The Post-Post-Modern Things: Björk, Kathy Acker, and the Astral-Disappearing Act (23-53/53)

Here’s the rest of the essay….was coming in smaller bits, but now an explosion.

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23.    Despite any recourse to the nuanced heteroglossia of an Acker novel (available even to the casual, and perhaps dismissive, reader), part of the contrapuntal allure of her texts remains the difficulty in deciphering the “voice” of Acker-the-author that lies behind her plagiarisms.  This obstacle is mixed with a deliberate unwillingness on the reader’s part to assume that the disembodied voice, or voices, of her texts are subsumed behind a character (or, as we will see later, a “construct”) that can be unified by careful reading.  Yet for Hume, Acker’s “voice” is paradoxically accessible, and remains the defining characteristic of her prose.  Hume identifies Acker’s “core” voice with its “key note of protest,”[1] and argues that this voice becomes “centered” precisely in the apparently de-centered style of her fragmentation; she offers that Acker is unable to articulate even tentative solutions for her characters’ problems because her “intellectual” strategies of escape—appropriations and navigations that chart “lines of flight” from the logocentric realm of the “father”—will always clash with the emotional “desire” of her characters to escape such limiting systems on terms that protect the “core” identity: “Centripetally, (her personae) pull every experience in and recompose it in the idiom of the narrative voice.  That voice projects itself through lyric lamentation, cries, the vocabularies of sex, pain, and oppression.  Its values are traditional and humanist, and include . . . the inner self’s authenticity, and its right not to conform to social norms.”[2] The typical postmodernist argument about Acker’s fractured identity is not invalidated by Hume’s identification of the “core” voice, because it is impossible, given Acker’s work and its time, to perceive anything other than the illusion of a “core.” In this way, Acker’s countercultural stance (bound up, as we will see, with the marketing world) provides her texts only with a sort of pseudo-core, to re-arrange Blaise Pascal’s famous dictum—whose circumference is everywhere and center is nowhere.  In its nothingness, the center “voice” that is a “non-voice” (or a “media-voice” of sorts), exists all the more readily as a space for meaning to project itself onto the void of the fragmented rim, inside which it does not exist, to accrete like antimatter, with ghostlike flourishes, in the secret codes of the text.

24. Significant Incident # 1 morphing Nordic Elf into World-Historical Bear:

In late September 1996, an overeager tele-journalist in Bangkok greets Björk’s refusal to do an impromptu live interview by shoving a microphone in the face of her 10-year-old son, Sidri.  As anyone within the numbing proximity of tabloid media during that time knows, Björk attacks the reporter and smashes her head against the ground.  Another reporter notes later on: “you beat the shit out of her.”[3]

25.  One postmodern critique of the subject hypothesizes that it easier to cast off the idea of a unified self if that “self” has been crystallized by the pressures of traditional history, and that the Eurocentric stain of the postmodern is still, a product, even in rebellion, of that same totalizing culture.  It is this contradiction that perhaps enables Hume to read in Acker a deep-structure “voice.”  Hume counters with the obvious claim that the subjectivity of the critic might influence her reading, but we must ask, regardless, if all (or even a minority) of readers will perceive the essential Acker “voice” a la Hume that surfaces, perhaps, as the sum product of the resulting vacuums.  This question is less about the subjectivity of the reader than about the distance between any “core” literary persona and the carefully constructed “media” persona that acts as the gatekeeper for identity.  Joe Moran, in his book Star Authors: Literary Celebrity in America, cites Acker’s friend and lover, Charles Shaar Murray: “The tattoos, piercings, muscles and motorcycles were simply private pursuits and public window-dressing.  They were not what (Acker) was ‘about’, either as an artist or as a human being.”[4] Before her death in 1997, Acker made similar claims about her literary construction, and we offer that such a tension between “image” and “reality” mirrors the struggle between commodification and authenticity that Lake Forest College undergraduate Kirsten Jorgenson notes in Acker’s fiction.  Writing about the possibility of an amorous exchange, Jorgenson notes that “When (Janey) dies, . . . she dies as a commodity, as something to be paid off for her services.”[5]

26. Significant Incident # 2 morphing the Nordic Elf into the World-Historical Bear:

Within a few days of the Bangkok airport incident, Scotland Yard intercepts a letter bomb meant to explode sulfuric acid on Björk.  Crazed Björk fan and 21-year old pest-control officer Ricardo Lopez of Hollywood, Fla. mailed the package, and Florida investigators discovers a videotape at Lopez’s home that showed him both constructing the device and then committing suicide with a .38 to the soundtrack of “I Miss You” from Post.  The video for the track, like Smigel’s SNL parody, features a cartoon Björk prancing through a surreal wonderland.

27.  So long as we are looking for narrative threads in this künstlerroman of astral disappearance, it is worth noting that many Acker works utilize some variation of this Ur-narrative:  A middle-class girl, in the wake of her mother’s suicide, is sexually abused and raped by a father figure who may or may nor be her biological dad, before leaving home to engage in prostitution and series of sadomasochistic adventures in hopes of attaining a freedom of both body and word.   The opening of Pussycat Fever:

I don’t have a father.

