Kathy Acker: The Adult Life of Toulouse Lautrec,
by Henri Toulouse Lautrec (1975)]
The Adult Life of Toulouse Lautrec (1975)
- Kathy Acker: from The Adult Life of Toulouse Lautrec (1975)
- Kathy Acker: from Blood and Guts in High School (1978)
- Harold Robbins: from The Pirate (1974)
[Picador Books Blurb for Blood and Guts in High School, plus two (1984)]
History of the Ban:
IN ANY SOCIETY BASED ON CLASS, HUMILIATION IS A POLITICAL REALITY. HUMILIATION IS ONE METHOD BY WHICH POLITICAL POWER IS TRANSFORMED INTO SOCIAL OR PERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS. THE PERSONAL INTERIORIZATION OF THE PRACTICE OF HUMILIATION IS CALLED HUMILITY.
CAPITOL IS AN ARTIST WHO MAKES DOLLS. MAKES, DAMAGES, TRANSFORMS, SMASHES. ONE OF HER DOLLS IS A WRITER DOLL. THE WRITER DOLL ISN'T VERY LARGE AND IS ALL HAIR, HORSE MANE HAIR, RAT FUR, DIRTY HUMAN HAIR, PUSSY.
ONE NIGHT CAPITOL GAVE THE FOLLOWING SCENARIO TO HER WRITER DOLL:
As a child in sixth grade in a North American school, won first prize in a poetry contest.
In late teens and early twenties, entered New York City poetry world. Prominent Black Mountain poets, mainly male, taught or attempted to teach her that a writer becomes a writer when and only when he finds his own voice.
CAPITOL DIDN'T MAKE ANY AVANT-GARDE POET DOLLS.
Since wanted to be a writer, tried hard to find her own voice. Couldn't. But still loved to write. Loved to play with language. Language was material like clay or paint. Loved to play with verbal material, build up slums and mansions, demolish banks and half-rotten buildings, even buildings which she herself had constructed, into never-before-seen, even unseeable jewels.
To her, every word wasn't only material in itself, but also sent out like beacons, other words. Blue sent out heaven and The Virgin. Material is rich. I didn't create language, writer thought. Later she would think about ownership and copyright. I'm constantly being given language. Since this language- world is rich and always changing, flowing, when I write, I enter a world which has complex relations and is, perhaps, illimitable. This world both represents and is human history, public memories and private memories turned public, the records and actualizations of human intentions. This world is more than life and death, for here life and death conjoin. I can't make language, but in this world, I can play and be played.
So where is 'my voice'?
Wanted to be a writer.
Since couldn't find 'her voice', decided she'd first have to learn what a Black Mountain poet meant by 'his voice'.
What did he do when he wrote? A writer who had found his own voice presented a viewpoint. Created meaning. The writer took a certain amount of language, verbal material, forced that language to stop radiating in multiple, even unnumerable directions, to radiate in only one direction so there could be his meaning.
The writer's voice wasn't exactly this meaning. The writer's voice was a process, how he had forced the language to obey him, his will. The writer's voice is the voice of the writer-as-God.
Writer thought, Don't want to be God; have never wanted to be God. All these male poets want to be the top poet, as if, since they can't be a dictator in the political realm, can be dictator of this world.
Want to play. Be left alone to play. Want to be a sailor who journeys at every edge and even into the unknown. See strange sights, see. If I can't keep on seeing wonders, I'm in prison. Claustrophobia's sister to my worst nightmare: lobotomy, the total loss of perceptual power, of seeing new. If had to force language to be uni-directional, I'd be helping my own prison to be constructed.
There are enough prisons outside, outside language.
Decided, no. Decided that to find her own voice would be negotiating against her joy. That's what the culture seemed to be trying to tell her to do.
Wanted only to write. Was writing. Would keep on writing without finding 'her own voice'. To hell with the Black Mountain poets even though they had taught her a lot.
Decided that since what she wanted to do was just to write, not to find her own voice, could and would write by using anyone's voice, anyone's text, whatever materials she wanted to use.
Had a dream while waking that was running with animals. Wild horses, leopards, red fox, kangaroos, mountain lions, wild dogs. Running over rolling hills. Was able to keep up with the animals and they accepted her.
Wildness was writing and writing was wildness.
Decision not to find this own voice but to use and be other, multiple, even innumerable, voices led to two other decisions.
There were two kinds of writing in her culture: good literature and schlock. Novels which won literary prizes were good literature; science fiction and horror novels, pornography were schlock. Good literature concerned important issues, had a high moral content, and, most important, was written according to well- established rules of taste, elegance, and conservatism. Schlock's content was sex horror violence and other aspects of human existence abhorrent to all but the lowest of the low, the socially and morally unacceptable. This trash was made as quickly as possible, either with no regard for the regulations of politeness or else with regard to the crudest, most vulgar techniques possible. Well-educated, intelligent, and concerned people read good literature. Perhaps because the masses were gaining political therefore economic and social control, not only of literary production, good literature was read by an elite diminishing in size and cultural strength.
Decided to use or to write both good literature and schlock. To mix them up in terms of content and formally, offended everyone.
Writing in which all kinds of writing mingled seemed, not immoral, but amoral, even to the masses. Played in every playground she found; no one can do that in a class or hierarchical society.
(In literature classes in university, had learned that anyone can say or write anything about anything if he or she does so cleverly enough. That cleverness, one of the formal rules of good literature, can be a method of social and political manipulation. Decided to use language stupidly.) In order to use and be other voices as stupidly as possible, decided to copy down simply other texts.
Copy them down while, maybe, mashing them up because wasn't going to stop playing in any playground. Because loved wildness.
Having fun with texts is having fun with everything and everyone. Since didn't have one point of view or centralized perspective, was free to find out how texts she used and was worked. In their contexts which were (parts of) culture.
Liked best of all mushing up texts. Began constructing her first story by placing mashed-up texts by and about Henry Kissinger next to True Romance texts. What was the true romance of America? Changed these True Romance texts only by heightening the sexual crudity of their style. Into this mush, placed four pages out of Harold Robbins', one of her heroes', newest hottest bestsellers. Had first made Jacqueline Onassis the star of Robbins' text.
Twenty years later, a feminist publishing house republished the last third of the novel in which this mash occurred.
