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Empire of the Senseless

3.75  ·  Rating Details ·  852 Ratings  ·  67 Reviews
Set in the near future, in a Paris devastated by revolution and disease, Empire of the Senseless is narrated by two terrorists and occasional lovers, Thivai, a pirate, and Abhor, part-robot part-human. Together and apart, the two undertake an odyssey of carnage, a holocaust of erotic. "An elegy for the world of our fathers," as Kathy Acker calls it, where the terrorists an ...more
Paperback, 240 pages
Published January 13th 1994 by Grove Press (first published 1988)
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mark monday

kathy acker is the vicious successor to william s. burroughs: twisted master of the cut-up technique, postmodern doyenne, a romantic and nihilistic and clear-eyed uber-feminist, punk dyke (kinda), giddy regurgitator of scifi/horror/erotica tropes, transgressive misanthrope, a sophisticated and shamelessly political word-terrorist disguised as a reductive, barbaric, apolitical anarchist. Empire of the Senseless is, in my opinion, her uneasy and imperfect masterwork. if
Nate D
Jan 08, 2015 Nate D rated it really liked it
Some thoughts on revolutionary language:

The part of our being (mentality, feeling, physicality) which is free of all control let's call our 'unconscious'. Since it's free of control, it's our only defense against institutionalized meaning, institutionalized language, control, fixation, judgement, prison.

Ten years ago, it seemed possible to destroy language through language: to destroy language that normalizes and controls by cutting that language. Nonsense would attack the empire-making (empiric
Nathan "N.R." Gaddis
Feb 05, 2012 Nathan "N.R." Gaddis rated it it was amazing
The Back Story
At a bookshop in Hood River, OR, I found the following blurb attributed to David Foster Wallace on the reverse cover of the paperback of Mark Leyner's My Cousin, My Gastroenterologist:

"My Cousin, My Gastroenterologist will blow away your expectation of what late-model literature has to be. Unified by obsessions too eerie not to be real, this gorgeous rearrangement of our century's mental furniture is testimony to a new talent of Burroughs/Coover/Acker scale."

I converted to Team Ley
Dec 16, 2007 M. rated it really liked it
Allan Dyen-Shapiro
Nov 10, 2012 Allan Dyen-Shapiro rated it it was amazing
Transgressive fiction classic. I read it for the amazing style. She breaks every conceivable rule of grammar, barely builds the characters, chooses words to shock with lots of hard profanity, includes graphic violence and twisted sex, plays on words in truly cool ways, uses alliteration like a blunt instrument, punctuates the writing with word-art that plays with the typesetting in a way that would make e.e. cummings jealous, creates a jarring cityscape of a future Paris in ruins, taken over by ...more
Oct 01, 2007 El rated it it was ok
In this post-apocalyptic near-futuristic novel, the Algerians have taken over the Parisians, hearts are empty and violent sex of all kinds (heterosexual, homosexual, no ages disqualified) are frequent and the norm. The story is told from two perspectives: Thivai, a pirate, and Abhor, only part human. They carry on a sometimes-relationship as they attempt to take on the world in their terroristic/punk behaviors.

While Acker clearly had a handle on vision (which she put forth on paper in often horr
Nov 29, 2012 Faust rated it it was amazing
All of the negative reviews do a wonderful job of explaining why this novel is so wonderful. It sucks. There is hardly any plot, and what little of a plot exists is nearly impossible to follow. It is filled with over the top violent, and sexual imagery, that serves little purpose outside of shock. It is absolute shit, and should never be looked at as a piece of art or literature. Acker directly plagiarizes Gibson. It is wonderful. Please read it. It is horrible. Post-modernism Never read it. Loo ...more
Feb 25, 2012 Nora rated it did not like it
I mean I guess it's... poetic? But also like being trapped in someone else's really, really fucked up nightmare. Nigh unreadable!

Sample paragraph:

"Let's fuck on top of this fountain. Splashing the waters of hydro-chloric acid into my nostrils. Daddy. Pull off my fingernails. My back has been carved into roses. You scream that it's not only by you. As if you're alive or as if I'm not dreaming. As if I really possessed you and you really possessed me, we tore off each other's head and ate out the
Bob Rust
Apr 11, 2017 Bob Rust rated it it was amazing
Empire of the Senseless (1988), which features the not-quite terminal coupling of fleshly beings and Robots.
C.W. Smith
Aug 20, 2014 C.W. Smith rated it it was amazing
It's taken me over a year to get through this relatively small, difficult book.

As a reader, reading Kathy Acker is infuriating. Especially this text--Blood and Guts in High School benefits from a faster pace, so it reads better. Empire is a mess of words on the page. At times, you feel insulted that you're reading un-words and inconsistent plotlines. As a reader, this is not a good book, no no go away.

As a writer though, and as a thinker, and a lover of the human heart and its godly capacity to
Jul 01, 2008 Elizabeth rated it really liked it
I taught this and managed to traumatize a few students, light up the minds of a few more, and mildly intrigue the rest.

