Sarah Ditum at Literary Review:
Kathy Acker is a difficult subject for a biography, largely because, as Chris Kraus notes at the outset of her book, she ‘lied all the time’. Every bit of Acker’s life tended to be fed back through the creative mill, becoming a part of either her experimental writings or her other great project, the invention of Kathy Acker: a pixie-cropped, tattooed, muscle-strapped icon of rebel literature whose confrontational autofiction broke ground, allowing other artists to make the mess of their lives into the medium of their work. Maggie Nelson, the Riot grrrl feminist punk movement and Kraus herself (whose novels cross the boundary between fiction and truth) all have their debts to Acker. But to understand Acker and her piratical, pornographic output, it helps to revisit the culture she belonged to: mid-20th-century America, and the artistic demimondes of New York and San Francisco especially.
Kraus supplies two anecdotes that, though they don’t involve Acker herself, serve to frame the times and attitudes she wrote against and out of. The first is an account of Chris Burden’s 1972 performance piece TV Hijack, which took place around the time Acker was first experimenting with DIY self-publication (producing works such as Politics and The Childlike Life of the Black Tarantula). Burden, Kraus writes, ‘appeared on Phyllis Lutjeans’s cable TV interview show and surprised her by holding a knife to her throat. Lutjeans refused to press charges. Later, she’d explain how his assault “taught her a lesson”: her desire to anchor a show was driven by her own “ego and pride”’. For Kraus, this episode is typical of ‘an era when people seemed eager for “lessons”’.