Now, thanks to Chris Kraus’s thoughtful, sympathetic biography, the doubters can perhaps find their way towards an appreciation of this enfant terrible of late 20th-century American literature. Kraus is the perfect mediator for Acker, finding in her work an aesthetics of provocation, discomfiture, risk and radical empathy ... Writing in the present tense, Kraus employs italics when citing Acker’s work. It’s an effective technique, making it seem as if Acker were writing in a foreign language. Without quotation marks, Kraus’s voice slips almost unnoticed into Acker’s, which nicely echoes Acker’s appropriative work, and minimises the difference between biographer and subject. This feels like the right form for writing about Acker, who often blended texts with her own diary writings.
In many ways Kraus is Acker’s ideal biographer. But given her interest in making hidden structures visible it’s surprising that she doesn’t acknowledge her own relationship to her subject. Acker was the previous girlfriend of Kraus’s now ex-husband, Sylvère Lotringer, like Kraus an editor at the independent publisher Semiotext(e) and a frequent interlocutor here. Is it crass to point this out? It certainly complicates any objective perspective, and maybe it would have been better to state it plainly, especially since it’s logged in I Love Dick, the roman-à-clef that made Kraus famous. That said, Kraus reconstitutes Acker’s wanderings with real wit and beauty, understanding without pandering to the painfully high stakes of her identity games.
The book’s overall sensibility is that of a tense friendship, even a resentful one. Kraus does not clarify her personal relationship to her subject, and so the question of their relation becomes a void into which her tone rushes. Acker certainly doesn’t come off as an easy person to like. Kraus elevates this unlikeability to be the defining feature of her person ... To evoke a life you have to fill bits in with the flavor of the person, how it felt to be with her in a room. But over the course of this densely researched and detailed book, Kraus fills the spaces between these details with inferences which border on cruel ... we have literary appreciation and a sort of character condemnation working against each other in the same analytical moment ... Biography-writing is a very tricky form, and no reader could fault the dedication with which Kraus has chased down the archival and human remains of Kathy Acker on earth. As an Acker fan, I inhaled this book. But as the last pages turned, the biography’s lingering flavor was one of bitterness. Whether that was done in the name of the truth or in the name of dislike, we can’t know.