I thought that the man who married my mother was my father.  As soon as she married him, she died.  I was eight years old when I found out that he wasn’t my real father.[6]

As Moran notes, this type of “Kathy” narrative, regardless of its level of mimetic fidelity, offers a “confessional” persona of particular seduction “because it suggests that the self can be reinvented at the same time as it points to the existence of an innate, deep-seated identity.”[7] Just as critics have mistakenly assumed that every Joni Mitchell song written in the first-person indicated a Mitchell life-experience, this assumption about Acker’s work points to an important gender contradiction:  “Women can only write from their own experience.  Men are imaginative.  Women write testimony and confessional. . . .Acker hated all that.”[8]

28.  The relevant musical distinction for Björk (aside from the endless press about her popular persona as either elf or bear) concerns the tension between technology and the body.  The breath of the human word, the majestic surrealism of te translation, the lyrical flights of her sing-talk delivery—even when modified through the technical medium—represent a tentative and perhaps immanent relation between the “real” and “fabricated.”  Responding to a question about her vocal style, Björk offers this analysis:

I manage to separate pretty well my more academic, clever side which goes more into arrangements and when I’m in the studio editing and chopping up stuff, but my voice. . . .it’s nature or it stands for the things in me I don’t understand. . . .I’ll sing (a song) in one take and not really analyse it, and then afterwards I can spend five billion hours on the arrangement and that’s where I’m being maybe more clever or more technical of more professional…[9]

For Björk, to be “clever,” is to be both technical as well as promotional.[10] As previously noted, Björk sees “nature” and “techno” as analogous concepts separated through temporal gulfs and limits in epistemological experience.  Thus, as her personae are made to accrete a sort of “core”/”anti-core” meaning across a continuum of album covers and narratives about her Icelandic heritage and endless summaries of her punk-dada background and meditations on the Bangkok episode and the suicide of Ricardo Lopez and the (sometimes amorous) relationships with a series of male producers (Goldie, Tricky, etc….) and the media satires on SNL—the “core” identity that emerges, like that of Acker, becomes a post-human clutch of identities composed of holes and absences, delivered most poignantly through Björk’s “voice”—a “natural” element that can be manipulated almost endlessly in the studio.  Björk’s linguistic strategies become focalized for the listener through the emission of disconnected words-sounds neither sung nor spoken, but pulsating and morphing, like her ever-undulating album-cover face, through the use of technology.  The result is a post-postmodern facsimile of “singer” and “self/body” that is inextricably bound into an astral ball of nothing, because the elements are not separate phenomena, and in “reality” do not even exist in a recognizable form as “reality.”

29.   Consider that all images of Björk and Acker are remixes of remixes, and that the artists function mainly as conduits for cultural application of identity; thus, the images are points of struggle, manifestations of Donna J. Haraway’s “cyborg” model, particularly of her second “leaky distinction” between the human/animal organism and the technological construct, where “machines have made thoroughly ambiguous the difference between natural and artificial, mind and body, self-developing and externally designed, and many other distinctions that used to apply to organisms and machines.  Our machines are disturbingly lively, and we ourselves frighteningly inert”[11]

30.   When the character of Abhor is finally made to speak (through the voice of her lover Thivai) in section III of Acker’s novel Empire of the Senseless (1988), “In Honour of The Arabs,” our “part robot, part black” heroine, raped by her father, symbolically raped by the state, must suffer her “guide,” an “old cashew nut,” as he shows her “every wrinkle, even the pores, in that endlessly lined flesh, every pre-cancerous mole, every formation which was time.  There was no memory here.  There was only death.”[12] While the text implies that the body being “read’ is that of the old guide, clearly, Acker’s text offers the possibility that Abhor is reading the disintegration of her own flesh through time. The “half” of her that is flesh, the half that is not the metal of the robot, still opens itself to the dangers of the flesh in a state of decomposition.  In the novel’s section “Let the Algerians Take Over Paris,” Abhor attempts to forestall a photographer who wants to have sex with her by telling him she has gonorrhea, but when the photographer insists that he will wear a condom, Abhor “quickly chose a raped body over a mutilated or a dead one.”[13] A few pages later, “a black boy cut his right arm with a razor blade: ‘Since I’m now making blood come out of my own arm, I can’t be nothing.’  The boy stared at his flowing blood.”[14] We see a difference between “mutilation” imposed upon the body and the auto-mutilation (the boy cutting himself) or erotic play later exemplified by the character Agone receiving his tattoo.  In the latter instance, the body becomes the site of discovery, a text that spreads into a thousand plateaus: “today the wild places which excite the most profound thinkers are conceptual.  Flesh unto flesh.”[15]

