I want to love you madly so I’m loving you madly. I hope you don’t mind…Blood and Guts in Highschool, Kathy Acker
I’m listening to Gibraltar by Beirut, and you should too.
This quote comes from Kathy Acker’s wild ride, Blood and Guts in High School. I read this book for the first time in university, an English lit class of some kind, and I’ll say I was lucky to have read it. I had never encountered Acker before, and her writing/stylistic choices would go on to inspire my own writing in a big way (more on that later).
I’ve since read another of Acker’s books, Don Quixote—a few quotes from that one will be part of this series as well. Don Quixote, similarly, has an obscure plot filled with concrete poetry and drawings and nonsense and some sense. I love them both—but Blood and Guts will always be the one I loved first.
The story is about… a girl. She immigrates to the US when her father/lover (ostensibly) kicks her out of their home in Mexico to marry another woman (well, she sort of leaves of her own volition? But the father/lover is falling for someone else, which is why she leaves). Janey, that’s the protagonist’s name, attends school in New York but she gets involved in a gang, gets pregnant, gets an abortion, gets sold into prostitution, goes to Tangiers—it’s an intense yet dreamy read about a young girl falling in love over and over again, if you can believe it. Chris Kraus, who wrote the intro to a recently published version of Blood and Guts summarizes the story pretty well: “Janey Smith wants power, and she wants to know how power works systemically in the larger world.” Does that make the story any clearer? You’ll just have to read it to see what I mean.
There are lots of really quotable lines in the book, and many that relate to larger ideas about feminism and misogyny; how could it not? It was written in the late 70s by a woman heavily involved in the post-modern art scenes in New York and London at the time. It’s a piece of work and a piece of work but for some reason this quote stands out to me. It’s not the only one, there will be more Acker quotes (and more from Blood and Guts) in this series, but this one, well, there’s something about it.
In Blood and Guts Janey is constantly searching for love. She’s attached to one man and then another and another, and I think I relate a lot to that as a woman. Sometimes it feels as though… love is this aspirational thing, and instead of falling in love with someone for all the pros and cons they present, you’re expected to fall in love with them because it says something about you—like people expect you to love some deadbeat musician because you’re a woman and it’s your job to fix him. And then you’re supposed to feel powerful, like, look at this guy that I fixed?
I want to love you madly so I’m loving you madly. I hope you don’t mind…
It speaks to this insecurity we’re told is inherent in relationships. “Don’t call too much or he’ll think you’re desperate”, “keep her jealous, it’ll keep her trying harder”. Yuck. Seriously, yuck. Childish, sure, but yucky nonetheless.
I hope you don’t mind that I’m showing you love in the languages I apparently show love in. I know that yours are different, and that’s supposed to be ok, and I’m showing you how I feel using my language because yours is incomprehensible to me. You don’t need words? You don’t need someone consistently petting that mindless snake encircling your brain that nips at your grey matter when it isn’t being stroked? How? In this economy?
I hope you don’t mind. Is that sentence knee-capped? I’m not sure. It feels like it is.
If you want something, if you want to love someone madly and say you are loving them madly, are you really doing it?
When I first read Blood and Guts I had written a few stories, but I was sort of coming off an attempted music career and hadn’t written in a while. Like the music industry, the writing industry is full of gatekeeping and politics—it’s a creative industry though, so that’s not entirely unexpected. It builds character (I do really believe this). The gatekeepers had me believe that writing was stringing words together at a level of profundity that only great writers could, and to be published your writing needed to be polished yet personal, subversive yet schematic. But Acker didn’t give a fuck about any of that. She uses a collage of poems and drawings and dream maps and actual narrative to string together a version of a life that’s astral and apoplectic. I read Blood and Guts and thought, “Wait, is this what a book looks like?”
And while my stories, strung together as they are, never really became as incoherent as Acker is brave enough to be, I loved experimenting with form and using those experiments as part of the story itself. It’s interesting how much fuller (I think at least) the overarching tale became after putting all of my ideas together, half-formed or no.
I hesitate to speak for young writers, or new writers, whomever, but I think there’s a fear that sets in when you’re first starting to write—like, the fear of “what if I’m not good enough” (which is of course common in any creative pursuit) or, for me (and hopefully someone else), “what if my idea isn’t unique enough?” and more specifically: “what if I never have an original idea, what if it’s all just pastiches and plagiarism and someone finds out and hates me for it—or fucking sues me?”
For me that’s what’s most prevalent I’d say. That fear of homage becoming plagiarism. Because nothing is unique anymore, really, and you sort of have to pick out your favourite parts and turn them into something interesting, but you’re combatting that deep-seated desire to pick up a book like Emma at Indigo instead of something you’ve never heard of. You’d grab a book by Demi Lovato before you’d grab a book by a writer like me–well, not you, I suppose.
I think one of the reasons Blood and Guts inspired me so much is that experimentation with form inherently makes something more creative. It’s funny how that works, isn’t it? If I think about art, like, fine art, I think the same is true. In an era when it feels as though ideas themselves are cliché, we should question the form itself to see what comes through. Why can’t a novel be interspersed with poems and dream maps? Why can’t the words blend together and be devoid of sense? Isn’t that the point?
Post-modernism is all about questioning the “general, all encompassing principles which can lay bare the basic features of natural and social reality”, or, modern Western scholarship. Those principles, carried over from the Enlightenment era, became restrictive in a society where God became increasingly more absent and explainable. Acker is part of this movement both devoid and obsessed with culture, and presents us with more questions about our understanding of western culture instead of offering us any sort of guiding light—the intentional obscuring of a narrative with thoughts and dreams, especially belonging to a woman, for godssake, is, to me, an apt abstraction of these “modern” principles that, while attempting to be “general” or “all encompassing” often only apply to men and men’s thinking (even though the Enlightenment era had some female scholars/artists/writers of note).
I’m not really here to give some amazing or even relatively cogent analysis of this quote. Actually this “analysis” is intentionally vague and abstract because that’s how the thoughts came to me—I also think it makes sense to leave any sort of non-cosmetic edits out of something like this because it’s what Acker would probably do herself.
Kathy Acker died November 30, 1997 from cancer. Her hair was always short.