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Friday, March 03, 2017

Blood and Guts in High School (1984) by Kathy Acker

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Author Kathy Acker
Book Review
Blood and Guts in High School (1984)
by Kathy Acker

   Kathy Acker was a Post Modern (capital P capital M) author and performance artist, closely affiliated with the literary scene surrounding the punk movement in 1970's and 1980's New York.  Her works are heavily influenced by the experimental writing techniques of William Burroughs, and her themes reflect feminist, gender theory and queer theory of the 1960's and 70's.  If you went to an American university in the 1990's, you probably ran across her books in one form another.  Since then, I'm not sure what's happened to her relevance, but her pastiche/cut up/punk aesthetic and post-2nd wave feminist queer politics seem particularly apropos for what you might call the "Tumblr Aesthetic."

  Blood and Guts in High School is her break-through work, probably because it actually resembles a novel in form, even with her lengthy digressions in the form of line drawings and sourced materials.  Her heroine, Janey Smith is a ten year old nymphomaniac and long-time sufferer of vaginal health issues that hardly inhibit her precocious sexual activity.

  It's hard to know what to make of Blood and Guts in High School.  I chose to read it as a parody of a 18th or 19th century bildungsroman/coming of age novel that was particularly concerned with the sexual exploitation of young woman in contemporary society.  However, that reading requires that we credit Acker with some kind of humorous intent in her writing, and considering the horrific travails of Smith as an incest victim and teenager forced into prostitution (by a "Persian slave trader," no less.) it seems inappropriate to call Blood and Guts in High School either intentionally OR unintentionally funny.  It is shocking, still.

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