CAPITOL MADE A FEMINIST PUBLISHER DOLL EVEN THOUGH, BECAUSE SHE WASN'T STUPID, SHE KNEW THAT THE FEMINIST PUBLISHING HOUSE WAS ACTUALLY A LOT OF DOLLS. THE FEMINIST PUBLISHER DOLL WAS A BEAUTIFUL WOMAN IN A ST. LAURENT DRESS. CAPITOL, PERHAPS OUT OF PERVERSITY, REFRAINED FROM USING HER USUAL CHEWED UP CHEWING GUM, HALF-DRIED FLECKS OF NAIL POLISH, AND BITS OF HER OWN BODY THAT HAD SOMEHOW FALLEN AWAY.
Republished the text containing the Harold Robbins' mush next to a text she had written only seventeen years ago. In this second text, the only one had ever written without glopping up hacking into and rewriting other texts (appropriating), had tried to destroy literature or what she as a writer was supposed to write by making characters and a story that were so stupid as to be almost non-existent. Ostensibly, the second text was a porn book. The pornography was almost as stupid as the story. The female character had her own name.
Thought just after had finished writing this, here is a conventional novel. Perhaps, here is 'my voice'. Now I'll never again have to make up a bourgeois novel.
The feminist publisher informed her that this second text was her most important because here she had written a treatise on female sexuality.
Since didn't believe in arguing with people, wrote an introduction to both books in which stated that her only interest in writing was in copying down other people's texts. Didn't say liked messing them up because was trying to be polite. Like the English. Did say had no interest in sexuality or in any other content.
CAPITOL MADE A DOLL WHO WAS A JOURNALIST. CAPITOL LOVED MAKING DOLLS WHO WERE JOURNALISTS. SOMETIMES SHE MADE THEM OUT OF THE NEWSPAPERS FOUND IN TRASHCANS ON THE STREETS. SHE KNEW THAT LOTS OF CATS INHABITED TRASH CANS. THE PAPERS SAID RATS CARRY DISEASES. SHE MADE THIS JOURNALIST OUT OF THE FINGERNAILS SHE OBTAINED BY HANGING AROUND THE TRASHCANS IN THE BACK LOTS OF LONDON HOSPITALS. HAD PENETRATED THESE BACK LOTS WITH THE HOPE OF MEETING MEAN OLDER MEN BIKERS. FOUND LOTS OF OTHER THINGS THERE. SINCE, TO MAKE THE JOURNALIST, SHE MOLDED THE FINGERNAILS TOGETHER WITH SUPER GLUE AND, BEING A SLOB, LOTS OF OTHER THINGS STUCK TO THIS SUPER GLUE, THE JOURNALIST DIDN'T LOOK ANYTHING LIKE A HUMAN BEING.
A journalist who worked on a trade publishing magazine, so the story went, no one could remember whose story, was informed by another woman in her office that there was a resemblance between a section of the writer's book and Harold Robbins' work. Most of the literati of the country in which the writer was currently living were upper-middle class and detested the writer and her writing.
CAPITOL THOUGHT ABOUT MAKING A DOLL OF THIS COUNTRY, BUT DECIDED NOT TO.
Journalist decided she had found a scoop. Phoned up the feminist publisher to enquire about plagiarism; perhaps feminist publisher said something wrong because then phoned up Harold Robbins' publisher.
"Surely all art is the result of one's having been in danger, of having gone through an experience all the way to the end, where no one can go any further. The further one goes, the more private, the more personal, the more singular an experience becomes, and the thing one is making is finally, the necessary, irrepressible, and, as nearly as possible, definitive utterance of this singularity ... Therein lies the enormous aid the work of art brings to the life of the one who must make it ...
"So we are most definitely called upon to test and try ourselves against the utmost, but probably we are also bound to keep silence regarding this utmost, to beware of sharing it, of parting with it in communication so long as we have not entered the work of art: for the utmost represents nothing other than that singularity in us which no one would or even should understand, and which must enter into the work as such . . . " Rilke to Cezanne.
CAPITOL MADE A PUBLISHER LOOK LIKE SAM PECKINPAH. THOUGH SHE HAD NO IDEA WHAT SAM PECKINPAH LOOKED LIKE. HAD LOOKED LIKE? SHE TOOK A HOWDY DOODY DOLL AND AN ALFRED E. NEUMAN DOLL AND MASHED THEM TOGETHER, THEN MADE THIS CONGLOMERATE INTO AN AMERICAN OFFICER IN THE MEXICAN-AMERICAN WAR. ACTUALLY SEWED, SHE HATED SEWING, OR WHEN SHE BECAME TIRED OF SEWING, GLUED TOGETHER WITH HER OWN TWO HANDS, JUST AS THE EARLY AMERICAN PATRIOT WIVES USED TO DO FOR THEIR PATRIOT HUSBANDS, A FROGGED AND BRAIDED CAVALRY JACKET, STAINED WITH THE BLOOD FROM SOME FORMER OWNERS. THEN FASHIONED A STOVEPIPE HAT OUT OF ONE SHE HAD STOLEN FROM A BUM IN AN ECSTASY OF ART. THE HAT WAS A BIT BIG. FOR THE PUBLISHER. INSIDE A GOLD HEART, THERE SHOULD BE A PICTURE OF A WOMAN. SINCE CAPITOL DIDN'T HAVE A PICTURE OF A WOMAN, SHE PUT IN ONE OF HER MOTHER. SINCE SAM PECKINPAH OR HER PUBLISHER HAD SEEN TRAGEDY, AN ARROW HANGING OUT OF THE WHITE BREAST OF A SOLDIER NO OLDER THAN A CHILD, HORSES GONE MAD WALLEYED MOUTHS FROTHING AMID DUST THICKER THAN THE SMOKE OF GUNS. SHE MADE HIS FACE FULL OF FOLDS, AN EYEPATCH OVER ONE EYE.
Harold Robbins' publisher phoned up the man who ran the company who owned the feminist publishing company. From now on, known as 'The Boss'. The Boss told Harold Robbins' publisher that they have a plagiarist in their midst.
