KATHY

We’re having a little change for April, instead of the second Thursday of this month (12th April), we will instead be meeting on Thursday 18th April (7pm at Bokship as usual) to discuss an extract from Kathy Acker.

Acker (born April 18, 1947 – November 30, 1997) was an American experimental novelistpunk poetplaywrightessayist,postmodernist and sex-positive feminist writer. She was strongly influenced by the Black Mountain SchoolWilliam S. BurroughsDavid Antin,French critical theoryphilosophy, and pornography.

We wanted to read an extract from Pussy, King of the Piratesbut unfortunately, it’s proving a little harder to get hold of than first expected so we are going to read Acker’s 1992 essay “Against Ordinary Language: Language of the Body”, an interesting summary of which I have found here:

In “Against Ordinary Language: The Language of the Body,” bodybuilder and writer Kathy Acker tells about her thwarted desire to write about the world of bodybuilding, that “geography of no language,” a place where to describe one’s experience in words is seemingly impossible. To try to understand her difficulty articulating what she experiences when she goes to the gym, she turns to Elias Canetti and Ludwig Wittgenstein. It’s hard to imagine a piece of writing that successfully interweaves a description of “doing reps” with meditations on Canetti’s experience of language and Wittgenstein’s language games, but Acker does it–in one paragraph relating a surrealist dream of Canetti’s, in the next discussing sets and squats. What results is a web of associations about language, with fascinating insights (“In a gym, verbal language or language whose purpose is meaning occurs . . .only at the edge of its becoming lost”) and provocative questions (“Is the equation between destruction and growth also a formula for art?”). I really like that she doesn’t shy away, either, from talking about the cliché that “athletes are stupid,” going beyond this narrow-minded view and exploring what it means to be “inarticulate.” (A’Dora Phillips).

If and / or when I do get hold of the Pussy extract I will put it up here for us to read in conjunction with Acker’s essay.

In the meantime, pop into SPACE (open during the week and weekends between 12pm – 6pm) to hear an extract from Pussy read by the author herself. Exhibitions opens this Friday and runs until 2nd June 2013.

DOWNLOAD the handout here / and if you have time or are interested please DOWNLOAD this essay (12.2braunberger) Revolting Bodies: The Monster Beauty of Tattooed Women by Christine Braunberger for a further interesting perspective on the theme of the body.

See you all on the 18th!

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2 thoughts on “KATHY

  1. My random musings on the essay, as I can’t come:

    Acker paints the language of the body as antagonistic to the verbal world of meaning. Her aggression is disruptive. Disturbed, I cling on to the primacy of language, at risk of drowning. It is words that make us free, that allow us to reach out from our little mental space, and that define the shifting landscape of what can be thought, no?
    But I am soothed. To soothe me, Acker reaches for the metaphor of meditation, the centring of breath, which forces thought to recede. Thought must be forced out, we must treat it with aggression at first, because thought is involuntary; language comes so easily to us that it fills up our channels, we are jammed.
    Sometimes, transcendence purges us. I am in Friedrichshafen on the shore of the Bodensee. All day the light changes on the lake. The Alps appear out of mist; the water by the far shore glows green or white; slice-thin cloud shadows wander towards us; rain hides the mountains; at evening they suddenly blaze clear and pink in the falling sun. I can stand at my window and lose time, go blank, be an empty room. I am not ill and yet I feel convalescent. I feel space in my thoughts, like muscles loosing tired bones.
    But there is a special transcendence in the discipline of the body that I felt once for a while keenly when I was training in capoeira, when I was young and strong and made out of rubber, feeling neither cold nor fatigue. There is a busy silence in the skull that is discipline. There is a dialogue with the flesh that has no words.
    I am only confirming that I feel what Acker felt, or recognise at least, that rich world she describes. It is a sinister world because we are heartless masters of our bodies there. We exert a right that no one can rightly have over another. We are cruel dictators, and through our cruelty we achieve something a little more than the ordinarily human. And we enter a self-knowledge that is transcendent in its very materiality.
    For many people this must be a surprise substitute for religious experience. I feel the cynicism of western culture works to push transcendence out of reach, especially for groups of people who are excluded from cultural experiences. I do not think it is only vanity that motivates so many young men to go to the gym.
    Perhaps we all go in vanity, but keep going, become addicts, for transcendence rather than only endorphins. To give up on words that can entangle and oppress, that are bearers of untruth and inequalities, that place us in our old boxes, that make uncomfortable demands. In the body is a place to escape, to be outside the constraints of words.
    It is easier to control the body than to control words and their meanings.
    Descartes drew a line between body and mind that science must hold spurious, yet which largely endures as a defining meme in western culture, maintained by the language it has nested in. The mind is allied to divinity, the body to dirt. Acker calls this divide patriarchal. Patriarchy, we might say, treats women as unclean bodies serving the unclean bodies of men, who live the rest of their lives in the mind. So, what would the world look like if the Cartesian wall came down? Does Acker bridge the gap, or does she only problematize it by opposing the two realms? Does she only ask that the body receive its proper reverence?
    I am a word worker and I can’t speak for those whom words exclude. But I can hear and speak a little in the body’s speech too. In dancing, as in training, we enter self-knowledge, and dialogue with the body, framed in a new language. Can we add the dancer to the athlete? They are both disdained by western education, which enshrines the Cartesian gulf, which makes the brilliant dyslexic a worthless idiot because she cannot read. When we listen to one who is speaking through the body, we rehabilitate the body as a channel of communication as well as a source of transcendence.
    In The Hepworth gallery, I dance to the sculpture. It’s not just me; the current exhibition of contemporary sculpture will culminate in an outdoor ballet performance on Saturday 11th May. The sculptor Andy Goldsworthy also worked with a dance company to create a ballet. This is dance in ceremonial, high culture mode. It makes signs, it interprets, it opens a conversation with other cultural forms. Like sport, it crosses borders. I want to ask for the participatory and communicative vernacular of the language of the body not to be despised; respect for workers in the body, and respect for all bodies…

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