A tenet of some religious sects is to discover the sacred by embracing the profane, including social taboos, death, bodily fluids and sex. In Pussy, King of the Pirates by Kathy Acker, characters revel in profanity: they live in graveyards, eat rats, smell terrible, brawl, and have frequent deviant sex in rancid muck. Their very names—O, Pussy, Silver, Virgin, Ostarcism, Antigone, Bad Dog—suggest transgression. They live as social outcasts, despise their fathers and mothers, prostitute themselves for unrequiting lovers, ride motorcycles, steal, have remorseless abortions, and drink themselves unconscious. Their behavior can be downright Freudian, but also as impressive as it is repulsive. As exciting a storyline as these actions suggest, however, the novel is largely without traditional plot, and examines instead the pirate girls’ emotional and psychological journeys to self-acceptance.
Kathy Acker’s surreal writing demands that readers accept dreamlike logic throughout the unconventional nonlinear story. While the narrative is intuitive and fluid, its wavering creates immediacy, as though the words cohere from thoughts as they are read, delving into subconsciousness, collective experience and mythology. Though the persistent obscurity can be frustrating, it punctuates Acker’s occasional lucid statements even more; for example, “There are times when the law jeopardizes those who obey it.” The style also embodies the novel’s essential rebellion. As Acker powerfully states, “There is no master narrative nor realist perspective to provide a background of social and historical facts.” Part of what the pirate girls reject as they revel in all their filth and chaos is the authority of a single voice. Instead, their stories overlap and blur—it’s uncertain whether the pirate girls are actually separate individuals or facets of one identity. Rather, the focus shifts and diffuses to combine their different stories into a single, challenging, epic tale.
*The title of this post, “Sometimes the king is a woman,” is from New York City Street Artist James De La Vega.