Implosion | Varyer
By Nat Pyper

By Nat Pyper

I start by gathering the evidence.

Kathy Acker was a visual writer. Reading her writing is like getting a tattoo on your brain. Her words coagulate into dense imagery—violent, messy, pornographic, sometimes all three and always indelible. This inclination towards the imagistic can also be seen in the frequent inclusion of illustrations alongside her texts. Implosion is no exception.

Acker’s fondness for visuals dates back to her earliest published novels. The 1978 edition of The Adult Life of Toulouse Lautrec by Henri Toulouse Lautrec features campy illustrations by William Wegman, idiosyncratic interventions that predate Wegman’s wimpy Weimaraner portraits of later decades. And visuals extend through her work, most iconically through her own crude drawings that accompany best-sellers like Blood and Guts in High School and Empire of the Senseless. In an interview with Laurence A. Rickels for the February 1994 issue of Artforum1, Acker gives us a window into this predilection:

I always worked closely with artists, but now that I’ve moved to a big press I had to drop the collaborations. The house felt it took away from the literary value of my work. [...] So that’s why I started drawing, because if I draw the pictures they’re part of the work, and they’ve got to stay in.

Implosion, a short play, belongs to that former group of collaborative effort with visuals by Mark Magill. A scene direction reads, “Make more and more like a painting.”

I hold the book in my hands. At first glance, its cover calls to mind a mass-market murder mystery a la Agatha Christie, but a peek inside suggests something much more low-brow. This is Kathy Acker, after all: neurotic erotic, smut-adjacent, dead sexy. At the bottom of the cover, a pair of glasses lays belly-up with its feet in the air. Blood freckles the lenses in uneven splotches. This pair of glasses, or its wearer, is dead. The book’s text is reflected in the lenses. Who, or what, was the killer? The glasses are the first clue: read closely.

Opening the book is like walking into a crime scene. The pages are blood-spattered and bright red as if still wet, a paper cut gone sideways. I check my fingers for signs of injury. More visual clues appear throughout: an open matchbook, a torn page, a ripped-up photograph. Meanwhile, Acker sets the stage. WHAT: The French Revolution. WHERE: Modern-day (1983) New York City. WHO: An unlikely cast of characters with names like My Grandmother, Situationist With Italian Accent, Marxist Feminist, Robespierre, Beautiful Blonde, and, in Acker fashion, Kathy herself. Absent linear plot, the play offers a series of graphic disjunctions. This isn’t your typical whodunnit. And even though the killer runs free, Implosion isn’t a cold case; it is hot, hot, hot. I start to sweat. I’m beginning to suspect, too late, that I am the victim, and the book is the—!


  • “Body Bildung: Laurence A. Rickells talks with Kathy Acker, Artforum, February 1994,” Kathy Acker: The Last Interview and Other Conversations. Melville House Publishing, 2018.