CAPITOL NO LONGER WANTED TO MAKE DOLLS. IN THE UNITED STATES, UPON SEEING THE WORK OF THE PHOTOGRAPHER ROBERT MAPPLETHORPE, SENATOR JESSE HELMS PROPOSED AN AMENDMENT TO THE FISCAL YEAR 1990 INTERIOR AND RELATED AGENCIES BILL FOR THE PURPOSE OF PROHIBITING "THE USE OF APPROPRIATED FUNDS FOR THE DISSEMINATION, PROMOTION, OR PRODUCTION OF OBSCENE OR INDECENT MATERIALS OR MATERIALS DENIGRATING A PARTICULAR RELIGION." THREE SPECIFIC CATEGORIES OF UNACCEPTABLE MATERIAL FOLLOWED: "(1) OBSCENE OR INDECENT MATERIALS, INCLUDING BUT NOT LIMITED TO DEPICTIONS OF SADOMASOCHISM [ALWAYS GET THAT ONE IN FIRST], HOMO-EROTICISM, THE EXPLOITATION OF CHILDREN, OR INDIVIDUALS ENGAGED IN SEX ACTS; OR (2) MATERIAL WHICH DENIGRATES THE OBJECTS OR BELIEFS OF THE ADHERENTS OF A PARTICULAR RELIGION OR NON-RELIGION; OR (3) MATERIAL WHICH DENIGRATES, DEBASES, OR REVILES A PERSON, GROUP, OR CLASS OF CITIZENS ON THE BASIS OF RACE, CREED, SEX, HANDICAP, AGE, OR NATIONAL ORIGIN." IN HONOR OF JESSE HELMS, CAPITOL MADE, AS PILLOWS, A CROSS AND A VAGINA. SO THE POOR COULD HAVE SOMEWHERE TO SLEEP. SINCE SHE NO LONGER HAD TO MAKE DOLLS OR ART, BECAUSE ART IS DEAD IN THIS CULTURE, SHE SLOPPED THE PILLOWS TOGETHER WITH DEAD FLIES, WHITE FLOUR MOISTENED BY THE BLOOD SHE DREW OUT OF HER SMALLEST FINGER WITH A PIN, AND OTHER TYPES OF GARBAGE.
Feminist publisher then informed writer that the Boss and Harold Robbins' publisher had decided, due to her plagiarism, to withdraw the book from publication and to have her sign an apology to Harold Robbins which they had written. This apology would then be published in two major publishing magazines.
Ordinarily polite, told feminist publisher they could do what they wanted with their edition of her books but she wasn't going to apologize to anyone for anything, much less for twenty years of work.
Didn't have to think to herself because every square inch of her knew. For freedom. Writing must be for and must be freedom.
Feminist publisher replied that she knew writer was actually a nice sweet girl.
Asked if should tell her agent or try talking directly to Harold Robbins.
Feminist publisher replied she'd take care of everything. Writer shouldn't contact Harold Robbins because that would make everything worse.
Would, the feminist publisher asked, the writer please compose a statement for the Boss why the writer used other texts when she wrote so that the Boss wouldn't believe that she was a plagiarist.
CAPITOL MADE A DOLL WHO LOOKED EXACTLY LIKE HERSELF. IF YOU PRESSED A BUTTON ON ONE OF THE DOLL'S CUNT LIPS THE DOLL SAID, "I AM A GOOD GIRL AND DO EXACTLY AS I AM TOLD TO DO."
Wrote:Nobody save buzzards. Lots of buzzards here. In the distance, lay flies and piles of shit. Herds of animals move against the skyline like black caravans in an unknown east. Sheeps and goats. Another place, a horse is lapping the water of a pool. Lavendar and grey trees behind this black water are leafless and spineless. As the day ends, the sun in the east flushes out pale lavendars and pinks, then turns blood red as it turns on itself, becoming a more definitive shape, the more definitive, the bloodier. Until it sits, totally unaware of the rest of the universe, waiting at the edge of a sky that doesn't yet know what colors it wants to be, a hawk waiting for the inevitable onset of human slaughter. The light is fleeing.
Instead, sent a letter to feminist publisher in which said that she composed her texts out of 'real' conversations, anything written down, other texts, somewhat in the ways the Cubists had worked. (Not quite true. But thought this statement understandable.) Cited, as example, her use of 'True Confessions' stories. Such stories whose content seemed purely and narrowly sexual, composed simply for purposes of sexual titillation and economic profit, if deconstructed, viewed in terms of context and genre, became signs of political and social realities. So if the writer or critic (deconstructionist) didn't work with the actual language of these texts, the writer or critic wouldn't be able to uncover the political and social realities involved. For instance, both genre and the habitual nature of perception hide the violence of the content of many newspaper stories.
To uncover this violence is to run the risk of being accused of loving violence or all kinds of pornography. (As if the writer gives a damn about what anyone considers risks.)
Wrote, living art rather than dead art has some connection with passion. Deconstructions of newspaper stories become the living art in a culture that demands that any artistic representation of life be non-violent and non-sexual, misrepresent.
To copy down, to appropriate, to deconstruct other texts is to break down those perceptual habits the culture doesn't want to be broken.
Deconstruction demands not so much plagiarism as breaking into the copyright law.
In the Harold Robbins' text which had used, a rich white woman walks into a disco, picks up a black boy, has sex with him. In the Robbins' text, this scene is soft-core porn, has as its purpose mild sexual titillation and pleasure.
[When Robbins' book had been published years ago, the writer's mother had said that Robbins had used Jacqueline Onassis as the model for the rich white woman.] Wrote, had made apparent that bit of politics while amplifying the pulp quality of the style in order to see what would happen when the underlying presuppositions or meanings of Robbins' writing became clear. Robbins as emblematic of a certain part of American culture. What happened was that the sterility of that part of American culture revealed itself. The real pornography. Cliches, especially sexual cliches, are always signs of power or political relationships.
BECAUSE SHE HAD JUST GOTTEN HER PERIOD, CAPITOL MADE A HUGE RED SATIN PILLOW CROSS THEN SMEARED HER BLOOD ALL OVER IT.
Her editor at the feminist publisher said that the Boss had found her explanation "literary." Later would be informed that this was a legal, not a literary, matter.
"HERE IT ALL STINKS," CAPITOL THOUGHT. "ART IS MAKING ACCORDING TO THE IMAGINATION. BUT HERE, BUYING AND SELLING ARE THE RULES; THE RULES OF COMMODITY HAVE DESTROYED THE IMAGINATION. HERE, THE ONLY ART ALLOWED IS MADE BY POST-CAPITALIST RULES; ART ISN'T MADE ACCORDING TO RULES." ANGER MAKES YOU WANT TO SUICIDE.
