The edges of the unsaid : transgressive practices in the fiction of Kathy Acker
This thesis is the first full-length study of the fiction-of Kathy Acker, a radical and transgressive American female writer (1947-1997). The study maps the development of Acker's fiction by focusing on the political dimension of her aesthetic strategies. It explores the politics of plagiarism and appropriation; the subversive representation of gender and sexual politics; and the anarchistic impulse of Acker's work. The main theoretical and political approaches employed are: feminist theory, poststructuralism, abjection and anarchism. The study begins with an introduction to Acker's life, since there is a significant if problematic autobiographical impulse in her writing, and her socio-cultural context. It proceeds to a detailed critical exploration of work published between 1968 and 1986, drawing attention to Acker's affinities with a poststructuralist project. Acker's strategies of juxtaposition, paradox, and contradiction, alongside her fragmented, non-linear, digressive narratives, are read as a form of social critique. Her use and abuse of the white, male, Euro-centric canon is examined in light of the construction of female sexuality, and Acker's focus on phallocentric language as a source of subjugation is also considered. The study then argues for and interrogates Acker's move towards a more affirmative narrative strategy before looking in detail at her fiction of the 1990s - fiction which, until now, has received slight attention. Through close readings of her later novels, the study illustrates how Julia Kristeva's concept of the abject is fruitful for an examination of Acker's work, and examines cross-cultural intertextuality (from the horror film to the avant-garde). It also relates the trope of piracy that is present in Acker's later works to the political ideology of anarchism. The conclusion to the thesis argues that Acker's strength lies in her uncompromising belief in the avant-garde, and details her sustained attempt to make critically incisive political art.