Acker is one of the brainiest writers of graphic violence that there is. Are there others this violent and this brainy?

A more internally metafictional novel than her earlier novels. Fascinating. The violence of it gave way by the end to an attempt at resolution. As my friend Allison and I used to joke about the work of another radical feminist author (my beloved Angela Carter),
Jul 13, 2011 Becky rated it did not like it
This book is horrible. I picked it up because of the story's interesting post-apocalyptic description and the comparisons to Burroughs but NOPE.

Here's a quick excerpt (I'm ruining nothing for you):

"When I got home, which was like every other home, my love was waiting for me. She wasn't dead, yet. She looked like a piece of red and dead meat. It was St Valentine' Day.

She wasn't dead. 'I'm on your meat line now,' I told her.

'You're what I make you,' Abhor said."

This isn't out of context - there is
Sabra Embury
I tried Acker, but I couldn't get past this on page 4:
"There was a young boy...This boy, almost as beautiful as a strand of my grandmother's cunt hair, from a distance and in fantasy loved my grandmother. He watched her go from John to John."

I mean filth is one thing, or even aggressive detail, especially when it's pragmatic, say: it amplifies a visual texture, but when shock terms are waxed and thrown into a pile for the sake of being edgy, I don't know, I'd rather watch a bullfight on tv or s
Ben Robinson
Jul 26, 2016 Ben Robinson rated it really liked it
Empire of the Senseless is the 2nd Acker I've read after Blood and Guts in High School, and this comparative heavyweight tome reads like the epic she'd been working up towards. Two terrorists, polysexual Parisian pirate Thivai and anarchist female cyborg Abhor act out a "holocaust of the erotic" on the high seas. Yes it's messy and very much of its Reaganite culture wars time but it's got plenty humour and exuberance going for it. Dive in, the water's lovely.
Jan 18, 2014 Johnny rated it did not like it
Acker takes the pornography of De Sade but not the philosophy, the sexuality of Genet but not the poetry, the randomness of Burroughs but not the authenticity.

It reminded me of Marilyn Manson - that teenage obsession with sex, gross-outs, and shock-value that can only come from the sterile, suburban, comfortably worry-less middle-class.

I gave it one star not because it's offensively bad, but because it's aggressively boring.
Apr 09, 2015 Chaserrrr rated it it was amazing
This is my favorite Kathy Acker novel. I just re-read it and what once seemed like a funhouse mirror image of the World we live in just seems like a mirror image of the World we live in. Full of disgust and crumbling under a stinging mist of hatred and misunderstanding.
Jan 25, 2015 Shi rated it did not like it
Incoherent ramblings of a troubled mind. No, thank you. Life is too short to waste my time with horrid content and a jumbled writing style.
Maxime Daher
May 09, 2010 Maxime Daher rated it it was ok
Good story; one of the singularily most awful writers who are an insult to the English language, though. In an ideal world, this book should be re-written by a competent writer.
Dec 05, 2016 Ross rated it it was ok
There's so much in there to unravel, unpick, unearth etc., but because of my no-doubt wandering frame of mind just now, I struggled with this one.
I sourced a few choice passages that'll help me with the thesis, but this strikes me a work that Acker intended to confuse, confound and so on. Would definitely benefit from a second and third go through.
Mar 20, 2017 Hannah rated it it was amazing
further updates: literally exactly what you'd expect from Kathy Acker: the effects of patriarchy exploded with rape, vomit, shit, and white supremacy on bodies. lots of really scary and ableist deployment of autism. i wish i knew non-academics who read this shit so i could discuss with them. glad to have given Kathy another try, 8 years after first exposure.

listen, it was not the best idea i've ever had to start reading this while alone without electricity in a forest