31.   The Björk albums of her post-Sugarcubes solo career all present different cover versions of her body—the full bust or just the head—and it is only with the first of two recent retrospective records that Björk’s “self-portrait” becomes explicitly de-realized.  On both Greatest Hits (a fan-chosen track listing of Björk songs), and Family Tree (a much more extensive and pricier box set collection of six CDs), the artwork by Gabriela Fridriksdottir enters into a dialogue with the stylized but still representational offerings of the other albums.  In the sleeve for Greatest Hits, the seven drawings (numbered as if images have been cut from a larger series) juxtapose ink and whitespace shadings with a gruesomely childlike style that freely mixes the world of human and animal/organism.  Drawing Number 11, “The Core,” shows the bisection of what appears to be a piece of fruit by the array of seeds impacted into the meat.  A considerable nose protrudes up like an erect penis toward the sky.  The distorted shadow slinking to the right might be taken for the side silhouette of a face, or perhaps merely the darkened image of a piece of fruit with enlarged stem.  The last drawing of the interior sleeve, “Equilibrium” offers a fuzzy white creature resting on what appears to be an ink-dark birdbath/cauldron/remaindered anvil held up by the legs or tentacles of a separate dark creature whose limbs and hair look the same as each other.  A Rorschach blot deliberately asymmetrical and doodled on by the mental patient, this drawing shrinks to become the “cover” of the Family Tree box-set insert.  For a moment, it also becomes the representation of Björk on her record sleeve, the most recent term in a series of self-portraits.

32.  An explosive collage of text and image closes Blood and Guts in High School.  In “The World,” the “deceased” Janey/Acker offers a creation myth that explicitly connects drawing to written text. The section opens with a lesson in the fidelity of language and image for the undead semiologist, with Janey matching words to their childlike representations.  After finding the sacred book on “human transformation,” escaping from the Devil, and creating a world through the dream “of huge thighs opening to us like the night,”[16] juxtaposed with a drawing of a vagina, the novel ends with a page of text bereft of any drawings.  Just before the final poem that ends with the double line “All I want is the taste of your lips,” we are told that “Soon many other Janeys were born and these Janeys covered the earth.”[17]

33. In the liner notes to Family Tree, Björk links Fridriksdottir’s drawings to the music that is the body: “Like me, she has four chambers in her which we call {Roots}, {Beats}, {Strings}, and {Words}.”[18] Björk goes on to list the differences in this “taxonomy,” even going so far as to call the four “branches” of her music “opposing systems.”  She adds, in the notation for {Words}, that she “always felt that I was first a musicmaker using words as signposts for the music.”[19] Yet, it would be naïve of us, after coming so far, to believe that the scheme of Family Tree—the 3” mini-disks that comprise {Roots}, {Beats}, and {Strings} systems, as well as the booklet that makes up {Words}—maintain the artificial separation of constituent elements that Björk merges into her expensive pink plastic box.  Family Tree, she writes, “is to be a medium between disparate worlds trying to unite history, the present and the environment, into a song, on the radio, in a possible moment of utopia.”[20] Despite the mildly Hegelian connotation of such prophecy, and the fact that few, if any, of these songs are likely to be played on mainstream radio, the “systems” on these disks (as well as the final disk (“greatest hits as chosen by Björk”), like most arbitrary taxonomies, freely intermingle with each other.  Björk’s reading of her own work remains a subjective interpretation (just as with Hume’s reading of Acker), as well as an articulation within an economic system that filters all comment thorough the requirements of purchase (in this case, a flat tray CD player that will play the 3” CDs, and well as the $50-60 needed to own the collection and its packaging).

34.  All taxonomy is influenced by the criteria of the selectors, and an analysis of this principle in terms of Acker’s own recent “greatest hits” package offers a homology to her disorienting methods.  As Hume indicated, Acker’s work is meant to form a schizophrenic canon of the “perverse” that can be entered at any point and read in any direction.  Amy Scholder, co-editor of Essential Acker: The Selected Writings of Kathy Acker, also reminds the reader of Acker’s statement to Sylvere Lotringer to this effect.  Scholder, saddled with the task (along with Dennis Cooper) of “selecting” from Acker’s large body of work, sees her task as apropos to the methodology of the writer: “Acker’s roots in the avant-garde traditions of Dada and surrealism and her ongoing engagement with experimental writing practices made the prospect of cutting out a piece here a piece there seem like part of her project.”[21] This sense of this project as extending across the gulf between creation and reception indicates a willingness to follow Roland Barthes’s logic that such “removal” of the author “utterly transforms the modern text.”[22] Tellingly, an image of Acker’s face still graces the cover of her “Reader”[23] just as her visage is familiar to audiences of her older editions.  Despite any sense of communal editing/writing that any of Acker’s projects offer, we are bound to a certain extent by the primal technology of her knowledge transference: the book.  With the advent of electronic information dissemination mechanisms that promise de-centralized and seemingly rhizomatic structures, the promise of re-conceptualizing such knowledge-flow mechanisms exist (so the Web cliché goes) at exponentially increasingly levels of destabilization.  Yet, as much of the Internet has been colonized by new forms of corporate representation, we must remain skeptical that the possibilities of this “new” communication medium are little more than representations of the fascicular root system that Deleuze and Guattari warn against, where the reflexive reality demands “an even more comprehensive secret unity, or a more extensive totality” of over-determination.[24] Some Acker’s critics may accuse her of an inability to break from the “core” voice, and thus, to break from the world of the book; Deleuze and Guattari playfully remind us that, “there is no difference between what a book talks about and how it is made.”[25] The audience reminds us that that how a book, or in this case, a recording, is actually produced/made, remains a sites of negotiation.

