Great Expectations: Incest and Incompleteness in Kathy Acker’s Blood and Guts in High School
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Often situated as a radical response to the late 1970s New York punk scene, the work of American writer Kathy Acker leverages an array of subversive literary techniques to actively interrogate extremely uncomfortable social terrain: profound violence against women, physical and emotional abuse, incest, disease and severe neglect. Many of her protagonists navigate through a continual proliferation of atrocities. Yet rather than situate her characters as victims, Acker instead inverts prescribed social scripts and proactively constructs narrative webs of deeply embedded critiques of patriarchal and sexual oppression. By deploying a vast repertoire of forms – theatrical dialogues, drawings, dream maps, blatant plagiarism of canonical figures (e.g., Hawthorne, Mallarmé, Céline), fake translations – Acker paints a vivid and inventive picture of the apparatuses of control and manipulation, aggression and alienation. This essay seeks to examine how applications of logician Kurt Gödel’s incompleteness theorem and cultural critic Nick Mansfield’s ideas about “masochism as a theatrical space of power” elucidate Acker’s watershed novel Blood and Guts in High School and examine the novel’s critique of social and sexual power.
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