American feminist and writer Kathy Acker (1947 - 1997) at a gymnasium, circa 1984. (Photo by Steve Pyke/Getty Images)

Kathy Acker: Experimentation and Transgression

Instructor: Paige Sweet
The Barnard Center for Research on Women
3009 Broadway
New York, NY 10027

Spanning many forms—novels, plays, and essays—Kathy Acker’s work is hard to classify. Above all, Acker aims to challenge established literary conventions, and she does so by experimenting with methods of cut-up (inspired by William S. Burroughs), mash-up, sampling, and transposition. She “steals” characters and plotlines from writers like Charles Dickens, Georges Bataille, Daniel Hawthorne, and Emily Brontë. And she mines content from stories told by fellow strippers, popular romance books, and pornography. Her highly experimental style—which is, by turns, violent, vulgar, and offensive to many—has been described as postmodern, punk, plagiaristic, feminist, and a kind of memoire. How might we understand the relationship between her transgressive style and the politics of her work?

In this course we will read Kathy Acker’s novel, Blood and Guts in High School, alongside the essay “Dead Doll Humility” and excerpts from Pussy, King of the Pirates, Great Expectations, and Empire of the Senseless. We will explore a series of questions about what her style suggests about literary propriety and literary property. Because she frequently incorporates pirate themes, we will also explore how her pirate style relates to historical categories of authorship. In what ways does Acker use piracy as a theme in order to recast norms around property, sexuality, and literary value? What do her texts tell us about the politics of language, cultural appropriation, and the stuff that comprises literary material? What are the limits of literary style in terms of recasting social, and literary, norms?

Course Schedule

Wednesday, 6:30-9:30pm
January 30 — February 20, 2019
4 weeks

$315.00

Registration Open

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