Kerfe's Reviews > Blood and Guts in High School

Blood and Guts in High School by Kathy Acker
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May 30, 2009

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bookshelves: fiction
Read in May, 2009

Is this pornographic? The sex is here, but it doesn't seem real, even with graphic illustrations. From incest to sex slavery, I'm sure it's supposed to be symbolic in some way. Acker's character Janey is an amplification of the sense of oppression and misunderstanding adolescents feel, with political ramifications--the exploitation of women by men, the destructive power of money, poverty, drugs--but it's all dreamlike, an exaggerated fantasy of the adolescent mind, an acting-out through a compilation of all the wrongs done to and felt by the young, served in a mythical yet strident tone. No one really knows, cares about, understands Janey. No one can/will give her what she wants and needs. What DOES she want and need?

Acker's writing often reminds me of conversations I hear on the street and in the subway, especially among groups of young people. "Fucking" is the main descriptive term, often with "mother" as modifier, with liberal use of variations of "shit" "bitch" "nigger" and "ho". I guess it's supposed to be cool, but it ends up being meaningless. Just what are they trying to say?

It may once have been shocking to speak this way--maybe even in 1978 when "Blood and Guts" was written--but now such language use is merely tiresome and repetative. It doesn't enlighten or give insight or enlarge. Acker is very fond of "cunt" and "dick". So?

I wonder, what reaction is she hoping for?

Certainly, there is plenty of violence and exploitation in the world, but Janey's experiences come off not as hard reality, but as the lurid fantasies of an inexperienced child who has watched too much TV, seen too many bad movies, trying to show how worldly she is. There is so much reporting today on the actual horrors human inflict on other humans that the self-centered sense of isolation and persecution Janey delivers has a lot to compete with in the sympathy department.

Still, some of the writing is good--I particularly enjoyed her poetry "translations" where she puts English into Persian syntax. Her riff modernizing "The Scarlet Letter" was interesting, and some of the drawings are worth looking at.

But all in all?--overrated.
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