|Okay, the title is a provocation, & an adolescent provocation at that, forcing women, when referring to this feminist novel, to say it: "I Love Dick." But deliberately undermining the sense of all propriety is a great deal of what this book is all about. For Kraus, what has prevented women all along from becoming equal on the cultural plane with men is the fact that their discourse has been labeled "merely" personal, that it has lacked "propriety." Kraus argues that the curative is not for women to submit to this critique, to go beyond the personal to the universal, but to defiantly make the personal universal. It's a notion that seemed self-evident to me upon the advent of the widespread use of the internet, when people, me included, were freed of the confines of a single identity, when, suddenly, they were free to become "invisible," to manifest themselves in all their multiplicity and to do so under the aegis of anonymity. "The only thing left to say about human beings," I wrote to anyone who I thought might be interested at the time, "is what it's actually like to be one."|
That's what "I Love Dick" is about. What it's like to be a human being, in particular, a forty-year-old woman at a crossroads in her life.
Of course since those heady early days of the internet, reactionary forces such as Farcebook have attempted to herd the cats back into the corral in the service first of capitalism, and then, ultimately, of State control. Because there is nothing that a State or a corporate entity finds more valuable—and essential—than a known commodity, a citizen, a customer. They want to fix you in place: one name, one age, one gender, one number, one nation under the sign of the $. The trade-off is supposed to be a corporate world that mirrors your personal needs and delivers them to your door within two days—the heavenly dream of instant gratification, lost at mommy's tit, and for some of us, never enjoyed even then, but now miraculously restored to us in our adulthood, at a price, of course—and sadly we're not talking just dollars; the steeper price is stratification, petrification, and suffocation. The promise is that they can supply you with commodities that you desire and suggest others that you don't even know yet that you desire. Your needs will be met so long as you don't wish to be without needs. Let us show you how comfortable we can make you in chains. Agree to fix yourself in place and time, to enslave yourself to a single identity and the trade-off is that someone can one day spot you online and write you along the lines of "hey, don't I know you from high school?" The idea is that you make yourself available to grace, to the glowing sacrament of reconnection. But my answer to this intrusion from the grave would be "no, of course you don't know me from high school. God forbid. I am not that person & probably I never was. That person, in any event, is dead. And if you, too, haven't died and been reborn at least a thousand times since high school, christ, I pity you. Even worse, I fear you. What a zombie you must be!" Fact is, if I haven't spoken to you in a week, chances are we're practically strangers by now. I'm hardly the same person today as I was yesterday; and I might have changed three times over since breakfast. At best, at my most stable, at any given moment, I'm a roll of the die. I might be one of six. And if that isn't how you're living, I hardly consider you living at all. The much-vaunted profiles used by companies to sell me shit based on information harvested from my online activities, the supposed facts of my age, race, sex, etc., are laughably inaccurate in my case and intentionally I've done my best to make them so and my success at doing so has given me hope …hope that so long as we keep our identities muddled and nomadic, so long as they remain largely obscured, fluid, contradictory, a secret even to ourselves, we continue to be free no matter how much surveillance we're under. Just what part of me that no longer exists are all those ads I get for Viagra and Cialis supposed to stiffen, anyway, Mr. Spammer? Just what wet pussy do you think this pussy is interested in boning, Mr. Phisher? You couldn't have cast your line into the most mistaken pond. THIS PUSSY LOVES DICK!
Is this a book review or a personal polemic? It's both—and neither. And that's what I love about "I Love Dick." It's not a novel any more than it's an autobiography, than it is a diary/journal, than it is a collection of love letters to "Dick," than it is literary theory or essays of art critique, than it is a feminist or literary manifesto. "I Love Dick" is all of these things—and more. It has to be. Because it's attempting to say something that hasn't been said before, something more than any one of the aforementioned genres can contain on its own, or even all together; what Kraus is trying to say can't be said in any pre-existing form. Neither can what I'm trying to say here—and elsewhere. What is "trying-to-be-said" must create the means of its own expression just as much as we must create our own identity, one that cannot be reduced to the information on an application—or app.
