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MY MOTHER: DEMONOLOGY: A Novel Hardcover – July 20, 1993
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From Publishers Weekly
Acker's ( Blood and Guts in High School ) 10th novel continues her well-established tradition of nontraditional prose: she borrows from both absurdism and metafiction, yet the final product is her own--a haunting and sometimes amusing fictional event. In a voice at once disturbing and wryly humorous, her narrator, Laure, recounts both dreams and real events to subtly weave together a dark autobiography. Laure's journey from the emotional and sexual abuses of childhood to the confusion of a girls' boarding school is fraught with psychological tortures, both created by and imposed upon her. Her attempt to overcome her parents' cruelty, her fetishization of various friends and lovers, and her eventual transformation into a weathered, motorcycle-riding bohemian are all told in vivid if surreal detail. Acker infuses often shocking social and political commentary that never detracts from her voice--everyone from the Marquis de Sade to H. Ross Perot fits right into the stew. Yet the book may leave some readers cold. Acker's constant graphic references to bodily functions and violent sexual acts are part of the experimental voice, but readers may feel as if the experiment--and the joke, as well--is on them. Despite inspired writing and astute observations, the novel ultimately fails to make us care. What emerges is a hallucinatory amalgam of emotion and desire, held together by a series of abstract events.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
"Memories do not obey the law of linear time," reads one of the many aphorisms in this novel, and it seems a key point of departure for Acker's unconventional exploration of memory and its manifestations in dreams. Here, a woman tries to come to terms with her vulnerability and with the excess mental baggage conferred by time. But that simple narrative is just one of the many important levels in the work, which also contains vast psychological wallpaper. Visceral, unflinching, wildly experimental with shifting contexts and settings, this is written in the "punk" style for which Acker ( In Memoriam to Identity , LJ 7/90) is well known. Forget categories, though. Her formidably talented hand gives the cacophonous materials compelling poetic rhythm and balance. Recommended for most collections.
- Brian Geary, West Seneca, N.Y.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Top Customer Reviews
Supposedly, according to the publisher, "based loosely on the relationship between Colette Peignot and Georges Bataille," but so loosely one would scarcely know it unless they were told, and then only partly based thereupon, and ultimately not at all essential to comprehending the text--it is far more useful to describe *my mother: demonology* as an assemblage of dream, memory, fantasy, automatic writing, personal myth, political jeremiad, and literary criticism, organized around a centrally located x-rated deconstruction and reconstruction of Emily Bronte's *Wuthering Heights.*
It's not especially useful to talk about this book in terms of plot and just a little less useful to talk about it in terms of theme, although there is a narrative and it is about something; texts such as this one are composed like pieces of music or expressionistic paintings--the structure is essentially non-linear, "organic" and "poetic" as opposed to "logical," predominately emotional rather than intellectual. You might say that, as a book, it's closer to prophetic vision than potboiler.
There are clear echoes of Ballard and Burroughs in *my mother: demonology,* especially the former's *The Atrocity Exhibit* and the latter's *Naked Lunch,* but to Acker's credit she very nearly makes the techniques of her literary forebears her own, even if her archly playful self-identification as a literary plagiarist makes originality both unnecessary and impossible. The most impressive distinction of Acker's text is its virtually seamless weave of various states of consciousness often depicted--inaccurately--in literature as mutually exclusive. Her style is pastiche--it's perceptual collage but collage where the edges are soft-focus, where the pieces are so well-blended that Acker has managed to invent--and/or record--a new form of integrated literary consciousness the way Burroughs did in his final masterpieces, the trilogy that ended in *The Western Lands.*
Acker, dead shy of 50, may not have lived quite long enough to step completely out of the long shadows of the idols of the literary line she was heir to, but she left this text as an indication of where she was and where she was going when she ran out of life. It's a shame she didn't have the chance to go further, but his will have to do and it's more than enough to establish her reputation as a major figure of the literary avant-garde, American-style, of which there are all too few.
I know that I was exploring many formal things in writing when I encountered Acker (being interested in Georges Perec and Oulipo). I was writing haikus, pangrams, always starting with a structural idea in mind, also being familiar with Queneau's Exercises in Style. Kathy was pushing me to be more intuitive, raw, exposing the unconscious. She emphasized Surrealist types of strategies. She wanted us to write every word and every sentence in an interesting way. She wanted us to explore dreams. Dreams were a big deal with Kathy. I see My Mother: Demonology as one long extended dream.
Kathy wanted us to break through with writing, to reach some key moment, some epiphany, or some crime, whatever. Jill St. Jacques explained this to me as exhausting oneself in thought, coming to a wall, then going beyond, and getting to another wall.
I had been reading some books by Michel Leiris and I had finally got to Guilty by Georges Bataille. Also after reading Illuminations by Rimbaud, I realized what a big influence he was on me, and most of the poetry that I had written between 1987-1992. Surrealism and Rimbaud. The story that I wrote in 1991, "The Seasons," was referring to Rimbaud; and slightly to Jasper Johns. I also wrote a few things in imitation of Leiris.
The next meeting Kathy talked about the writings of Blanchot and Borges. She talked about the "surface story" and what is it about. She made us think about how certain parts work together. Kathy told us to read parts of Rimbaud. I read many of Rimbaud's prose poems. Some of them are indecipherable. I wrote something in response to "After the Flood." It was like a mad lib, substituting words. Our take-home assignment was to take the poem, "Devotion" and to make a story out of it. I wrote something vague influenced by Leiris again. I forgot to do a few of the assignments so I decided to read whatever I had been writing. That would do instead.
Once Kathy was totally bored with our stories. She said that we were not trying to be good enough. We need to really think about what we are doing when we write. She looked at us: "Why are we writing? Why write at all? Writers do not make money. Some writers are beautiful technicians but do not have any soul." Kathy gave us Paul Auster as an example. She talked about Blanchot's "Madness of The Day." Kathy played tapes of music in between what people read. Like two people would read, then a tape of NWA, two more, a tape of Nine Inch Nails, etc.
Kathy Acker's next few writing assignments:
"An ex-lover is dying. Describe what they say to you before they die."
"Write an paragraph on what is happening in American fiction in the 1990s."
"The only thing I want is all-out war."
Kathy Acker, My Death, My Life (p. 233)
Kathy made us read a section of The Unavowable Community and Madness of the Day by Maurice Blanchot. She talked all day about Blanchot, Bataille, and Klossowski.
Blanchot: "The narrative voice is a voice that has no place in the work."
Kathy talked about Acephele which was a group of writers that included Bataille and Laure. Much discussion about origins, identity, ouroboros, labyrinths, transcendence, eternal recurrence and the body.
Blanchot: "Writing is the absence of the work as it presents itself."
Another KA writing assignment: she wanted us to write a film treatment. She also suggested that we take a part of Justine and turn them into a film treatment. Kathy also did a similar thing with her treatment of Dario Argento's "Suspiria" in My Mother: Demononlogy (1993). I later saw another Argento film with Kathy. She seemed to know his films well.
Next she wanted us to bring a foreign language dictionary of a language that we didn't have any particular proficiency in (I didn't take part in this assignment). She made us translate our original text into a foreign language. Then we translated it back into English without help of the dictionary. Kathy was always pushing us into creating nonsense. Does anything exist that is truly random and without meaning? It is a very hard process. Because words can be analyzed and interpreted. She liked the writing to veer off into babble. I think she was exploring the idea of a surface translation, like with some of the French stuff she did with Laure's letters to Bataille and earlier with the Persian poems.