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Anthologies of failure

in Ark Review/Essays by

An article with Chris Kraus shows a picture of her sitting by a table in her home. It looks cheap, simple. There is nothing on the table but a vase with flowers. They look abnormally white, shining. Her face is kind of sad, heavy looking, a skinny girl. She is wearing woollen clothes, a nice cardigan and a grandma necklace that’s a little too big, like she’s honoring the look of age.

I look her up, image-search, there is a picture of her when she was younger. I can’t find it anymore. I assume it’s her. She is attractive, has that kind of determined toughness about her, shy like a boy.

I heard an interview with her when I was lying in pitch-darkness in my room. Her voice is slow, unpretty, she sounds self-assure. She says something like, There was a notion that women couldn’t make universal art, they could only make personal art, never escape the purely psychological.

A common interpretation of Chris Kraus’ novel I love Dick is that by making Dick the object, a blank screen on which she can project her thoughts, a non-person, she becomes the center and her infatuation a way to express herself. Thus subverting gender dynamics. I don’t care. It’s like theorizing yourself out of a rejection or a broken relationship, making whatever connection unreal. What the book holds up to the light, rather seems to be an end-step of patriarchy, to view men only as male-figures, empty shells, impersonal and powerful. This is loving Dick. 

Chris Kraus’ books are anthologies of failures. The failure of marriage. The failure of trying to escape bourgeois life. The failure of her art-career. The biggest energy drifting forward is being completely locked. If it is a feminist novel it is so by showing the grids under which women live their lives. She writes, Why does everybody think that women are debasing themselves when we expose the conditions of our own debasement? Why do women always have to come clean? The magnificence of Genet’s last great work, The Prisoner of Love, lies in his willingness to be wrong.

Being wrong this time means not the right to be an idiot, but to be foolishly in love or to be made an idiot by constrains set by society as if it was the same thing.

The failures are many and different. I don’t know why they keep reappearing, making importance of unhappiness. The political sorrows seem to be the biggest and least comprehensive. The tone sprung from sentimentality to cynicism.

Her books consist of two things: 1) A mix of high theory and anecdotes on all sorts from schizophrenia to forgotten female writers to the art-world industry too lower class life, and 2) Bad-ending love affairs.

In Aliens and Anorexia she talks about pornography.

Alone and unengaged the Chris Kraus figure starts having long-distance sadomasochistic phone sex and email correspondences with a man named Garvin that she found on LA Telepersonals Chat Line. Mostly out of boredom it seems, she wants this man to care about her. What is wrong with her film-works so far, she says, is they didn’t know how to seduce. They had no narrative. She doesn’t know how to tell a good story. Then she sends him a long email, which I think is the only time sex is not only referred to but a scene. Open is a word she uses to describe how she feels and then when she is left alone:

There’s just a lot of sadness – feeling so abandoned and exposed. It’s like the world is flat and what lies around the edges of it is a hyperspace of dense emotion with sadness at its core.

It is the mechanics of emotions. It is about vulnerability, privacy.

When I read Chris Kraus I didn’t like her mood at first. I found her too cold, too impersonal, a little bit too clever maybe. She hardly ever gets carried away in her characters’ mind or heart, even when she writes first-person narrative. It’s always on the surface.

Her writing style is complex in the way she contradicts herself, sometimes like she is not completely sure of what she means. Other times like she is testing the boundaries of language, holding two different statements or viewpoints up against each other, shifting rapidly.

The books are the negative images of things. I didn’t realize until later how Sylvère Lotringer reoccurs in all of her books, what space he takes. Even though they often describe the failure of their marriage, he also appears as a friend. At one point in Torpor she says, she is trying to figure out their marriage. Like it is a construction of sorts, I think. There is something gentle in it.

She works underpaid jobs and talks more about writing than she actually gets down to it. She likes american writers who have lost their mind at one point or another. She likes Hilton Als, Carrie Mae Weems, the first poems by Eileen Myles, juice, Nell Zink and others.

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