Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Acker and teaching

I found this on Amazon's reviews of Acker's _My Mother: Demonology_, which is my favorite of hers. The review is fascinating (and helpful for how one might explain Acker's work to students):

Notes from September 9th, 1991: "Acker talked about taking a piece of writing and jamming with it, sampling it, altering it. A phrase, a word, a section. The way jazz is made . . .not interested in the assignment of meanings, of the formalizing academic way. Thinking of working with structures or getting to intuition are similar. . . "
I know that I was exploring many formal things in writing when I encountered Acker (being interested in Georges Perec and Oulipo). I was writing haikus, pangrams, always starting with a structural idea in mind, also being familiar with Queneau's Exercises in Style. Kathy was pushing me to be more intuitive, raw, exposing the unconscious. She emphasized Surrealist types of strategies. She wanted us to write every word and every sentence in an interesting way. She wanted us to explore dreams. Dreams were a big deal with Kathy. I see My Mother: Demonology as one long extended dream.

Kathy wanted us to break through with writing, to reach some key moment, some epiphany, or some crime, whatever. Jill St. Jacques explained this to me as exhausting oneself in thought, coming to a wall, then going beyond, and getting to another wall.

I had been reading some books by Michel Leiris and I had finally got to Guilty by Georges Bataille. Also after reading Illuminations by Rimbaud, I realized what a big influence he was on me, and most of the poetry that I had written between 1987-1992. Surrealism and Rimbaud. The story that I wrote in 1991, "The Seasons," was referring to Rimbaud; and slightly to Jasper Johns. I also wrote a few things in imitation of Leiris.

The next meeting Kathy talked about the writings of Blanchot and Borges. She talked about the "surface story" and what is it about. She made us think about how certain parts work together. Kathy told us to read parts of Rimbaud. I read many of Rimbaud's prose poems. Some of them are indecipherable. I wrote something in response to "After the Flood." It was like a mad lib, substituting words. Our take-home assignment was to take the poem, "Devotion" and to make a story out of it. I wrote something vague influenced by Leiris again. I forgot to do a few of the assignments so I decided to read whatever I had been writing. That would do instead.

Once Kathy was totally bored with our stories. She said that we were not trying to be good enough. We need to really think about what we are doing when we write. She looked at us: "Why are we writing? Why write at all? Writers do not make money. Some writers are beautiful technicians but do not have any soul." Kathy gave us Paul Auster as an example. She talked about Blanchot's "Madness of The Day." Kathy played tapes of music in between what people read. Like two people would read, then a tape of NWA, two more, a tape of Nine Inch Nails, etc.

Kathy Acker's next few writing assignments:

"An ex-lover is dying. Describe what they say to you before they die."

"Write an paragraph on what is happening in American fiction in the 1990s."

"The only thing I want is all-out war."
Kathy Acker, My Death, My Life (p. 233)

Kathy made us read a section of The Unavowable Community and Madness of the Day by Maurice Blanchot. She talked all day about Blanchot, Bataille, and Klossowski.

Blanchot: "The narrative voice is a voice that has no place in the work."

Kathy talked about Acephele which was a group of writers that included Bataille and Laure. Much discussion about origins, identity, ouroboros, labyrinths, transcendence, eternal recurrence and the body.

Blanchot: "Writing is the absence of the work as it presents itself."

Another KA writing assignment: she wanted us to write a film treatment. She also suggested that we take a part of Justine and turn them into a film treatment. Kathy also did a similar thing with her treatment of Dario Argento's "Suspiria" in My Mother: Demononlogy (1993). I later saw another Argento film with Kathy. She seemed to know his films well.

Next she wanted us to bring a foreign language dictionary of a language that we didn't have any particular proficiency in (I didn't take part in this assignment). She made us translate our original text into a foreign language. Then we translated it back into English without help of the dictionary. Kathy was always pushing us into creating nonsense. Does anything exist that is truly random and without meaning? It is a very hard process. Because words can be analyzed and interpreted. She liked the writing to veer off into babble. I think she was exploring the idea of a surface translation, like with some of the French stuff she did with Laure's letters to Bataille and earlier with the Persian poems.

3 comments:

-k said...

Awesome find.

Anna Vitale said...

ditto on the awesome find. someone who took a class of kathy acker's. ugh! how amazing. i've never read my mother: demonology, but always thought it would cross some space with MY mother: demonology.

next time we have a drink, we need to talk kathy acker.

can we start a kathy acker reading group?

kfd313 said...

Hey Kap! Yeah, isn't that cool? I mean, i just learned something from Amazon. So I just noticed your part of the Hannah Weiner reading in NYC. Best of luck and have fu; wish I could be there. (Actually b/c of Miss Anna, below.)

Anna--
Oh you have to read it! It's the best. And we should defintieyl include Carla in that drink/Acker get-together--she has some fascinating, fun, moving stuff to add to that convo, fer sure. And a reading group would be great. Let's talk about this soon.