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Triptych from “Stripper Disintegration”

By Kathy Acker

Introduction by Lizzie Borden
  • November 04, 2022
Portrait of Kathy Acker by Michel Delsol
Portrait of Kathy Acker by Michel Delsol

I had been collecting stories for an anthology about strippers for a decade when, in January 2017, my friend Adele Bertei and I went to the Standard Hotel in Downtown LA for a night of readings from and about Kathy Acker, part of Fiona Allison Duncan’s series, “Hard to Read.” Adele had known Acker well in New York; I went primarily to see Chris Kraus. Before the reading began, we had a quick bite with some of Kraus’s and Acker’s friends, including Matias Viegener, the executor of Acker’s estate.

Afterward, I wondered if Acker had written stories specifically about stripping. Too shy to write to Viegener, I asked Fiona if she would. He wrote back that Acker had indeed written two pieces, one published as “Politics” (1972) — one of her first pieces of writing — and a short story that she never quite finished. He’d been holding onto it for a while, he said, but he was open to sharing some of it.

I met with Viegener at his house in LA, where we studied the manuscript for “Stripper Disintegration” — sixty pages, unnumbered and out of order — on his long wood kitchen table. Over endless cups of strong espresso, we pieced them together like a jigsaw puzzle. Viegener — so familiar with Acker’s mind and style — decoded words and references. “Target” and “Kathy Kat” were names Acker used as a stripper; the jazz pieces it mentions were the music to which Acker stripped. Sometimes we’d both have to resort to guesswork. We added spaces for clarity but left her punctuation unchanged. Eventually, a shorter “story” emerged. The sections published here are taken from that story we pruned, the entirety of which appears in Whorephobia: Strippers on Art, Work, and Life.

Viegener agreed to publish the piece in the anthology because, he said, Acker would have loved to be in the company of other sex workers. When she wrote about dancing, she interwove other strippers’ narratives with her own. “Stripper Disintegration” includes dream material, acid trips, comments from the audience, and other found texts alongside the stories she heard from fellow strippers. She listened to them, and they shared with each other. In many ways, this is the intention of the anthology — collaboration, dialogue, and community.

— Lizzie Borden

MY CHILDHOOD

for Warren:

I’m a frigid bitch who hates to work aren’t you glad you live with me I’m glad I live with anyone (my mother) how’s the weather I’m moving to San Francisco how’s the weather are you dying of a heart attack I love you how’s the weather I’m the night-time secretary I stuff the ghosts dead teachers into the trumpets of angels bodies shoot out all over the U.S. it’s Vietnam retaliating  the phone freaks install cancer into all the computers we send out bombs against the Vietnamese nothing explodes the end of the war any­thing can work through memory        strangers walk into my office I don’t see them because I’m blind through the win­dows I see Peter David (Antin) make love mmmm I’m going to become Secretary of Music          I’ll give anyone who says it’s magic wings they have to make love to me provide snakes for my pet bats I’m always sick I have arthritis rheumatism the three times I’ve been closest to death I haven’t been scared of dying if I die I won’t know about it that’s strange Peter’s talking to the car tell the car he’ll give her (him) a bath don’t worry I go to an all male Catholic military school after gym class I’m in the shower seven older boys enter the shower they rape me I’m prejudiced against fags I hand out posters pro free love           a priest calls me my two friends into his office when my first friend comes out she looks shocked a black car passes by the priest tells me physical love is for­bidden he gets hornier and hornier he can’t control himself he puts his hand on my shoulder why are you for free love Peter doesn’t sleep with men at this moment            rips my shirt apart I run out of his office I get freaked out thinking about this these stories explain my childhood I can’t stay madly in love for more than a week I want to see Pam the angels hover above my childhood         freak