35. On Telegram (1996) the Post remix record, the version of the infamous “I Miss You” contains a rap interlude by Rodney P of London Posse.  The tempo is slower that the “original” on Post. When Björk sign-speaks, “I’m so impatient/I can’t stand the wait/when will I get my cuddle?/who are you?,” it is not so hard to picture the tense-shifting, time-jumping circumstances by which crazed fan Lopez set himself the task of contacting Björk through a video, a facsimile, a recording of his own death.  What better way to ensure that he was “peaking,” when he had not met her yet, but would in the future?  The all but assured collision of singer and fan through either explosion or aftermath is prophesized for both Björk and Lopez in a music that can no longer contain either of their physical bodies.  Every time we slide on a pair of “Headphones,” and listen for a tape that would save our lives, we meet a Björk who does not yet exist in the image that we wish her to inhabit.  Through our participation in her music career—as filtered through the technological apparatus and all it entails—she can “exist” as a spectre, only in the past or the future, at the points of production, of recording, of remix.  From the Telegram booklet: “I’d like to thank the ‘remixers’ and tell them how honoured me and my songs are to have become ingredients on their mixing-desk” (emphasis mine).[26]

36.  Writing as a response to the oppressive, patriarchal control system authorized through linguistic agents, Acker recognizes the futility of her project, her body of work, to reform language through a method “which normalizes and controls by cutting that language.” [27] In her later work, she moves toward what she calls “taboo” discourse that “demands the use of a language or languages which aren’t acceptable. . . .language . . . constitutes a set of codes and social and historical agreements.  Nonesense doesn’t per se break down the codes; speaking precisely that which the codes forbid breaks the codes.”[28]

37. The unauthorized JC Lemay remix of “Hidden Place,” a fine piece of trip-hop wizardry, takes the Telegram concept a step further.  If Björk’s body, her “natural” state, cannot be discerned from the technological factors of production and dissemination by which we read/listen to her, then we are free to receive her body and personae and music all as one package.  The remix, for a fan such as Lemay, who hopes (as he writes on his Web site), that his message in a bottle will reach “Björk,” manages to replicate a future body for the singer precisely because of the possibility that his offering, like Lopez’s, will be intercepted and circulated into the expanded bodily/technological system that is “Björk.”  As Björk says about the further connection between her music and her body: “if I create a song, then I have a replica outside me of what I am hearing inside, and it sort of evens out the pressure.”[29]

Lemay offers his own rationale:

This remix is not an “official” remix.

I just love Björk’s work and Hidden Place song, so I just decided to remix it.

I didn’t ask any permission, I know about the copyright thing, and I’m not selling it.

I’d love Björk to listen to this remix… This web page is a “message in a bottle”.

So may be if you’re into Björk’s business you could tell her those remix are here ! ;-)[30]

Lemay’s wish, given Björk’s predilection for the remix, perhaps has a chance of coming to fruition.  More likely, the track will remain housed on his own Web site, as well as the Björk remix Web, a drop zone for approximately (as of January 2003) 800 fan remixes that despite their technical accomplishment, remain outside of the “official” zone of Björk product (despite her awareness of the site).  Lemay’s track serves as a love letter to his image of his heroine; then again, in a very “real” sense, so did Lopez’s acid bomb.

38. So where the heavily Burroughs-influenced Acker, early in her career, proclaims in the middle of a cut-up that “I’m happier than I’ve ever been   the revolution (this) is to be obtained by doing nothing   by passionless and purposeless action   the operation of the heaven and the earth,” [31] the later-era Acker looks toward the taboo/forbidden discourse as derived not from cutting-up language, but through forgetting, through negation.  In her essay “Bodies of Work,” from an eponymous collection of essays, Acker connects the efficacy of the body in opposition to both the hegemonic elements of conventional discourse:

At the point of commencing to learn a new language, just before having started to understand anything, you begin forgetting your own.  Within strangeness, you find yourself without a language.

It is here, in this geography of no language, this negative space, that I can start to describe bodybuilding.  For I am describing that which rejects language.[32]

Acker’s theory of bodybuilding (reminiscent, in places, of Yukio Mishima’s Sun and Steel) represents the negative language of the body as the reduction of language to simple, meditative counting procedures designed to push the muscles toward a deliberate “failure” that shocks them into growth.  Working a muscle group to the point where it can no longer move, according to Acker, requires a movement through failure into “negative reps.”[33] Of course, she links this movement to the creation of art that (against the nonsensical linguistic weaponry of deconstruction rejected in Empire of the Senseless), does not function in a context-dependent climate.  The language of the body—in this astral iteration—allows the subject to “glimpse the laws that control (the) body, those of change or chance, laws that are barely, if at all knowable.”[34]

39.  The video for “Cocoon,” a track also from Vespertine, and an unlikely candidate for a video/single release, begins with the figures of ten naked Björks posed in various sullen position of meditative calm as a spotlight moves across the screen.   One replicated Björk to the left-of-the-center Björk emerges from the line and walks dolefully off-screen to the right, taking the spotlight with her.  The screen goes dark, and when the light reappears, only one naked Björk remains.  Her hands move around her breasts without touching them, and as the words “Who would have known/that a boy like him” begin, gossamer ribbons sprout like silken threads from her nipples.  For the balance of the video, Björk dances, mouthing the simple words, as the ribbons grow and eventually envelop her in a cocoon, silencing her song and negating her body.  She is then lifted, as if by a winch of silk, through the top of the screen.

