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
This is an online course (Eastern Time)

For Kathy Acker, “the only reaction against an unbearable society is equally unbearable nonsense.” Spanning many forms—novels, plays, and essays—Kathy Acker’s work is hard to classify, but it consistently unsettles received ideas about identity, authorship, and propriety. Above all, Acker challenges established literary conventions by experimenting with methods of cut-up, mash-up, sampling, and transposition. Claiming never to have made up any of her stories, she rather “steals” characters and plot lines, taking from writers like Charles Dickens, Georges Bataille, and Emily Brontë. And she mines content from stories told by fellow strippers, popular romance books, and pornography. Her highly experimental style—by turns violent, vulgar, and, to many, offensive—has been described as postmodern, punk, plagiaristic, feminist, and a kind of memoire. How are we to understand the relationship between Acker’s transgressive style and her politics?

In this course, we will read Kathy Acker’s Empire of the Senseless, alongside select essays on Acker’s work. Considered one of her most accessible novels and her first foray into science fiction, Empire of the Senseless features Thivai (a pirate) and Abhor (part robot, part Black) as they encounter a cast of social outcasts in their search for a drug that enables the ability to love. Refusing any nostalgia for a golden age when things were supposedly good, Acker unsettles the stories we tell ourselves about ideal forms of sexuality, family, property, and civilization itself. What do her texts tell us about the politics of language, cultural appropriation, and what counts as literary? What are the possibilities and limits of her style in terms of recasting political oppression, criminality, and rebellion in an international context?

Course Schedule

Monday, 6:30-9:30pm
November 16 — December 07, 2020
4 weeks


Registration Open

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