Journalist who broke the 'Harold Robbins story' had been phoning and leaving messages on writer's answering machine for days. Had stopped answering her phone. By chance picked it up; journalist asked her if anything to say.
"You mean about Harold Robbins?"
"I've just given my publisher a statement. Perhaps you could read that."
"Do you have anything to add to it?" As if she was a criminal.
A few days later writer's agent over the phone informed writer what was happening was simply horrible.
CAPITOL DIDN'T WANT TO MAKE ANY DOLLS.
How could the writer be plagiarizing Harold Robbins?
Writer didn't know.
Agent told writer if writer had phoned her immediately, agent could have straightened out everything because she was good friends with Harold Robbins' publisher. But now it was too late.
Writer asked agent if she could do anything.
Agent answered that she'd phone Harold Robbins' publisher and that the worst that could happen is that she'd have to pay a nominal quotation rights fee.
So a few days later was surprised when feminist publisher informed her that if she didn't sign the apology to Harold Robbins which they had written for her, feminist publishing company would go down a drain because Harold Robins or harold Robbins' publisher would slap a half-a-million [dollar? pound?] lawsuit on the feminist publishing house.
Decided she had to take notice of this stupid affair, though her whole life wanted to notice only writing and sex.
"WHAT IS IT" CAPITOL WROTE, "TO BE AN ARTIST? WHERE IS THE VALUE THAT WILL KEEP THIS LIFE IN HELL GOING?"
For one of the first times in her life, was deeply scared. Was usually as wild as they come. Doing anything if it felt good. So when succumbed to fear, succumbed to reasonless, almost bottomless fear.
Panicked only because she might be forced to apologize, not to Harold Robbins, that didn't matter, but to anyone for her writing, for what seemed to be her life. Book had already been withdrawn from print. Wasn't that enough? Panicked, phoned her agent without waiting for her agent to phone her.
Agent asked writer if she knew how she stood legally.
Writer replied that as far as knew Harold Robbins had made no written charge. Feminist publisher sometime in beginning had told her they had spoken to a solicitor who had said neither she nor they "had a leg to stand on." Since didn't know with what she was being charged, she didn't know what that meant.
Agent replied, "Perhaps we should talk to a solicitor. Do you know a solicitor?"
Knew the name of a tax solicitor.
Since had no money, asked her American publisher what to do, if he knew a lawyer.
WOULD MAKE NO MORE DOLLS.
American publisher informed her couldn't ask anyone's advice until she knew the charges against her, saw them in writing.
Asked the feminist publisher to send the charges against her and whatever else was in writing to her.
Received two copies of the 'Harold Robbins' text she had written twenty years ago, one copy of the apology she was supposed to sign, and a letter from Harold Robbins' publisher to the head of the feminist publishing company. Letter said they were not seeking damages beyond withdrawal of the book from publication [which had already taken place] and the apology.
Didn't know of what she was guilty.
Later would receive a copy of the letter sent to her feminist publisher from the solicitor whom the feminist publisher and then her agent had consulted. Letter stated: According to the various documents and texts which the feminist publisher had supplied, the writer should apologize to Mr. Harold Robbins. First, because in her text she has used a substantial number of Mr. Robbins' words. Second, because she did not use any texts other than Mr. Robbins' so there could be no literary theory or praxis responsible for her plagiarism. Third, because the contract between the writer and the feminist publisher states that the writer had not infringed upon any existing copyright.
When the writer wrote, not wrote back, to the solicitor that most of the novel in question had been appropriated from other texts, that most of these texts had been in the public domain, that the writers of texts not in the public domain were either writers of 'True Confessions' stories (anonymous) or writers who knew she had reworked their texts and felt honored, except for Mr. Robbins, that she had never misrepresented nor hidden her usages of other texts, her methods of composition, that there was already a body of literary criticism on her and others' methods of appropriation, and furthermore [this was to become the major point of contention], that she would not sign the apology because she could not since there was no assurance that all possible litigation and harassment would end with the signature of guilt, guilt which anyway she didn't feel: the solicitor did not reply.
Not knowing of what she was guilty, feeling isolated, and pressured to finish her new novel, writer became paranoid. Would do anything to stop the pressure from the feminist publisher and simultaneously would never apologize for her work.
Considered her American publisher her father. Told her that the 'Harold Robbins affair' was a joke, she should take the phone off the hook, go to Paris for a few days.
Finish your book. That's what's important.
WOULD MAKE NO MORE DOLLS.
Paris is a beautiful city.
In Paris decided that it's stupid to live in fear. Didn't yet know what to do about isolation. All that matters is work and work must be created in and can't be created in isolation. Remembered a conversation she had had with her feminist publisher. Still trying to explain, writer said, in order to deconstruct, the deconstructionist needs to use the actual other texts. Editor had said she understood. For instance, she was sure, Peter Carey in Oscar and Lucinda had used other people's writings in his dialogue, but he would never admit it. This writer did what every other writer did, but she is the only one who admits it. "It's not a matter of not being able to write," the writer replied. It's a matter of a certain theory which is also a literary theory. Theory and belief." Then shut up because knew that when you have to explain and explain, nothing is understood. Language is dead.
SINCE THERE WERE NO MORE DOLLS, CAPITOL STARTED WRITING LANGUAGE.
Decided that it's stupid living in fear of being forced to be guilty without knowing why you're guilty and, more important, it's stupid caring about what has nothing to do with art. It doesn't really matter whether or not you sign the fucking apology.
Over the phone asked the American publisher whether or not it mattered to her past work whether or not signed the apology.
Answered that the sole matter was her work.
Wanted to ensure that there was no more sloppiness in her work or life, that from now on all her actions served only her writing. Upon returning to England, consulted a friend who consulted a solicitor who was his friend about her case. This solicitor advised that since she wasn't guilty of plagiarism and since the law was unclear, grey, about whether or not she had breached Harold Robbins' copyright, it could be a legal precedent, he couldn't advise whether or not she should sign the apology. But must not sign unless, upon signing, received full and final settlement.
Informed her agent that would sign if and only if received full and final settlement upon signing.
Over the phone, feminist publisher asked her who had told her about full and final settlement.
A literary solicitor.
Could they, the feminist publishing house, have his name and his statement in writing?