40.   In the somewhat odd interview Acker conducted with those post-riot grll phenoms of the late 1990s, The Spice Girls, she treats the pre-fabricated group with a relatively light hand, seemingly aware, keenly, that their manufactured rhetoric of “girl power” has something in common with her own aesthetic and political model:

My generation, spoon-fed Marx and Hegel, thought we could change the world by altering what was out there—the political and economic configurations, all that seemed to make history. . . .for the generation of the Spice Girls, self- consideration and self-analysis are political. When the Spices say, “We’re five completely separate people,” they’re talking politically.[35]

And Moran, deconstructing the apparent dissonance between the “bohemian” Acker and her image as “popular” counter-culture author, wonders if: “In Acker’s admirable unwillingness to compromise her radical edge, she perhaps loses sight of the kinds of cultural capital at stake in this alternative culture and the ways in which consumer culture can mine this capital for its own ends.”[36] Neither of these planks would seem out of place in ideas of the “culture industry” that reaches back most prominently to the Frankfurt School, yet it is in this context of commodified dissent that Acker’s language of the body, the language that rejects itself through the negative rep, forces its way not only into her fiction, but also into the code of her personae.

41. According to the technology of astral disappearance deployed in these ways, Björk is simultaneously everywhere and nowhere; she exists for the popular imagination as an amalgamation of her own attempts to unify the disparate strands of persona through music that is deliberately “clever.”  The rather public details of her private life betray the formal logic of studio manipulation of sound, text, and image.  The taxonomies of Family Tree come to refract, through perhaps no deliberate inculcation of “identity,” the taxonomies that the press have placed on auto-repeat:  “For the very young she is inspiringly unconventional; for adult rock fans, she is agreeably complex, a tonic to the mature ear, weary of rock by numbers.  The GP loves her for being defiantly, elusively herself.”[37] Hence the photo gallery quality of her images on album covers, as well as in videos: bald-headed Björk morphs reluctantly into a computer-generated polar bear in the video cut for “Hunter.”  Vespertine’s “Hidden Place” merges an extreme close up of Björk’s face, one quadrant at a time, with the flow of multicolored fluid through the orifices of eye, nose, and mouth.  Perhaps falling into the second category of the “mature ear,” fans posting to an Internet bulletin board note the poststructuralist connection in this video: “the miasmatic fluid is much like the waste described by Kristeva—the it’s me/but not me syndrome—breaking down the boundaries of self.”[38] The ear is the only opening on the head not exploited by the slow loop-de-loop of liquid in the “Hidden Place”; where the music and fluid flows into the listener, the viewer becomes initiated into the system of flows and schizzes that not only digitally render Björk into a “me/not me” dialectic, but also impose the same system between the viewer and the object being viewed.  We don’t need Jean-Paul Sartre’s famous keyhole to catch ourselves as a term in the same dialectic, nor do we need Theodor Adorno or Max Horkheimer’s “Culture Industry” to follow the deliberate contradiction between art and truth offered by the video maker:

We always wanted to get as close to her as we could, as we all felt she had never been portrayed as the “real” and beautiful woman she is.  This is somehow taboo, to observe a pop star with no makeup from a distance of half an inch.  Then the idea of the liquid works as a visualization of all possible emotions pulsating and circulating in her very busy brain.[39]

For the co-producers of her video, the members of the media who cover her in a sludge of industrially replicated clichés, and the viewer/fan who is soon producing her own remix tracks, the “real” Björk is the person/construct that they are able to contact only through the technological interface of video image, cartoon, music, print interview, etc.

42.  Genet, in Our Lady of the Flowers (French edition 1943) explicitly envisions the apparatuses of the judicial regime, the materiality of the world that imprisons him, also as an emptiness, a nothing, that still has the power to consume him (just as he greedily consumes his lover in Funeral Rites):  “I break away for a frightful dream which will go through the darkness of the cells, the darkness of the spirits of the damned, of the gulfs, through the mouths of the guards, the breasts of the judges, and will end by my being swallowed very very slowly by a giant crocodile formed by the whiffs of the foul prison air.”[40]

43.  Björk’s celebration then—not of hybrid subjectivity, but of the constraints of such play—treats innovation and hybridity as a means of identifying the ethereal prison rather than offering the narrative of physical escape.  We have seen her personae become empty signifiers filled with a new mode of absence.  The Björk beloved by her fans (so much that one eager listener commits suicide to the image of her future self), the Björk that one journalist came to know through violence, the Björk that awkwardly danced in a swan dress at the Oscars—this Björk is not there at all.  She does not exist in the way that we think we know her.