further updates to follow no
Mar 09, 2017 Stacy rated it did not like it
I am not sure why I keep torturing myself and picking up Acker's "literature," but I would not use "revolutionary" to describe what looks like the outline of a basic story created by someone who cannot write given to someone who is in the sophomore year of college to add some random philosophies, and then passed on to a 13-year-old kid to add as many swear words and sexual phrasings as possible. Better things are found in my cats' litterbox.
Jane Gregg
Mar 09, 2017 Jane Gregg rated it it was amazing
Kathy Acker is not your average canonical writer - but seriously smart and funny - and this one was wildly prescient about the current state of affairs in Washington D.C. The title says it all.
Jul 19, 2010 Bryan rated it really liked it
I wonder if this book were afraid that wouldn't happen in this one. After discovering Acker's work, I sought this title out therefore it is harder to relate to if you are not an android. Abhor and Thivai are two terrorists who need a drug (or something) as I write this and now the book makes more sense. They help bring about an Algerian revolution in an alternate universe Paris, and maybe that is why every thought they have is insane. It's an amazing thing.The main characters still murder the pe ...more
Thomas Hale
Jun 22, 2015 Thomas Hale rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was difficult, for a number of reasons. It's a "post-punk" feminist postmodern novel, detached from regular structures and tropes, and genre-wise it's very hard to pin down. The dreamlike stream-of-consciousness prose and the blends of inner and outer monologue didn't take me long to get used to. It's packed full of sex, violence, racism, and sexual violence, vivid and ugly. It's also peppered with really sweet or beautiful moments, or thoughts. The book is nakedly political, set in a ...more
Tristan Goding
Ugly? Aggressive? Confronting? Skanky? Obscene? Schizophrenic? Punk? Yep, this is definitely a Kathy Acker book. Those who are fans of William Gibson, Allen Ginsberg, and William Burroughs will certainly get a kick out of this one, as it feels like a kind of strange amalgam of all their works. In fact, to a certain degree, one could say that this book is a work of outright plagiarism. If you're into seriously warped literature like I am, however, you must seek this out. As a high schooler, Acker ...more
Keith Schnell
Jan 03, 2015 Keith Schnell rated it it was amazing
Kathy Acker’s writing style makes Empire of the Senseless a challenging book to get through, but its ending is worth slogging through several disjointed chapters of character development and ambiance-setting side stories. The author’s ability to bring together all of these elements – the ultraviolent, post-apocalyptic background; the deliberately jangled thought processes of one of her main characters; the overall, strongly punk-inspired theme of destroying a corrupt old society without a clear ...more
Sep 19, 2014 Michele rated it it was ok
Shelves: postmodernism
Acker's fragmented postmodern narrative is a surreal and extreme look at a post-apocalyptic landscape overrun with sex, incest, rape, terrorism, violence, psychosis, and... marginalized cyborgs.

And that's just the tip of the 'ol SHOCK ICEBERG right there. This novel is *extremely* graphic. I'm not kidding, folks. Proceed with caution.

As for Acker's writing... imagine fucked up words written on cardboard, then cut up into pieces and haphazardly taped back together out-of-order, upside down, and
Stephen Poltz
Mar 20, 2016 Stephen Poltz rated it it was ok
I never had a class in postmodern literature, so my ability to understand it has been hit or miss. “Empire of the Senseless” is a miss. It’s sort of a novel about a post-apocalyptic Paris narrated by Thivai and Abhor, a pirate and a half- robot. But it isn’t really a novel. It’s a dark, transgressive, deconstructed look at society told in something akin to stream of consciousness narration, made to shock rather than entertain. It’s a very hard book to read. I found myself trying to simply take i ...more
Jun 25, 2014 Downward rated it really liked it
There's some pretty typical Acker stuff here: father/daughter incest, rape, genderbending, prostitution, pirates, long plotless takes on history and economics. What gets this book deeper than its plot, which is essentially about two lovers with morphing identities (robots, pirates...), is the way it focuses on how we can use language as a prison, or how we can use language to break out of prison. Much of the book is focsued on a literal prison that also functions as a metaphor for how people get ...more
Mar 17, 2011 David rated it it was amazing
This has to be one of the most challenging books I've read in a while, but also one of the most rewarding. Moving yet grotesque, insightful yet horrifying, this is a marvelous piece of writing, confusing to follow though it is. Acker is a master. Certainly writes with more balls than anybody I've read in a while. Dives right into aspects that other writers shy away from. Frankly, I'm not completely surprised that I haven't heard a lot about Acker. The writing is amazing, but I doubt many people ...more
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Born of German-Jewish stock, Kathy Acker was brought up by her mother and stepfather (her natural father left her mother before Kathy was born) in a prosperous district of NY. At 18, she left home and worked as a stripper. Her involvement in the sex industry helped to make her a hit on the NY art scene, and she was photographed by the newly fashionable Robert Mapplethorpe. Preferring to be known s ...more
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“But : We're still human. Human because we keep on battling against all these horrors, the horrors caused and not caused by us. We battle not in order to stay alive, that would be too materalistic, for we are body and spirit, but in order to love each other.” 13 likes
“The part of our being (mentality, feeling, physicality) which is free of all control let's call our 'unconscious'. Since it's free of control, it's our only defense against institutionalized meaning, institutionalized language, control, fixation, judgement, prison.

Ten years ago, it seemed possible to destroy language through language: to destroy language that normalizes and controls by cutting that language. Nonsense would attack the empire-making (empirical) empire of language, the prisons of meaning.

But this nonsense, since it depended on sense, simply pointed back to the normalizing institutions.

What is the language of the 'unconcious'? (If this ideal unconscious or freedom doesn't exist: simply pretend that it does, use fiction, for the sake of survival, for all of our survival.) Its primary language must be taboo, all that is forbidden. Thus an attack on the institutions of prison via language would demand the use of language or languages that are which aren't acceptable, which are forbidden. Language, on one level, constitutes a series of codes and social and historical agreements. Nonsense doesn't per se break down the codes; speaking precisely that which the codes forbid breaks the codes.”
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