"This is my decision," writer said. "That's all you need to know."
WROTE DOWN "PRAY FOR US THE DEAD," THE FIRST LINE IN THE FIRST POEM BY CHARLES OLSON SHE HAD EVER READ WHEN SHE WAS A TEENAGER. ALL THE DOLLS WERE DEAD. DEAD HAIR. WHEN SHE LOOKED UP THIS POEM, ITS FIRST LINE WAS, "WHAT DOES NOT CHANGE/ IS THE WILL TO CHANGE."
WENT TO A NEARBY CEMETERY AND WITH STICK DOWN IN SAND WROTE THE WORDS "PRAY FOR US THE DEAD." THOUGHT, WHO IS DEAD? THE DEAD TREES? WHO IS DEAD? WE LIVE IN SERVICE OF THE SPIRIT. MADE MASS WITH TREES DEAD AND DIRT AND UNDERNEATH HUMANS AS DEAD OR LIVING AS ANY STONE OR WOOD.
I WON'T BURY MY DEAD DOLLS, THOUGHT. I'LL STEP ON THEM AND MASH THEM UP.
For two weeks didn't hear from either her agent or feminist publisher. Could return to finishing her novel.
Thought that threats had died.
In two weeks received a letter from her agent which read something like:
On your express instructions that your publisher communicate to you through me, your publisher has informed me that they have communicated to Harold Robbins your decision that you will sign the apology which his publisher drew up only if you have his assurance that there will be no further harassment or litigation. Because you have requested such assurance, predictably, Harold Robbins is now requiring damages to be paid.
Your publisher now intends to sign and publish the apology to Harold Robbins as soon as possible whether or not you sign it.
In view of what I have discovered about the nature of your various telephone communications to me, please contact me only in writing from now on.
Understood that she had lost. Lost more than a struggle about the appropriation of four pages, about the definition of appropriation. Lost her belief that there can be art in this culture. Lost spirit. All humans have to die, but they don't have to fail. Fail in all that matters.
It turned out that the whole affair was nothing.
CAPITOL REALIZED THAT SHE HAD FORGOTTEN TO BURY THE WRITER DOLL. SINCE THE SMELL OF DEATH STUNK, RETURNED TO THE CEMETERY TO BURY HER. SHE KICKED OVER A ROCK AND THREW THE DOLL INTO THE HOLE WHICH THE ROCK HAD MADE. CHANTED, "YOU'RE NOT SELLING ENOUGH BOOKS IN CALIFORNIA. YOU'D BETTER GO THERE IMMEDIATELY. TRY TO GET INTO READING IN ANY BENEFIT YOU CAN SO FIVE MORE BOOKS WILL BE SOLD. YOU HAVE BAGS UNDER YOUR EYES."
CAPITOL THOUGHT, DEAD DOLL.
SINCE CAPITOL WAS A ROMANTIC, SHE BELIEVED DEATH IS PREFERABLE TO A DEAD LIFE, A LIFE NOT LIVED ACCORDING TO THE DICTATES OF THE SPIRIT.
SINCE SHE WAS THE ONE WHO HAD POWER IN THE DOLL-HUMAN RELATIONSHIP, HER DOLLS WERE ROMANTICS TOO.
Toward the end of paranoia, had told her story to a friend who was secretary to a famous writer.
Informed her that famous writer's first lawyer used to work with Harold Robbins' present lawyer. First lawyer was friends with her American publisher.
Her American publisher asked the lawyer who was his friend to speak privately to Harold Robbins' lawyer.
Later the lawyer told the American publisher that Harold Robbins' lawyer advised to let the matter die quietly. This lawyer himself advised that under no circumstances should the writer sign anything.
It turned out that the whole affair was nothing.
Despite these lawyer's advice, Harold Robbins' publisher and the feminist publisher kept pressing the writer to sign the apology and eventually, as everything becomes nothing, she had to.
Knew that none of the above has anything to do with what matters, writing. Except for the failure of the spirit.
THEY'RE ALL DEAD, CAPITOL THOUGHT. THEIR DOLLS' FLESH IS NOW BECOMING PART OF THE DIRT.
CAPITOL THOUGHT, IS MATTER MOVING THROUGH FORMS DEAD OR ALIVE?
CAPITOL THOUGHT, THEY CAN'T KILL THE SPIRIT.- Kathy Acker, HUMILITY, from The Seven Cardinal Virtues, ed. Alison Fell (London: Serpent's Tail, 1990): 113-31.
Style (or Tone of Voice):
"I still don't have a clear idea of what my voice is ... I found my voice was a reaction to all that voice stuff."
I might be writing what people expect me to write, writing from that place where I might be ruled by economic considerations. To overcome that, I started working with my dreams, because I'm not so censored when I use dream material."
"The literary culture, if you examine it, the high literary culture is that which preserves the government and you know it's really the talk for those who have."
"Well, I think writing is basically about time and rhythm. Like with jazz. You have your basic melody and then you just riff off of it. And the riffs are about timing."
[Harold Robbins: The Pirate (1974)]
We'll begin with the book report on The Adult Life of Toulouse Lautrec, then move on to do the class exercise in pairs or small groups.
Spot the Piracy
Who's the pirate here? List the types of changes made to Robbins' text by Kathy Acker (tense, person, vocabulary), and try and come up with reasons for her choices.
- [material added by Kathy Acker]
- original material by Harold Robbins
- material used by both Acker and Robbins
"1973: The End of Summer"
Jordana opened her eyes the moment the heavy roar of the engines died down to idling speed. She glanced at her watch. It was forty minutes since she had left Cannes. By road, with all the traffic, it could have taken an hour and a half. This was not only faster but the sea had been smooth and she had slept all the way.[“The true story of a rich woman:
I WANT TO BE RAPED EVERY NIGHT!”
I was walking along the street. I wasn't doing anything. I was looking for some action.]
She sat up, reaching for her bikini top and shirt. She looked down at herself as she fastened the brassiere. Her breasts were as tanned as the rest of her body, a golden nut brown, and her nipples were a purple plum color instead of their normal red rose. She was pleased with herself. Her breasts were still firm. She hadn't yet begun to sag like so many women her age.
[It was night, late at night, Times Square. The blue yellow green red white and violet neon lights were still blinking. They wouldn't stop blinking for another two hours. And it would still be dark. It's always dark on Times Square: only rats live there, rats and some of those creepy insects that only come out at night.
