Body Bildung

By Rickels, Laurence A. | Artforum International, February 1994 | Go to article overview

Body Bildung


Rickels, Laurence A., Artforum International


Kathy Acker was on tour this summer and fall promoting her new book, My Mother: Demonology, a Novel. She interrupted the California portion for this interview break. What I've always found so strong and futural about Acker's work is its close with adolescence, not as the phase or phrase everyone has to get beyond rather than stuck on, but as a channel that is always there, ready to be tuned or turned into, for example whenever you're in groups. The force field she works is what Freud called group psychology. Acker's work shows how the problems of adolescence or group psychology are always there, even or especially in one-on-one relationships. I'm thinking of her great dialogues (examples from Blood and Guts in High School come to mind), which are completely organized around the adolescent metabolism or perpetual ambivalence machine, in which making up takes turns with breaking up. It reminds me how over and over again we try to form couples, we try to be in individual therapy, we try to stay with the transference, and all the while we're pulled back into the group, with all the problems we face being in groups. Adolescence is a blender: the teen rebounds between extremes and short attention spans (for example, between asceticism and sexual or self-destructive excess) because the two sides of parental guidance or identification--the mother, the father--need to be mixed into the assimilated identity of ego or group member. The building blocks of development--early identification, sublimation, superegoic sadism--get libidinally mixed up between couplification and group processes. It's the group that permits teens to get around their parents, who are too out of it or off-limits to give them their sexual license, which they receive instead from the group. But even as their sex comes groupie-fied, teens receive another set of orders from the group--to form couples and reproduce (or reduce) themselves. Yet the group, reserves mega-ambivalence for the couples, which are the genitals of the group but which the group is ever dissolving back into itself. Group psychology isn't just a symptom; it's not a problem of masses that are already a measure or mass of psychopathology. We are in groups. In Acker's work, language stays tuned to the ambivalence between groups and couples. It is a language that asserts identity, communication, then automatically group-formats the one-on-one. Art that makes contact with the adolescent turbulence inside us risks having outer work experiences with midlife criticism. That's why the critical rep or rap always given works of ambivalence is that they're adolescent. They're then further name-called "perpetual," "pathological," you name it. Journalistic critics (I mean the pseudo types, like Camille Paglia, at the top of the best-sell-out list) forget the adolescent origin of their otherwise happy medium (which lies in the keeping of journals or diaries) while at the same time acting it out in the decontextualized, empty run of a short attention span. The deferred adolescents among us (who are at the one remove from perpetual adolescence that's only a heartbeat away from crisis coming soon) interpret the Teen Age only one-way. But the always foreclosed other way is what adds the stereo context (that of ambivalence, transference, or reading) to our understanding of cultural--that is, cathected--phenomena. The mono turn-on that shuts down the stereo describes from the inside out the one readily identifiable form of adolescent acting out that is around, along for the writing, in open hiding inside midlife criticism.

LAURENCE A. RICKELS: Did your latest book start out with a particular identification or demonization?

KATHY ACKER: It started out as my fascination with Laure's work and with Bataille, and with wondering what that generation, two generations ago, was thinking. I was amazed reading her work that the same preoccupations I have are there too.

LR: It makes it an amazing time-travel book because, as you say, the '30s are back, like on the trip to Berlin which is any time, that is, one of the two times, before or after the Nazi station break. …

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