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Kathy Acker

Writing the Impossible

Georgina Colby

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An in-depth analysis of the work of one of the twentieth century’s most innovative writers

Kathy Acker’s body of work is one of the most significant collections of experimental writing in English. In Kathy Acker: Writing the Impossible, Georgina Colby explores Acker’s compositional processes and intricate experimental practices, from early poetic exercises written in the 1970s to her final writings in 1997. Through original archival research, Colby traces the stages in Acker’s writing and draws on her knowledge of unpublished manuscripts, notebooks, essays, illustrations, and correspondence to produce new ways of reading Acker’s works. Rather than treating Acker as a postmodern writer this book argues that Acker continued a radical modernist engagement with the crisis of language, and carried out a series of experiments in composition and writing that are comparable in scope and rigor to her modernist predecessors Stein and Joyce. Each chapter focuses on a particular compositional method and insists on the importance of avant-garde experiment to the process of making new non-conventional modes of meaning. Combining close attention to the form of Acker’s experimental writings with a consideration of the literary cultures from which she emerged, Colby positions Acker as a key figure in the American avant-garde, and a pioneer of contemporary experimental women’s writing.

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Introduction: Kathy Acker and the Avant-Garde
1.Writing Asystematically: Early Experimental Writings 1970-1979
2. Collage and the Anxiety of Self-Description, Blood and Guts in High School
3. Writing-Through: Don Quixote: Which Was a Dream
4. Intertextuality and Constructive Non-Identity: In Memoriam To Identity
5. Montage and Creative Cutting: My Mother: Demonology
6. Ekphrasis, Abstraction, and Myth: ‘From Psyche’s Journal’, Eurydice in the Underworld

About the Author

Georgina Colby is Lecturer in English at University of Westminster. She is the author of Bret Easton Ellis: Underwriting the Contemporary (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011). Her work has appeared in a number of journals including Comparative Critical Studies, Textual Practice, Women: A Cultural Review, Contemporary Literature and n.paradoxa: International Feminist Art Journal.


Georgina Colby’s Kathy Acker: Writing the Impossible is a meticulous study, unparalleled in its sustained attention to the published and unpublished writings of ‘punk’ novelist Kathy Acker.

- Diarmuid Hester, University of Cambridge, Critical Quarterly, 59:4

Georgina Colby provides the fullest account available of the wild and wily work of the great Kathy Acker, relying not just on her published work but also unpublished poems, journals, manuscripts, and correspondence. Contextualizing Acker’s work among her contemporaries and precursors in poetry, fiction, performance, philosophy, and feminism, Colby traces her lineages and, as importantly, the resistances that made her so inimitable.

- Charles Bernstein, University of Pennsylvania

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