"I'm a person like any goddamn man's a person": Feminine Cognitive Embodiment in 'Kathy Goes to Haiti'
Though autotheory more formally entered feminist critical discourse with the publication of Maggie Nelson’s 2015 text The Argonauts as a practice that takes on first-person, subjective, autobiographical perspectives to decenter and challenge hegemonic critical theories, several critical movements led to the rise of autotheory within the late twentieth century. In this paper, I analyze the contexts and influences surrounding both New Narrative and French feminism post-1960 before positing experimental writer Kathy Acker’s unique position between these movements as she writes madness and pornography into her 1978 novel, Kathy Goes to Haiti. If autotheory sutures together the author and theory, then Kathy Acker predicts and enacts autotheory by enmeshing her body into the theoretical conception of her autobiographical novel. Kathy Goes to Haiti lays important groundwork preceding autotheory and forges a new linguistic form at the nexus of language, disability, and sexuality studies. I call this nexus in Acker “feminine cognitive embodiment.” Acker’s feminine cognitive embodiment fuses the female body and mental states between traditional boundaries of language—a linguistic decentering; a place, perhaps, of madness. By charting this link, I will contribute to efforts to historicize autotheory and trace its lineage. I intend to establish Kathy Goes to Haiti as an autotheoretical text that preceded works like Chris Kraus’ 1997 I Love Dick and Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts, and in doing so analyze the ways Acker’s ex-centric language, madness, and pornography anticipate the autotheoretical turn.