What about Chris? Eileen Myles’ intro to I Love Dick

29 October 2015

Chris Kraus’s I Love Dick, first published in 1997, is essential reading; as relevant, fierce and funny as ever. We’re very proud to be publishing it in the UK for the first time. The original Semiotext(e) edition included this brilliant introduction by Eileen Myles, ‘What about Chris?’, which we’re lucky to be able to print here. 

What about Chris?

During a foreign movie moment after college, I went to see Adele H. On a date I think. We got stoned before the movie and I remember a panicky depressed feeling flooding me as I watched Truffaut’s romantic female lose her shit over a man, getting dumped—and that turning into the end of her life— her sanity, everything.

I was just like a 25-year-old but watching I felt she was me, even though the guy I sat next to, Bill, was kind of a friend and didn’t evoke any of those same feelings. I just knew in a quiet way I was ruined. If I agreed to be female. There was so much evidence on the screen and in books. I read Doris Lessing in literature class and that depressed the shit out of me too. I just hated reading work by women or about women because it always added up the same. Loss of self, endless self-abnegation even as the female was trying to be an artist, she wound up pregnant, desperate, waiting on some man. A Marxist guy, perhaps. When would this end. Remarkably, it has, right here in this book.

I Love Dick is a remarkable study in female abjection and in its fashion it reminds me of Carl Dreyer’s exhortation to use “artifice to strip artifice of artifice,” because it turns out that for Chris, marching boldly into self-abasement and self-advertisement, not being uncannily drawn there, sighing or kicking and screaming, but walking straight in, was exactly the ticket that solidified and dig-nified the pathos of her life’s romantic voyage.

In Chris’ case, abjection (not stolen from the long-dead girl’s diary by some of her famous father’s friends…) is the road out from failure. Into something bright and exalted, like presence. Which is heaven for a performer—which is what this author is.
Chris’ strategy is both martial and sublime. She stands on the cliff of her life. It’s approximately the same one, Jack Kerouac warned Neal Cassidy to not go over “for nothing.” Which for those guys (fifties, alkies) was 30. For Chris it’s 39. A female expiration date. And why? Chris’ powerful account makes me wonder if all those bible stories that warn women not to turn around are just ’cause she might see something. Like her life.

Chris ( I keep typing Christ. Is Chris our girl on the the cross?) both plays Adele H. and forces the handsome soldier/scholar “Dick” to listen to the story of Her and miraculously, instead of the narra-tive ending with us in a movie balcony watching Chris’ decline, she actually manages to turn the tables—not on a particular guy, “Dick,” but on that smug impervious observing culture. She forces it to listen to her describe the inside of those famous female feelings:

I clasped the phone, regretting this entire schizophrenic project that I started when I met you. I’ve never been stalked before, you said in February. But was it stalking. Loving you was a kind of truth drug because you knew everything. You made me think it might be possible to reconstruct my life because after all you’d walked away from yours. If I could love you consciously, take an experience that was so completely female and subject it to an abstract analytical system, then perhaps I had a chance of under-standing something and could go on living.

That last note (“and go on living”) is why I Love Dick is one of the most exhilarating books of the last century (and one of the first books of this one.) Her living is the subject, not the dick of the title, and while unreeling her story she deftly performs as art critic, his-torian, diarist, screenwriter of an adult relationship, performance artist. Even her much vaunted “failed” filmmaking career bequeaths her one mighty tool. Chris really knows (like Bruce Chatwin knew) how to edit. Which is the best performance of all. To go everywhere imaginable in a single work and make it move. All at the service of writing an entirely ghastly, cunty exegesis.

In passing Chris refers to the male host culture. It’s the sci-fi-exactly of our state. If it’s entirely his world, if that’s the consciously acknowledged starting position, then isn’t I Love Dick a kind of ecstatic mockery, performed in front of a society of executioners. Isn’t it intolerably and utterly brave, like Simone Weil’s self-immo-lation, but so much cooler, like a long deep laugh from behind a wild and ugly mask.

Chris’ ultimate achievement is philosophical. She’s turned female abjection inside out and aimed it at a man. As if her decades of experience were both a painting and a weapon. As if she, a hag, a kike, a poet, a failed filmmaker, a former go-go dancer—an intellec-tual, a wife, as if she had the right to go right up to the end of the book and live having felt all that. I Love Dick boldly suggests that Chris Kraus’ unswervingly attempted and felt female life is a total work and it didn’t kill her.

Thus when I Love Dick came into existence a new kind of female life did too. By writing a total exegesis of a passion, false or true, she is escorting the new reader into that world with her. Here we go…


Eileen Myles is the author of nineteen books including I Must Be Living Twice: New & Selected Poems, and a reissue of Chelsea Girls, both out in Autumn 2015, from Ecco/Harper Collins in the US. She is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship in non-fiction, an Andy Warhol/Creative Capital art writers’ grant, a Lambda Book Award, the Shelley Prize from The Poetry Society of America, as well as being named to the Slate/Whiting Second Novel List. Currently she teaches at NYU and Naropa University and lives in Marfa Texas and New York.

Copyright © Eileen Myles. This introduction appears in the US edition of I LOVE DICK, published by Semiotext(e)