Ok, I picked up this book believing it was the kind of book one brings to the pool in Tenerife; entertaining and forgettable. It has an acid green cover and in pink capitals declares “I LOVE DICK”. All in all it lives up to all my expectations of what a designated beach towel looks like. About the ‘’light read’’ I was wrong but I still think it looks like something someone more tanned than I should wear.
Welcome inside the mind of a woman in love, or, welcome inside the mind of a woman who is in love. For once a story about a lovesick woman who hasn’t been reduced to only that. Chris Kraus wrote I Love Dick back in 1997 about the woman Chris Kraus who is royally bored in her marriage with the older, french professor Sylvère Lotringer (true story so far, they were married in the ’90’s).
One evening they’re having sushi in Pasadena with an acquaintance of Sylvère, *enter Dick* (Richard Hebdige IRL for the uninitiated reader). Already on page 2 we learn that Chris has never been considered eye candy (and thus never been damned/dazzled by her own looks – pretty cliché although never judgy in its tone), but instead she has been willing to go to extremes for the sake of art (like getting her hand stabbed with a kitchen knife on stage) and the whole book is one long example hereof; it’s a monument to self-inflicted pain for a higher cause. Yum yum.
Shortly after their sushi intake in Pasadena, the book starts running wild in an upbeat flow of love letters to Dick from both Sylvère and Chris, shimmering in various nuances of longing, bitterness, perversity and submission. The letters in the first part of the book alternate between asserting Chris’ love for Dick, meditations over how to best dispose of a body, and meta-reflections about the letters themselves that Chris and Sylvère are considering converting into an art project by taping them all over Dicks house (and cacti) to be videotaped upon his arrival home. Poor Dick.
The mission is not that Dick and Chris should end up together, but that Chris has to break out of the role as facilitator for her husband’s career, conversations and book publications.
By approaching Dick in a more conventional manner Chris might have stood a chance, but it would also have meant a way more boring read. The mission is not that Dick and Chris should end up together, but that Chris has to break out of the role as facilitator for her husband’s career, conversations and book publications. She has fuck herself up a little bit by means of self-inflicted misery. As she says at one point, when she hits a new low due to Dick’s silence (wonder why!), “this is only happening because I willed it’’, and this is one of the many fix points of the book: The magical self-destruction that isn’t compulsive but chosen, and which you have to constantly not say no to. Did Emma Bovary and Anna Karenina ever have a choice? Their infatuations were followed by death.
But the real subject of this story is not Dick, but herself. And Chris slowly starts transforming into herself (slippery slope – smells like moral & insight) throughout the book by letting go of her terminally boring (but also at times very moving and intimate) relationship with Sylvère and instead plunging into a relationship that is bound never to happen, but which gives her back the power to write and describe after having been overshadowed by her husband for the last 10 years.
By the end of the letters, Chris has totally eroded Dick and written him from “Dear Dick’’ to ‘’Dear Diary’’ to ‘’D. D.’’, while she herself has become more three-dimensional. As a reader I almost experienced the physical sensation of going from an existential hibernation to finally being able to fill my lungs with oxygen for the first time in 10 years and through my unrequited love indulge in feelings that have returned after years of anhedonia – I mean, who can’t relate?
Of course the love Chris has for Dick needs to be unreciprocated. It’s function is solely to act as an addressee so all the good stuff can be actualized. Talk about instrumental love.
Of course the love Chris has for Dick needs to be unreciprocated. It’s function is solely to act as an addressee so all the good stuff can be actualized. Talk about instrumental love. After the first part of the book (Scenes from a Marriage) it flips out in chapters about art, schizophrenia, french philosophy and feminism – all disguised as love letters. Meanwhile the book shows an extreme hyper-awareness of itself. The chronology is messy for the careless reader and sometimes it even anticipates itself – all in all it’s a book that is psychotically (pun) well composed and never boring to read (I’m looking at you Knausgaard!).
The strength of I LOVE DICK is the enormous knowledge of art and philosophy that the reader is bombarded with, tightly woven into the confessional tone and sometimes limitless oversharing that Chris Kraus exposes the reader to. Really, it’s a batshit crazy good example of emotional exhibitionism and no wonder Dick tries to exit the story every time he gets a chance to speak (except for that one time where he opportunistically fucks her like a lap-dog just to dispose of her the next morning. And that other time he tolerates her for an afternoon and they hang out and bond by a lake).
If Karl Ove Knausgaard could write like this, I might read his books.
This book is never just a story of love or of art or of philosophy. It’s an explosion of hyper-reflections and contains an impressive understanding about its subjects, which it engages in the later essays of the book. If Karl Ove Knausgaard could write like this, I might read his books.
P.S. This is your last chance to read the book without being tainted by the tv-show that will premiere sometime around now. I only approve of it in the sense that now Chris Kraus is going to be rich, but in any other way: R.I.P. favourite book of 2016.
xoxo / a TV skeptic/ giovanna alesandro.