A SHORT NARRATION OF WAR AND DRUGS

this is a narration ha ha the end of the world the end of the world after after the after who after all the world is you I do an after suck my ass           Peter gets home Pam hasn’t called cop car disappears what do you dream about read mastur­bate the desert appears bodies stretch out upon if we enter the cubical giant city huge blocks move apart at the center don’t you understand you’re on acid the blocks tumble over each other         constant change as we leave the city a gorge valley   climb up rocks tiny ledges impossible passes red purple birds skwawk craw         the world ends begins three times I get it all together I’m coming down I live among humans     I’m in myself can’t get out people press upon each other cause each other to change I’m meshed up with every being only emotions matter fuck the trip I’m too fucked up to tell if I’m really sick get to sleep I’ll see Pam tomorrow   allowed go cruising       this is garbage I’m too tired Ben makes it with every dame he caresses Joyce in front of my face he expects me to not make him feel guilty sleep with whatever woman he brings home I’m supposed to be getting interested in sleeping with women I’m too sensitive shouldn’t plague him with my problems men like young girls I study my pictures            when I was 17 through 21 learn how to model my face I look as young as possible I look younger now than I did when I was 20 I’m lucky I have oily skin this job keeps my body in shape I’m too old to learn to love women I’d have to make too many changes         piss in the toilet I don’t want to work in this place too sleazy there’s no less repulsive place to dance I should be working (5) more days a week you figure it all out all I want is to make love to you

we’re the ghosts of Solana Beach we come to you from Gre­cian depths of insanity from the hollows of Africa       voodoo exotic means eastern anything means shit moreover I don’t know more have no job we’re interested in being rich because there’s absolutely no possibility we’ll ever be anything but bums we wouldn’t know how to be materialistic Lenin wakes up says he’s around goes back to sleep drunk let me talk to Peter let me talk to Peter I’m not paid to be your fucking toady we (the ghosts) take out our knives           Pam sleeps with me! I can be nauseously sentimental!    erase    the ghosts are peeing everything’s fucked  do they read the books   I tell them the plots and meanings do they give a shit no 9:30 tonight I don’t want to talk to you I’m depressed you want attention I don’t want to apologize what the hell I’m trapped here take out Sun Ra album leave twenty disastrous years go by         O dear our first fight      will our true marriage survive the only thing which comes through is fuck the political part O I wanted to warn you girls I know more than anyone there’s going to be a bust I took acid Monday then Friday Saturday Saturday was wonderful         I saw yellow trees everywhere was yellow mist endless water against the sky incredibly mellow emotions aren’t that important how fast can I alienate you       that assumes I have friends I might as well write as much as possible black poets find the golden spirit I can’t think of any stories to put down I’m scared to sleep with a woman I fall in love with two straight women I make out with them they refuse to sleep with me one year I want to sleep with a woman straightforward feeling I fall in love with a gay woman am I gay or straight I made out with her not now sleeping with her mad mood

STRIPPERS CHAOS DIRGE

body not here who cares what the fuck they want! one finger two fingers move ankle to cunt San Diego enters my body the Navy blows up! Indict Nixon for blowing up three arse­nals one tank ten ships       the sailors flee enter the pink car we drive through Los Angeles Oregon here’s the pink car they’re all dead let’s see your license I could take you to jail it’s not my fault it’s not my fault where are the cats now   I feel powerless I’m not able to control myself murderer pervert what do you do I go to school what year graduate student do you plan to continue sick of the whole system I like what I’m doing what do you do I dream I’m a good-for-nothing shows go over badly tonight I don’t have any hair I’m not a real female give me a double dildo I dance slow slower Bree kisses Ginger I kiss Bree and Kathy Kat       Cybil takes my phone number    bunch of drivel diary turd but still the truth I need a good luck charm ward off evil demons stomach aches from codeine I pass out on stage end up in some guy’s lap  they don’t rape women down here only girls this is pig paradise you can’t get a screw if you try            in retaliation Peter cries I won’t give you my car I don’t give a fuck if you lay out in the grass all night arrested twice don’t bother me I’m perfect I want my cats I tell Kim Ginger’s going to move in to the new house I can fuck her I’m going to fuck her Ginger thinks I’m serious I don’t go after women that way I wouldn’t pass up the opportunity this is a bust    I’m frightened take off your clothes bend over face to the ground where’s our take this gun goes off you’d better do what I say now you’ll learn I can do anything I want   the narration of the ghosts is dying america death            blow up everything each building San Diego diamond death gas and light building     three block cop com­plex            the whole of everything

