Lisa Appignanesi: Kathy Acker, Angela Carter, and the Sadeian Woman

Lisa Appignanesi has a new essay published in the New York Review of Books entitled ‘Kathy Acker: A Study in the Sadeian Woman’, an allusion to Angela Carter’s controversial 1979 book which argues that the writings of the Marquis de Sade could aim the feminist movement. In the article, Appignanesi reviews a new exhibition of Acker’s work at the London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA), entitled “I, I, I, I, I, I, I, Kathy Acker.” With reference to de Sade’s famous female double act, Appignanesi writes that Acker was “nothing if not a mistress of the contradictions of being woman, a post-punk amalgam of de Sade’s masochistic Justine, virtuous in her enforced prostitution, and his triumphant libertine Juliette”. Carter famously analysed these two figures of femininity, concluding that neither were perfect solutions to the problems of patriarchal society. The similarities between Acker and Carter do not stop here, for just as Carter’s 1970s writings were seen as radical and her brand of feminism “got her in trouble with the sisters” as she once put it in an interview, Appiganesi argues that Acker’s “transgressiveness and frank avowal of desire was radical at the time, but in ways that don’t necessarily track comfortably with contemporary feminisms.”

Appignanesi also notes that both Acker and Carter wrote adaptations of Frank Wedekind’s “Lulu plays” (Earth Spirit [1895] and Pandora’s Box [1094]), with Acker’s Lulu Unchained performed at the ICA in 1985 and produced by Michael Morris. As she writes:

It’s interesting to note that Angela Carter, who shared some of Acker’s preoccupations but who was a very different, though equally radical writer, also attempted a play about Lulu—that emblem of a polymorphous female sexuality so innocently powerful as to be, inevitably, killed off by the hostile male power it attracted.

Finally, subscribers to the New York Review of Books newsletter can also read about a meeting between Acker and Carter. As Appignanesi explains:

“I invited [Acker] home to meet Angela Carter, a good friend, thinking they might have something in common. They did, but also really didn’t.”

To read Appignanesi’s full article, head over to the New York Review of Books by clicking here.

Finally, anyone interested in exploring the connections between Acker’s and Carter’s work, you might be interested in reading Nicola Pitchford’s excellent book Tactical Readings: Feminist Postmodernism in the Novels of Kathy Acker and Angela Carter (Bucknell University Press, 2002).

Nicola Pitchford - Tactical Readings.jpg


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