My name is Jacqueline Onassis.]
Instinctively she glanced over her shoulder to see if the two sailors at the helm of the speedboat had been looking at her. Their eyes were studiously turned away but she knew that they had been watching in the rear-view mirror mounted on the windscreen in front of them. She smiled to herself. To tease them, she cupped her breasts with her hands suggestively so that her nipples hardened. Then she fastened the bra.
A paddle boat came by with two topless girls. They looked at the seventy-thousand-dollar San Marco with undisguised hope and curiosity. Again she smiled to herself as the look of disappointment crossed their faces when they saw that she was the only passenger. They were so obvious. The pedalo turned away slowly.
[I kept walking down the slightly wet shining street. The neon lights were blinking at me, winking, inviting hot desires I had never known existed. In one dark alleyway, seven naked women are waiting to slowly peel off my clothes. One has her tongue under my left arm. One has her hand buried in the soft flesh of my thigh. Hot. There's a woman waiting for me who's madly in love with me. In fact she can't live without me. Every waking minute of the day she sees my face, my face twice its normal size hovering in front of her eyes, my hands tangled in, pressing, messing her wet cunt hairs. She dreams that I'm wet: my thighs are pillars. Joined at the top. Water streaks down their insides. I'm so wet and anxious that sweat's pouring out of me. "Come get me," I whisper to her. "Come get me and handle me."]
"Allo!' The call came from the other side of the boat.
She turned. Jacques had come out in a small dinghy with an outboard motor. His blond hair had completely whitened in the summer sun, making his tan even darker by contrast. She waved without speaking.
'I've come to take you ashore: he shouted. 'I know how you hate to get your feet wet.'
[The street was still wet and shiny. I felt a hand lightly touch my shoulder.
I quickly turned around.]
'I'll be right with you,' she called. She turned to the sailors. 'Wait out here,' she told them in French. 'I'll call you when I'm ready to 1eave.'
'Oui, Madame,' the sailor at the helm replied. The other sailor started back to help her over the side. She gave him the large beach bag she always took with her. Inside were her shoes, a change of wardrobe for the evening, the walkie-talkie for communication with the speedboat, as well as cosmetics, cigarettes, money and credit cards.
The sailor reached over the side and pulled the dinghy close to the speedboat. He dropped the bag into Jacques' hands, then held Jordana's arm as she stepped over. He cast the dinghy free as soon as she sat down.
She sat facing the rear of the dinghy. Jacques sat at the tiller of the outboard motor. 'Sorry to be late,' she said. 'That's all right,' he smiled. 'You sleep well?' 'Very well. And you?'
He made a moue. 'Not too well. I was too – how you say? – frustrated.'
She looked at him. She couldn't quite figure him out. Mara had said he was a gigolo but the several times she had given him money he had returned it with a hurt look. This was not business, he had said. He was in love with her. But it still didn't make sense. He bad taken an expensive apartment in the Miramar, right on the Croisette in Cannes, and a brand-new Citroen 8M and never seemed short of money. He never let her pick up a check as so many others did, gigolo or no. Several times she bad seen him eyeing some boys but he had never made any overt moves while she was around. At one point, she was fairly sure that he was bi and that perhaps his real lover was a man who had sent him down to the Côte d'Azur for the summer, but that didn't disturb her. She had long ago come to the conclusion that bisexual men made the best lovers.
'With all the talent available in that discotheque!” she laughed. 'I wouldn’t have thought you would have any problems.'
'I didn't,' he said to himself, thinking of his night with Gerard.
He felt himself growing hard as he thought of the black towering over him, and peeling the foreskin back on his giant black shaft to expose the reddish purple swollen head. He remembered going down on his back like a woman and raising his legs, and then the exquisite agony of the big penis forcing its way roughly into his anus. He had whimpered like a woman and then yelled as his orgasm overtook him and his semen squirted up on their bellies that were pressed tightly together.
"Look," he [= a young dark-haired man] said aloud [= to me], releasing his erect penis from his bikini [= cock from his pants]. "See what you do to me? The [= Every] moment I see you. [Three nights I've been following you.] Three times last night I had to relieve myself."
She [= I] laughed. 'Didn't anyone ever tell you that was bad for you? You could stunt your growth doing it so much.'
He didn't laugh. 'When are you going to spend a whole night with me? Just one time so that we could make love without my feeling that you always have one eye on the clock, so that we can fully take our pleasures of each other.'
She [= I] laughed again. 'You're too greedy. You forget that I am [= I’m] a married woman with responsibilities. I must be home every night so that I see my children when I wake up in the morning.'
'What would be so terrible if you did not?' He pouted.
'Then I would [= I’d] be remiss in the one duty that my husband demands of me,' she said. 'And that I would not do.'
'Your husband does not care. Otherwise he would have come to see you and the children at least once during these past three months,' he said.
Her [= My] voice went cold. '[How do you know that?] What my husband does or does not do is none of your business.'
He sensed instantly he had gone too far [= said too much]. 'But I love you. I am going crazy for wanting you.'
She [= I] nodded slowly, relaxing [=. Relaxing]. 'Then keep things in their proper perspective,' she [= I] said. 'And if you're going to keep playing with your cock, you'd better turn the boat back out to sea before we crash on the beach [= get to the nearest bar before a cop arrests you].'
'If I do, will you suck me?'
'No; she said sharply. 'I'm more in the mood for a cold glass of white wine.'
She [= I] was high. Papagayo [= The private section of the Metropole] was packed. The strobe lights were like a stop-motion camera on her [= my] eyes, the [=. The] heavy pounding of the rock group tortured the [= my] ears. She [= I] took another sip of the white wine and looked down the table [= at the crowd].
There were fourteen people, all shouting at one another to be heard over the din in the discotheque.
Jacques was talking to the English woman on his right. She was an actress who had just finished a picture with Peter Sellers, and had been with a group of people who had come down from Paris for the weekend. Jordana had begun collecting them on the beach that afternoon. She'd completed the group at L'Escale, where they'd had cocktails and dinner. About midnight they had gone to the discotheque.She had noticed him earlier that day on the beach; later at cocktail time he had been at the bar in L'Escale; now he was here. She had seen him sitting at a table not far from her own.
