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Blood And Guts In High School (1994)

Blood and Guts in High School (1994)

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3.51 of 5 Votes: 4
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080213193X (ISBN13: 9780802131935)
grove press

About book Blood And Guts In High School (1994)

I've read about Acker for years, mentioned generally in relation to things like post-postmodernism (alongside Bret Easton Ellis), which I'm not sure is a thing that really exists. And so I've finally given her a spin--and certainly what's she's written is different from most things of I've read before. It's a collage of sorts, a mix of styles and speakers and ideas and pictures and words, all put together in one text.I was reminded of two other things while reading this book. I was reminded of some photocopied literary journals that I would come across in Los Angeles when I was in my early twenties and idealistic. These journals generally aimed to be shocking in some way, dropping swear words vicariously and including pornographic drawings and generally being anticapitalist, antiwar, antisociety. The purveyors of these magazines were somehow going to change the world. I wanted to change the world too but not in such an anarchistic way. This book looked like one of those journals. I would immediately not have liked it as a young man--mostly because it was too lewd in a coarse obvious way.The other thing the book reminded me of was a David Lynch movie, something akin to Mulholland Drive or Inland Empire. The movie makes sense at the beginning and is interesting because it's so strange, but as the film continues, it becomes stranger and stranger and more and more impossible to follow. Eventually, we don't know what's going on--and we're left with just bits and pieces we were introduced to early on that show up from time to time that we can sort of wrap around our minds around to give the piece structure.And that's what happens here in Acker's book. We're introduced straight off to Janey, a ten-year-old who is in a sexual relationship with her father/boyfriend. Acker, of course, is looking to shock right from the start. But as I read, I saw the relationship as in some ways not really literal, as I saw the book as not being literal. Acker walks in the realm of dream and desire, as Lynch does. Sure, we have an incestuous/pedophilic relationship at the center of the piece, but what Acker is doing is making psychological theory literal. The book then at the start is about how women, in relationships, are seeking their fathers, at least as some psychologists might theorize. A boyfriend is simply an image of the father who raised the woman. Read that way, the early sections are theoretically interesting, especially as Janey's boyfriend breaks up with her to pursue another woman who is sexier and who allows him more freedom. This could be any relationship. (I particularly enjoyed a paragraph that was repeated multiple times as a refrain throughout certain pages as the relationship comes to an end--a set of incidents being played over and over, the way we tend to obsess over breakups, looking for meaning.)As the novel continues, however, we begin to lose sight of Janey at times. And we descend more and more often into the realm of dream--Acker even provides us with some sketches of dreamscapes. Janey leaves her father to go to school in New York, where she works, falls in with a group called the Scorpions, has lots of sex, and eventually loses all her acquaintances in an auto accident.Janey is kidnapped by a couple of men who intend to turn her into a prostitute/sex slave. She is kept in a room by a Persian man. She writes poetry, a book. She gets cancer, and the Persian man leaves her. She ends up walking around Tunisia with Genet, but not having a passport, she can't go back to the United States. And then she dies. And then she goes into some kind of Egyptian otherworld, where of course sex and death meet, because they often do in literature. Meanwhile, Acker gives us asides on President Carter, The Scarlet Letter, and other famous works, people, and ideas, often without really identifying how these necessarily fit in with the narrative or who the particular speaker is.It's nice to read something that is not a straightforward narrative from time to time, and I enjoyed some of the writing just for its sheer inventiveness. But in many ways, I did not feel invested in the book--just wanting to get through it. Had I slowed down, I'm sure I'd have picked up on more themes, and were I to trace some of the motifs, I'm sure I could make more of what's here, but given the lack of investment I generally felt, the book does not lend itself to me wanting to reread it, which is what would be required to dig those ideas out.