44.  The aesthetics of existence writer-thief Genet seeks to articulate in Funeral Rites (French edition 1953) becomes the absorption of his image into the form of Jean D., his semi-autobiographical narrator’s murdered lover, before an ingestion that reverses the process.  A phrase such as “I am assimilating Jean, I am digesting him,”[41] emerges as the centerpiece of the experimental impulse to consume.  While Acker perhaps rejects a deconstruction that privileges “nonsense,” she maintains the deconstructionist’s connection between text and body that we have also seen in Björk.  Yet, in the case of her astral discursive practices, Acker seeks to disappear through not only the language of pastiche, but also through the still point that “she” reaches by digesting “original” texts into a new whole that simultaneously resituates the material in new contexts.  In her essay “Writing, Identity, and Copyright in the Net Age,” Acker’s defense of pastiche centers on her concern about the marginal status of writers in relation to the corporate machine.[42] Hence, in so many of her texts, the female narrator becomes a writer after multiple rapes and body modification episodes.  Acker concludes that the formation of a “polis” of friendship allows the author (and in concert, her image) to write “to someone whose otherness I accept.  It is the difference between me and my friend that allows meaning; meaning begins in this difference.”[43] Opposed to the economic-cultural meaning, this alternative “meaning” does not struggle through an opposition of basic context.  Just as Adorno and Horkheimer note that the artifacts of the Culture Industry conform to its demands through their fidelity to the economic narrative of the “real” (that is promulgated through the “fakeness” of art), Acker’s work does not function through a difference that denies “otherness” (and would thus comport to the dominant economic system), but through a difference that “accepts” “otherness.”  Still, the method to attain this relation is to invert the equation that reifies the vectors of dominant culture (much as dividing a fraction by a fraction forces the inversion of the denominator fraction) through the negative dialectic, the negative rep, the failure of commercial identity to manufacture a totalizing relationship between the artist and “otherness” despite their mutual acceptance.

45.  Björk’s disappearing act, her astral strategy, is of this invisibility that becomes visible through elimination.  Björk wants to unite the disparate cords of her life, of pop-music, of a small island nation and the rest of the world.  Asked by Donna Karan in an interview about the differences between life as a celebrity and the everyday life, Björk again proffers a narrative of singularity: “the target, for me, it to unify.  I’ve tried to unify the way I am with my grandmother with the way I am onstage.”[44] Yet, this unification also functions as the inverted fraction.  Björk, onstage, swoons nervously in her swan costume; on the video shoot she plays with ribbons that a computer will sprout from her breasts; in “life,” on February 1996, she attacks a reporter in Bangkok, as McDonnell writes, “knocking her down and banging her head on the floor. (Grrrilla!)  The act was subsequently rebroadcast around the world, and captured in photographs.”[45] As voiced by the original version of “You’ve Been Flirting Again” and who knows how many fan remixes hiding on some dark, mixing board indicate, “how you reacted was right”—precisely because the “you” is little more than collocation of incidents and sounds overheard in passing.  Breakfast with grandmother must be much like a video shoot.

46.   Abhor lets us know, early on in Empire of the Senseless: If reality isn’t my picture of it, I’m lost.”[46]

Slightly later, she says:

‘All I know is that we have to reach this construct.  And her name’s Kathy.’

‘That’s a nice name.  Who is she?’

‘It doesn’t mean anything.’

‘If it doesn’t mean anything, it’s dead.’[47]

47.  The three “dead” images of Björk that adorn the {Words} booklet of Family Tree seem related to the image of the crystal-eyed chanteuse of Debut only as light traveling thousands of years through space might bear a passing resemblance to its originating star.  The cover image of the {Words} booklet (“Sculptor”), meant to serve an equal place in the package with the mini-CDs, shows a person we assume to “be” Björk sitting in a position reminiscent of Rodin’s The Thinker, covered in a shirt and facemask composed of clay, mud, or cookie dough.  The exoskeleton of undifferentiated but seemingly hardened mush looks somewhat like a cross between an unwieldy animal skull and a suit of skin cast forever in undifferentiated sludge.  The next image, “Operazione pane” (on the inside back cover), shows a hand on the right and a finger on the left of the picture space holding a plate with what appears to be the mask from the front cover.  The image of a face is smashed or stamped onto the platter as a ghostly sandstorm might leave an “image” on the surface of Mars.  A rent in the fabric of the forehead is stitched above the eyes.  The image on the back cover of the booklet finds the same woman as on the cover (perhaps), sitting at a off-white kitchen table on a white chair, the shreds of a brownish-red tapestry hang in the background and an electrical cord climbs up the wall toward a light off camera on the right.  The woman looks through the eyeholes of the pasty mask while her hands keep busy at a PowerBook G4 laptop computer (a commodified symbol of “radical” technology).  The white picture on the screen is impossible to discern, but perhaps the person who may be Björk engages in the “clever shit” of making records, of shifting her voice into a portable mixing board, or perhaps she edits the images of herself that we use to define her (“You just need the machine” she reminds us);[48] the entire image resolution is lower than expected.  Tiny circles populate the “pores” of the photo like a Pointillist painting rendered by a camera, rendering Björk, as Spin writer Jonathan Van Meter does in a considerably different context, “deeply strange and not so strange at all.”[49]

