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.
Kraus gives us an authoritative, narratively engaging, and highly readable story of a remarkable life. One that we might even recognize … Though Acker rehearsed her life story in her fiction and public persona, she remains a highly unreliable narrator. As Kraus notes, scholars regularly cite the myths Acker perpetuated in her life as if they were facts. In tackling those myths, After Kathy Acker will be required reading for Acker scholars and enthusiasts alike. The biographical clarity Kraus provides will also, I am sure, teach us new ways to read Acker’s novels, which are dense with intertextual references, excerpts from her diaries, and shocking scenes of sex and violence … After Kathy Acker allows readers to feel like they could have been Kathy, without feeling like they possess her...We are after Kathy Acker, in both senses of that word.
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.