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Reading the Delightful Michael DuPlessis’s Memoirs of JonBenet by Kathy Acker

By Harriet Staff

2-22-13_DuPlessis

The Tarpaulin Sky Press blog has a review up of Michael DuPlessis’s The Memoirs of Jonbenet by Kathy Acker (Les Figues TrenchArt Surplus Series 2012) that you should check out–Megan Milks writes right off that it’s a “total delight…as perkily pretend as a JonBenet portrait and as exhilarating and unpindownable as anything Acker has written.” More:

“We’re in fiction,” JonBenet declares halfway through, “which is the best kind of reincarnation there is” (47). Here she returns as a fetching doll child whose adventures in artifice include, in discrete chapters, a love affair with Little Lord Fauntleroy, wherein she drinks candy cocktails and listens to Japanese pop music on his gold crushed velvet couch; a visit to the Denver Art Museum, where she communicates with the Synnot Children through the painting of the same name; a dream in which she turns Goth, goes to school, and encounters Alienated Jock Nerds with toy guns; and a flashback to her bedroom on the night of her death, where the evil Blue Fairy tries to persuade her to become real.

Then there’s Kathy Acker, who haunts the text as both the teller of JonBenet’s tales, periodically intruding to drop erudite references, and a character in her own right, a doll with four costume changes (Kathy as O, Kathy as Don Quixote, Kathy as Pip, Kathy as Pussy King of the Pirates) and one “single long earring [that] quivers with eloquence” (67). In one chapter she issues an invigorating lecture called “Why Stephen King Writes Such Bad Novels”; in another, she dreams she’s a teenager named Tiffany drowning in ecstasy at her Sweet Sixteen party. At one point she becomes H.P. Lovecraft: “My god,” she gasps, looking in the mirror post-transformation, “I look like William Burroughs!” (25).

Finally we come to the author himself, who, like Acker, occasionally interferes in the narration and also appears as a character, an unnamed philosophy professor who “has sat down to write the memoirs of a doll, in a style exquisitely suitable, without condescension or bathos, and in a spirit of evident enjoyment. Why?” (ask audience members at his lecture) (32).

Oh, and these are all kind of the same character, except not. The narrative voice is structured like a matryoshka doll: Kathy Acker’s the outermost layer, tattooed and pierced and miniaturized; nestled inside her is JonBenet the adorable, blithely sparkling through Kathy Acker’s wooden skin; stuffed inside her is the solid center, a version of the author himself, largely hidden but for the rare peep through the crack in JonBenet’s middle.

This is all set in Boulder, Colorado, the pitiable object of our triple-tongued narrator’s ridicule: as Peggy Kamuf writes in her introduction, “not since Baudelaire’s Poor Belgium, perhaps, has any place on earth been so vilified or humiliated” (xii). The first sentence of the book describes Boulder as “an ugly snowglobe that someone bought in a cheap airport gift store and stuck at the foot of the Rocky Mountains” (3); the insults only get more elaborate and audacious from there. “If only I could capture the unmitigated horror of life in Boulder,” says Kathy Acker, miserably relegated to a beige-carpeted apartment, “I might be able to ward off my panic attack” (21).

The source of this unmitigated horror seems to be Boulder’s pretense to reality….

What a statement! Read it all here.

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Posted in Poetry News on Friday, February 22nd, 2013 by Harriet Staff.