48.  For Acker, the bohemian contradiction that Moran identifies in her work, the same tension between marginalization (and the concomitant link to fragmentation), and the pressures of commercial acceptance remain problems of the untenable desire to “check out” of the market-driven publishing world where even this marginalization becomes liquidated by the mainstream’s ability to absorb and replicate: “the writer who chooses to write in ways that do not support the status quo can no longer rest in elitism, but, as was the case with Baudelaire, Rimbaud, and Artaud, must make clear the reasons for writing the way she or he does, must make those reasons, which are also and always political positions, present.”[50]

49.  “Absence” might be a better ending than “presence” given the themes of this essay.  Yet my argument for both Björk and Acker is that the “reasons” for such positions of astral disappearance—an absence that in relation to the ever-shifting but always totalizing mainstream becomes a new presence—gains operational validity through the diffuse disassociation of the unified ego, the “genius” of the artist, from the personae that oscillate throughout the sites of production and reception.  To be everywhere in all possible forms, official and unofficial, mainstream and marginalized, original and remixed/sampled, posits a accretion of image (and “meaning”) with a system of hyper-corporatized representation that pushes toward a necessity of “becoming-absence.”  Resistance, for Björk and Acker, manifests as a recognition of the futility of co-opted culture jamming, and refuses to offer solutions that will easily be commodified by the constructed culture industry.

50. The Moroccan writer, Mohamed Choukri, came upon Jean Genet in Tangier, observed the man who was never there—and against his friend’s advice, dared to speak with him directly:

You are Monsieur Genet, aren’t you?

He hesitated for an instant, and without replying, said:  Who are you?

I waited before saying:  A Moroccan writer.

He held out his hand.  Enchanté.[51]

51.  In Acker’s Blood and Guts in High School, Genet holds out his hand before trouncing Janey all over North Africa, eventually leaving her to die.  Genet is off to see the performance of one of his plays, signaling Janey’s subordinate position even within the avant-garde economic system.  For Choukri, in this instance of his original encounter with the writer, Genet possesses no “fixed” body to receive.  Genet held out his hand to the air, to the world, to the image of himself that he receives in the eyes of other.  It was for Choukri to hear the word “Enchanté,” and move it from the mouth of the French writer to ear of the eager supplicant.  Just as easily, Choukri could have missed the ghost who walked alongside him, or, he could have met Genet exactly as he relates in his text, while actually writing the event in an entirely alternate fashion.  Perhaps he never “really” encountered Genet, or the “real” Genet who is always and already a fiction simply becomes folded into body of whoever approaches him.  As Björk offers in her song “All Neon Like” (Homogenic): “I’ll heal you/…with a razor blade,/I’ll cut a slit open/and the luminous beam/feeds you, honey!!!”

52.  When the video stream for “Cocoon” begin to play on my computer, I am simultaneously listening to the remix record Telegram (to the track “Headphones”). On the headphones, both tracks broadcast simultaneously, and even after I realize that I am receiving dual input, I wonder, as the soft cocoon enveloped Björk’s body, if the tape would save “her” life.  My Björk, a construct of the accidental editing table, has been folded and replicated to the point that I am unable to discern which remixes are accidental, or, in the soft language of Vespertine, the image produces only “An echo, a stain.”

53.  Don’t mistake this ending for the reification of either Björk or Acker, a here-is-how-they-radically-disrupt-the-system epiphany of typical cultural studies ambition.  I may be offering to you, the reader and the listener, a theory of absence-that-is-presence, but just as every other critic must do, I shift my own body using whatever elements of the non-body we absorb from our subjects.  In the “Pagan Poetry” video, the sexualized Björk, draped in pearls, emerges into corporeality only halfway through the video; she is preceded by pulsating, copulating lines and indeterminate drawings that thump together into writhing liquid bubbles.  At the end of the video, she once again toggles between a creature of flesh and drawing, original and facsimile.  After she proclaims “he makes me want to hand myself over,” we receive a view of her back, six rings pierce the skin about her vertebrae, laced with a string of pearls dropping below the picture space.  Scars indicate that insertion points have been made into the flesh of a person who may not be a person, a Björk who is at once herself, and at the same time, no one in particular at all.  I freeze the image on the computer.

54.  I am watching DC Lemay Ricardo Lopez the Björk-that-is-inside-of-us nervously approach his idol somewhere in a indeterminate space that emerges from drawing and thrusting bubbles where shadows populate the night.  Acker’s Genet tells Janey: ‘I’m sitting here, with you now, but I might easily not be.’[52] Ignoring the warning, I move toward the mixing deck of print and promise, a remix of this essay and the track “I Miss You” playing against the backdrop of this nowhere café.

The music calls to her:  “You are Björk, are you not?”

She hesitates for a moment, her ears indulging in the hypnotic beats of a discordant melody:  “And who are you who sounds so much like me?

“I am a critic.”

She glistens in the sun: turns first into an animal, then into a turntable.

