I Love Dick by Chris Kraus

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I feel like I could write a book about reading this book. So many thoughts, swirling around. Like, what about writing a piece about Shirley Jackson and Chris Kraus (both married to Jewish critics whom they’ve eclipsed) called The Faculty Wives? Kraus, scurrying along at a party as Sylvère’s Plus One, cooling drawing out the intellectuals as if she isn’t one herself, playing the perfect faculty wife role.

I tried not to dog-ear the entire book, but it was hard. My list of references to look up got out of control and then I thought maybe I’d just list them here instead of writing up a proper review. And then I realized that leaving out the things I already knew about would give it a skewed perspective, so I just started jotting down every reference she made. It’s a doozy, and will keep me in reading material for months. As Joan Hawkins says in the afterword, “For anyone who likes to read literature, I Love Dick is a good read. But the literary references should also cue us to the textual savvy of the people who populate the piece.” I know I left some out, but here’s a partial list:

Baudelaire, Proust, Henry James, Simone Weil’s Gravity and Grace, Jane Bowles’ story Going to Massachusetts, David Rattray, Virilio, Antonin Artaud, Brendan Behan, Sophie Calle, Ken Kobland, Flaubert’s A Simple Heart, William Congreve, Bataille’s Blue of Noon, Guillame Apolllinaire, Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers: A History of Lesbian Life in Twentieth-Century America, de Kooning, Eleanor Austin, Julio Cortazar’s Hopscotch, Fassbinder, Dodie Bellamy, Hannah Wilke, Hugo Ball’s diaries, Arnold Schoenberg, Marcel Mauss, Durkheim, Hannah Arendt, Penny Jordan’s Research into Marriage, Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome, Heidegger’s La question de la technique, Paul Blackburn, Ron Padgett, Habermas, Lukacs, George Eliot, Ulrike Meinhof, Merleau-Ponty, Henry Frundt, The Dada Women: Emmy Hemmings, Hannah Hoch, Sophie Tauber; Jacques Lacan, Kitaj, Godard, Eileen Myles, Alice Notley (esp Dr. William’s Heiresses), Diane di Prima’s Revolutionary Letters, Genet’s Prisoner of Love, Claire Parnet, Giles Deleuze, Amanda Feilding (her 1970 filmed trepanation, Heartbeat in the Brain), Heathcote Williams

The first section of the book sets up the rest; it’s the outpouring of letters from Chris (and her husband Sylvère) to Dick after staying over at his house when a snowstorm threatened their trip back home. Scenes from a Marriage begins on December 3, 1994, exactly 22 years to the DAY I was to open the book to read it 22 yrs later, also eerily in sync calendar-wise so that Dec 3rd was also a Saturday, like in 2016. The later sections continue the story, layering in essays on schizophrenia, hunger strike in Guatamala, art criticism about Kitaj/Hannah Wilke/Eleanor Antin, along with the continuation with her obsession/infatuation/desire for Dick.

Some quotable bits:

  • You were witnessing me become this crazy and cerebral girl, the kind of girl that you and your entire generation vilified. But doesn’t witnessing contain complicity? “You think too much,” is what they always said when their curiosity ran out.
  • To see yourself as who you were ten years ago can be very strange indeed.
  • She hardly slept or ate, she forgot to comb her hair. The more she studied, the harder it became to speak or know anything with certainty. People were afraid of her; she forgot how to teach her classes. She became that word that people use to render difficult and driven women weightless: “quirky.”
  • I think the sheer fact of women talking, being, paradoxical, inexplicable, flip, self-destructive but above all else public is the most revolutionary thing in the world.
  • I could tell from all the footnotes in your writing that you hadn’t [been to school]. You like books too much and think they are your friends. One book leads you to the next like serial monogamy.