Kathy Acker: Don Quixote
It’s not difficult to guess which work Acker is plagiarising/deconstructing/feminising in this novel and, indeed, she does have fun making it a feminist novel. The need for love has been apparent in many of her other works. Janey in Blood and Guts in High School, for example, is always seeking love – from her father, the slave trader Linker, her various rough trade boyfriends and, finally, from the gay Jean Genet. She dies when she finally realises she cannot find it. The Don Quixote of this novel conceives of the most insane idea that any woman can think of. Which is to love. She starts out in an abortion clinic in London and has her abortion and then becomes Don Quixote. Her Sancho Panza is St. Simeon, a talking dog. But she realises that her quest to find love is not going to be easy, particularly in a world where the discourse about love is primarily defined by men.
But this is not just about Cervantes. The second part of the book moves onto St Petersburg, with references to Bely‘s St Petersburg and then on to Lampedusa‘s Il gattopardo (The Leopard). In both the role of women is, of course, key but she also focuses on memory, pain and death. The next part is highly critical of the United States’ role in imposing their own capitalist principles on the rest of the world, for their own benefit, before getting back to literature, this time in the form of Wedekind‘s Lulu and her control by men.
We then get back to Don Quixote who is after two evil dogs, Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger. She uses this part to discourse on government control and freedom. Other dogs appear with their own specific issues. The dogs become pirates, Don Quixote dies but, fortunately, so does God, leaving humans to make their own decisions. Once again, her work was savaged by traditional critics, for being naïve, banal and random. Indeed, it is all of these but what Acker continues to do here is explore both the role of women in a male-dominated world and to subvert traditional, primarily masculine texts. It might not be good story-telling but it is good politics.
First published 1986 by Grove Press