Enchanté,” she whispers—smashing my head repeatedly against the ground that is not there, really, at all.

Note:  I wish to offer special thanks to my research assistant Kirsten Jorgenson in preparation of this article.  Kirsten’s insights, research, and abiding appreciation for the work of Kathy Acker proved to be essential in the production of this text.


[1] Kathryn, Hume, “Voice in Kathy Acker’s Fiction,” Contemporary Literature 42 (2001): 503.

[2] Hume, 509.

[3] Elliot, 7.

[4] Joe Moran, Star Authors: Literary Celebrity in America (London: Pluto, 2000), 136.

[5] Kirsten Jorgenson, “Kathy Acker and the Search for the Amorous Exchange,” Paper for English 205: Twentieth Century American Literature, Lake Forest College, 7.

[6] Kathy Acker, Pussycat Fever (San Francisco: AK Press, 1995), 1.

[7] Moran, 144.

[8] Jeanette Winterson, “Introduction,” in Essential Acker, viii.

[9] Björk, interview by Mark Russell and Robert Sandall.  Mixing It, BBC1, <http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio3/world/bjorktext.shtml>  (3 September 2002).

[10] See section 4 of this essay.

[11] Donna J. Haraway, Simians, Cyborg, and Women (New York: Routledge, 1991), 152.

[12] Kathy Acker, Empire of the Senseless (New York: Grove Press, 1988), 50.

[13] Acker, Empire of the Senseless, 64.

[14] Acker, Empire of the Senseless, 71.

[15] Acker, Empire of the Senseless, 140.

[16] Kathy Acker, Blood and Guts in High School, 163.

[17] Acker, Blood and Guts in High School, 165.

[18] Björk, Liner notes, Family Tree, Elektra compact discs, 2002.

[19] Björk, Family Tree.

[20] Björk, Family Tree.

[21] Scholder, Essential Acker, xi.

[22] Roland Barthes, “The Death of the Author,” in Image Music Text, ed. Stephen Heath (London: Fontana Paperbacks, 1982), 145.

[23] As well as the other recent Grove Press re-issue, Rip-Off Red, Girl Detective and The Burning Bombing of America),

[24] Gilles Deleuze, Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987), 6.

[25] Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 4.

[26] Björk, Liner Notes, Telegram, Elektra compact disk, 1996.

[27] Acker, Empire of the Senseless, 134.

[28] Acker, Empire of the Senseless, 134.

[29] Björk, interview by Donna Karan, in Findarticles.com, September 2001, <www.findarticles.com>  (3 September 2002).

[30] J. C. Lemay, “Hidden Trip — A Björk’s Hidden Place Trip Hop Dub Remix by JC Lemay!,” <http://deepsound.net/Björk_vespertine/Björk_hidden_place_remix.html&gt; (2 January 2003).

[31] Kathy Acker, Rip-Odd Red, Girl Detective and The Burning Bombing of America: The Destruction of the U.S., 1972, (New York: Grove Press, 2002) 166.

[32] Acker, “Bodies of Work,” Bodies of Work, 144.

[33] Acker, “Bodies of Work,” Bodies of Work, 145.

[34] Acker, “Bodies of Work,” Bodies of Work, 150.

[35] Kathy Acker, “All Girls Together,” Guardian, 3 May 1997, reprinted in Spice Online, <http://spicegirls.allgeneration.net/information/ weekend-may97.htm> (15 January 2003).

[36] Moran, 148.

[37] Bunbury.

[38] Dieter (mdieter@hotmail.com).

[39] Co-producers M/M (Paris), Commentary on “Hidden Place” video, Björk.community > quicktime gallery, <http://www.Björk.com/videogallery/&gt; (13 January 03).

[40] Jean Genet, Our Lady of the Flowers, trans. Bernard Frechtman (New York: Grove Press, 1963), 129

[41] Jean Genet, Funeral Rites, ed. trans. Bernard Frechtman (New York: Grove Press, 1969), 129.  [See my essay “‘Cell’ My Last Words Everywhere: Filmic Fiction in Leni Riefenstahl, Jean Genet, and William S. Burroughs” in Literary Modernism and Photography, ed. Paul Hansom (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press) 235-250, for more on the “genetic” coding of the image.]

[42] Acker, “Writing, Identity, and Copyright in the Net Age,” Bodies of Work, 103.

[43] Acker, “Writing, Identity, and Copyright in the Net Age,” Bodies of Work, 104.

[44] Björk, Interview by Donna Karan.

[45] McDonell, 54.

[46] Acker, Empire of the Senseless, 29.

[47] Acker, Empire of the Senseless, 34.

[48] Mim Udovitch, “Björk,” Rolling Stone, 17 November 1994: 68.

[49] Van Meter, 98.

[50] Kathy Acker, “Proposition One,” in The Artist in Society: Rights, Roles, and Responsibilities, eds. Carol Becker and Ann Weins (Chicago: New Art Examiner Press, 1995), 44.

[51] Mohamed Choukri, Jean Genet in Tangier, trans. Paul Bowles (New York: Ecco Press, 1974.), 4.

[52] Acker, Blood and Guts in High School, 119.

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