This book is a tonic for 2018. Olivia Laing embodies Kathy Acker and imagines her response to events of 2017 in the weird world that is daily revealed to be crueler than we’d ever imagined. Generous heapings of Acker’s own words course through the pages as we try to make sense of what is happening. The Charlottesville Nazis, the Houston flood, the North Korea escalation. Parallels with the Jewish concentration camps and how it all worked because the Nazis induced numbness on both sides, a group of prisoners managing to escape by un-numbing themselves. “Imagine what a process it was to unnumb yourself, to see it as it actually was. That’s the only reason to be an artist: to escape, to bear witness to this.”
Kathy acts as divine inspiration for Laing in a way I’m familiar with, having “co-written” a poem with Kathy myself. She hurls us up into the sky with her, whiplashing us around. When Laing despairs about the House of Commons shouting Shame at the woman who asked what was being done about climate change: “This is how it is then, walking backwards into disaster, braying all the way.”
Laing weaves in true biographical details about Kathy into this imaginary tale in a way that keeps her still alive. How I wish we still had her around, what would she make of the current state of affairs?