80 Washington Square East, NYU

Audrey Wollen & Leslie Dick

A working bibliography of texts borrowed, stolen, reworked, and appropriated by Kathy Acker

March 8 – June 1, 2018

Washington Windows

Kathy Acker lived in many places; with each move, her books were packed up into boxes, and then unpacked onto shelves, arranged alphabetically. In all the various apartments in New York, London, San Francisco, or elsewhere, there was never enough space for the books. In each setting, the books were doubled up on her shelves, one row hidden behind another, which is one reason why the alphabetical arrangement had to be so rigorous and exact. The spines of certain books were accessible to sight, at hand and on display. The spines of the second set remained in the shadow of the first, whispering in the dark. The organization of these sets was variable, changing from place to place: it depended on the room, the shelves, the arbitrary configuration of a linguo-spatial system. In London, what was once covered came into the light. In New York, those same titles might recede again: the subtext endlessly rearranging itself.

When she died, twenty years ago, her friend Peter Wollen was obsessed with one question: what’s happening to Kathy’s books? He said, ‘Kathy’s library is a map of her mind.’ Her books now live in a glass box in a library in Germany. They are all together, in the Kathy Acker Reading Room at the University of Cologne, and they will remain together for an unforeseeable future. We can only assume they are still alphabetically organized. 

To mark the twenty years since her death, we wanted to make a list of all the books that Kathy Acker pirated. Kathy enjoyed the word “pirate” as a verb, as if she was swashbuckling through oceans of text, treasure-seeking, as if her very methods of reading could become criminal. Others have used different words for the same thing: to steal, appropriate, lift, borrow, remix, and so on. We asked for help in compiling this list from Jason McBride, Kathy Acker’s biographer, and other friends. The list is incomplete, that goes without saying, and we’re hoping it will be expanded in the future. The list of the books that influenced her is much longer; we restricted our working bibliography to books she copied out, re-wrote, re-worked, and pirated into her own texts. Copying was part of her reading, as well as her writing. She took possession of the classics fearlessly, as if they had always belonged to her. And didn’t they?

Invoking the material forms of these texts, the windows present the bibliography itself, and also an accumulating pile of books: all the books on the list. These are not Kathy’s copies, those are in Germany – these are copies we found cheaply, easily. We think of libraries like we think of friendships and truths: things in motion through time, that can be disassembled, moved, lost, found, and re-assembled again, in different worlds, out of new textures and contexts, but always retaining the same knowledges, generosities, and possibilities that were once so familiar.

– Audrey Wollen & Leslie Dick

Commissioned by Nicola Lees, 80WSE. 

Two outside windows can be seen, one with a large paragraph of printed text, and the other with a small pile of books. A no parking sign can be seen in the foreground.
A large printing of book titles and author names.
A carefully arranged stack of books, arranged as if on a bookshelf
This iteration of Washington Windows is organized on the occasion of Focus on Kathy Acker, part of the East Village Series at Performance Space New York. This project celebrates the life and work of the writer who died twenty years ago. More information here