The affinity I felt for the title of I LOVE DICK, Chris Kraus' "novel" from 1997, published by Semiotext(e) naturally had something to do with the choice of bedtime literature, but the read was not entirely based on fleshy desires.
The "novel" is not a generic novel, it is what one could call a theoretical fiction based on real events. From what I can understand, the book was not received well when it first was published, but has now gained somewhat of a cult status. No wonder.
Last year, I was in a deep infatuation with the epic Karl-Ove Knausgård series of six, MY STRUGGLE. I know I'm not alone in this infatuation, and I find it hard to explain what I love so much about the books. But the genre of his series is also based on reality, the names in the novels are real and the occurrences are also real. Naturally, the "realness" of the story can be debated, and it is most certainly fictionalized, so regarding to the debates that has been going on in mostly Norwegian media about going too far in exposing the lives of the persons that are close to him, I find it difficult to see how anyone (except for perhaps the directly affected perhaps) can be alarmed by the novels. Which brings me back to Kraus, who writes about her infatuation for Dick, later known as Dick Hebdige, the British theorist who wrote the influential book on subcultures, Subculture: The Meaning of Style back in 1979. Now, Kraus was married to Sylvère Lotringer, a cultural theorist and professor in Theory of Art, famous for introducing the French philosophy and theory to the US through the publishing house of Semiotext(e) which he founded. Lotringer is also "co-authoring" the book as his voice is filtered through Kraus' (and "Lothringer's") letters to Dick, which the novel is built upon entirely.
I too have had my share of dating theorists (and "gentlemen of culture") in my days, and even though I never experienced anything like Kraus' hangup, and almost stalking nerve Kraus displays for Dick, the recognition factor is going through the ceiling when it comes to how "men of importance" treat female "hang-arounds". Kraus refuse this categorization, thankfully, and leaves me in good spirits and oh lord how I wish I had read this book in 1997 already! Not that it would have changed the course of history or my actions, but it would have helped me smile more overbearingly at times over both the men and myself. I would love to include this book in the curriculum of every art-school or studies of the humanities. For many reasons, and the above being one.
Here is a good description of the book from Believer magazine, embedded in the intro to an interview with Krauss:
Deeply feminist, formally both out of control and expertly in control, it traces the obsession of a married woman (named Chris) for a man she’s just met (Dick), mostly through her letters to him. The man is largely a figment of her projections and longing, and her husband (based on the French theorist Sylvère Lotringer, who was Kraus’s partner for many years) plays along to an extent. But the woman’s obsession soon goes beyond the erotic into the political and inexplicable: why doesn’t she have the power this man does? Could she ever? What might her letters accomplish? The book drew on her real-life experiences, marriage, and letters to a real man, and she included his only response, addressed to her husband—a shocking kick in the gut. (The man was later horrified by the publication of this book.)
(Certainly, one can draw some parallels to Erica Jong's "Fear of Flying" from 1973, but they are not that many, we are talking about two very different books.)
In the past year in Sweden, there has been a debate about these "men of culture" - mostly married men - who unconsciously or not exploits women's affection to them as they seem to flock around these brilliant and self-conscious men. The blame-game commenced in the rather silly debate in the end: is it the men or is it the women who "throw themselves" at the men who should be accused? There was then later on, yet another debate in Sweden, weirdly not really connected at all to the "men-of-culture-debate". This was ignited by another book by Lena Andersson, well, actually two books by her "Egenmäktigt förfarande"/"Wilful Disregard" and "Utan personligt ansvar" (not yet translated, but in my translation "Without Personal Liability/Responsibility"), to which men of culture has been reacting by saying that they are badly disguised fictionalized characters in her book.
I strongly recommend I LOVE DICK. And the Knausgård-struggle too, of course. And as Kraus and Knausgård represent two different things, and Knausgård can be (rightfully) accused of being a "man of culture" himself, but there are certain likenesses to their approach which makes the comparison interesting nevertheless. And for me, these novels are examples of great f**king Art.
But even if it is true that I just recently read this book, and that I have been meaning to write something about the novel here (as well as a longer essay on Knausgård) for some time, the real reason for posting this now is the excerpt from a new book, AKADEMIE X - Lessons in Art + Life, PHAIDON; that I just read by Kraus. As I am teaching art students on a regular basis, the text caught my eye, and it has a lot of interesting angles. It starts like this:
Throughout my twenties I lived in New York and never once thought about applying to art school. Art school, at the time, seemed to be for people who weren't really intending to become artists. I knew all the artists. I even studied with some. But the tuition—sometimes paid for with money, more often intangibly—never passed through an institution. I paid with a loyalty that was often betrayed. But this is normal.
My real education took place in my apartment. Convinced that to be an artist I'd need lots of free time, I did occasional temp work supplemented by low-level scams and some topless dancing. This gave me lots of free time, but at the time, I didn't know what to do with it. Sometimes I slept twelve hours a day. I remember looking in the mirror at my too-rested face and realizing the hardest thing I'd have to learn was how to make my own program, how to inhabit unstructured time without getting lost in it. I don't know if you learn this in grad school.
When, in my late twenties, I began living with a tenured professor at Columbia University, the question of art school, or other graduate school, became tabled. His grad students became my close friends. Before leaving New Zealand, in my late teens I'd unsuccessfully applied to Columbia's graduate program in journalism. In the end, I attended the school by osmosis.
It's only at times when I want to escape from my life that I regret not going to art school.
Find her full text in from the anthology right here.