writing.
TIME IS IDENTITY
No one he states my boyfriend'ld rather fuck
than a duck, than me. Even if Psyche her-
self begged him. He said to me. But what a man tells any
woman who loves him is lost in these winds and squalling
waters. My lover is changing water
TIME IS PAIN
Last night I couldn't sleep at all, then I woke up in a sweat
though I wasn't crying tears fall from my eyes. I'm
in pain I phone you I want to suicide you
over and over again my brain revolves you
focus obsession I see nothing else. You're my world
blindness' opening my heart. This "Love"
between us (your name) to me is blood.
Everywhere you slept you touched you came
in this house is your blood.
Iwould do anything to fall asleep. At night. But as
each dream passes
each absolute reality shows itself temporary
I obsess you. At times I hurt
like hell. At times I'm dead. Every other night
there's been a morning when I can
stand up from this bed.
Now there's only night: each night
unnatural is the ornament of your blood.
TIME IS MADE BY HUMANS
I hope there's some relief writing
this you: otherwise, none. I've never felt much pain
Say after day pain after pain how do
I count these days? Its's pain to count.
Pain to have a mind.
Worst: at the moment when sleep's ease should come,
(no coming, no you.) and thoughts are loosened,
but I don't want those thoughts.
I phone: Idon't like life.
So stopping the mind up, no
life no utterance, jail within jail within
jail, what can days dates
time matter? Only this ease
of verbally sobbing out ugliness.
Extracts from :-
Bodies of Work / essays -Kathy Acker, 1997, Serpents Tail
For more information on Kathy Ackers work see below.