Reviewed by Meg Whiteford
Last night I hallucinated a man sitting in a Quaker chair. He was staring at me. I remember him wearing orange. I wasn’t afraid, just confused.
Still constantly imagining bodies floating upward and everyone on the ground pulling them back down again by the legs. Like a floating transcending air ballet.
I want to explore androgyny with you. Shave our heads at the napes and gather the rest in small buns at the crowns. Later we can try on suits and use each other as mirrors.
You are worth reflecting, in various shades, tones, hues. Less thinking about drowning. I feel injected into you.
How do I begin? I have no beginning.
You Who Read Me With Passion Now Must Forever Be My Friends, a retrospective exhibition of a book by Dorothy Iannone is a collation of notes and letters that comprise a life. The book is a 300 page long love letter to her muse—the artist Dieter Roth, to the female sexual appetite, and to transcendentalism.
This love letter is also a spell: her repetition of the naked human body, Kama Sutric positions, and poetic odes cast white magic. The sheer patience it takes to get from end to end enacts the tantric message of the content.
But the spell works— Iannone’s aphrodisiac sets the mood for us to go home to “pamper our ducks.”
Let me be straight here: when I say Dorothy repeats herself, she repeats herself. A lot. Shetells the same story several different ways. And then one more. And then she tells that same story as a recipe. And then as a prayer. She tells the same story so often it becomes a mantra. Or a rhythmic thrusting. And ta-da! After reading and re-reading and looking and staring (are we voyeurs in this book?), we find ourselves meditating.
The story is simple: love as a way into transcendent ecstasy. In the interviews that are the climax to this Norse epic ode, Dorothy extols the virtues of reaching toward unity of mind and body. While I appreciated these interviews, I wished they were not included if not for the mere fact of them interfering with the book as a work of art, but also because they disturbed Dorothy’s quest for unity and integrated completion.
This pillow book assemblage of her materials, her oeuvre of illuminated manuscripts, combines the distant stars of text and image in one package.
One can read it.
One can look at it.
The text becomes visual.
And the visuals become text.
In her crusade for hermaphroditic harmony, she addresses the basic human appetites for sex and food in a very digestible form—the illustrative. Hermaphroditus was the dual-sexed child of Aphrodite and Hermes, the Greek Goddess of Love combined with the God of Communication. By embodying both genders, Hermaphroditus symbolized the sacred union of a man and a woman: marriage. With her obsessiveness for homogenization, Iannone somehow constructed a very heterosexual talisman, and she has made us the witnesses to her declaration of her love.
Many of the artist’s drawings evoke Tarot cards, and perhaps, the entire book makes up a set of fortunes. If I were to associate Dorothy with a Tarot card, I would choose The Star, #17—the Major Arcana card of a ecstatic awareness of the superconscious. The Star is the merging of dark and light, matter and spirit, in an outward expression of inner joy. It is also the card of sexual fireworks, the card that falls after #16, the Falling of the Erect Tower. (Note: if these are all too easy of metaphors for you, remember we are working with a text that is suffused with saccharine and thinly veiled allusions to the human appetite. Therefore, to put it bluntly in the spirit of Dorothy Iannone: I’m talking about O R G A S M I N G.)
These allusions can be tiresome for the reader. We get it, Dorothy. You like sex. And to say her work is contemporary or relevant to the modern feminist seems to miss the point. Yes, she faced censorship in her day, but I somehow doubt Iannone was after pushing anyone’s buttons other than her own.
You Who Read Me With Passion Now Must Forever Be My Friends is a story about love and is, thus, certainly and unequivocally timeless. It is a story of a woman aching to “take up more of the bed.” Do you believe in reincarnation? No? Well: Sei Shonagon, Elizabeth Bishop,, Sophie Calle, Tracy Emin were/are all ravenous women who ate their men and their cake, too.
If Iannone was after a precise union of man and woman, or a woman with herself, of text with image, this book satisfies. If, however her aim was to reconcile her sexual and bodily appetites with a yearning for some existential transcendence to a higher state of consciousness, I’m afraid this book is a fallen star (sorry, I had to….)
But that may not be a bad a thing. The Lovers Tarot card is the card of duality, and choice. It reminds us of the importance of difference in creating consonance, between two humans or otherwise.
This is a book, and I’m practicing Buddhist non-judgement here, firmly grasping at earthly pleasures, but pleasures that make it easy to come for the collection of rich content.
I’m so far away now, gotta turn right back around.
I’m so far away from her, now I gotta turn right back around.
I was the hammer and the clenched fist, now I’m just nailed down.
Iannone, Dorothy. You Who Read Me With Passion Now Must Forever Be My Friends. Siglio Press, 2014. Edited by Lisa Pearson with an essay by Trinie Dalton.