fuck all audiences you readers hearers snuffle snotasses hate you I do what I want to strange writhing shit get that lousy jazz off the stage do you want her do you want her to come sit on you[r] head piss over your green cocks no fuck off do you want smear it your asses what other shit can I do           two years graduate school fits you for this replica of Rockefeller beep-beep I’m going to dance to nothing but jazz Elliot Crap-cart bee-eep — schliepeel-li-loo ignores everyone when I start man­aging here everyone laughs at me you got to keep repeating it fuck you I have diamonds in my cunt my cunt’s going to poison you take your arms wrap your intestines into a straitjacket set fire to your hair stick knives into your blood vessels red white blue spurts this is more exciting than New York every hippy is like us hippies     a woman has long hair various colors doesn’t do anything gross or strange loves teases men have them do things for her. I’m in drag I’m a creature from the third planet Jigoplex everything (hell) 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 0 past 0    it’s Jigo­plex or LSD I’m completely evil the worse smell in the world EVIL pour coke over his head      Harris is dead I didn’t kill him I have to get rid of his body or the police will think I killed him we cut off his head and arms we have to hide the blood we bury him in an underground stream of air       he lies face down in the snow no one will ever find him  hey you want to be in Pent­house I’m getting my rocks off        you can only meet this slick creep if I say so       you don’t have to fuck to get into           they only want untrained chicks I almost get in at 5:00 in the morning Marsha Ginger Bree Joyce the phone rings OK I don’t know I’m their pawn   stars shoot out of rotting corpses diamonds swirl round my body I have a million jobs do them all effort­lessly perfectly I have tons of money I dance write whenever I want destroy

the wanderers in chaos meet evil
smoke one joint two joints I’m riding to another placevomit in
the bathroom only time left to write have to write down dreams

death I’m making love with a woman my age we hold each other’s hand thighs next to thigh my mouth touches her mouth long brown hair I get into my pink car I don’t know how to drive I’m on a two-lane road a highway ahead two roads run into one the road turns sharp to the right I head into the bushes I have to swerve around the cars ahead of me to my left swerve around the car on my right I made the sharp turn my doors keep opening I drive past Cardiff up a narrow gravel road to a College old stone buildings in the midst of green woods hills dip up down I’m on a bicycle I’m leaving school on the stone road I don’t know how to bicycle my sister’s with me knit a pink and brown sweater the car keeps becoming a bicycle it’s already night there’s no more day we’ve been paddling for hours past Cardiff finally we reach New York just past midnight everyone I know is furious at me we drove 500 miles I didn’t know we could do it            brown brick buildings    I’m pacifying my mother and father diamonds cover our naked bodies we dance nine shows drop down dead you better be alive tomorrow          O Ronny please I’m soo tired I can’t work tomorrow I’ll fuck you tell you you’re God I like to first ski then ball third read fourth dance I’m going to vomit the sun comes out sneaks into the center of my head energy! Robin’s vomit is yellow you’re a whore and a slut I might dance nude on the stage I’m not in your category vomit get your shit together       hi momma bitch grab for each other tear clothes skin to bits yellow hair over the floor      I live in another world I get you a bead neck­lace tiny red and green dot ankh ring for good luck     I lie on the floor dead San Diego pukes over me the dancers leave their hair as shrouds      romantic elegy by stripper

kill a cop for fun

 

Kathy Acker was a writer and performance artist. Her books include Blood and Guts in High School; Empire of the Senseless; Don Quixote; Literal Madness; In Memoriam to Identity; My Mother: Demonology; and Pussy, King of the Pirates.
Lizzie Borden is a writer, director, editor, and script consultant. Her films include Regrouping, Born in Flames and Working Girls. She is the editor of Whorephobia: Strippers on Art, Work, and Life, out from Seven Stories Press in December.