Review by Paul Pescador
I Love Dick is not a memoir, but performs as one.
Both fiction and nonfiction simultaneously, the narrative of the book dissolves personal experience and constructed moments into one another. A schizophrenic text that by struggling to identify it’s genre becomes a refusal of one. I read the book as a performance.
I Love Dick tells the story of two characters, one named “Chris Kraus” and her husband named “Sylvere Lotringer” these characters are based upon the author and her then husband. Chris is an experimental filmmaker, who is in the middle of finishing a new film, and Sylvere is a professor at Columbia University. They are in Los Angeles for the winter and decide to spend the evening with Dick ___ , who invites them to stay at his cottage in Antelope Valley. After an evening of socializing Chris develops strong sexual feelings for Dick and begs Sylvere to follow up with him. Instead of reaching out to him, Chris and Sylvere decide to write Dick a letter. The letter is not sent, but this writing begins a long one-sided correspondence. As Chris’ imaginary relationship develops her actual relationship with Sylvere begins to unravel. The character of Dick is never given a last name in the book but in the afterword of the book indicates that it is based upon cultural theorist and professor Dick Hebdige.
As a reader, we are expected to believe our narrator, but in I Love Dick we are constantly reminded that Chris’ perspective is slanted and often self-consciously self-deprecating and self-delusional. Through this writing, we watch Chris create and perform multiple versions of herself: the victim, the heroine, the role model, the struggling filmmaker, and the stalker. This shifting of character reminds us of Cindy Sherman’s Film Stills, but don’t comply to the boundary of the artwork and want to be more invasive, overpowering as well as overpowered by life. Los Angeles, primarily the LA art world becomes a background to many scenes in the book. Many characters in the book are based upon actual people: artists, curators, and professors. The use of actual people reaffirms the possibility that the interactions that Chris could have actually happened. Didion and Capote’s “New Journalism” echoes here, reality written subjectively, but Chris’ roman à clef feels somehow both more theoretical in its underpinnings and more diaristic in its intimacies.
As the book begins there is strict boundary between the narrator’s objective voice and Chris’ subjective love letters. The letters at first are separated out from the story as “found texts” indicated by Figure 1, 2, etc. As the book progresses the objective and subjective begin to merge and “truth” is brought into question. At one point in the book, the narrator refers to an essay of Dick’s as titled Aliens and Anorexia, a title which would become a future book of Chris’ and never the name of any essay written by Dick Hebdige. This incident reminds us that everything in the book has the possibility of coming from the subjective creative position of both Chris the character and Chris the author.
If the performative is a statement which is linked to an action, what occurs when this act is an emotion such as I Love Dick? What happens when subjectivity comes into play? How can the performative language and its act be verified if it can only be understood by a single person? The book is a one-sided rant between the character of Chris and an absent Dick and the writer Chris and its potential reader. It’s as if she is talking out loud in a similar manner to how a patient talks to a Lacanian analyst, who silently guides her to where she is mostly speaking to herself. The book itself functions in a similar way to 70s early video art in which the performer would perform only to the camera in isolation, but aware of a potential future viewer. Does that character of Dick actually matter or could his character be replaced by anyone? Are we Dick?
Chris Kraus, I Love Dick, (Semiotext(e), 1997)
Images: Cover of I Love Dick