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Aliens and Anorexia by Chris Kraus

in Ark Review/Book reviews by

The second book in the I Love Dick trilogy begins where I Love Dick ends. Chris is in Berlin trying to sell her experimental short film after having it rejected at several film festivals. She is freezing, she is lonely, there is a lot of waiting and a ton of rejection. So, she meditates on her failed career as a movie maker, her failed movie Gravity and Grace, art and gender. Just as in I Love Dick, the book is littered with cultural references and at first it seemed a bit incomprehensible to grasp why they were there and what purpose they served, but Kraus as the good pedagogue and wonderful writer, never completely lets go of the reader. As a sequel to I Love Dick, it comes of as more messy, less structured and almost entirely without a plot and as such it might be a better book than ILD.

Simone Weil
Simone Weil

One of the themes of A&A is how to tell a story and how to tell a story of failure. This is done largely in parables of other (failed) artists: “I realize now, the problem with the movie Gravity and Grace was that it was less a story than a parable.” Same goes for this book since as “a story” it fails miserably, which it also seems keen to demonstrate because only as a work of failure will it be able to demonstrate its point. So when Kraus calls Weil a ‘’performative philosopher’’, it feels more as if she is describing herself and therefor illustrating the paradox of failure, as the success of failure would annihilate the notion of failure.

The lives of Simone Weil and the artist Paul Thek, amongst others, are explored to draw parallels between their failed and misunderstood work as artists and thinkers. Kraus is especially interested in and enthused by Weil, as a thinker whose experience with anorexia has nothing to do with the personal (woman, jew, ‘’unfuckable’’). This is another point the book raises: that of the personal vs the un-personal. As Deleuze writes: “life isn’t personal”. Weil was largely viewed by her contemporaries and posterity as a self-loathing jewish-woman, who suffered from anorexia because she couldn’t get fucked. Against this, Kraus argues that anorexia is a political and un-personal stance in a cynical world. With this, anorexia becomes a resistance against the cynicism of the world which is handed down through food. Anorexia as altruism.

That being said, Kraus’ defense of Weil is often based on the idea of Weil being a good person, a notion that bored me. I wondered if it was a parallel to her own story with the she-devil Delphine Bower who fucked her (Kraus) over in the making of her (Kraus’) movie “Gravity & Grace”. Otherwise, why the story of Bower is in the book if not to tell us that Kraus is a good (and lonely) person I just don’t know.

Full of self pity and depraved of perspective which is both charming, vulnerable, repulsive and easy to criticize, Kraus shows us a person who dares to reveal the ugly and take the punches.

So when Kraus almost writes A&A into a hagiography of Weil, she does the same for the ‘’Chris Kraus’’ of the book but soaked in irony. For example: “The second time I saw the movie Gravity and Grace, I was living in East Hampton with my husband, driving home from a round of empty errands that had come to fill my days. I was no longer poor, but being poor at least had been a kind of structure, and now I wasn’t anyone.” And all I can think is #whitewhine / #prayforchris but this must be intentional as this is how she debunks her own budding sainthood and it is lovely.

Chris Kraus
Chris Kraus

The fictive Kraus is a marvel with a rich and complex character and history, which is revealed through hints about her messed up 20’s, when she was a stripper dabbling in prostitution, reading Weil in French, not eating and walking around Manhattan wearing a military uniform. I’d like to read that book. The more mature Kraus, on the other hand, who has left that behind in order to marry, divorce and live a mundane life according to age is well; A little sanctimonious. When she writes about empathy, feeling and identification, I keep thinking of Alex Buk-Swientys review of Patti Smith’s “Just Kids” where he writes that the claim of ‘’Just Kids’’ is ‘“I can see more clearly than you can”. The same could be said here of Kraus. But then, Kraus is able to show a little fang and all is redeemed: ‘’I thought he was a genius i.e. we hated many of the same people’’.

Full of self pity and depraved of perspective which is both charming, vulnerable, repulsive and easy to criticize, Kraus shows us a person who dares to reveal the ugly and take the punches. Labeling this book #whitewhine is so tempting but the book is more than just that. It shows the implicit paradox of failure, it flips the notion of anorexia as the brat syndrome and, in so doing creates a new canon of art. It also shows how special-snowflake-syndrome can be so unpleasant and while the text is ultra didactic it’s definitely not without merits.

Kraus could paraphrase the phonebook and it would be a great read. Apart from that, it’s a brave move to create character as annoying as this woman, so pedagogical and at times condescending towards the reader and then name her after herself. I think it was Jane Austen who said about her character Emma, that she had created a character only she herself, Austen, could love. “Chris Kraus’’ has clearly been constructed with such a great deal of sympathy and tenderness from IRL Chris Kraus that my warmth towards her becomes superfluous. She is a pineapple floating in her own juice. That said, to end on a more Kanye note: “I don’t care what none of y’all say I still love her”.

Giovanna, wildly gifted pedestrian, yet is able to remain humble. Would love to engineer a lovechild/super-breed author between Ben Lerner and Chris Kraus, but will also settle for a coffee table book with pictures of them and/or a documentary where they walk the Camino together.

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