“I Love Dick” by Chris Kraus

How had I never read this book before?

Chris Kraus’s 1997 book I Love Dick is part epistolary novel, part exegesis of itself. It’s basically feminist theory masquerading as a doomed rom-com.

The quasi-plot: Chris and her husband have dinner with a colleague of his, Dick. She gets a crush on Dick and she and her husband together start writing him letters expressing–and stoking–her feelings.

As Dick maintains a bemused silence, Chris gets more and more obsessed with him. She travels around the country pining for him and writing him long love letters from grimy motels. Somewhere in all this she leaves her husband. She goes and sleeps with Dick, who isn’t really into her but is doing some kind of very passive-aggressive “not saying no” thing. But then he gets mad and freaks out on her for turning him into an object and invading his privacy. Then she does a whole exegesis of the first part of the book.

It’s the strangest book I’ve read at least since last week’s Fat: a Love Story. (Both were recommended by my weird-book-connoisseur friend Asia.) I agree with nearly every review on Amazon, both 1-star and 5-star ones. It’s both enthralling and repellant. She’s both cool and intolerable. But I am so glad to have read it and wish my friends had too, because it’s relevant to a lot of different conversations, including:

1. Crushes, especially on other people when married, and what to do about them (and what to really, really not do about them).

2. Women in male-dominated worlds feeling invisible / marginalized / patronized / too sexy / not sexy enough.

3. Weird social-anxiety feelings, especially humiliation at cocktail parties and in elevators.

4. Entitlement, male and female.

5. Academia vs. Art. Personal vs. Political. Analysis vs. Creation. Making real life into a project. Party games.

6. Projection / objectification / male gaze / female gaze / womanizing / man-izing.

7. Total failure, wallowing in. Being a woman no one likes, freedom thereof.

The author and her husband were on This American Life’s Monogamy segment. And she was interviewed by ArtNet. But I still don’t know exactly what I think about her and this whole thing.

She is pretty shrewd, though, about the utterly self-referential nature of most crushes. She writes of her character/herself:

“…She is a lover of certain kinds of bad art, art which offers a transparency into the hopes and desires of the person who made it. Bad art makes the viewer much more active. (Years later Chris would realize that her fondness for bad art is exactly like Jane Eyre’s attraction to Rochester, a mean horse-faced junky: bad characters invite invention.)”

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