Kraus sets out her project clearly in "I Love Dick." She will pursue an infatuation with the cultural critic Dick Hebdige whether he wants her attentions or not. And he doesn't. Oh no, he doesn't. He thinks she's unbalanced. She writes him love letters, enlists her husband, Sylvere Lotringer to write letters, too, and sets up a menage a trios that is part art-project, part genuine attraction, part lark, and part creepy obsession. She is basically stalking Dick. She is giving herself permission to lose control. To act like a "dick."
Why is she doing this? Well that is part of what makes this book so fascinating. But the most interesting answer, to me, is that Kraus is exposing what up to now has been kept carefully hidden in "serious" literature. She is writing the negative (or feminine) side of the male literary experience, what no serious male writer would dare to write. She is purposely abasing and debasing herself. She is deconstructing herself. In other words, she's writing the only thing that's still left to write after all this time: WHAT IT'S ACTUALLY LIKE TO BE A HUMAN BEING!
Of course, there is no need that this project be confined to women. Over the years, I've sat at the computer texting and chatting in virtual rooms with enough men, gained their trust to the extent that they admitted to me desires and fantasies they'd never tell anyone, met me in rooms where they did what they'd rather die than let anyone know they did—secrets that belied who they were in the "world" as "men." On occasion it would occur to me that afterwards they would be driven to harm, even kill me, out of their own self-loathing now objectified outside themselves. Or out of fear that their secret, now given exterior body in a witness, might be revealed. In truth, there was nothing particularly uncommon about the revelations they shared with me. Men have kept their "less-than-manly" secrets for thousands of years. But as Kraus declares ecstatically at one point in "I Love Dick," reflecting on the philosophy of Gilles Deleuze, "the greatest secret in the world is, There Is No Secret."
The only thing no one dares is to say the secret out loud.
And that is where Kraus sees her entrée and her relevance as a writer. To say the secret out loud. "Our story," she says, "is performative philosophy."
Kraus links feminine sensibility to schizophrenia as both seek to mediate, mitigate, and anticipate the needs of others. For the schizophrenic as for the woman as for any underclass person, survival depends on being ultra-sensitive to the emotional plague exuded by the dominant class. And just like a schizophrenic, the only way for a woman to reclaim herself is to shut out the unspoken but all-too-loud demands of the voices only she hears. She must isolate herself from the surrounding dominant culture to be herself.
Kraus and those who would follow her lead are telling a different story. They are literary terrorists and just like political terrorists they cannot be pinned down to a genre, to a tradition, to a canon, to commercial interests, to State Control. There is nothing the State fears more than those who remain State-less, tribal, nomadic. It is the one great vulnerability of the State to be unable to combat such rootless unpredictable variables. It is why the there is such a frantic effort in the Middle East today to build nations in the desert…nations that the United States—as representative now of *all* global states…can dominate.
Terrorists—literary cultural, sexual, and political—move in the interstices. They reject codification and commodification. They reject the corral no matter how cozy. They are the cats that cannot be herded, that resist the catnip of patriotism, nationalism, commercialism, and social media. They are the one final hope of freedom left in the world. They are the last survivors of an otherwise thoroughly domesticated and exploitable species.
Women can be at the vanguard of this new turn in literature and philosophy. Because they have nothing worth losing and nothing worth gaining playing by the rules of a culture, rules both written and unwritten, that denies them an equal place even if they do play along. Men, even those as intellectually liberated and libertine as her avant garde husband Sylvere, and the rockstar of cultural criticism Dick Hebdige, don't dare subvert the ultimate rules and codes of control imposing a certain propriety, a certain objectivity, a certain dignity and taste on those who wish to be taken seriously. They have too much to lose. Or, at least, they think they do. They belong to a dying breed and even if they know it, they can't extract themselves from the tarpit. Even knowing they are about to become extinct.
Kraus will transgress every rule, every expectation, every boundary of good taste.
She is the next thing.
She is the future.
But so is everyone who follows her example. Feminists are just the first wave. Behind them is a great undertow of heretofore outlaw bodies and excluded identities—male, female, queer, transgender, third-gender, polygender.
THE ONLY THING LEFT TO SAY ABOUT HUMAN BEINGS IS WHAT IT'S ACTUALLY LIKE TO BE ONE.
Let's get started.