Emilia Borowska (Royal Holloway, University of London),
FRANCE AND THE WORLD , Mahindra Humanities Center Seminar Series
This paper reads Kathy Acker as a writer after 1968, whose work interlaces postmodern thinking with the fate of the avant-garde against a backdrop of hegemonic neoliberal culture. Over a series of contextually and theoretically-informed readings of Acker’s 1970s writings and Empire of the Senseless (1988), Acker emerges as a political thinker, who is bound up in a wider revolutionary tradition, and is trying to recover its utopian impulses in a world of decaying revolutionary politics. While both postmodernism and punk, along with punk’s rejection of ‘hippie utopia’, offer Acker a powerful way to critique systems of power, she warns us about the blank horizons that await those who merely sneer at the world but no longer seek to transform it. And the punkish qualities of Acker’s writing – her vandalism of the conservative culture of the 1970s and 1980s – do not preclude the impassioned utopia of her work. If, for writers such as Chris Kraus, punk connotes impotent hatred, bitter cynicism and utopian closure, in Acker’s oeuvre, punk poetics of defacement are – instead – central to the articulation of critical militancy; a militancy which, in turn, creates the conditions by which utopian dreaming can be retrieved. Through textual knotting, twisting and folding, Acker wrestles the repressed utopian impulse back from the revolutionary past – that ‘other history’ – into the present, and in so doing asserts the revolutionary potential of writing itself.
Emilia Borowska is Honorary Research Associate at the Department of English at Royal Holloway, University of London and former Visiting Research Fellow at the Rothermere American Institute, University of Oxford. Dr. Borowska’s research interests are in contemporary fiction, critical theory, and gender and cultural studies. She is the author of The Politics of Kathy Acker: Revolution and the Avant-Garde (Edinburgh University Press, 2019). She was awarded a special commendation for her essay Politics, Passion and Abstraction in Kathy Acker’s “Russian Constructivism” (Contemporary Women’s Writing, Oxford University Press). Her current research project, Millennial Misanthropy: British and American Fictions of Neoliberalism, explores the direction of contemporary politics and considers how post-millennial literature addresses itself to the challenge of the misanthropic culture of neoliberalism.
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