The reason for gathering the people was that she had been [= I was] annoyed with Jacques [= the black-haired man]. He seemed to take too much for granted. In some ways he was like a woman, only in his case he seemed to think that the world revolved around his cock. She [= I] was beginning to be bored with him, but apart from an occasional visiting male there was nothing really dependable around [= but I didn't see any other possibilities]. It was the boredom that had led her [= led me] to smoke a joint. Usually she never smoked [= I never smoke] in public. But when the English woman had offered her [= Englishwoman offered me] a toke in the ladies' room, she had [= I] stayed until they finished the cigarettes between them.
After that, she [= I] didn't mind the evening at all. It seemed that she [= I] had never laughed so much in her [= my] life. Everyone was excruciatingly bright and witty. Now she [= I] wanted to dance [,] but everyone was too busy talking.
She [= I] got out of her [= my] chair and went to the dance floor alone. Pushing her [= my] way into the crowd she [= I] began to dance. She [= I] gave herself [= myself] to the music, happy that she [= I] was in the south of France [= middle of New York City] where no one thought it strange that a woman or a man wanted to dance alone. She [= I] closed her [= my] eyes.
When she [= I] opened them, the tall good-looking black man was dancing in front of her [= me]. He caught her [= my] eye but they [= we] didn't speak.
He moved fantastically well, his body fluid under the shirt, which was open to his waist and tied in a [tight] knot just over the seemingly glued-on black jeans. She [= I] began to move with him.
After a moment she [= I] spoke. 'You're American [= from the South], aren't you?'
His voice was Southern. 'How did you know?'
'You don't dance like a Frenchman – they [= the men up here. They] jerk up and down[.] – the English hop and dip.'
He laughed. 'I never thought of that.'
'Where are you from?'
'Cracker country,' he said. 'Georgia.'
'I've never been there,' she said.
'You're not missing anything,’ he replied [=.’ He looked at me]. 'I like it better here. We could never do this back [= down] there.'
'Still?' she [= I] asked.
‘Still.' he said. 'They never change.'
She was silent.
'Je m'appelle Gerard,' he said.
She was surprised. His French was Parisian without a trace of accent. 'Your French is good.'
'It should be,' he said.'My folks sent me over [= up] here to [a private] school when I was eight. I went back when my father was killed – I was sixteen then but I couldn't take it. I headed right back to Paris [= New York] the minute I got enough bread together.'
She [= I] knew what French [= New York City private] schools cost and they weren't cheap.
His family had to have money. 'What did your father do?'
His voice was even. 'He was a pimp. But he had a finger in every pie. But he was black and the honkies didn't like that, so they cut him up in an alley an' blamed it on a passing nigger. Then they hung the nigger an' everything was cool.'
He shrugged. 'My father said that was the way they would do it someday. He had no complaints. He had a good life.'
The music crashed to a stop and the group came down from the stage as the [=. The] record player came on with [= began] a slow number. 'Nice talking to [= with] you,' she [= I] said, starting back to the table.
His hand on her [= my] arm stopped her [= me]. 'You don't have to go back there.'
She [= I] didn't speak.
'You look like a fast-track lady and there's nothin' but mudders back there,' he said.
'What've you got in mind?' she [= I] asked.
'Action. That's something I got from my father. I'm a fast-track man. Why don't you meet me outside?'
Again she [= I] didn't speak.
'I saw the way you looked,' he said. 'You gotta be turned off on that crowd [= that black-haired man] over there.' He smiled suddenly. 'You ever make it with a black man before?'
'No,' she [= I] answered. She [= I] never had.
'I'm better than they say they [= we] are,' he said.
She glanced at the table. Jacques was still busy talking to the English woman. He probably didn't even notice that she had left the table. She turned back to Gerard.'Okay,' she [= I] said. 'But we'll only have about an hour. I have to leave then.'
'An hour's enough,' he laughed. 'In one hour I'll have you on a trip to the moon and back.'
When she [= I] came out he was on the quai [= street] opposite the discotheque, watching the last of the sidewalk artists pack up their wares [= stores close up] for the night. He turned when he heard the sound of her [= my] high-stacked shoes on the sidewalk. 'Any trouble getting [= gettin’] out?' he asked.
'No,' she [= I] answered. 'I told them [= him] I was going to the ladies'."
He grinned. 'Mind walking? My place is just up the street past Le Gorille [= the Paradise].'
'It's the only way to fly,' she [= get to the moon,” I] said, falling into step beside him. Despite the hour there were still crowds [= hookers] walking back and forth.
They were engaged in their principal form of amusement, looking at each other and the beautiful yachts tied up right alongside the street [= trying to dodge the cops who cruised by]. For many, it was the only thing they could afford [= had] to do, after paying the exorbitant seasonal prices for their rooms and food [= for they were fourteen years old or older and too old for the streetwalker trade]. The French had no mercy for tourists of any nationality, even their own [= When most of the people in a city have no money and no source of money, they live without mercy].
They [= We] turned up the street past Le Gorille [= the Paradise] with its smell of fried eggs and pommes frites [= dried cunt juice and piss stains] and began to climb the narrow [= see the cold, now deserted,] sidewalk. Halfway up the block he stopped in front of the door of one of the old houses [= the dirtiest apartment building.] which had a boutique on the ground floor. He opened it [= the door] with a heavy old-fashioned iron [= huge] key and pressed the button just inside to turn on the hall lights. 'We're two [= six] flights up.'
She [= I] nodded and followed him up the old wooden staircase. His apartment was at the head of the second [= seventh] flight. [There were no lights in the hall.] This door had a more modern lock. He opened and held it for her.
She [= I] stepped inside [the apartment]. The room was dark. The door closed behind her and at the same time she heard the click of the light switch [= I heard a click]. The room [was] filled with [a] soft red light [which came] from two lamps, one on either side of the bed against the far wall. She [= I] looked at the room curiously.
The furniture was cheap and worn, the kind with which the French supply the summer vacationer [= There was no other furniture besides an armless metal chair]. In the corner of the room was a sink and under it was a bidet on a swivel. The WC was behind a narrow door that looked like a closet [= A bathtub covered by a wooden board served as a table. I didn't see a toilet, only a sink]. There was no tub, shower or kitchen, only a hot plate on the top of a bureau next to an armoire.
He caught her look. 'It's not much,' he said, 'but it's home.' She laughed. 'I've seen worse. You're lucky the toilet's not in the hall.'
