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In Memoriam to Identity by Kathy Acker

In Memoriam to Identity (1990)

by Kathy Acker

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It almost sounds like the setup for an elaborate joke told in a depressing bar: what do Rimbaud and Verlaine, Faulkner's Compsons, and a stripper named Airplane have in common? (Punchline: ...)

Obsessive love is all over the place in literature and in literary lives, and Acker weaves a few of these stories together in her wise, chaotic way. There's something here about how we create ourselves, how we assemble identity, that "house into which you can enter, lock the door, shut the windows forever against all storms." (The experience of love--even or especially if it's a bad idea--can act as a catalyst for this, but suffering is not the only thing that can change a person.)

( )
  melaniemaksin | Oct 14, 2013 |
There's no doubt that this book is driven more by voice and character than plot. Stylistically, the book has a certain amount of inertia driving it, nearly forcing readers along. And perhaps all of this makes sense, considering that the book's very title puts the question of identity as a focus. Yet, as a whole, I have to say that the book doesn't hold together as any sort of novel--at least for this reader.

The beginning and the ending, especially, dragged for me, and seemed to run along with little to no focus outside of the extended inner monologues that form the bulk of the novel. Acker's style, also, seems to built for maximum shock, with obscenities and sex overflowing on nearly every page, eroding any reader's sensitivity and patience until, I have to imagine, they put down the book in annoyance, or stop noticing the X-ratedness of the work (as this reader did).

I admit, at times I got caught up in the voices, but in the end, I'm afraid I have no reason to linger over rethinking the workings of the novel or the language, as I feel that shock moreso than meaning is at the heart of it all--if not, I'd be willing to bet, it could be 50 pages instead of 250.

Simply and obviously, I can't recommend it. ( )
  whitewavedarling | Apr 29, 2012 |
I was enraptured with Acker's opus, Blood in Guts and High School, and almost as intrigued by her take on the cyberpunk genre in Empire of the Senseless. When I discovered that In Memoriam to Identity had her tackling the life Rimbaud, one of my favorite poets, I was elated and anxious to tear into its pages. The book is not wholly focused on Rimbaud as a character, as it also gives us a view into the lives of a sex worker named Airplane and an incestuous nymphomaniac named Capitol. The use of multiple narratives is borrowed from Faulkner's 'The Sound and the Fury', as are a few character names.

Such a premise sounds at least as promising as a feminist take on William Gibson, or a teenage girl tramping around North Africa with Jean Genet. Unlike her previous experiments, the final product is not as interesting as the initial idea. The section that focuses on Rimbaud plays out as a shallow biographical rehashing injected with the author's familiar positions regarding love, art, gender, and human interaction. The story of Capitol starts out as an interesting meditation on childhood abandonment, promiscuity, and sibling incest, though it soon turns into a jumbled mess that fails to engage the reader. It is only when focused on Airplane that the novel, at least in part, shines with the radiance of Acker's other works. It gives us a strong female protagonist on a quest for rebirth, providing us with a coherent narrative while serving up fair portions of philosophy and purposeful smut.

Altogether, Acker's Faulknerian fever dream lulls rather than lacerates, and doesn't entice the reader to return to it. Those not acquainted with Acker should start with an earlier book where she is at her most original, inventive, and defiant. ( )
1 vote poetontheone | May 26, 2010 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 080213579X, Paperback)

In this characteristically sexy, daring, and hyperliterate novel, Kathy Acker interweaves the stories of three characters who share the same tragic flaw: a predilection for doomed, obsessive love. Rimbaud, the delinquent symbolist prodigy, is deserted by his lover Verlaine time and time again. Airplane takes a job dancing at Fun City, the seventh tier of the sex industry, in order to support her good-for-nothing boyfriend. And Capitol feels alive only when she's having sex with her brother, Quentin. In Memoriam to Identity is at once a revelatory addition to, and an irreverent critique of, the literature of decadence and self-destruction.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:33 -0400)

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