One day novel stuff finds a book called Blood and Guts in High School (1978) by Kathy Acker and begins to read. This book is about a girl called Janey, who fucks her father then runs away and ends up hanging out with a wild bunch of kids called THE SCORPIONS. Then some hoodlums kidnap her and lock her in a room in a slum in New York City, where a Persian slave trader teaches her to be a whore, before she escapes to Tangier and begins an adventure in the middle-east with Jean Genet, the French novelist.
Father: So it’s like, a novel?
novel stuff: Yes. But unlike any you’ve read before. It’s challenging, in more than one sense.
Father (curious): Oh, in what way?
novel stuff: Well, there’s the format for starters. It’s a collage of sketches, diary entries, dialogue, poetry, and even Janey’s Persian notes.
Father: What else?
novel stuff: The sections on literature are good. The Scarlet Letter figures largely, as Janey relates to its tale of a woman who falls foul of Puritan New England society. It’s also surely important that Genet — who plays a large part in the latter half of the book — was, in real life, marginalised as a homosexual and convicted criminal.
“Little by little Janey begins to understand how beautiful Genet is. She’s so enamoured with him she’s creating him. Truth and falsehood, memory, perception, and fantasy: all are toys in this swirling that is him-her. She’s predicting her future.”
So this book is challenging in the sense of difficult, but also in the sense that it challenges and subverts existing narratives — what is a novel? What is identity? What is femininity? What is language? It is frequently uncomfortable to read, filled as it is with profanity and drawings of dicks and cunts — Acker, like Burroughs, refuses to compromise. Even as you read, the book seems to push back, forcing you to examine your own mindset as you approach it.
It’s astonishing to think that Blood and Guts in High School was published in 1978, over thirty years ago. It remains utterly radical, vibrant, and relevant.