He went over to the bureau and opened a drawer [= bed and reached under a pillow]. He took out a joint and lit [=. Lit] it. The sweet acrid smell of the marijuana reached her [= my] nostrils as he held it toward her [= me]. 'I don't have anything to drink.'
'That's okay,' she [= OK,’ I] said, taking a toke from the reefer. 'This is good grass.'
He smiled. 'A friend of mine just in from Istanbul dropped it off. He also laid some righteous good coke on me. Ever use it?'
'Sometimes,' she [= I] said, passing the joint back to him. She [= I] looked at him as he dragged on it. She [= I] put down her beach [= my] bag and moved toward[s] him. She [= I] felt the buzzing in her [= my] head and the wetness between her [= my] legs. It was really good grass if one toke could do that. She [= I] pulled at the knot of his shirt. ‘Are we going to talk or fuck?' she asked. 'I only have an hour.'
Deliberately, he placed the joint in an ashtray and then pushed the see-through blouse down from her [= my] shoulders exposing her [= my] naked breasts. He cupped one in each hand, squeezing the nipples between a thumb and forefinger until the pain suddenly flashed through her [= me]. 'White bitch,' he said, smiling.
Her [= My] smile was as taunting as his own. 'Nigger!'
His hands pressed her [= me] to her [= my] knees in front of him. 'You better learn to beg a little if you want some [black] cock in your hot little pussy.'
She [= I] had the shirt untied, now she [=. I] pulled at the zipper on his jeans. He wore nothing underneath and his phallus leapt free as she [= I] pulled the pants down around his knees. She [= I] put a hand on his shaft and pulled it toward her [= my] mouth.
His hand held her [= my] face away from him. 'Beg!' he said sharply. She [= I] looked up at him. 'Please,' she [= I] whispered.
He smiled and relaxed his hands, letting her [= me] take him in her [= my] mouth while he reached into the open bureau drawer and took out [= to the bed and lifted up] a small vial filled with coke. The tiny [gold] spoon was attached to the cap with a small bead chain. Expertly, he took a spoonful and snorted it up each nostril. Then he looked down at her [= me]. 'Your turn,' he said.
'I'm happy,' she said, [=. I was] kissing him and licking at his testicles. 'I don’t need any.'
He pulled at her [= my] hair, snapping her [= my] head back. 'White bitch!' He lifted her [= me] to her [= my] feet and filled a spoon[,] and held it under a nostril. 'You do as I say. Snort!'
She [= I] sniffed and the powder lifted from the spoon into her [= my] nose.
Almost in the same second he had the filled [= filled the] spoon under the other nostril. This time she [= I] snorted without his saying a word. She [= I] felt the faint numbness in her [= my] nose almost immediately, then the powder exploded in her [= my brain and I felt the strength pouring right into my] genitals. 'God!' she [= I] exclaimed. 'That's wild. I came just sniffing it.'
He laughed. 'You ain't seen nothin' [= nothing] yet, baby. I'm goin' to show you some tricks that my pappy taught me with that stuff.'
A moment later they [= we] were naked on the bed and she [= I] was laughing. She [= I] had never felt so good. He took another spoonful and rubbed it on his gums, making her [= me] do the same. Then he licked her [= my] nipples until they were wet from his tongue and sprinkled a little of the white powder on them and began to work them over with his mouth and fingers.
She [= I] had never felt them grow so large [= long] and hard. After a few moments, she [= I] thought they were going to burst with the agonizing pleasure. She [= I] began to moan and writhe. 'Fuck me,' she [= I] said. 'Fuck me!'
'Not yet,' he laughed. 'We only beginning.' He jackknifed her legs back and sprinkled the coke over her clitoris, then put his head between her legs.
[The next moment the lights were extinguished, and this wild cannibal sprang into bed with me. I sang out, I could not help it now; and giving a grunt of astonishment he began feeling me.]
After a moment she [= I] was screaming as she never had [= I had never] screamed before. Each orgasm seemed to take her [= me] higher than she [= I] had ever been. She [= I] reached down for his phallus and finding it, pulled herself [= myself] around so that she [= I] was able to take him into her [= in to my] mouth. Greedily she [= I] sucked at him. She [= I] wanted to swallow him alive, to choke herself [= myself] to death on that giant beautiful tool.”- Kathy Acker, The Adult Life of Toulouse Lautrec, by Henri Toulouse Lautrec. 1975 (London: Pandora, 1989): 221-25.
Suddenly he held her away. She stared up at him, almost unable to breathe. He was on his knees between her legs, his phallus reaching out over her. He took the vial and sprinkled the powder until the glistening wet head looked as if it were coated with sugar. Then he held her legs wide apart as he eased into her slowly.
She felt her lungs congest. He felt so large. She was afraid for a moment she could not take him. Then he was all the way inside her and for a moment was still. She felt the tingling reach up into her belly. Slowly he began to move, gently at first, with long smooth strokes, then picking up the tempo until he was slamming into her like a trip hammer.
Somewhere in the distance she could hear herself screaming as orgasm after orgasm ripped her apart. She had never come like this before. Never. She, who had always thought that this kind of sexual excitement was only something that people talked or read about. A kind of game they played on themselves to hide their feelings. And if it were true, she felt that it was something beyond her capacity to feel. For her, sex was her triumph over the male; any satisfaction in it for her was purely accidental. But this was different. Now she was being used, she was being pleasured, she was giving, she was taking, she was being completed.
Finally she could take it no more. 'Stop,' she cried. 'Please stop!'
His body came to a rest against her; he was still hard inside her.
She looked up at him. In the dim red light the fine patina of sweat covering his face and chest glowed copper. His teeth shone white as he smiled. 'You all right, white lady?'
She nodded her head slowly. 'Did you come?'
'No,' he said. 'That's the only thing my pappy didn't tell me. Use enough to make a lady happy an' that's just enough to keep you from makin' it.'
She stared at him for a long moment, then, suddenly and unaccountably, she began to cry.
He watched her for a moment, then without speaking, got out of the bed and walked over to the sink. Bending over he swung the bidet out into the room and turned on the water. He straightened up and looked at her. 'You have to let it run for a few minutes if you want to get hot water,' he explained.- Harold Robbins, The Pirate. 1974 (London: NEL, 1975): 116-24.
Group 5: Book report on The Satanic Verses due.