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Submitted Literature

Empire of the Senseless

By Kathy Acker


American novelist Kathy Acker concentrates on the cultural madness that invaded life during the post-war period.  Her texts are, like many postmodern novels, fragmented and lacking linear narrative.  In this respect, she directly mimics the experience of madness in the form, context and content of her books. “Essential Acker” is a great place to start accessing her works, while “Empire of the Senseless” focuses more explicitly (and coherently) on madness and paranoia. “Eurydice in the Underworld” is a collection of essays, fictional pieces and autobiographical parts which provides an insight into Acker’s own views on literary and literal madness.

Key Themes:

  • Postmodern Madness

Significant Quotes / Pages

13-14 – “Because I know there are angels and visions, there is freedom. Only in real living human life.  After years of regular torture, boredom replacing all other mental activity, continuous fear, forgetfulness of all dreams to the point of inability to dream, to have visions, after years of being driven into the corners of rats, of garbage cans filled with plague, of cut-off limbs, driven into every form of living which is death: suddenly the people in this city were free.  They were free to experiment.”

“There was no such thing as rescue.  There could have been no reality.  I had only myself to save myself.  I couldn’t save myself.   My wings were more torn than dishrags, they were sick, and the tongue was so torn it couldn’t speak.  I could neither fly nor cry.  Nor could I stay alive.

Inside my mind I scream aloud: inside my mind, the world, I scream aloud. Somewhere I am female and I have long hair and that hair is floating over the soil so dry, for centuries, that nothing ever grows in it.  Here there is only emotion.  I scream when I die.  Then I sink into back.  The rest of any living is nights.  The cities have died.  The cities are full of rats; the rats are bored; people seem as lonely as they are bored.”      

168-9 – “The people whom the CIA forced to live in prison are evil because they’re insane.  They live in dreams.  Let our madness turn them from insanity into anger”

Reference: Kathy, Acker. 1988. Empire of the Senseless. London: Picador, 1988


- Charley Baker
Date Review Submitted: Friday 20th March 2009