I'm not an expert on Kathy Acker's philosophy, often referred to as sex-positive feminism (an odd term, but that's another conversation), but I think I was able to tease out a theme or two from this strange, experimental, fictional mishmosh. On the surface, this is the story of ten-year-old Janey, who is on a sort of nightmare journey, first being dumped by her father/boyfriend in Mexico (I'll get to this in a moment), then off to New York City where she joins a violent gang. At some point, she's the prisoner of a Persian slave-trader, and finally she meets up with author Jean Genet and they bop across North Africa. The inclusion of a disturbing incestuous relationship between Janey and her father is perplexing. I can't figure out if it's meant to be a comment on family relationships and the role of girls within the family unit (the compliant, people-pleaser who suppresses her own desires - that sort of thing) or if Janey isn't actually 10 years old at all, but simply represents the treatment of women as children. Gah! I don't know, but it's thought-provoking. Less difficult to grasp is the underlying (and sometimes not so underlying) critique of capitalism and its tendency to create forms of female oppression.This is a jarring work and a variety of techniques are used throughout - straightforward prose, detailed drawings of genitalia, poetry, dream maps, and a smattering of lit crit (she plops in an enjoyable critique of The Scarlet Letter). Despite the scattered nature of the narrative, it actually flows quite well. I found that my mind was jolted (I tend to be a far less confrontational feminist) and I was sent off on a grim and disturbing journey where I was forced to confront issues about which I tend not to focus. Certainly the imagery and language is shocking and not for the faint of heart, but all in all, I'm glad I read this. So there it is - perhaps more thinking out loud, than an actual review. It's funny. It's unlikely that I'll make a steady diet out of Kathy Acker's catalog (I mean, I could have easily gone the rest of my life without reading a sadomasochistic sex scene featuring Jimmy Carter.), but the more I think about this, the more I appreciate it (I actually increased my star rating). I believe in a good jolt now and then, and this definitely had a rather profound effect on me. I've been thinking about it ever since I finished it.

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One of the most fucked up books I've ever read. I can see, certainly, how it would annoy some in a stylistic manner and infuriate others on a conceptual level (for example, Janey is being...raped? her father, but Acker presents this relationship in the terms of a dying love affair). Let's say it's not for the weak of heart, nor is it recommended to those without a sense of incredibly, powerfully grotesque and debasing humor. Thankfully, I'm a kind of monster with no boundaries! So this was an absolute joyride to me. By the time Janey is describing Jimmy Carter's asshole caked in several inches of old shit, and referring to him as a syphilitic pustule that fell off of Nixon's dick, I was nearly crying with laughter in the middle of the Boston Public Garden - likely looking like a total maniac, to boot. Jean Genet makes a wonderfully bizarre appearance, and the "letter" from Erica Jong was likewise too fucking funny to get offended by. If there's ever been a line of appropriateness drawn in any context, Acker's novel pukes on it and keeps on trucking. Like I said, not for everyone, but if you're totally fucked in the head or the funny bone, you should definitely give it a test run.

This is another book that I thought I'd never have to read, only to discover that my students might actually get something out of it, so off I fuck.... but unlike August Burroughs, I really liked this one and think it must have been an earthshaking book, and one of those that I probably SHOULD have read a long time ago. Honest to god, I feel like a whole generation of experimental writers, pretty much the entire FC2 crew and some others, owe their careers to this book and what's in it. I'm not altogether in favor of some of the execution: to me, the play script stuff (or maybe it's supposed to be transcripts?) is kind of boring, and a well that Acker goes back to more often than she should. But boy can she draw (Phoebe Glockner take note) as well as design a manuscripts. And the middle section, where she is held hostage by the Persian slaver and reflects first on Hawthorne, and then latin and persian poetry, is really tour de force stuff. It's just wild, fearless, and in your face, staking a powerful claim about what you can do without heavy duty academic training, but rather just some smarts and a bad attitude. I really liked this.And I promise, I don't mean to belittle the work other people did that came later. But this does make some of that work seem less fresh, less absolutely essential for 1992 after reading this book from 1978.

This gets five stars from me, despite its flaws, simply because of the highly impressive range of techniques on display. She draws on all the tools at her disposal in an inventive and impassioned way. Language at its crudest remains language, remains filled with meaning and with power. The speech of the abused is built from abused language, and its brokenness is its strength. On a lighter note, opening a page which contains nothing but a large drawing of a cunt while sat on a packed tube train, evoked a noticeable reaction in the commuters around me.

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