The Irreducible Blood and Guts in High School, Kathy Acker

I just finished reading Kathy Acker’s novel Blood and Guts in High School. The last time I felt the way I feel right now was about two years ago. My friend Amélie had lent me a book and said : “here, read this and tell me what you think”. The book was entitled “Fleurs de crachat” (which one could translate as “spit flowers” or something like that) from novelist and essayist Catherine Mavrikakis. She didn’t give any cues; she wanted me to experience it in my own way. I read the book quite fast, and gave it back to my friend. She instantly asked: “how did you find it?” The only thing I could say is “I don’t know, it was ok”. But it wasn’t “ok” at all. It’s not the kind of book you just say “it’s ok” after reading it. She looked at me as to say “to elaborate?” I couldn’t say anything, and still don’t know what to say about it today. I don’t know how I found it, but I know it found me. It found me in a place I didn’t think I could possibly be.

“But, did you like it?” she then asked me. Did I like Mavrikakis or Acker’s novels? “Like” is not the right word, I guess.

It’s difficult to even develop on what I think about Bloods and Guts in Highschool. The book makes me stop thinking with its flow of thoughts, dream-like drawings and aggressive formulations. My mind was filled up, they were no spaces left to think or breathe. I have hundreds of adjectives to describe how I felt about it : scared, disgusted, frustrated, mystified, puzzled, tired, annoyed, aggressive, breathless, amused, fascinated…etc. Reading the first few pages, for both the books mentioned above, made me want to hold it against the person who suggested me to read it in the first place ;). How could they put me in such a situation without even preparing me? A couple of pages later, I was grateful.

Acker’s book is plenty of literary references and appropriations: Sade, Jean Genet, to name only a few. I could also read Deleuze’s conception of desire through the novel : “Every position of desire, no matter how small, is capable of putting to question the established order of a society […]” (Acker, p.125). These references could have been a sort of buoy. I could have stuck to those intellectual premises and just talk about them ignoring the tensions in my body. I could have put myself in the analytic mode that I am so used too, then I would have felt comfortable, secure. As Rod Phillips wrote : “large portions of her books are undisguised reworkings of earlier writers fictions; often such passages are used verbatim with no clue as to where the bor-rowed material ends”. It could have been true treasure hunting! But I couldn’t do it. Her remixes of these texts and authors are so embodied that I can’t say that there is an intellectual game actually going on in her book. There is no distance. Genet is Janey’s friend. Hawtorn’s Scarlet Letter belongs to Acker’s novel. Erica Jong lives through the author’s writing. She remixes the references as if they were engraved in her body and she throws them at her readers just like the men treat Janey in her novel. I guess it’s a case in which we could tell that appropriation can totally lead, paradoxically, to an original artwork. I didn’t feel much the presence of the authors she appropriates, it was she and only she. Irreducible presence. But who is that “she” ? How could a collage could possibility create an irreducible and unique presence?

Although she describes the world through all those references and through a fictional character, it made me feel like she described the world directly. Reading Acker really was a physical challenge to me. Many times I had to stop reading because it was physically hurting me. I wish theory was just like that, but it’s not… Not yet!

Rédigé en anglais pour le séminaire Remix Culture CU

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